Pugon stars take a stand on child labor

Charmie Joy Pagulong - The Philippine Star
Pugon stars take a stand on child labor
Jhassy Busran leads the film’s young cast as a child worker at a bread factory.

MANILA, Philippines — The number of child labor cases in the Philippines has been on the rise due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. In line with it, the stars of the forthcoming short film Pugon (The Furnace) expressed their views on child labor, the salient theme of the indie drama.

Helmed by Gabby Ramos, the story revolves around Sonia (played by Jhassy Busran), a 14-year-old girl who gets thrown into the pawnshop slavery to pay the debt of her poor parents. She lives in a fishing village, where pawning their children is the norm.

Sonia is brought to a bread factory along with other children while witnessing acts of abuse by their employer, Mang Rey (Soliman Cruz). After serving for 10 months, she heads for home. But shock and dismay welcome her back as she learns that her father has died. It leads to her mother pawning her again to pay for the expenses of her father’s funeral.

The 19-minute narrative poses several questions: When will the cycle of debt bondage end? Is a bright future even possible for Sonia? How will she deal with her fate?

Pugon also stars Andrea del Rosario, Cassie Kim, Bamboo B, Edmond Santiago, Carmen del Rosario and Sheena Lee Palad.

Direk Gabby presents his two sides of the coin about child labor during a virtual press conference. “Dalawa po yan eh. Minsan kasi gusto kong sisihin yung mga tao na hinihila yung mga anak nila para sa child labor para makapag-trabaho. Pero ang purpose kasi ng child labor lalo yung magulang para kumita para mabuhay sila. Minsan yung mga bata, sila na rin kasi ang nag-prepresenta,” he told The STAR.

Pugon cast members and crew: Cassie Kim (second from left), Jhassy Busran, Direk Gabby Ramos (second to the right) and Bamboo B.

“The children are the ones who find means para mabuhay yung magulang nila. Sa kahirapan, yung oportunidad para kumita at sa demand pag-binalanse mo, pag-gumamit ka ng sukatan, parang tama. But in society’s standards, in our system and law, it’s wrong,” he added.

For direk Gabby, if there is a mutual consent between parents and the child, he said, “Mali talaga. Pero hindi naman lahat ng mali is morality right at ‘tsaka morality wrong. Siguro kung pinuwersa ang bata na gawin ‘to, mali yun. But correct me if I’m wrong, lahat ito, basta child labor, mali. Pero dahil sa sistema natin, pero dahil sa pangangailangan, yung mali nag-mumukha ng tama.”

Andrea, for her part, related her own experience on the issue by saying, “Somehow, I experienced it myself at a very young age. My parents got separated. ‘Di naman ganun super kabata tulad ng iba, pero in my own experience, I was barely 18, medyo nagsimula na po ako mag-artista.

“Siguro innate na rin para sa ating mga Pilipino na unahin natin ang pamilya natin more than our own well-being,” she shared. “At an early age, nasa-sabak na tayo sa mundo and we try to contribute to the family. There are millions of children that are going through the same (situation).”

She furthered that she cannot judge the parents because poverty does exist in society. “There are so many factors. It’s a sad fact of life but I guess it’s the Filipino in us that we really want to reach out and help our family.”

Soliman, who has recently been tapped as a lead role in the Romanian psychological thriller To The North, said there are some kids who would help their parents to earn. “Sa una kasi makikita mo na parang laro lang yun sa mga bata, for example, you would see kids selling sampaguita in the street. Later on, you would realize that they were not forced to work, it’s not forced child labor.”

“Pag makita sila ng manunulat or peryodista, lalo mga galing sa ibang bansa, ang tingin nila child labor,” he said. “However, our culture is different from theirs. Yung isang bata ang pananaw niya ay makatulong sa home economics. Hindi nanggagaling sa magulang, kusa ng mga bata eh (to contribute to the family).”

Pugon tackles realities of child labor.

When Jhassy learned that the film is about child labor, she reflected on how blessed she is to not have experienced it at a young age. “Like what direk said, the family and children have their own reasons why they do it. Wala naman siguro ako sa katayuan para i-judge kung bakit kailangang pag-trabahuin yung bata.”

The newcomer actress and Pugon lead star had this to say to those who are victims of child labor, “Sobra po akong proud sa kanila kasi nakakaya po nila yung mga bagay na hindi kayang gawin ng iba sa murang edad.”

Bamboo B explained that child labor can be seen in two ways: There are family members, who would force children to work and if the latter cannot provide enough income, they would torture and hurt them. “That is really unpleasant. Nakakaawa po,” he said.

On the other hand, there are some children who would volunteer to work to help the family. “Yung kusang-loob nila and for me, siguro pampalubag-loob na lang yun sa family nila. Mas OK yun kesa fino-force sila ng family nila and sinasaktan ‘pag ‘di sila nakaka-kuha ng sapat na income. Naawa po ako sa mga ganun,” said Bamboo B.

Cassie added that it was really difficult to be in that situation but she would do it personally to assist the family.

Direk Gabby drew inspiration from his nanny for the film. His nanny has been with them since he was a kid. “Nung bata pa siya, kasama namin siya, siya nag-aalaga sa amin. Tapos hindi na siya nakapag-asawa. Yung sweldo niya dinadala sa magulang.”

When the parents of his nanny died, the latter would send her salary to relatives. “So sabi ko, ‘Yaya Sion, bakit yung sweldo mo sa kanila napupunta?’ Sabi niya, ‘Hayaan mo na, okay naman ako sa inyo.’ Tapos marami siyang kasamahan din ‘nung bata pa siya. Nung inalam ko kung saan na yung mga kasama niya nung bata na naging kasambahay din, yung iba okay, yung iba hindi. Parang normal lang sa buhay na may ganun.”

Andrea del Rosario with Soliman Cruz in a scene from the film.

Meanwhile, Andrea, who was in Boracay during the media conference, disclosed she had to turn down some projects because she is undergoing in-vitro fertilization.

But she “felt very fortunate” because, despite her begging off from some projects, offers would still come her way and require her to tape for a shorter time. “That’s important for me because of my daughter. Dahil sa pinag-dadaanan natin (pandemic), nahirapan akong alagaan yung anak ko because wala akong mapag-iiwanan.” Andrea has an 11-year-old daughter named Bea.

(Pugon is part of Cinemalaya 2021’s Indie Nation exhibition section, set to be streamed from Aug. 6 to Sept. 5 via KTX.ph.)

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