Catalino (or the more popular “Lino”) Brocka, is one of the greatest film and stage directors the country has produced.
Lino was born poor and failed to complete a degree but he built himself up to become an insightful director, creating Filipino films and plays that were acclaimed in local and international circles for both their craft and social content. Despite the success and stature he achieved, Lino kept sight of his humble beginnings. He fought for farmers and agrarian reform and supported street strikers. He denounced censorship and resisted the Marcos dictatorship, suffering arrest for his views.
Lino’s father Regino was an itinerant carpenter/boat-builder/salesman from Sorsogon, and his mother, a barrio lass. Regino was, however, a well-rounded man. He taught Lino not only how to read and handle numbers. He also taught him the art of song, dance and poetry, and exposed him to the local politics in his hometown.
Regino was killed in what looked like a political vendetta. Faced with rearing two young sons alone, his widow Pilar left Sorsogon and went back to her hometown in San Jose, Nueva Ecija. She left Lino in the care of her sister. Lino served as his aunt’s houseboy, suffering the aunt’s insult and abuse for years. When he could no longer take it, Lino rejoined his mother and brother in his grandmother’s house.
The young boy showed an early interest in movies, watching Hollywood classics over and over again in the decrepit movie hall in small-town San Jose. He excelled in academics, was brilliant at debate, oration, and other performing activities. He read poetry in the evenings, standing on the dining table before an admiring family. He was once awarded the province’s best student orator and later organized a community theater group. Lino read voraciously. He graduated with six medals and won a scholarship to the University of the Philippines in Diliman.
Lino enrolled in English Literature but he lost his scholarship at the end of his freshman year. He resorted to doing odd jobs to support himself. He worked as a clerk at a music shop, and did publicity work. Once he worked as an assistant stage director. Lino applied to join the UP Dramatics Club and was rejected at first because of his thick accent and lack of height. Undeterred, Lino simply went to see more Hollywood movies and practiced speaking like an American. When he applied again, the Club took him in as a stagehand.
Lino left the university when he went to do missionary work for the Mormons in Hawaii. There, he staged plays and shows for tourists to raise mission funds. After completing this commitment, Lino enrolled for one semester in the Mormon Church College of Hawaii, working as a laborer to pay his way. Then the foot-loose Lino moved to the US mainland, arriving in San Francisco with barely $50 in his pocket. There, Lino worked as a busboy in a restaurant and as a hospital orderly, until in 1968, he gave way to homesickness and returned to Manila.
In Manila, Lino joined the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA), organized just the year before. He ran errands, wrote scripts, and led theater exercises, until eventually he became director of PETA’s drama show for television. He had another break in 1970 when he was asked to direct “Wanted: Perfect Mother,” his first film. The film was an artistic and commercial success, and won the Best Screenplay award at the Metro Manila Festival. That same year, Lino directed “Santiago,” which won for him a Best Director citation from the Citizen’s Council for Mass Media, and “Tubog sa Ginto,” which likewise won an award. He continued to do commercial films and direct on the stage for PETA. He assumed PETA leadership in 1974.
With friends, Lino put up the movie company CINEMANILA, through which he produced and directed the classic “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang.” “Tinimbang” won for him another Best Director award, this time from FAMAS. CINEMANILA completed three more films before it folded up. Broke and deep in debt, Lino nevertheless refused offers from the Marcos government to do martial-law kind of films.
Lino’s went on to direct more social-realist films, including “Maynila Sa Kuko ng Liwanag,” “Jaguar,” “Insiang,” “Bona” and “Angela Markado,” all of fine quality. As he became more confident with his art, he became more daring with his politics. In 1983, he formed the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) which took the stand that artists must be citizens first and must take a stand at issues confronting the country (then under the tight grip of the Marcos dictatorship). Lino took to the streets, denouncing censorship and repression, marking him a critic of the Marcos administration.
Following the Aquino assassination, Lino directed the movie “Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim,” and showed it at the Cannes Film Festival in 1984. The film was hailed as the Best Film of the Year by the British Film Institute for its realistic portrayal of Philippine society at that time. The Marcos government tried to stop the film’s screening inside the country but the Philippine Supreme Court, in a rare act of independence, ruled in Lino’s favor. The Marcos government finally allowed a cut version of the film shown, and restricting it to adult viewership.
In 1985, Lino joined a nationwide strike organized by public transportation drivers, where he was arrested with his friend and fellow director Behn Cervantes. Lino and Behn were jailed 16 days. This short prison experience stiffened Lino’s political resolve. After his release, Lino joined the anti-Marcos Coalition for the Restoration of Democracy (CORD), and was made a member of its national council.
That year, he was chosen as recipient of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Awards, for “making cinema a vital social commentary, awakening public consciousness to disturbing realities of life among the Filipino poor.”
Lino stayed in the thick of the protests that steadily grew stronger and culminated in the end of Marcos’ rule in 1986. He was then appointed a member of the Constitutional Commission tasked to draft the post-dictatorship constitution. Lino is remembered as one of several commission members who walked out in protest of what they saw was a weakening of the constitution’s democratic and patriotic contents. Lino also campaigned forcefully against the continuation of US bases in the Philippines.
His subsequent films were “Gumapang Ka Sa Lusak,” which portrayed the abuse of power by self-serving politicians, and “Ora Pro Nobis,” which condemned the abuses by military and paramilitary groups engaged in anti-insurgency. “Ora Pro Nobis” was screened at Cannes Film Festival, where as expected, it drew rave reviews again and became the subject of debates on censorship and artistic freedom.
Lino died in a vehicular accident in Quezon City on May 21, 1991, leaving behind a Filipino nation bereft of his genius and heroism.
Parents Pilar Ortiz and Regino Brocka
Sibling Danilo Brocka
Elementary San Jose Elementary School, Nueva Ecija
High School Nueva Ecija North High School, Nueva Ecija
College A.B. English Literature, University of the Philippines – Diliman
- Lifetime Achievement Awardee, Film Academy of the Philippines (posthumous), 1992
- Awardee, Lamberto Avellana Memorial Award, 1990
- Awardee, Hall of Fame, FAMAS, 1990
- Awardee, Gawad CCP para sa Sining, 1989
- Awardee, Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Communication Arts, 1985
- Recipient of various Cannes, British and Toronto Film Festivals citations for best film director