Rekrut: Inspired by the Jabidah Massacre
It was late Thursday night at Dencio’s Grill in Quezon City when I met with the cast and crew of Rekrut. It was a far shot, I thought, when I contacted Director Danny Añonuevo at Facebook. Luckily, he sent me a text message about the interview.
And so there we were, the night inked with stars and the mood jovial. Rekrut w
on the Best Supporting Actor (Emilio Garcia) for his portrayal of one of the lieutenants and Best Sound by Albert Michael Idioma recently at the Cinemalaya Film Festival this year.
Truthfully, I thought was going to be a typical war movie,
all gore and blood, like Saving Private Ryan. It was beyond my expections and even more. It depicted the different lives of a group of recruited soldiers as they train to become soldiers for Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). It was inspired by the Jabidah Massacre in 1963 during the Marcos regime.
During that time, the Philippines claimed Sabah was part of their territory and was only leased but not sold to Malaysia but the latter claimed otherwise.
“The story is deep. The time of Marcos, there was already an issue even before the Sultan gave it to Malaysia. I didn’t do it [in a] Political [manner] because it was too long. You need a long time to research and plenty of money. During the time of Marcos, what happened didn’t come out. But it was in Ninoy’s book and it was open to the public. The survivor came out and went to Ninoy Aquino. It came out during their time,” told Director Añonuevo. He further said how he wanted to create a film where he could inject action, drama and more human interest story.
In Rekrut, the soldiers were suppose to train for AFP and fight in their own land but neither do they know they would be sent to a land beyond the Philippine territory. Same goes for the 1963 recruits who were supposed to be sent to Sabah. Operation Merdeka was the destabilization program code name at that time. The plan involved 200 Tausug and Sama Muslims from Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
In both cases, the recruits complained about not receiving their salaries and eating the same food every day. This led them to be sent home supposedly. However, they were murdered before they left the island. The military fired at them as they helplessly tried to fled from the island.
The sole survivor in the 1963 massacre, Jibin Arula, told the story of how they were executed by the military. He survived when he held on to the driftwood and fishermen rescued him near the island of Cavite.
Director Añonuevo and line producer Krisma Maclang-Fajardo shared that it was the first time for a journalist to interview almost the entire cast. JM de Guzman (as Lando Dela Cruz), Rob Sy (as Waldo Palaypay), Manuel Chua (as Nikanor Tuglao), Dominic Roco (as Omar Mahadin), Maxene Magalona (as Yasmin Alura), Diomar Dyangco (as Tuan Iklali), CJ Ramos (as Ghani Amad), Eduardo Orgel, Jr. (as Shaber Aldas), Alwyn Uytingco (as Ben Ishmael), Alchris Galura (as Ulfi Majanjanay) Meko Buenaventura (as Abdul Abaza) were all there.
One could sense their brotherhood and bonding from afar. Roco explained the cast were not that close but as they get to know each other, their bonding became stronger and it was really brotherhood in the making.It was a bit intimidating to interview a lot of actors at the same time but they were surprisingly very humble. Emilio Garcia (Sgt. Manuel Lapus), Joem Bascon (Jamir Alura), Nar Cabico (Sajid Soliman), Acey Aguilar (Hashim Majadin), Archi Adamos (Col Mariano) and Rich Asuncion (Maribel) were not present. Instead, I called Garcia after the Cinemalaya Awards night for an interview on winning the Best Supporting Actor award. He was very accommodating and down to earth.
“Unexpected. We weren’t expecting it will win. I was surprise that my name was called. It was like [the] first time again to win an award. It doesn’t changes. Still, you’ll feel nervous, your [mind] will become blank, [and] you’ll forget to thank other people. It feels like you’re on a cloud nine or you’re floating,” explained Garcia over the phone.
Director Añonuevo was described as “rock and roll” kind of director by his actors while Garcia said the director was very cool, always in high spirits and meticulous with his work. He was also a very, very good editor.
