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San Diego Resident Charges Censorship : Exiled Film Maker Sues Marcos for $1.1 Billion

March 22, 1986|JIM SCHACHTER | Times Staff Writer

An exiled Filipino film maker whose epic movie about martial law in the Philippines was banned by former President Ferdinand E. Marcos has filed a $1.1-billion suit against Marcos in U.S. District Court.

The film producer, Alberto Guinto Jr., is laying plans, meanwhile, to return to the Philippines, where he says an unedited print of the film has been unearthed.

Guinto, who has lived in San Diego for much of the last decade, said Friday he has received indications from the new Philippine government that it would welcome distribution of the movie.

According to the suit, Guinto's film, "100 Days in September," was filmed with the cooperation of the Philippine government and armed forces. With an all-star Filipino cast, it portrayed Marcos' rise to power and his justifications for imposing martial law in September, 1972.

"The September of 1972 was the longest September in Philippine history," Guinto said in an interview Friday, explaining the film's title. "It seemed endless." The movie's Tagalog subtitle translates to "Brave Nation" in English.

The suit alleges that Marcos disapproved of the completed film, barring its distribution after the production company ran into financial difficulties in 1975 and the $1-million film was seized by the government. Articles in the Philippine press said that as of the late 1970s, it was the only domestic motion picture ever banned by the Philippine Board of Censors.

Marcos then arranged for Guinto to be framed in a purported financial conspiracy resulting in a criminal charge, the suit contends.

Subsequently, Guinto and his wife, Stella Suarez--the leading sex symbol of the Philippine cinema in the 1960s and early 1970s--fled to San Diego, which has been their home, on and off, ever since.

The actions of Marcos and other unnamed Philippine officials violated Guinto's freedom of expression under the Philippine Constitution, the lawsuit contends.

The film project started out as a sympathetic portrayal of the budding of martial law, Guinto said.

"When martial law was new, a lot of people were very idealistic about it, and I was one of them," he said. "I thought Marcos was out to change things. But the more I got into the story, the more I realized it was not to be so."

The resulting film--whose characters, from Marcos to former armed forces chief Gen. Fabian C. Ver to Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, constitute a Who's Who of contemporary Philippine political life--incensed Marcos, according to Guinto.

"Marcos was so afraid to show it, because he knew that if the public knew what really transpired and how they conspired to put it together, the people would wise up to him," he said.

Wigberto Tanadacq, a friend of Guinto appointed commissioner of the Bureau of Customs by the new government of President Corazon Aquino, confirmed the outlines of Guinto's story in a telephone interview Friday from Manila.

Tanada said the legal problems that prompted Guinto's exile from the Philippines have passed.

"I think that would have gone away with Mr. Marcos," Tanada said.

The lawsuit seeks $100 million for losses Guinto and Suarez claim they suffered from being forced to leave the Philippines and to give up their film-making careers for more than 10 years.

They also seek $5 million for pain and suffering and $1 billion in punitive damages.

Guinto's lawyer, Fred Arm of San Diego, said he would attempt to serve Marcos with legal papers in the suit by mailing a certified letter to the former president's temporary residence in Hawaii.

If he collects any damages from Marcos, Guinto says, he will split them with the poor of the Philippines.

But Guinto says he is even more interested in getting his film before the Philippine public--a possibility that seems real for the first time in a decade, given the changes in his native land during the last few weeks.

"If they can release the leader of the Communist Party," Guinto said, "surely they can release a motion picture."

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