Digital Reporter


The rallying cry of a community of informal settlers defending themselves against a demolition team is the same cry that starts a FlipTop battle between rappers in a seedy Pandacan bar. Aspiring rapper Hendrix (Abra) is trying to earn his spot in the top by competing in Bersos, a FlipTop battle where the reigning champion is the savage Breezy G (Loonie). But to compete, Hendrix needs money. And to get money, Hendrix sells drugs.

It is a terrible idea in the time of tokhang, a police operation which if done legitimately means that they’ll knock (toktok in Bisaya) at your door if they suspect that you’re a drug pusher or user and plead (hangyo in Bisaya) for you to surrender. But in reality the operation has been in use by some police scalawags, as in the case of 17‑year‑old Kian delos Santos, as a guise to kill suspected drug personalities based on flimsy evidence. Hendrix’s desperation for money, rhymes and respect has him cross paths with Doc (Dido de la Paz), the aged owner of Malaya Secondhand Bookstore, whose impromptu poetry decimates the young man’s ego.

Respeto won several awards during the 2017 Cinemalaya Film Festival: Best Feature Length Film, Best Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Sound and Best Supporting Actor (Dido de la Paz). After Cinemalaya and preview showings, the film debuted in major cinemas last Wednesday.


SparkUp was able to interview Director Alberto “Treb” Monteras II before Respeto’s preview show at the University of the Philippines Film Institute on September 19, while Rekta sa Kalye hyped up the film-going crowd with their performance. Respeto is Mr. Monteras’ first foray into making a full‑length feature, though he has made a name for himself in directing music videos.

“I’ve always been a hip‑hop fan since the ‘90s. It’s my first love sa music,” Mr. Monteras said. “My dream back when I was still doing music videos is that when I transition into making movies I would make a movie about music.”

“But this movie is more than just a hip‑hop movie,” he added. “It’s a reminder that we should have respect for ourselves, each other, and more importantly for human rights. It’s also about martial law. I hope this becomes a reminder that we shouldn’t repeat what has happened in the past.”

And rap became his chosen medium for that message. Filipinos have found a connection with the music style that originated from the marginalized African‑American youth who live in the Bronx, New York City during the 1970s. “There were a lot of gangs back then, and people were literally setting fire to the Bronx,” Mr. Monteras explained. “The youth were looking for an escape, so they made music. There were DJs, there were bands, there were people chanting rhymes. It wasn’t called rap then but that was how it started.”

“Nowadays, with people facing violence and poverty, Filipino youth have also found an escape through rap music. Because it’s free. All you need is to gather your ka‑tropa, your voice, and an exchange of rhymes and you’re enjoying rap.”

The concept of rap battles isn’t as foreign to Filipinos as one might initially think. Filipinos have been slinging saucy rhymes at each other since April 6, 1924, when a group of writers decided to commemorate the birthday of renowned poet Francisco Balagtas through debates done in verse. Modern FlipTop has rappers; Balagtasan has Mambabalagtas poets. FlipTop has an emcee as a moderator between opposing sides; Balagtasan has the Lakandiwa/Lakambini. In certain fiestas Balagtasan debates have been replaced by rap battles, not only because of the popularity of hip hop in the Philippines, but also because it is something that has roots in our culture.

And the FlipTop battles shown in the movie? They’re legit. Both Abra and Loonie, who play major roles in the movie, are known for their freestyle rap skills. The film crew also made sure to cast rappers who write their own verses. For the FlipTop battles in the film, the rappers weren’t given scripts but certain prompts and outcomes. Each battle is a showcase of Filipino hip hop talent, with each rapper being able to use their own rhymes and go with their own flow. Combine that with a talented cast of actors—Chai Fonacier as Betchai and Kate Alejandrino as Candy in particular deserve praise for being able to command a scene without having to say a word—and you have a movie that leaves a striking impression in its audience.


Perhaps the most respectable thing about the movie is its respect for its audience’s intelligence. Mr. Monteras’ experience in music videos works in his favor, as the movie is rife with detail and symbolism. Every second has meaning. Every little detail says something about its characters and the world they live in. The characters act like actual people, no one is purely good and no one is purely evil. Everyone has their reasons for acting the way they do. It’s so easy to get heavy handed when tackling controversial issues like the burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani, informal settlers, Oplan Tokhang, and just President Rodrigo Duterte in general. And while Mr. Monteras and his crew’s stance on these issues are clear (#MarcosisNOTaHero), they leave it up to the audience to come up with their own stances after the movie. It’s effective in delivering its message not because it gives you the answers but because it makes you think critically about where we are as a country.

Respeto is showing in select cinemas starting September 20. Check out their facebook page for more information and future screening dates.