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Magtanggol advocates protection of OFWs

The movie, which is about a family of freedom fighters, stars (from left) William Martinez, Joonee Gamboa, Raul Morit, Dina Bonnevie and Albie Casiño

MANILA, Philippines - Magtanggol, directed by Sigfreid Barros Sanchez and produced by Felix and Bert Film Productions, is an independent movie with a mainstream appeal and a diasporic advocacy. It is a narrative about the plight of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) in the hands of their abusive employers and what politicians can do in addressing the issue.

“We want to share something with OFWs,” said producer Susan Dispo of how the film came about in a presscon before its VIP screening held at SM MOA Cinema. “Portion of the income will go to an OFW fund,” she continued on. “Whatever you pay in ticket booths, part of it, will be donated to this fund.”

Susan added that the Magtanggol team spoke to Migrante regarding plans on the earnings made from the movie. The initial talk of putting up a halfway house — which will accommodate OFWs and those who are processing their application for job placements abroad — is a good start.

The germ of the idea for the film jumpstarted when Susan’s husband, Jojo, the other producer, wrote a story which became the basis for Magtanggol where a family of freedom fighters is thrust into the local politics. According to Susan, “We offered the story to producers and networks. They called and told us that they were into romance stories.” That didn’t stop the couple from trying their luck at film producing and then they met director Sigfreid. They had a script to work on and chosen the stars to play the key roles. 

Since producing Magtanggol is a new territory to the Dispos, they learned lessons along the way but were resolved to make a film, which serves as their family’s tribute to the  hard work of OFWs as Jojo shared. 

“As we all know, the budget (for an indie) is low. (But) the budget had increased as we went along doing the movie,” Susan said. And they carried on despite of almost giving up in producing the movie. “We watched the film Ekstra, starring Vilma Santos,” she recalled. “My husband told me ganyan ba talaga ang mga ekstra? I attended the first shooting day (of Magtanggol) myself and saw that ekstra would start their day at 4 a.m. and would wait for their (sequence).”

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After watching the film, which is a commentary on the life of a bit player, Susan and Jojo decided to continue the filming of Magtanggol and to express their full support to and commitment with it. “It’s a gamble. It’s our first venture,” said Susan.

“We made this movie not just for us to showcase the acting talents and the skills of industry workers, but also to help out the Overseas Filipino Workers,” said Sigfreid. “We are privy to their stories and the sacrifices they make just to fill up a balikbayan box (full of presents) to be shipped to relatives every Christmas and mid-year. (The movie) is our way of repaying all the sacrifices they have made.” Thus, a balikbayan box is not just a cultural artifact to Pinoys, but a symbol of their hopes and dreams. 

As for Magtanggol star Dina Bonnevie, she said the industry should continue to produce films since Filipino movies are getting the attention of international film festivals. The narratives should be socially relevant like Ma’Rosa which was about drug trafficking and gave the country its first acting award from Cannes via Jaclyn Jose’s win.

“It’s about human trafficking,” said Dina of the social issue Magtanggol tackles. “It is about Filipinos being sent abroad as labor force. The Philippines is the only one that exports a lot of people as its main product. Ano ba ang pinakamalakas na produkto ng Pilipinas, di ba OFWs?... We produce the best workforce.”

As Magtanggol suggests that the local economy also relies on remittances generated by OFWs, the latter, who do manual labor and are susceptible to occupational maltreatment, should be protected.

“I think the main thrust of the movie is to protect, which explains the title of the movie,” said Dina. “Ano ang ipagtatanggol mo? Ang adhikain mo na hindi malinis, yung gusto mong mangyari sa buhay mo na nakakasakit ka ng ibang tao dahil kapag ginawa mo ay may makakamkam kang pera o ipagtatanggol mo ba ang dangal at pangalan ng pamilya mo o ang dangal at pangalan ng Pilipino.”  

Magtanggol as a platform to further discuss the plight of OFWs “is like a fund-raising project for them,” said Susan. “If this one will become successful, we will make another film that will help people. Maybe the next film is for the senior citizens or about (living in a) boys town. It is an advocacy for everyone to help.” It is a venue, where “we can be heroes for the (modern-day) heroes,” she added. 

Graded B by Cinema Evaluation Board, Magtanggol is now showing in theaters. It is line produced by Elaine Carriedo Lozano with screenplay by Sigfreid, Henrie Famorcan Enaje and Henrie Dela Cruz and cinematography by Topel Lee.

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