sister stella l

Sister Stella L
dir. Mike de Leon
96 minutes

Recently at the Filipino Community Center, I was shocked to listen in on a discussion of Ferdinand Marcos amongst some elders.  Shocked because they were still “pro-Marcos” since he supposedly developed the country and was good, except for those human rights violations.

The idea that Marcos developed the country’s economy and infrastructure but was overshadowed by abusing civil liberties is a surprisingly sentiment in the community.  However, in watching movies during this time critical of Marcos, we can see what kind of development was really in the works.

In Mike de Leon’s “Sister Stella L,” Vilma Santos plays Catholic nun Sister Stella Legaspi.  Searching for meaning behind the words in the Bible that teach people to serve the poorest of the poor, she is led to the picket line of striking workers.  Gradually, she begins to see her role as a Christian to be amongst the poor and the oppressed in society.  Eventually, the management (and military?) try to break the strike through terror and torture, something that is happening to this day.

Different strategies of the strike are debated as well as the “sides” between the workers and capitalists.  Although there is a simplistic framing of the “evil capitalist,” the issues raised by the union leaders ring very true today, especially in this economic crisis.

No Filipino movie could be complete without a love story, or at least the background of one which thankfully doesn’t dominate this movie.  Vilma Santos shines as the unsure but strong-willed nun in the beginning to a militant defender of the people by the end.  It is a similar role she plays 18 years later in “Dekada ’70.”  The movie ends in an almost-cheesy PSA but the message is clear and bold coming out after the Ninoy Aquino assassination.

“If we do not act, who will act?  If not now, when?”


The quote also reminds me of Elmer “Ka Bong” Labog when he was in Seattle last year, as he would end his presentations with a similar line.

It’s also good to see the real-life Sister Stella L recently with BAYAN-NY as they protest against GMA’s State of the Nation Address.