GomBurZa: A tale of heroism for the new generation

MANILA, Philippines — After watching GomBurZa, the very little that audiences, the stars and production crew knew from their textbook GomBurZa, was undoubtedly changed by the two-hour narrative that director Pepe Diokno and his team painstakingly completed.

Since 2018, from the time the GomBurZa project was given to him, with the film’s ensemble cast, direk Pepe and his team admirably prepared long and hard for the bio-pic of the three Filipino Catholic priests who were martyred in Bagumbayan in 1872.

GomBurZa is one of the 10 official entries in the 49th Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), produced by JesCom Films and MQuest Ventures of MediaQuest in cooperation with CMB Film Services.

Veteran actor Dante Rivero admitted to be so honored being assigned the role of priest Mariano Gomes in GomBurZa.

“I know it was really hard when direk Pepe talked to me for GomBurZa,” Dante attested. “I told them, we cannot deviate far from what really happened in real life. The audience needs to know what really happened before. We cannot depart from the truth.”

“The narrative was explained to me before we started shooting. It was beautiful. There were still a lot of facts that we weren’t able to include. The story would only get longer. But our director (Diokno), although he is still young, is really good,” he shared.

“We really delivered what we were supposed to do. We did our best. I am so happy that Enchong and Cedrick are also very good.”

Acting in theater and the big screen since 2015, Cedrick Juan gets his biggest role to date playing the character of Padre Jose Burgos in GomBurZa.

“We really prepared so hard for our respective roles,” said Cedrick. “Doing a historical film was so challenging and demanding.”

“Pepe asked me before we started filming. ‘Who inspires you? How did that inspiration help you? Did anything happen in your life where you had no control of what’s happening?’” the actor added.

“That was where I understood, after reading the script several times, that what the three priests were fighting for were not just about the three of them and the secularization of the church. It is about our skin color as Filipinos and where we were born.

Direk Pepe Diokno with his father, lawyer Chel Diokno.

“That was out of control. But that was the core aside from all the researches available at Jesuit Communication and all those supplied by our historians.”

Cedrick did his own, personal research from the articles written by historian Ambeth Ocampo, Prof. Xiao Chua, Ateneo de Manila University Jesuit priest Fr. Rene Javellana, and Fr. John Schumacher.

Cedrick also did fact-checking on the other accounts on social media. “For sure, the goal of the movie is to generate more questions,” Cedrick granted. “After this MMFF, there will be more accounts that will come out and more people will talk about GomBurZa.”

“That is a better assessment of Philippine history. They started with merely watching GomBurZa and I hope knowing our history will not end there. Gomburza will just be one of them,” he further said.

Enchong Dee, who plays Padre Jacinto Zamora, is proud that he didn’t have to prepare at length embracing his real-life role.

“When you get to the set, you don’t have to prepare really hard because everything was already laid out before you,” Enchong said. “Even our costumes, once you wear it, you will feel the character you’re playing.”

“Even our language coach didn’t mind rehearing our lines in the wee hours. He was always ready to rehearse. To JesCom and all the historians who helped us in this film, everything was presented very well before us even before we started filming,” he added.

“We have such a beautiful ensemble. They all did their work beforehand, you just need to react positively.”

Enchong reiterated the reason we are all enjoying this freedom now was because people from generations before fought hard for this.

“Someone who sparked a revolution for this country deserved more than just a page in our textbooks,” Enchong said.

“Through this film, we can be an associate of the education system so that when kids study, it will be easier for them to understand our history through these characters.”

“At the same time, it will be easier for them to know the start and end of how it is to be a real Filipino. So, I think it’s a good material for the future generations, as well.”

After JesCom worked on the GomBurZa script, the cast and crew were ready to make the cameras start rolling by 2020. However, they had no choice but to stall the project when the pandemic thwarted everything.

“GomBurZa was supposed to be a tribute to the 500 years of the Catholic church in the Philippines,” Pepe explained. “When things started to normalize, I was so grateful that JesCom decided to continue the project.”

“We had tons of research materials from the text of history from Fr. Schumacher, our ultimate basis. We have our history consultant, Fr. Rene, who was always on the set. He wanted to be as close to history as possible,” he further shared.

Direk Pepe disclosed they really have to get creative license for some of the scenes.

“Making this film, we all get to understand why GomBurZa is a story of a little fire that spread in times of darkness,” added the filmmaker. “It’s a story not of individual heroism but of the collective.”

“GomBurZa is a story not only of battle but of a sacrifice, values of the collective that are so important to our ancestors because they are Filipino values. I think we continue to share that today, which is why we are excited to finally share this film with you.”

Direk Pepe acknowledged the “collective” who completed GomBurZa. “An entire battalion of very talented and really hardworking creative — production design, cinematography team — who worked so hard to shoot and finish this film in 17 shooting days.”

“What you will see on the screen is really a labor of love. When times were so tough and things went a little challenging, we all went back to our core, which is the ‘alab sa aking puso.’ A story that we feel, needed to be told. Not just because it’s our history but also because it’s relevant until today. May this film move and inspire you,” he said.

Piolo Pascual plays a special participation as Fr. Pedro Pelaez in GomBurZa. Also starring are Jaime Fabregas, Jeffrey Quizon, Ketchup Eusebio, Elijah Canlas, Khalil Ramos, Nanding Josef, Arnold Reyes, Carlitos Siguion-Reyna, Joel Saracho, Ronnie Lazaro, Neil Ryan Sese and Tommy Alejandrino.