Where Trese failed its promise

(Warning: Spoilers Ahead)

It hasn’t been long since Trese rocked public consciousness with its arrival to popular streaming platform Netflix a month ago. Hailed as a Filipino anime among the first of its kind, Trese was originally a komik series written by Budjette Tan and illustrated by Kajo Baldisimo. It’s known for its neo-noir reimagination of Philippine’s own mythological and supernatural creatures, narrated through elements of detective and crime fiction as titular character Alexandra Trese uncovers the mysteries of Manila’s grimy underground (or underworld) scene. The series eventually garnered a cult following, allowing the franchise to expand enough that the promise of a Netflix adaptation was never a question of if, but when. 

In many ways, Trese was able to portray mundane truths close to the daily experience of the Filipino viewer. The pilot episode, for instance, opened with an MRT cab breaking down near Guadalupe station. “Bigla na lang daw tumigil ang tren sa may bandang tulay ng Guadalupe,” Captain Guerrero later recalls to Alexandra Trese. There were also a lot of other details that paid homage to our everyday life, from the numerous billboards of whitening products to the relatable obsession over Choc-Nuts. But among the things that stood out the most, almost to everyone’s surprise, is Trese’s ambition to portray the socio-political truths of our country. 

Throughout the whole series, we venture with Alexandra Trese, the show’s take on the classic detective character which creator Budjette Tan says is inspired mainly by DC Comics mainstays, Batman and John Constantine. But unlike her Western counterparts, Trese doesn’t seem to have an uncomplicated relationship with the police. Together with magical twins Basilio and Crispin, Trese works closely with the head of Precinct 13, Captain Guerrero, who calls on her whenever things get more supernatural.

Captain Guerrero’s portrayal in the series is one of the most rightfully controversial aspects of the show’s writing. During the history crash course at the beginning, a photo of Guerrero appears just as Trese narrates, “Pilit lumalaban ang mga mabubuting tao.”  He is consistently portrayed as the moral compass of the entire police institution—an outlier in what the series seems to acknowledge, but doesn’t expound on, as a systemic problem. In Episode 4, an innocent man was forced inside Guerrero’s precinct after being accused of fighting back. “Nanlaban siya. Iyon lang ang alam ko,” one of the police said to which Guerrero was quick to express his disdain and disapproval for. “Lahat kami ay gago rito pero sinusubukan kong hindi maging ganun kung maniniwala ka,” Guerrero says to the inmate.

 What was the most uncomfortable, however, came later in that episode, in a scene that could have depicted the reality of our country’s police system only to fail miserably. The inmate is revealed to have one of the magical stones needed to stop an ongoing zombie apocalypse. Trese, who has been called for reinforcement, suddenly enters, without any problems killing the inmate herself just to retrieve the stone, “Isang tao lang ‘to laban sa mga patay na ‘di mabilang, Kapitan.” But Captain Guerrero stops her, asking her to save his life instead. He then proceeds to recite the names of the other victims that fell under the hands of the police. “Hindi lumipas ang araw nang hindi ko sila naiisip,” Guerrero says, asking the name of the inmate so he can allegedly remember his name as well.

 A police officer who cares about inmates or disagrees with the system could exist. But whenever we try to engage with the police discourse in the country, it’s very imperative for us to be sensitive to the role the system plays. The issue we have with the police has never been about the number of good cops that exist, but rather the culture of patriarchal violence and abuse that has time and time again proven itself to be a global systemic disease. It doesn’t matter if people like Captain Guerrero exist in real life, he still can’t stop innocent people from dying at the bloody hands of policemen. 

That is why it was so hard to watch Guerrero speak the names of the people that have fallen victim to police brutality, as if he alone can emancipate the institution from taking part, for instance, in the administration’s war on drugs that have killed at least 27,000 lives including innocent children. Not the police in real life nor in the series have gone through significant character development for Guerrero to earn that moment and reclaim the police’s reputation as agents of benevolence. In fact, in the episode after, the inmates were portrayed as the evil force, pawns to the politician Mayor Santamaria whose slogan is “Darating na ang Pagbabao.” The police, as usual, had no problem claiming their lives, while also expressing concerns about potentially hurting their own men in the midst of the war. Though the writers got the part where the police serve to protect only their own kind, they confused the inmates with the actual pawns of politicians. Ultimately, the notions and stereotypes they promised to comment on ended up being perpetuated even more. 

That is not to say, however, that we must stop celebrating Trese as a feat for Filipino culture. With the dire state of the arts in the country, especially for both the komiks and animation industry, Trese’s place in the Filipino imagination is a shining beacon of hope for some artists. It’s a door that can potentially open hundreds more opportunities and a proof that local stories can also satiate our own cravings. In fact, it has been a long time since a Filipino series got so big it was able to inspire many things from fanarts to critical discourses. But with the high plausibility of a second season happening with the same set of cast and crew, it’s important that Trese doesn’t repeat the same mistake of giving the entire police institution the redemption they have yet to deserve. [P]

Graphics by Jermaine Valerio

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