“You can see it in his eyes asking ‘Are you ready?’ He gives us freedom as actors. He has [a] vision,” told de Guzman, who played one of the Christian recruit who had a long distance relationship with his girlfriend whom he left behind.
Meanwhile, director Añonuevo explained it was collaboration. “I’ll give the situation. As an actor, they’ll do their part. They’re easy to direct,” he elaborated. When asked if the group was rowdy since mostly are male, Fajardo immediately said yes but nonetheless it was fun to work with them.
Even Garcia was surprised because they were passionate with their craft. Even if they knew the salary was merely enough to cover gas. Rekrut was shot last summer under the awful heat of the sun in Cavite. “It’s like we were training for military. There were no complaints from them. We shoot at midnight, they don’t shower[and] they smell. But they don’t complain because they love the movie. They’re like a group of friends,” said Garcia.
“We [had] to be tough. The sun was so hot. It was a first time for me to be tan. We weren’t talking to each other literally. We were just looking at each other because it was so hot. It was a whole day shooting of the truck scene,” recalled Chua.
Director Añonuevo said some of the scenes were real, especially the action scenes. The actors showed me their scars—and yes, there were a lot.
De Guzman could attest to that by saying that “you don’t have to act from the training alone. The training was really rigorous. You felt like you were really a soldier so every effort you put is very real.”
There were real AFP soldiers to train them during workshop. One of them was sergeant Serrano. “We asked help from a sergeant from AFP, Sergeant Serrano. He taught them the right way to hold [the gun] and drill. All you see in the movie are all real actions military officers or trainees,” shared Director Añonuevo the rigorous workshop everybody went through. Furthermore, Garcia got stories from his military friends so he learned a lot from them on how to train his recruits.
Meanwhile, Sy who also played the other lieutenant said his preparations were so hard because he had another shoot for another project at Mt. Arayat in Pampanga and he had to go to Mt. Maragondon in Cavite. “I was [almost] flying. It had the same schedule. It was hard. I wasn’t able to work out. I wasn’t able to do a lot of things but then it felt great that I was there to play that role. Of course, I owe everything to direk and the whole production crew,” Sy said.
Dyangco said now he understood what it took to become a soldier. “It’s no joke to follow someone else’s orders even if it means compromising my principles. I grew respect for them,” he said on working with Rekrut cast and crew.
Ramos played a character who wanted to do things quickly. “I’m the one who wants to fire a gun, I want to become a soldier. In my real life, I really want to become a soldier. When JM called me, he told me to make a movie and we’re soldiers. I didn’t act it because I wanted to become one. It was easy for me to portray that character,” he said. He felt that he grew older. It was easy for him because the cast were his friends so he was comfortable. He said his director was “gigil” to direct and director Añonuevo wanted to prove more. He said Rekrut was a beautiful film to make.
Behind the camera amusing stories from the cast
There were a lot of funny stories they shared that night. Beginning with Garcia accidentally firing a loaded gun on Uytingco’s character, he didn’t know it was loaded. “I shot the gun but I didn’t know there was a bullet. I stood by it. After the take, there was a bruise on his back,” told Garcia. Uytingco also reminisced that he was “really hurt. I was asleep during that shot. All of a sudden, ‘Bam!’”
Another was a scene from the film when Buenaventura’s character ate a banana—skin and all. It fell off his head while they were eating in a square manner. He cried because his throat hurt from eating it. Garcia said he saw how they sacrificed their job and he won’t ever forget that.
“I’m Abdul and he loves to eat . . . The scene was good, even if it’s small, you have to do it well. It was a good experience in Rekrut. It was my first time with Cinemalaya. I was a theatre actor in UP,” elaborated Buenaventura.
There was another scene where the recruits swam across a lake. “We had a scene swimming. It was edited out. Dyomar, that time, was sick. He didn’t tell us. He wanted to do the scene. Meko didn’t make it [to the other side of the lake] because it was a first time for them to swim in that place. Joem wasn’t really a swimmer. He’s not that trained to swim,” shared Director Añonuevo. Bascon almost drowned but thank God he didn’t.
