An Open Letter

Dear people outside of the Philippines who have seen The Bourne Legacy:

By now you’re probably wondering why Filipinos are suddenly up in arms over how we were “portrayed” in the movie, about how Manila was shown as a noisy, cramped, and possibly “stinky” urban wasteland. Those of us in the Philippines who are angry about this say that we’re being shown in a negative light, because all that’s shown are shanty towns and market places and a dark, dank pier where my beloved Jeremy and my equally beloved Rachel ended up covered in fish scales – literally – after they fell off that bike. Some of us are even suggesting that – que horror! – the movie may have scared foreign investors from putting in more money into our economy.

There is a lot of name-calling going on, as we speak, with pundits taking quotes out of context and wringing their hands like that conservative aunt who just found out that her teenaged daughter has just gotten a tattoo and a prescription for The Pill: Oh, dear, what would the neighbors think of us?

Well, guess what? On behalf of the entire Republic of the Philippines, and the National Capital Region of Metro Manila, I will not apologize for the way our city was portrayed in The Bourne Legacy. 

I’m not saying this because I accept the rampant poverty and uncleanliness that you may have seen in between car chases and action sequences; I don’t think that this is “the way we are,” because I believe that we can overcome this in spite of the leadership we are getting in this country. I am saying this because I don’t subscribe to the school of thought that we should only show the pretty things to the visiting foreigners.

In fact, the Manila that I saw in the movie is exactly the Manila I know and love.


The way I saw it was that the Filipino characters in the movie had every right to be angry – not because they were poor, but because there were foreigners who intruded on their daily lives. They break into their factories and interrupt hours of hard-earned labor; they damage the windows of their newly-renovated rooms for rent; they run on the rooftops, steal motorcycles, and topple over the produce that they just bought at the market. Remember the scene where the mother of the little girl watching TV starts screaming after seeing Rachel Weisz in her kitchen? That’s exactly what a sane person in Manila would do, regardless of what the intruder looks like in the first place. And these are just the good guys, because the Larx assassin assigned to kill them is the one who does the dirty work of flipping over cars and market stalls.

(Also, speaking as a writer: Um, hello, if you’re a fugitive from the law, would you even dare to check into a hotel – or, worse, a motel that charges by the hour? Hell, no. Better to blend in with the crowd and stay at a room-for-rent where you can pay cash for one night.)

Had I seen this movie in other circumstances – say, if I was still living in Hawaii, or at least the condo unit that my family used to rent in Ortigas when I was in high school – I would’ve been much angrier, more insistent on seeing the non-gritty parts of Manila onscreen. And yet, after more than six months of living in Quezon City (a long train ride from the overpass featured in the first part of the foot chase), I now understand that the filmmakers chose us, not because of what we looked and smelled like, but because of who we are: vibrant, colorful, decent, hard-working in spite of the circumstances. We may be hospitable, but we will not kow-tow to the foreigner who just happens to show up at our doorstep while dodging the police just because we want to look “hospitable.”

If there’s anything I want to apologize for, in fact, it’s for the people who insist on setting up the stars with all sorts of chi-chi amenities and luxuries while they were here in Manila. Yes, we’re not a wasteland, but it sickens me to think that we have to patronize celebrities by taking them to hip nightclubs, designer stores, and other tourist traps like the ones they already have in LA and New York. What an insult.

But I won’t apologize for the traffic, and the sidewalk stalls. And I certainly will not apologize for the gorgeous shot of the night sky and the aerial views of the rooftops in the morning.

If you’re still wringing your hands over how Manila looks like in The Bourne Legacy, however, know this: We just survived a whole week’s worth of heavy rains and floods that have left many families homeless throughout the city. We’re just so happy to be alive to even care how Manila looks like in a movie, especially a Manila that had yet to be totalled by a devastating monsoon.

Let this be a lesson to you all: The people of Metro Manila no longer give a shit about what you think of us right now. And those of us who do need a full-time reality check.


The Great Big Jump

PS. Jeremy Renner was not lying about Palawan, though. That place surely is a little slice of heaven.

Love, Stella

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Stella Torres

is the author of the adult contemporary romances Save the Cake, Crushingly Close, and Nine Years Away, as well as the short story “Be Creative” in the anthology Kids These Days: Stories from Luna East Vol. 1.

In her previous life, she has worked in public relations, taught English as a second language, and even attended graduate school (twice!). She has lived in Indonesia, Honolulu, and Quezon City before moving back to her hometown of Los Banos, a few hours’ drive (with traffic) from the heart of Manila.

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