For overseas Filipino workers and their children, MMK’s heart-wrenching and stirring episode “Popcorn” was never as resonant, relatable, and utterly real.
While we have recognized the fact that our relentless heroes overseas, who sacrifice life and limb for the best of their families back home, it is somewhat unheard of that those beloved ones left behind are taking quite a beating, literally.
The whole story seemed a metaphor for OFW children seeking the mere presence, more than the material satisfaction, of their parents in their lives. But it was, quite surprisingly, true.
Amy’s (Aiko Melendez) predicament is just all too familiar. Coming from a traumatic childhood, she wished her children won’t suffer the same fate. And, even as she finished her basic schooling when she already was a wife and mother, Amy tried her best. To the eyes of her kids, most especially her eldest Nelia (Abby Bautista), she was the “Super Nanay” who will never let them down.
But when she did leave to work abroad, the family that she held so dear—the reason for her sacrifice—had crumbled. Her husband Jose (Dominic Ochoa) had squandered the money she sends and instead uses it to drive his infidelity—an affair with her niece, Risa (Nikki Bagaporo). Because of this, Jose paid no attention to the needs of their children. He would leave them without food and fend for themselves.
Nelia then found love letters between her dad and Risa, confirming her suspicions, and worse catching them in bed. She tried to reveal this to Amy when they spoke on the phone but couldn’t after hearing her mother’s stories of hardship working abroad. She instead told a close relative about it. An enraged Jose then berated and hurt Nelia for revealing his affair and warned her against telling Amy about it—further silencing the poor girl.
When Amy comes back for a visit, she was shocked to find out their deplorable state—the children being so thin and hungry and their house even in a worse state than the time she left. She confronts Jose about it and asked where the money went. Jose evaded the questions and instead pinned the blame on Amy over her absence in their lives.
Since then, Amy diverted her remittances to her family, which angered Jose. Because of this, he abandoned their kids and left for Manila to find work. This forced Nelia and her other siblings to stay at their grandparents home.
When Amy returns for another visit after finding out about Jose abandoning them and taking her children back from Jose’s parents, Nelia finally uncovered her father’s unfaithfulness that made them suffer. But as she was devastated hearing what Jose did, Amy still told her dejected daughter that she still needs to leave for work abroad. But little did she know, Amy would only to entrust them to a very abusive family—her own, with brother Ricky (Gerald Madrid) forcing even the youngest siblings to toil in the fields and carry heavy loads. Ricky would hurt them repeatedly if they made mistakes. And through it all, it was Nelia who took care of her siblings, protected them, helped heal their wounds, and vowed to do her best in school so their hardships would end.
And she succeeded, Nelia ended up as the elementary school salutatorian. Before the graduation, her father suddenly appeared asking Nelia for forgiveness over his past sins and promised to help them. After Jose gave her a pendant as a gift, Nelia, who was still hurting that Amy always chooses to work abroad than staying to protect and care for them, told her dad that he can do something to help them.
After a tearful salutatory speech, Amy approached Nelia, who had turned distant and cold towards her mom. She revealed how Ricky would hurt them and all they could do was depend on each other to face the ordeal. And even if Amy assured them she would tell off her brother to stop the abuse, Nelia said she had already done something about it—that is to seek her father’s help in stopping the abuse. She did this because she doubted that her mother could do anything about it since she would leave them anyway. She said she could only depend on themselves since their mother was never there to help them.
And that reverberated when Amy and Jose faced off after Nelia’s (Miles Ocampo) high school graduation, when both blamed each other over what their family went through and asked their children who among he and their mother they would choose to live with. This angered the grown teenager Nelia, who declared they would not choose any of them because both had abandoned them and left them to suffer.
Before leaving again for work abroad, Amy asserted how much she loves Nelia and the rest of her children. She had a simple house built for them so they could avoid maltreatment from anyone. As Nelia felt dejected once more as Amy loaded her luggage onto a tricycle, Amy assured them that each drop of blood, sweat and tears she endures while toiling as a domestic helper abroad were all for them. She added that even if Nelia doesn’t love her anymore and even stop considering her as a “Super Nanay,” she wouldn’t mind. What matters is that she is able to support them, help them finish their studies, and make their dreams come true.
This melted Nelia’s heart. She realized the value of her sacrifice and that her hard labor will finally bear fruit, as she nears her college graduation, while her other siblings are very much fulfilled in their own studies.
In this episode, we learn how families of OFWs face two-fold ordeals—a parent who suffers from the difficult work conditions abroad and children who miss their presence in their lives. While it is ideal that a family should be together through thick and thin, such sacrifices of parents leaving their children for jobs abroad remain unavoidable. It takes a good amount of understanding and a great deal of open communication to make it work.
The story, which had been well presented through an exceptionally written script by Mae Rose Barrientos Balanay and Arah Jell G. Badayos, was truly close to the hearts of a large share of the audience, especially with families having OFWs as their heroic benefactors. Director Frasco Mortiz made each scene as emotionally gripping and touching to the viewer, who could truly feel for the suffering children and understand the travails of the ever sacrificing mother.
In her element
Aiko Melendez was in her element as an actress, effectively portraying Amy to the hilt, truly owning and capturing the essence of the character. In his short role, Gerald Madrid effectively made everyone livid over his abuse towards the children and truly gave everyone a grim, realistic reminder of the extent of viciousness. While Miles Ocampo only appeared towards approximately the final 15 minutes of the episode, she still impressed viewers by consistently and stirringly expressing the pent-up emotions Nelia had since she was a little kid.
But the best acclaim should go to Abby Bautista, the young Nelia, who truly carried the entire episode in her delicate, pristine shoulders. She truly understood her character well enough to deliver a believable and effectual performance memorable to everyone who watched.