, July 02, 2022

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The Christmas of the Year of the Coup


  •   4 min reads
The Christmas of the Year of the Coup

"The coup was led by former First Lady Imelda Marcos, Colonel Gregorio Honasan, General Edgardo Abenina, and retired General Jose Ma. Zumel, and staged by an alliance of the RAM, led by Honasan. The rebels seized Villamor Airbase, Fort Bonifacio, Sangley Airbase, Mactan Airbase in Cebu, and portions of Camp Aguinaldo. They launched planes and helicopters and bombarded and strafed Malacañan Palace, Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo.

"Business leaders estimated that the mutiny cost the economy US$1.5 billion". Wikipedia

It was nearing the end of 1989, an especially bad year for the country.

We had just survived several coup attempts -- barely. And this one was "the most serious attempted coup d'état against the government. Metro Manila was shaken by this Christmas-time coup, which almost seized the presidential palace." Wikipedia

Corazon Aquino was holding on to the helm of the country, and people considered her grip weak. The economy, which was starting to take off, was again in shambles. The country, it seemed, was still ‘under judgment’. This was a Christmas after a particularly bruising time in the life of our people. Political strife had turned bloody.

I wrote and directed and voiced a Christmas message for this tired country, on film -- for free. I implored a production house (Provill Studios Manila) to film it, found a like-hearted client of the advertising agency to sponsor it (M.Y. San), pleaded with the networks to either air it for free or at reduced rates.

Production was fraught with difficulties.

While we wrote and drew the ad, we needed a producer and someone to score it. I am tickled remembering that a Buddhist came to my rescue, helping produce a commercial about Christ and Christmas. (He is now Christian, now prime mover of Soundesign).

There was an another problem, that of propriety.

If the reader is of a certain age, and if he is observant, he will remember that biblical movies in the past did not show the face of the Christ. Hands, yes; they would need palms to hammer nails into. You saw his sandalled feet walking about in a land of scraggly vegetation; fingers, as when he doodled on the ground after being asked regarding the stoning of a prostitute; his garment as he moved about in a dusty world. There was a reliance on over-the-shoulder shots as he scolded or parleyed with others, or looked down on John and Mary from his high perch on the cross at Calvary. I particularly love the movie “Marcelino Pan y Vino”, the boy who found and fed Jesus in an attic (the savior would dismount from his cross to eat the bread and wine, but he was a hand talent and a shoulder and the off-camera character the boy loved conversing with. Strangely, Jesus's face is on paintings but not on celluloid.

"It wasn’t until 1961 that Hollywood decided to show Jesus’s face, when Jeffrey Hunter starred in the big-budget Biblical epic 'King Of Kings'," so wrote Alan Shaw in his Sunday Post article, "The conflicts and Controversies of Jesus Christ in Cinema".

In an article by John Anderson in the New York Times, Rev. Robert E. Lauder, a priest who teaches philosophy at St. John’s University in Queens, was mentioned to have said "that as far as the Roman Catholic Church’s position on representations of Jesus, 'the only criterion that might exist is that Jesus be depicted with respect. I think that creators of films knew that people have their own images of Jesus, and no matter what actor portrayed him, some people would not be happy with how he looked. Not showing Jesus’ face avoided that danger'.

And here we were, intending to use the face – in a commercial.

The video could not be created without it. To use terminology of advertising, the “Big Picture” is that of his visage being drawn by hand.

The risk was that client and agency would be demonized by conservative Christians. While I didn't think it so, the intolerant would consider it “sacrilegious”, and I didn't want a public relations mess to detract from the message I wanted to deliver.

Besides, I needed to have it approved, the production funded and its airing sponsored.

Remember, this was three decades ago.

I consulted a pastor about my worry, who told me to just run with it. The client, son to one of the former owners of M.Y. San and a Christian, loved it.

The message hit the national nerve, winning praise and awards here and abroad. It engendered immense public relations value for the sponsoring client. It became talk of the town. An entire year of grade school students sent letters of thanks to the client. A particularly pleasing one said, nearly if not accurately thus, “thank you, M.Y. San, now I know what Christmas is all about”.

It was especially gratifying to be of value to country and client.

Yearly, at about this time of the year, I am reminded of the spot, by people who remember it, and yearly, I am reminded that this television commercial, now more than thirty years old, could be aired again, today -- without changing a word -- referring to this year and to the shambles that is the Philippines, in the same sad tone.

May the merry in your Christmas be especially palpable this year. I pray the end of next year will be better, that the country will be blessed with harmony, and that this country will be better led, better served, and the pandemic better managed.


The author is chairman of Estima, an ad agency dedicated to helping local industrialists, causes and candidates, and co-founder of Caucus, Inc., a multi-discipline consultancy firm. He can be reached through vpozon@me.com


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