I see Edita in Lorna, and vice-versa
FUNFARE - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - May 2, 2013 - 12:00am

When direk Joel Lamangan tapped Lorna Tolentino to play Edita Burgos in Burgos, all I could say was, “Perfect casting!” — never mind if Lorna is a second choice. The second (or third or fourth) choice always proves to be the right, and better, choice, or haven’t you noticed? It proves true not only locally but in Hollywood as well. The list is too long to be itemized here.

Produced by Harlene Bautista-Sarmenta’s Heaven’s Best Entertainment and written by Ricky Lee, Burgos chronicles Edita’s long-drawn search for her son Jonas who has been missing since April 28, 2007, snatched from a restaurant at a mall in Quezon City. Jonas is played by Rocco Nacino, with Tirso Cruz III in a guest appearance as the late Joe Burgos, the iconic freedom fighter and publisher of Malaya, the newspaper that exposed the excesses of the Martial Law regime. The other stars are Allen Dizon as Burgos eldest son Sonny, Dimples Romana as Burgos eldest daughter Peachy, Bangs Garcia as Burgos youngest daughter Ann, Kerbie Zamora as Burgos youngest son JL and Ina Feleo as Jonas’ wife Mhe-Ann.

I see Edita in Lorna, and vice-versa. As I’ve been saying, I’ve known Edita way back when. Our group of seven, all starting a career as movie writers in nineteen-forgotten, became known as The Seven Dwarfs and Edita’s sister Malu Tronqued (now Mrs. Jimmy Mapa and a long-time US resident) was our Snow White. Malu was pretty and petite, fair-skinned, and she wore her short hair with part of it covering her freckled face.

Like Malu, we (Raoul Tidalgo, Eddie Campañer and me; and the late Mar d’Guzman Cruz, Eddie Padilla and Rustom Quinton, with also the late Robert Cheng/Carrion whom we fondly called The Fairy Godfather) didn’t call Mrs. Burgos Edita or Edith; we called her Nene. At that time, Nene was happy being plain Mrs. Joe Burgos. Our group would fetch Malu at the Makabayan Publishing House in Quezon City where she worked as associate editor of Movie Confidential magazine.     

At the Burgos apartment near Espana Extension (where Malu was boarding), we would kill time by playing pekwa and then take a quick dinner of corned beef with steaming white rice that Nene would prepare for us. Then off we shuttle from one movie set to another, or one showbiz affair to another, an almost daily routine that would last until way past midnight (or early morning).

Oh yes, when Joe Burgos came home from the (old) Manila Times where he worked as a fearless police reporter, lugging a camera and a bag-ful of what we presumed were important documents, we would stop the pekwa, awed by his presence, and very shyly greet him “Good night po!” Nene stood by, a supportive wife to Joe and devoted mother to their then only two kids, a very quiet but forceful presence. Yes, very much like Lorna. And pretty like Lorna. Put a mole above Nene’s right upper lip and, that’s it, Lornang-Lorna na siya.

That’s why I see Lorna in Nene, and vice-versa. The two ladies lost their husbands (Lorna’s was Rudy Fernandez) to cancer. Overjoyed is how Lorna described her reaction when she was taken in as replacement for Nora Aunor and Hilda Koronel.

“What matters now is I got the role,” justified Lorna. “I read the script and it broke my heart. But it’s not all crying scenes. My character here is profoundly emotional. My respect for Mrs. Burgos grew even greater when I met her in person. I am taking this project as a big challenge.”

The transformation of Nene from a simple wife and mother to a fighting mother comes as a pleasant surprise to those of us who have known her from way back. Up to now, when I see her picture in the papers raising her clenched fist, holding back tears oftentimes in vain and speaking very loudly against those responsible for the disappearance of her son (and other deseparecidos as well), I find it hard to connect her to the quiet lady seemingly complacent in the shadow of her famous husband.

Lorna with direk Joel Lamangan and Edita: Perfect casting in the hands of a formidable tandem (with Ricky Lee as scriptwriter)

“Mrs. Burgos is a ‘deep’ person,” observed Lorna. Her unwavering determination to fight and search fore truth, justice and her son is admirable. I’m so inspired in internalizing her character.”

“Actually,” confessed Nene, “I’m a fan of Lorna’s. I’ve seen most of her movies.”

Asked at the presscon about her profession, Mrs. Burgos said, “I am a simple person; I was a teacher for more than five years. My last teaching job was at UP where I was a graduate professor. At the same time, I was the general manager of Malaya and its sister publisher We Forum. At that time,” she continued half in jest, “kapag general manager ka, ikaw din ang nagwawalis, ikaw ang bumibili ng ulam at ikaw lahat ang nagdadala ng mga dyaryo sa mga dealers at naniningil. My whole world revolved around my husband and my children, and my teaching job, aside from the church.

“When my husband died, I became very active in managing our farm in Bulacan. In fact, seven years before he died, I gave up my teaching job and became a farmer. That was how Jonas got involved with farmers. Besides seeking justice for Jonas and searching for him, I am now busy taking care of my nine grandchildren. I am also a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. Kung noon mahiyain ako, ngayon natatalo na ‘yan ng desire ng nanay na mahanap ang kanyang anak. Now, I have to talk. If I don’t speak up, who will? Baka ibang anak ko naman ang mabiktima.”  

In the hands of the formidable Lamangan-Lee tandem, Burgos is bound to become a significant film.

“The emotional travails of a grievous mother and her family will dominate this film,” promised Joel. “The story starts in a mother’s heart. Yes, there is politics in the story but it is superseded by the agonies Mrs. Burgos has been going through, which is the focus of the movie. It is a continuing search by a mother for her lost son.”

Said Ricky, “We did a lot of research for the script because, firstly, this is a true story and not fiction. We interviewed the whole Burgos family and their friends, all real people, not invented characters. Joel and I agreed on quiet and subdued scenes. We avoided melodramatic scenes and opted for subtle but affecting treatment.”

To be shown not only in the Philippines but abroad, especially in countries with advocacy against human-rights violations, Burgos started shooting last Sunday, April 28, coinciding with the sixth anniversary of the abduction of Jonas Burgos. After Holy Week, the Court of Appeals confirmed the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ hand in the “forced disappearance” of Jonas.     

“Things are falling into place,” said Joel.

(E-mail reactions at entphilstar@yahoo.com. You may also send your questions to askrickylo@gmail.com. For more updates, photos and videos visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on www.twitter/therealrickylo.)

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