Game of visas

Published June 8, 2019, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Jullie Y. Daza
Jullie Y. Daza

The appeal of a US visa hasn’t changed much between the time of Hitler’s reign of terror and the age of selfies in the Philippines.

When Hitler began exterminating Jews in Europe, the Philippines under President Manuel L. Quezon was the only country that offered them safe haven – provided the US would issue them 10,000 visas to come to their colony, the Pearl of the Orient. (Surely the current embassy’s annual quota is many times more than that.)

“Quezon’s Game” is the most talked-about movie of the season, a pity that it’s being screened when most college students are still out on holiday. The story of how Quezon got the US state department to greenlight 1, 210 visas – out of a request for 10,000 — for Jews to land in Manila before they’d be dragged off to the Nazi death camps is the stuff of legends. So it is a riddle inside a puzzle wrapped in a conundrum that it has not been told more often to more of us. The first time I heard the story was some years ago, when Lin I. Bildner hosted a dinner for a small group of their descendants, now American citizens.

ABS-CBN and StarCinema produced the movie starring Raymond Bagatsing as Quezon, with many of its outdoor scenes shot in the heritage village re-created in Bagac, Bataan. The plot is simple and straightforward, its characters bearing the names of Osmeña, Roxas, Aurora (Quezon), MacArthur, Eisenhower. Filmed like a stage play with the actors interacting within an intimate space, it may lack cinematic width and breadth, but this isn’t about warfare or weaponry but one man’s mission to save thousands of strangers and his frustration at not being able to save more, do more.

The surprise is Raymond B, a veteran actor whose time to name his price and next role has finally arrived. That he and the movie have won several awards in international film festivals should come as no surprise to movie fans AFTER they have watched Quezon’s Game. “I needed to see this,” said a former colleague when we met after the screening. Her eyes began to tear up: “Why didn’t our history books ever teach us this part about our history?”