Review: GOMBURZA's Fate Remains a Burning Protest

‘GomBurZa’ premieres at the 2024 Manila International Film Festival.

By: Jan. 31, 2024
Review: GOMBURZA's Fate Remains a Burning Protest

Los Angeles -- "Until Thursday, Feb. 1, films from different genres from the 49th annual Metro Manila Film Festival in the Philippines, will be screened during the inaugural Manila International Film Festival at the TCL Chinese Theatre, Hollywood Boulevard.

One of the featured films is the historical epic drama “GomBurZa” by Filipino director and filmmaker Pepe Diokno. At the 2009 Venice Film Festival, Diokno made his astonishing debut with “Engkwentro.” The film bagged the festival’s Luigi de Laurentiis Award for Best Debut Film and the Orizzonti Prize that same year.

With a screenplay by Diokno and Rody Vera (“Signal Rock,” “WhistleBlower”), “GomBurZa,” is a narrative drama of the fate of three Philippine-born secular priests, Mariano Gomez (Dante Rivero), Jose Burgos (Cedrick Juan), and Jacinto Zamora (Enchong Dee). From 1565 to 1898, during the Spanish Colonization of the Philippines, GomBurZa, a term coined depicting the three priests, was deemed subversive and executed by garrote.

In the geographically segregated communities, the priests’ wrongful execution ignited the concept of Filipino Nationalism, which led to the rise of the patriots, such as Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, and Apolinario Mabini, and the Philippine Revolution against Spain from 1896 to 1898.

In the 2023 documentary film produced by a Philippine government agency, the martyr priests are distinctively established as one-dimensional depictions of their character traits. But in Diokno’s “GomBurZa,” theirs are vivid pictures of a flawed clergyman whose faith is at times wavering and whose lifestyle, at times, carefree.

In the Southern town of Cavite where he was assigned as the head priest and designated as a teacher, Gomez is a champion among his parishioners. However, he’s easily hot-tempered and could spew the filthiest words out of his mouth. In his spare time, Zamora participates in underground gambling and forges an unusual friendship with a Spanish-born friar, Padre Tressera (Kuya Manzano).

On the other hand, university professor Burgos possesses a rebellious spirit and encourages his students to think critically and express themselves freely. Juan, who played Burgos, won the Best Actor plum at the annual festival in Manila.

Review: GOMBURZA's Fate Remains a Burning Protest

As encouraged by another priest, Pedro Pelaez (Piolo Pascual), a defender of the secular priests, GomBurZa “seeks the truth and fights for the light.” In 1863, Burgos’ mentor Pelaez died in an earthquake.

Despite Pelaez’s untimely death, Burgos continues to advocate for the secular clergy’s rights. Unknown to Burgos, a mutiny in Cavite against the Spanish government brews, schemed by a group of radical Filipino elites through its intermediary, Francisco Zaldua (Ketchup Eusebio) and Filipino soldier Fernando La Madrid (Arnold Reyes).

The planned mutiny goes kaput due to political factions and cases of disloyalty.

Governor General Rafael Izquierdo (Borja Saenz de Miera) executes nearly 40 mutineers and conspires with the Spanish friars to implicate the three priests via a mock trial. 

Although the priests did try to resist their unjust fate, the ordeal they went through is perhaps one of the most thought-provoking and enlightening moments that shook the Filipinos’ consciousness in history—or among the Filipino-Americans watching this film.

Their deaths remain a burning protest seeking justice when a grave violation of human rights is committed and the absence of equality and the rule of law, which are still happening in the Philippines to this day.  Such transgression does not only lead to a loss of life but could potentially impact the mental health of the oppressed, as evidenced by Zamora, who lost his mind before his last gasp at the execution site.

The howling solid wind, the mournful beating of the drums, and the abrupt deafening silence during the death scene are the film’s most stirring moments.

Each martyr priest takes turns facing their reluctant executioner; Burgos raises his arms with clenched fists. 

Suddenly, parishioners and devotees wail in disgust and pain. On bent knees, they start to pray; some concoct an uprising in their mind--making for a spine-chilling moment in the darkened movie theatre.

Jesuit Communication, MQuest Ventures-CMB Film Services, Cignal Entertainment, and Solar Pictures are behind the film “GomBurZa.” –- with additional words by Oliver Oliveros

Photos: Jesuit Communication