Fajardo added that they rehearsed the swimming but Bascon admitted he didn’t swim well but still he did it without a double. Uytingco further added also that the lake was slippery and full of rocks so it was dangerous as well.
There was also a story when Buenaventura saw a ghost beside Dyangco who asleep. Dyangco admitted he didn’t know. Director Anonuevo said that they had the bomb scene filmed that day so they disrupted those unseen living in the area.
The rest of the cast told their director how they wanted to play a trick on Sy because of his role as one of the very strict lieutenant in the film. “We were planning already in the barracks. ‘Okay, take.’ We were supposed to do a ramble. When the gun went off, he wasn’t expecting it. So everybody went on top of him,” said Director Añonuevo.
The women in Rekrut
What would be an action film without some romance in it? Bascon and de Guzman’s characters had love interests whom they left behind. Magalona played Bascon’s wife while Asuncion played de Guzman’s girlfriend.
Fajardo said that it was de Guzman who recommended Asuncion for the role. “It’s a coincidence, she’s Cebuano. I was looking for one. So he [de Guzman] referred her to us so I saw the picture and I said okay. It was not hard for her because her role was Cebuano,” she explained.
“Our opening was supposed to open with Joem when he was saying goodbye to his wife. That night, they made love. The next day, it was the continuation of bravo. We didn’t have time and we had a problem with Joem’s schedule so we didn’t [shoot] that scene,” said director Añonuevo on a scene that didn’t happen in Rekrut.
Meanwhile, Magalona shared that she got the offer at 11:30 p.m. when she was with her friends de Guzman, Uytingco and Roco. There was no one to play her role and they had to pull out someone at 1:00 a.m. “I don’t accept indie because I feel like I wasn’t ready, I don’t know how. I feel like I’ll be criticized. I called my mom immediately. I thought she won’t approve because it was sudden but she said go. She wanted me to join indie. In the end, I said game,” recalled Magalona.
She was able to cry during the scene of receiving her husband’s letter because of her dad. The sun was already setting so she had to do it immediately. She was pressured but she was able to do it. She thought it wasn’t that good but she explained that “every actor feels that way after every scene but it was okay.” But the entire Rekrut cast and crew said she did great.
Translating the script from Bisaya to Filipino
The entire Rekrut cast and crew applauded Orgel for doing the taxing job of translating the script from Bisaya to Filipino. He said it was hard to translate and teach the cast with a Cebuano accent. He was taken aback by doing so but he had to do it for them. “There was a script that was given. I translated quickly. I’m proud I did it even if it was hard. I’m thankful that [even if] the Filipinos find it hard to have a Cebuano accent but they were able to do it correctly,” he shared.
Buenaventura added that it was hard to memorize and understand. “You just got the concept but sometimes your mind goes blank,” he said. Uytingco added that they were able to do it correctly.
Criticism of gay role and first time Cinemalaya actors
Galura said his character was not gay but effeminate. “As he goes through the training, he became manlier. It was hard because I was imitating other gays. But I also had another gay role before at Cinemalaya too. A lot of people said it wasn’t convincing as gay so I got nervous. Hopefully this time I can do it and act like a girl,” he said on his role as Ulfi Majanjanay.
It was Chua’s first time also to do an indie film. He was among the two Christians in the cast apart from Lando (played by de Guzman). “One time, I fought for him. I was a Christian and brave. They said there are no Muslims that are cowards so I showed them no Christians [are cowards],” he said.
The Rekrut film was a success and same goes for the bonding between the cast and crew of the film. Their friendship goes beyond the film and director Añonuevo said if he decides to create another film in the future, hopefully his Rekrut cast will also be there. it will be shown either in September or October in local theaters and also compete in the Montreal World Film Festival.