‘Kumander Liway:’ Martial Law Told Through the Eyes of a Family


“MAYBE in the future, if I am able to develop a rich enough material on the subject,” said filmmaker Kip Oebanda when asked about creating a film about the life of “Kumander Liway,” a former New People’s Army (NPA) leader in Negros Occidental during Martial Law. (In detention, but independent, Inquirer.net)

The year was 2014. 

Oebanda did not want to rush because the story was “deeply personal and serious.” So in the years to come, he wrote and directed instead three independent films, “Tumbang Preso” (2014), “Bar Boys” and “Nay” (2017), which nevertheless showcased his capacity as a storyteller. In between, continuously researching and developing the biographical film–but always doubting.

“Ayoko talaga siyang gawin noong una, honestly. Why would I put myself in a dangerous position. ‘Liway’ will inevitably have a political slant,” Oebanda said. (The Reel Life of Kip Oebanda, Manila Bulletin)

But “the time is right,” so he said. 

“It’s as simple as saying that the film is about Martial Law, a specter of what’s happening in society now, (which) seeps into the fabric of every social institution including the family, how it tears people apart, how it destroys lives.”

Kip Oebanda

Liway finally came to life in the big screen. The movie of the same name was premiered and screened at the 14th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival held from August 3 to 12 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and select Ayala Cinemas.

“It’s as simple as saying that the film is about Martial Law, a specter of what’s happening in society now, (which) seeps into the fabric of every social institution including the family, how it tears people apart, how it destroys lives,” the director further explained. (The Reel Life of Kip Oebanda, Manila Bulletin)

Indeed “Liway” couldn’t had come at a more opportune time—a time when the atrocities of the Martial Law period, declared and led by the late president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos, are continuously being revised, forgotten and worst, forgiven.

And it was to become Oebanda’s most relevant to date.

Day and Dakip

Of the few films about or symbolizing Martial Law in the Philippines, only “Dekada ’71,” directed by Chito Roño based on the novel by Lualhati Bautista, had narrated a story of a family during the dark period. (No movie about it’? Here’s a list of martial law-related films, Inquirer.net)

“Liway” is only the second film to carry the same theme but it delved deeper into the tale of a family caught smack in the middle.

The eponym, Liway, was a rebel commander who was caught along with Kumander Toto, her husband, after years of fighting against the military and hiding in the mountains of Hinobaan, Negros Occidental. She was pregnant then, and she was imprisoned as such. She gave birth inside the military camp and a family she tried to raise inside it.

Liway was also Day, the wife of Ric and the mother of Dakip at Camp Delgado.

So Liway was also Day, the wife of Ric and the mother of Dakip at Camp Delgado. As Day, all she wanted was for Dakip—the son she carried and delivered in a world of chaos—to see a new world with hope and freedom.

This, the film had aptly put into light by weaving the lives of Liway and Day, the fight of the former and the family of the latter. But two different woman they seemed to be, the same beliefs they stood for.

And while it was set mostly inside a prison camp, the film was also able to bring viewers in the middle of action deep in the mountains, further back before there was Liway, and forward to where Martial Law was headed, its inevitable end.

Through all this, superb direction and production design from Oebanda, who had clearly created his finest film.

He co-wrote the screenplay with Zig Dulay. Joining him in the production team were Chuck Gutierrez, editor; Pong Ignaciol, cinematography; Aped Santos, production design, Nhick Pacis, original music; Wildsound, sound design; Jed Medrano, line producer; Lucky Jay De Guzman, production manager; and Alemberg Ang, producer.

Fittingly too, repatriated money hidden in overseas accounts by the Marcoses, were used in producing “Liway.”

Spotlight on Glaiza

Portraying Liway and Day in the film is actress Glaiza de Castro. Although not new to indie films, “Liway” could be her most challenging role yet.

Nevertheless, writer and director Oebanda was set on casting the actress better known for her primetime and dramatic roles in TV.

“I wanted someone who could display the range of emotions that the character needed. On the one hand: nurturing, caring mom; loving daughter; but when she needs to fight, she fights. I need both the strength and that vulnerability — and in many ways, that emotional resilience, which I think (Glaiza) has.” (The emancipation of Glaiza de Castro, CNNPhilippines.com)

The possibility is that Glaiza de Castro she could be a prime actress of among her contemporaries.

The choice was right. Even if she couldn’t entirely shake off her dramatic acting for TV, she was raw and vulnerable as a mother, down and dirty as a fighter, and brave and dignified as a woman.

“Siguro dahil lang ang tagal kong umaarte sa T.V., may mga times na naghahanap ka ng break o panghilamos, kumbaga. Hindi ka naman umaalis doon sa industriya na iyon. Nagta-try ka lang mag-expand, mag-explore—ano kaya ang ibang possibilities pagka sinubukan kong magpelikula, o itong project na ito?”

The possibility is that she could be a prime actress among her contemporaries.

De Castro was also able to reveal her undiscovered talent as a singer. In the movie, she would be singing versions of Asin’s “Pagbabalik” at “Himig ng Pag-ibig.”

And while de Castro deserved the spotlight, equally worthy of recognition in the film is Kenken Nuyad who played Dakip. He was a child of curiosity and wonder but wise enough for his age to understand his family’s plight. There was also Dominic Rocco as Kumander Toto and Ric, the husband of Liway.

Soliman Cruz was Warden, the soldier who had a sense of right and wrong—a rarity in the time of Martia Law, while Sue Prado was also a former NPA detained with her traumatized son. Both gave a peek of the different experiences of people during Martial Law.

Completing the cast are Joel Saracho, Paolo O’Hara, Ebong Joson, Nico Antonio, Gerry Cornejo, Diana Alferez, Julie Bautista, Pau Benitez, Liway Gabo, She Maala, Renante Bustamante and Madeleine Nicolas.

Its significant timeliness and unique narrative—plus a wonderful surprise for the books—all this made “Liway” win the hearts of a discerning Cinemalaya crowd.

The film had officially become the highest-grossing full-length entry in Cinemalaya 2018. For this it also won Audience Choice Award and Special Jury Commendation for Film. ​

Kumander Liway

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