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The Subversions and Splendor of an Oragon: Eddie Garcia

Eddie Garcia started as a villain in the 40s and 50s. It was a difficult period to be a contravida when all around where character actors and natural scene stealers like Johnny Monteiro, Van de Leon, Max Alvarado, and many others. Garcia was up there suave and debonaire. And yet with him around, Paraluman, Gloria Romero, Susan Roces and many other leading ladies playing women of the sweet and gentle kind, were never safe enough.

Onscreen, Garcia was the wife-batterer; the unwelcomed lover, richer but evil; the perpetual enemy who was never happy with the bright fate of other men. He could be comic but, always, the mean streak took over because he just had to make the handsome man or the lovely girl unhappy or distressed.

In the 50s, when films were very lucid but rigid about the separation of good and evil, Eddie Garcia magnified the thin mustache above those lips naturally poised to smirk. He was no good, upon first impression. He was a bad love at first sight. He was the “traydor.” The audiences in those years hated his guts. And yet, they knew their more beloved heroes would never be heroes and would never be beloved without the character of Eddie Garcia setting into the motion the story of life. And what was this story but the simplistic myths about how men were either wrong or right from the start. There was no fall from grace in those films. The good man and good woman never partook of the fallen nature of man. That fallen nature was left to Eddie Garcia to act out and articulate.

The villains of the period had to be identifiable like the stock characters of an opera buffa: One was either ugly or one wore a mustache. Eddie Garcia was not ugly but he had a mustache. It was a very thin mustache, fastidiously maintained. Its thinness hid the density of the character flaw being portrayed by the mustache-bearer. But it was not only the mustache that separated Eddie Garcia from the rest. There was the voice and the eternal inflection that never lost the umbilicus of angst and disdain from birth. That voice and the tone it affected accompanied us in our dreams, long after we have seen his character get his comeuppance, long after the “bida” rode into the sunset. We know that in the next sunrise, Eddie Garcia will come back, in another form, more violations in the voice, more toxins in the tone.

It has been written by many that even if you put a hood or a box over the head of Eddie Garcia, you will always sense that smirk in his line, the contempt he throws at anyone exhibiting the de-facto righteousness to his default revulsion about the order of things.

If Eddie Garcia merely perfected the antithesis to the lead narrator or to the Good Everyman, then we could have allowed him to go quietly into the night. But Eddie Garcia was a good actor and a keen director.

As a good actor, Eddie has played all kinds of roles. In one film in the 70s, viewers were shocked to see this man who had raped and violated the loveliest of actresses on screen fondle the bulging crotch of a young man in tight pants (Thank god the fans and moral guardians must have quivered in silence) onscreen. The film was “Tubog Sa Ginto,”and the director was Lino Brocka. The smirk was still there but Eddie Garcia added a quivering mouth and eyes that seared through the space. He was not gay for fun but gay for truth, although that truth remained in the closet. Till he was a gay revealed, the character was also a liar to his wife. It was a difficult role because the film never promised that the father played by Garcia would soon see the light and become straight again.

Eddie Garcia would do more roles that transgressed social norms and mores. In film after film that pitted him against Fernando Poe, Jr, he was the articulate officer – the chief or the general – who mouthed expletives as he berated or challenged the role played by Poe, Jr. Look again at their films. The meekness, chivalry and purity of heart of Poe, Jr and his characters had impact only because there was the Garcia character essayed with such acute harm. Garcia would be relentless in his tirades punctuated by phrases in English while Poe, in his trademark bend of the head, cowered in humility. The great thing about these confrontations is that, in the end, the meek persona of a Fernando Poe, Jr would triumph while that of Eddie Garcia would be punished.

Eddie Garcia did not remain in action and dramatic roles in the same way that he did not remain all throughout his life as an actor. He was also a respected director. In 1078, he directed Nora Aunor in the film “Atsay.” Aunor would win against a film directed by Lino Brocka who was noted as an actor’s director. Eddie Garcia did not have that reputation.

Eddie Garcia would later on developed the “Manoy.” This was a reference to his many sex-comedy films where he played a lecherous man. Political correctness was not the hallmark of these films. Chauvinistic, the films poked fun at the sexualities of women. This “Manoy” or Uncle would cross over into sex-action films. In these films, Eddie Garcia would utter obscenities or expletives but they would be in the Bikol language. In the moviehouse, whenever those cuss words were said, I would look around and find out who were laughing. They were Bikolanos or they knew the language, I told myself then.

The “Manoy” of Eddie Garcia did not appeal only to the Bikolanos. What I believe the other ethnic groups (the non-Manila or non-Tagalog) saw in the Manoy was not so much the Bikolano in Eddie Garcia but that sense of daring and chutzpah to mock the natives of the Imperial Center.

Eddie Garcia gave assurance to non-Tagalog speakers that it was okay to mouth words that were not understandable at the center. This was the revenge of the provinciano and this was coming from someone who was nevertheless good with the tricks of city life

This was Eddie Garcia’s invention and subversion: to talk in the language not understood by the dominant Tagalog. It was also a sense of locality. Garcia, in that locution, was using the roots of the expletives.

There is a word in Bikol language called “Oragon.” In many places, Bikolanos consider the word as a “bad word.” In Juban or in the entire Sorsogon, the word could connote sexual wantonness among women. In some other places, the word and its etymology have been recovered through research: the original reference was to power. When the Spanish came, the word was demonized so that local leaders would be stripped of their desire and claim for power. The woman who asserted her rights was also called “oragon,” with the term not anymore standing for power but for lust.

Eddie Garcia stood for everything “oragon.” He was a power unto himself. He stood also for contradiction in the Bikolanos – religious people and religious men and yet given to profanities in their languages. Eddie Garcia was this young man from the town migrating into the city and not forgetting his language and his roots, dramatizing the identities through words that are only spoken for emphasis and drama. He was a man who laughed at himself and was brave to tell his townmates his foolishness.

Now that Eddie Garcia has passed on, people want him to be national artist. With due respect to the honor that the award could bring to his name, I do not see the wisdom of the glory. In his films, Eddie Garcia has represented already the Filipino – the man who has fun at the expense of his sexuality, the counter-life who gives more life to heroes, the actor whose voice was a plot all by itself. Let the Pearly Gate open for this must be the first time the Angels shall welcome the Greatest Oragon from this world.

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