CinemaOne 2013: Jet Leyco's BUKAS NA LANG SAPAGKAT GABI NA (LEAVE IT TOMORROW FOR NIGHT HAS FALLEN) is a Powerful Document on the Philippines' Culture of Censorship

"Bukas na lang sapagkat gabi na (Leave it tomorrow for night has fallen)." It is a phrase most commonly used by doting mothers who keep secrets from inquisitive children. Jet Leyco, who has heard the phrase as a kid curious to know the fates of his two grandfathers, takes the phrase from personal memories to encompass a nation troubled by a history of institutionalized silence.

The film opens with a montage of photographs of smoke bellowing out of the land. The photographs are revealed one by one, with bits of cryptic information, such as the year presumably when the eruption happened. They do not reveal much. In fact, the figures do not pertain to anything definite or specific, but the images themselves evoke something troubling, something pertaining to events of cataclysmic proportions. The greater tragedy however is what is not revealed, that nagging impression that something important has happened but was not disclosed for whatever reason. The montage has a feel of evidence being laid out in court, pertaining to a truth masked for decades. Without the comfort of definite answers, the pictures immediately come to life, exposing both the enormity and the spectacle of a calamity.

The rest of Bukas na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na follows the same maxim of censorship, although in various degrees and for various intentions. Its first episode, an observation of a provincial wedding as captured from the camera of an amateur videographer, reveals nothing but riddles surrounding what supposedly is a celebration of love. Mystery necessarily looms as questions trickle in from guests unlucky enough to be the subject of the videographer's impertinent mind. Nothing is definitely divulged, just bits and pieces about a priest gone missing, rebels in hiding, and in-laws quietly fuming.

The second episode, an observation of the affairs of the communist rebels that were briefly spoken of during the wedding, concentrates on a rebel soldier's own inability to tell his father of his homosexuality, a subject that is also taboo within the armed revolution. Leyco dissects a movement that is plagued with an identity crisis. The montage of actual footage of communist rebels that closes the episode serves as both ode and elegy to a struggle that has survived through years of being quelled into the margins of both national consciousness and history by a campaign characterized by government propaganda and censorship.

While communist rebels are struggling to topple a prohibitive regime, the clergy indulge in prohibited pleasures that are kept hidden from the public. The third episode, aptly pervaded by a certain sense of godlessness, has a young sacristan witnessing the priest perform sexual acts in his private chambers. On their way to a wedding, the priest would eventually abuse his sacristan in the guise of showing him the ropes towards his sexual awakening. Wrapping up Bukas na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na is the story of the communist rebel's father, who is hired to drive an ice delivery truck to the military camp. Little does he know that inside the truck are bodies of fallen rebels to be used as propaganda tools by government troops to cause fear in the hearts of the villagers.

Through Bukas na Lang Sapagkat Gabi Na, Leyco exhaustively and compellingly dissects a nation's culture of suppression. He even becomes his own censor, replacing drastic sounds of gunshots with innocuous noises from low-budget sci-fi laser beams. He upends the immense gravity and seriousness of his episodes with ironic turns only a repressed over-imaginative mind can cook up. The video-captured moments prior to an imperfect wedding surprisingly give way to a sequence straight out of a cheap action flick. The abusive military's victory over rebels is interrupted by a montage of communist propaganda. The morally depraved priest peacefully passes away with an amusingly paternal parting sermon for the sacristan he victimized. Dead rebels come back to life. Leyco proposes that fantasy, in all its shapes and forms, is but a product of a vast unknown, which is but a product of curbed information.

And who else could be the most apt mascot for censorship but Ferdinand Marcos, who masterminded an entire country's ignorance with several decades' worth of laws and rules that suppress basic freedoms. When Leyco, in the spirit of worthwhile mischievousness, concludes his film with the famous bust of Marcos crudely animated to mouth the same words mothers tell overly-inquisitive children, the effect is both humorous and quietly disturbing. The dictator's shadow still looms, and his legacy remains, although evidently not in the same degree as when he was in power. Still, like children forced to sleep to dream of answers to unanswered questions, the nation remains bamboozled and blinded by tall tales and fantasies, all in the name of paltry escape from a country's persisting calamity.

(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)
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