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Watching Firefly and Bicol

When was the last time you watched a film that moved you and made you feel you wanted to do something afterward? Most of us watch movies to relax or pass the time and rarely become engaged in a film that makes us smile, laugh, rage, or cry. I urged my husband to watch Firefly with me, from among the Metro Manila Film Festival entries in Manila during the holiday because the producers shot the film in Bicol!

I was happy we did. It made me cry a lot of times. It evoked a broad mix of emotions, yet you still feel good in the end, even after leaving the cinema. What made it extra special was Firefly, the movie featuring a deep mother-son bonding, centered on a mythical search for a dream in an area most familiar to me as a volunteer: Ticao island in Masbate.

In December 2019, Ticao Island was Tabang Bikol Movement’s disaster response destination for relief after a furious Typhoon Tisoy and its violent winds and intense rainfall hit Masbate, affecting hundreds of low-income families, their livelihoods, and homes. TBM Volunteers coordinated with the regional DSWD for hundreds of food packs and contingency relief. I remember I had to reach out to the Southern Luzon Philippine Navy Forces thanks to the assistance from the Ofice for Civil Defense because “there was no other way” except to request a ship to ferry relief goods to reach Monreal, San Jacinto, San Fernando, and Batuan barangays to heed the urgent calls for help from the residents in the innermost areas of the island.

Ticao, a two-hour distance from the mainland Masbate, is one of the three beautiful islands of the province; the other two are Masbate Island and the adjacent Burias Island, which my ancestral relatives of the Lazaro clan have been egging me to visit for sentimental family reasons. I had planned a few times to stay in the past years but have yet to do so.

I did not realize watching Firefly during the holiday would be a game-changer. The fantasy movie that Bicolanos has been raving about since the opening of the Metro Manila Film Festival on Christmas day was moving cinematographic artistry that made me cry a few times. Those times were intimate, powerful scenes of rage, anger, loss, love, forgiveness, justice, change, and victory intricately woven into the life of a young boy named Tonton and his search for the land of the fireflies. Each time I cried, I felt relieved and hopeful. I promised myself (again) that I would visit Ticao and Burias as a priority this year.

An underrated movie in the MMFF, Firefly garnered the most awards, including Best Picture, Best Cinematography and Best Child Actor among an array of more seasoned entries. Suddenly, Ticao in Masbate became known as a beautiful adventure destination for tourists with a magical twist. Tourism workers, vendors, and the Department of Tourism had expressed gratitude for the movie Firefly in showcasing Bicol’s beauty, saying it is a “big help in promoting the economy and tourism.” The film highlights the beauty of Mayon Volcano (Magayon), Mount Bulusan, Bulan Port, Irosin in Sorsogon, the Cagsawa Ruins in Daraga, in Albay, and, of course, Ticao Island in Masbate.

For the uninitiated, Masbate is one of the six provinces of Bicol that once earned a notorious reputation for warring political dynasties, election violence, and political killings. Guns, Goons, and Gold (3Gs) reigned for a time, especially during elections. Masbate was the eighth poorest province among 81 in the last two decades. I am sure any Masbateño or Masbateña would feel gravely slighted for the tag, for Masbate stands proud of its revolutionary history. In 1898, two years after the outbreak of the Philippine revolution led by Andres Bonifacio in Manila, the people of Masbate, through the Pulahanes, fought the Spanish colonizers in Masbate homeland and from the Ticao Islands until their liberation from Spanish colonial rule.

The movie as a precursor for change

I believe Firefly, the movie, may initiate a change, even if a bit, in the mindset of leaders (mothers) to work on a shared and common search for actual development for the people (the child). Kudos go to GMA Pictures and GMA Public Affairs for a laudable project. The challenge is for the LGUs, especially the leaders, to turn towards the positive side.

With a formidable cast led by Alessandra de Rossi as Elay, the cancer-stricken mother to the young Tonton, played by Euwell Mikael, the film is a tightly woven story of deep love of an ailing mother to the son and vice versa in traversing life’s woes and dreams. The mother’s storytelling about the fireflies that give light and courage is a constant part of the narrative. The young Tonton experiences bullying in school and receives comfort in the arms of the loving mother who gives assurance of hope, “hanggang sa duo ng mundo” kelangan hanapin ang mga alitaptap para maging matapang ka.” The son promises to continue to search that mythical place where fireflies abound. Ultimately, the grown-up Tonton (Dingdong Dantes) relishes the award for the success of the book he wrote based on his mother’s storytelling.

The fantasy story may sound so simple, yet magical and true. Still, the sub-plots, which involve the characters of an ex-convict, a troubled happy-go-lucky backpacker, and a spurned bachelor meeting aboard a Bicol-bound bus, provide the social reality that gets them together on the road with the young boy toward a concerted search of the island of fireflies, for hope and change.

Unfortunately, in Ticao today, fireflies are becoming extinct. I can liken the cancer-stricken Elay to the sick motherland that continues to care for and urge her people to hope and search for the isle of fireflies to have the courage to fight and win.


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