When Timawa Meets Delgado (Ray Gibraltar, 2007)
It is simply Social Darwinism at work: the way majority of Filipino nurses leave the Philippines to take care of the sick and the elderly in wealthier nations, the way professionals suddenly change careers to become nurses, the way high schoolers are brainwashed to study nursing for college. The nursing profession, from a vocation that is mostly reserved for the dedicated, has transformed into a quick ticket for employment abroad. The phenomenon is grounded on a collective intent to survive not in a motherland, which continuously fails to accomodate the expectations of its people because of economic inequity and widespread corruption, but elsewhere.
The plot of Ray Gibraltar's first feature film When Timawa Meets Delgado can be aptly summarized by its very title. The titular meeting of the two main characters happens near the end of the film in the hallway just outside the waiting and interview room of the nursing school they wish to enroll in. Jun Delgado (Rhenomar Soqueño), self-proclaimed filmmaker, finishes his cigarette and thereafter invites Ruben Timawa (Kristoffer Grabato), award-winning gay poet from the remote barrio, to lunch while waiting for the results of their respective interviews. They discover a connection, an innocent lie they both told to the interviewer when asked why they wanted to become nurses: "To serve humanity." Both of them have different personal motivations, and none of them point out to their proclaimed selflessness and magnanimity to humanity. Delgado opts to leave filmmaking for nursing to utilize the lessons learned from his recent break-up with his girlfriend and to find work in America to finally achieve the stability his vocation could never provide him. Timawa, on the other hand, is a romantic by nature. His motivation is mostly whimsical: to follow his beau, a former communist who became a registerd nurse and then migrated to the United States.
When Timawa Meets Delgado is a film that works primarily because of its honesty. It examines the lies and inaccuracies that fuel a nation's American dream, not in a moralistic or preachy standpoint but in a rather entertaining and very humorous manner. Timawa and Delgado represent individuals being repressed and pigeonholed into a catch-all profession by economic need. The fact that these two characters are artists make the nursing phenomenon more painful. The situation echoes another form of censorship, far more dire than the governmentally instituted pronouncements against pornography as narrowly defined by existing laws. This censorship exists because the social and economic institutions can no longer afford self-expression and creativity, traits that differentiate Delgado's banal events videography from the supposed works of art birthed in his mind or Timawa's false poetry from the ones that are establish true advocacy. Gibraltar presents these issues with an air of comedic slightness, taking lightly through Delgado and Timawa's dishonesty the slowly erupting ills that are plaguing the countries. Truly, the issues are costumed in ridicule and satire, but they are undoubtedly most effectively relayed in such manner.
Sprinkled evenly between Delgado and Timawa's eventual meeting are interviews with several nursing students and a documentary footage of a group of nursing students visiting the hut of a sickly man in the rice farms. These more serious facets of the film blankly point out the adverse repercussions of our nation's indefatigable American Dream. The interviews expose the youth who are being stripped of their respective individualities and dreams to commence a societal expectation to migrate and earn in dollars. The documentary footage of the sorry state of rural health details a nation that is quietly suffering from a lack of adequate medical care when year after year, it produces more than enough nurses to provide such local need.
It is during these very real moments do we get an actual feel of the national psychology, how the nursing boom has passed from fad into an actual epidemic, that even two prepubescent girls, too young to value their individual wants and needs, who were interviewed while trodding a footpath have already been brainwashed to gain an endgoal of abandoning the motherland to earn dollars. The miracle that Gibraltar weaves in the film is that despite such troubling national preoccupation with employment abroad, he does not pass on judgment and instead gives the phenomenon a simple but very real rationale: that life in the United States is definitely better than squandering intellect and talent in a nation that cannot compensate justly.
When Timawa Meets Delgado, as a simple, truthful, funny, and dynamic portrait of a nation that is scrambling over the possible and probable realization of its American dream through the consistent demand for nurses and caregivers abroad, is brutally honest. Through the montage of Delgado's commercial and commoditized works and his prayerful speech about freedom of expression and Timawa's excellently recited poetry (all written by local poet J. I. E. Teodoro; a favorite of mine is The Pig, which was recited in Ilonggo, English, and the very inventive local gay lingo), we are opened to the possibilities of great talent being flushed and wasted into the impersonal world of international demand for skilled manpower. It almost feels like When Timawa Meets Delgado was crafted purely for that reason: to lambast a society and a mutated profession that is draining individuality and humanity from this nation's youth.
However, the film's notion of didactism against the proliferation of nursing as the cure-all to the Philippines' affliction with the American dream is completely erased when Gibraltar allows his powerful work to settle in the positive and very human mood that his final interviewee, registered nurse and actor Grabato, introduces. Grabato sheds the fairy image of his onscreen character Timawa and gives a sincere and touching account of his experience as a struggling nursing student --- how he struggled to like something he was forced to take, how he felt soulless despite gaining good grades, how he eventually considered the profession chosen for him as his fated vocation by settling in his motherland, the one with the biggest demand for nurses but incapable of affording them. During that final interview, When Timawa Meets Delgado ceases to exist as merely funny, satirical or informative. The film gains a rousing point --- to bring the honor, dignity, and nationalism in the profession that has become synonymous with migration and the defeatist Social Darwinism as applied to the Philippines. "To serve humanity." Lest we forget, the oft-used phrase still has a semblance of truth if we choose to believe it as many of our nurses still do.