1. Immersion trips
Barely hidden by the mandatory shallow love story between the lead actor and actress, the film portrays a very important event in the lives of many student and middle class activists: the so-called ‘remoulding’ or radical transformation of one’s values, beliefs, outlook in life, culture, ideology, etc.
Activists from comfortable backgrounds often experience this after being exposed to poverty. This happens almost always in communities of farmers or indigenous peoples, factory picket lines of workers on strike, and informal settler communities facing demolition.
In the film, Kathryn Bernardo portrays a spoiled brat who is punished by her estranged parents by making her join the mother’s medical mission to an IP community in Capas, Tarlac. She experiences culture shock as her privileged upbringing clashes with the extreme poverty of the community. After interacting with Daniel Padilla, who portrays the local mayor’s bastard teenage son who raises his siblings (by working many odd jobs while assisting medical missions in remote communities) in the absence of his gambling-addicted mother, she is ‘magically transformed’ into someone who is compassionate and caring.
2. A 21st century community stuck in the 20th century
The film’s audiences must have been unable to relate to the description of the IP community where most of the movie takes place: no electricity or cellphone signal, accessible only by all-terrain vehicles because there are no paved roads leading to it, there is no hospital or even a clinic, and the only source of water is a communal well. After all, this is the 21st century where everyone has a smart phone and a Twitter account.
But shockingly (for them), this is still the reality in many parts of the country. In fact, every province outside of Metro Manila has at least a few dozen communities there are as undeveloped as Sitio Tarucan.
3. The government’s dole-out mentality
While portrayed positively in the film (since everyone is smiling and laughing and thanking each other), the medical mission in which Kathryn participates is a symbol of many of the government’s (and even NGOs) so-called ‘development’ projects: something is meant to promote someone’s candidacy for public office (mostly incumbent officials, as evidence by the uniforms worn by Daniel and the other volunteers).
4. The return to the hotbed of rebellion
Oh, did we forget to mention that Capas, Tarlac (where Sitio Taruman is located) is the birthplace of the New People’s Army?
5. Battered Women Syndrome (BWS) is real
Part of the reason why Kathryn’s character is such a pain in the neck is the fact that her mother left her when she was young. But what was only revealed midway in the film is that the mother was a victim of constant physical abuse. In one particular episode where the father threatened to kill her, the mother fled and only managed to take Kathryn’s older brother. When the mother tried to take Kathryn also, the father prevented access.
Yet somehow, the mother manages to still have cordial relations with the father. Which is what battered wife syndrome is about: the victim still empathizing with her abuser.
6. Full-time activism
Kathryn was only convinced to take part in the medical mission because her mother offered to finance and support her dream of studying in the U.S. But when she finally finished her mission, she instead said:
“I want to help people… full-time”
That in itself is something you wouldn’t expect to see in a teeny-booper film, or even just any Filipino movie. But when taken in the context of activists, Kathryn’s single sentence takes an even more dramatic turn.
When activists, often those from the ranks of students, say they are going ‘full-time’, it means they are quitting their studies to devote all of their time as organizers of peoples’ organizations.
So while the movie doesn’t exactly send a message for radical change in Philippine society, it does portray a transformation of a student from a privileged background to someone who is compassionate, caring, and willing to devote his/her time to improve the lives of those less-fortunate: in other words, an activist.
According to my friend Veronica from GABRIELA, the character of Kathryn’s mom actually shows an empowered woman. First, it is because she managed to separate from her abusive husband, showing that women can actually break free. Second, the mother chose to become a doctor serving marginalized communities.