A film with a social conscience

STAR BYTES by Butch Francisco
The Philippine Star 10/24/2002

In 1989, a Hollywood teenage musical called Sing was released here in Metro Manila. Starring Peter Dobson, Lorraine Bracco and Jessica Steen, the film’s story is about how a group of high school students are putting together their annual song festival – only to be told that they can’t stage it because the school will be shut down anytime. Instead of looking for an alternative school – or at least stop ther school’s closure – the students spend all their time and energy trying to put up that darned songfest.

While some of my companions who watched this film with me during its premiere night in Greenbelt Cinema sniffed their way through parts of the movie (there were some mushy moments), I hated practically every minute of it. I simply could not relate to the film characters’ concerns – especially since their only problem in life is how to stage their school production.

Munting Tinig
is also about how an elementary schoolteacher (Alessandra de Rossi) struggles to organize a small singing group that would compete in a song competition within the region. But unlike Sing, your heart will go out to the characters in this film.

Directed by Gil Portes, who co-wrote the script with Adolf Alix and Sennedy Que, Munting Tinig’s concerns are not just about chorale competitions. The problems cited here are of national scope particularly the country’s educational system, poverty and peace and order.

Of course, most of the situations presented here are scenarios we are familiar with – like the principal (Dexter Doria) selling ice candies. Or about how there aren’t enough books and classrooms for public school children. And yes, this decades-old problem about how some farmer parents don’t allow their kids to attend school during planting or harvest season because these youngsters have to help out in the fields.

Munting Tinig
, however, gives us a better understanding of these social issues. More importantly, it reminds us that these problems are there – because with all the things going on in this country, we tend to forget that our educational system is just rotting away and begging for attention. Thanks to this film, we become aware once more that, indeed, there are social problems that have long been asking for solutions.

But in spite of all the social ills presented here almost one after the other, Munting Tinig – with all its poignant moments – doesn’t really depress you. But it hits your social conscience – and how!

To his credit, the director wisely injects humor in some of the scenes depicting the country’s social problems. The deteriorating quality of education, for instance, is no laughing matter. But trust Portes and his writers Alix and Que to squeeze out laughter from this supposedly grim reality.

And so they have this English teacher in the movie (played by Irma Adlawan) who will give any serious grammarian a heart attack because of the way she mangles the King’s language. If you ask her – and this is what she teaches in class – the plural form of potato is "potatos" and the plural form of tomato is "tomatos."

The character portrayed by Adlawan sure is funny, but – ouch! – how many like her are still running loose in the field of education?

Actually, different kinds of schoolteachers are represented in this movie. Aside from those who have no right to become teachers because they don’t know the first thing about teaching (like the English teacher played by Adlawan) and the principal who sells ice candies (it’s longganisa and even panties in most instances), there is also a depiction here of public schoolteachers who abuse their pupils by asking them to do chores even outside of the school. (In the movie, Malou Crisologo makes her pupils clean her house and feed her hogs after school hours.)

Of course, there is also mention of the teacher who goes overseas to work as a domestic helper – which is another sad reality in this country. In Munting Tinig, Gina Alajar works as a domestic helper in Hong Kong to enable her daughter, Leilani Navarro, to finish BSE so she can later work as a teacher – which the daughter does so dutifully. Unfortunately – and this is the height of irony – the low salaries received by teachers eventually drive Leilani to fly to Singapore where she also ends up as a domestic helper like her mother.

And then, there is the dedicated teacher – which I believe there is still a lot of – as portrayed by Alessandra de Rossi. Brimming with the desire to impart knowledge, this young teacher does not allow hopelessness and other obstacles already built into our educational system to get in the way of her work. If only all teachers were like her.

And if only all local movies were like this.

Munting Tinig
is truly one of the most important films of the year. It is excellently handled by director Gil Portes and his writers and boasts of a fine cast led by Alessandra de Rossi, who is always good at whatever she does (Dexter Doria, Malou Crisologo and Irma Adlawan are equally wonderful in the film).

The strongest point of Munting Tinig, however, is its strong social message – actually a plea from poor students, underpaid teachers and oppressed farmers whose small voices are all waiting to be heard.