Stephanie Dychiu GMANews.TV - Pax DVD in Quiapo

(Ramadan special coverage)

By Stephanie Dychiu

It is the peace that passeth all understanding. What centuries of diplomacy and military subjugation failed to do, the pirated DVD has achieved in Quiapo. Muslim and Christian standing together as equals, calmly debating the merits of Bruno vs. Marley and Me.

At twelve noon in the holy month of Ramadan, it’s business as usual at Manila’s Constantinople, the wedge of jampacked earth by the Pasig River where the strongholds of Islam and Christianity eye each other warily across the Quezon Bridge. In the north, the Quiapo Church. In the south, the Quiapo Mosque. In between, the promised land of Quiapo DVD. While Ramadan in other Muslim countries means a near total shutdown of commercial activity, at Quiapo DVD, the only discernible trace of it is the foul mood that has beset some vendors who are evidently hungry from fasting.

In one cramped building, a boy in white embroidered cap is slumped over a pile of racy indie flicks. He is shaken awake when a girl in tiny shorts asks for Manila By Night by Ishmael Bernal. With nary a need to ask who or what, it takes five seconds for him to fish out the hard-to-find classic and screen it for quality check. A few stabs on the remote to skip intro credits, and a topless Alma Moreno comes into view. She goes at it with Orestes Ojeda. “Walangbaz," the boy grunts to the girl. “Ano (What)?" the girl asks. “Walang bass (There’s no bass)," a female customer in headscarf translates, Hannah Montana in hand. “Sira ang speaker kaya walang sound (The speaker is broken so there’s no sound)."

Somewhere in the back, three men are organizing discs into neat stacks. A woman carefully folds labels. Business is doing so well, they can’t restock the shelves fast enough. More customers come in, the sort you would never see venturing into Quiapo’s Muslim Quarter ten years ago: A portly fifty-something man in beige loafers with his driver. Two Taglish-speaking guys searching for The Tudors.

Thunder cracks and a heavy rain suddenly pours. For half an hour, Infidels and Saracens are trapped in one enclosed space. A comfy silence descends, while the bedlam of Quiapo rattles along outside. Someone puts on Angels and Demons starring Tom Hanks, and everyone gathers around the TV.

In the 1970s, the modern-day insurgency in Mindanao broke out and hundreds of thousands of Muslims fled to other parts of the country to escape the crossfire between military and Moro fighters. The Philippine government built the Golden Mosque close to the Quiapo Church in a symbolic gesture to show equal recognition of Islam and Christianity.

For Muslims in die-hard Catholic territory, there was, of course, an image problem. Four hundred years of demonization by frustrated Spanish colonizers, who were never able to conquer the sultanates of Mindanao, are not easily shaken off. The moro-moro plays that were the equivalent of movie night in colonial times pit “good" Christians against “bad" Muslims, and the Muslims always lost because they were the enemy. This is burned in Blu-Ray into the indio’s genetic memory.

In 2000, a second Muslim diaspora was set off by the all-out war President Joseph Estrada declared against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. That year, DVD technology also turned five years old, and The Phantom Menace became the first Star Wars movie released in DVD. N’er the twain shall meet, it seemed, until displaced Muslims found a living in Quiapo selling movies in cheap DVD format, which were entering the country through the Mindanao back door.

The industry is now worth billions. Certainly not a triumph for intellectual property rights, but an indication nonetheless of something the Europeans knew when they created a single market and a single currency—economic interdependence means they would never again go to war against each other.

There could be a lesson hidden in this unlikely harbinger of cross-cultural understanding, this great weapon of mass distraction that the Optical Media Board understandably seeks to obliterate. Pax DVD hints that the answer to a security problem may not always be a military solution. Ang mga nag-aaway na Muslim at Kristiyano mga sundalo lang (The Muslims and Christians who fight are only the soldiers), muses an elderly man in jelaba standing outside the Quiapo Mosque. He smiles beatifically, then brings out a small prayer booklet. For you, he says. Then he turns around, because someone has tapped him on the shoulder. A man needs directions to Quiapo DVD.

(This story was originally published on GMANews.TV on September 20, 2009.)