The Power of Documentary – Manila Bulletin

Seeing the main theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) packed is a rare occasion, what more can we say when it’s for one of Cinemalaya’s closing films, and it’s a documentary that’s being screened. Documentaries have often been pushed into the background by our cinephile audience; so it was heartening to see the broad and diverse cross-section of Filipino society come together for this film about saving Palawan’s forests and environment, and to fill the rafters with theatre.

The Palawan NGO Network Inc. (PNNI), a group of conservationists who put their lives on the line every time they venture to apprehend illegal loggers and fishers, are the focus of this documentary directed by the ‘Australian Karl Malakunas. And right off the bat, I’ll say it’s a powerful, thought-provoking piece that fully deserved the enthusiastic reception of audiences; and more, deserves to be watched by the public, who are often unaware of what happens at ground level in our country’s tourist destinations and travel meccas. Then it’s up to the audience to decide what they saw.

And of course, the irony didn’t escape the public that it took an Australian journalist/filmmaker to bring this film project to life. As Malakunas mentioned when introducing the film, he first came to the Philippines, and Palawan in particular, to produce a film on sunny beaches with happy tourists; but the sudden shooting death of one of the PNNI enforcers had events that caught up with his intentions, and he quickly discovered there was a more compelling story to tell.

The main protagonists of Delikado at the Q&A after the screening.

At the center of the film’s exposition are three central characters. Bobby Chan, an environmental rights lawyer who lives in El Nido and organized the PNNI, Nieves Rosento, the former mayor of El Nido who sided with the PNNI, and Tata Balladeros, one Bobby’s eco-warriors and a former military man who admits to participating in illegal logging in his past. Together, they form the triumvirate of local “heroes”, campaigning for environmental protection and tribal rights in a province described as paradise and at the center of massive development as a tourist destination.

The documentary received the Sustainable Future Award at the 2022 Sydney Film Festival and the Special Jury Prize for Best Documentary Film from the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. And it’s easy to see why, as the opening shots of the paradise that is El Nido Palawan are quickly chained to the life-threatening tension that surrounds the lives of these would-be conservationists.

Like a modern-day Lone Ranger, Bobby Chan explains why the PNNI was formed, as an NGO that was willing to have citizens arrest illegal loggers and fishers, as they seemed protected by the voracious appetites of local politicians. , businessmen, and big business that violated the forests and the seas in the name of development.

There’s a quixotic element to their take on the mission, and it’s soon apparent as the film progresses that despite their noble intentions, they were perhaps biting off more than they could chew. And that’s basically the tragedy here, how the island’s environmental crusaders would have deadly targets on their backs; and in the case of the ex-mayor, even being put on President Duterte’s list of narco-politicians, and being stripped of all police powers.

While the filmmakers explain that they tried to obtain statements from the governor of Palawan and other politicians who were the parties opposed to the PNNI, it is clear that the filmmakers are dealing with blacks and whites in their exposure, and strongly defend the case of the trio of Chan, Rosento and Balladeros.

The packed house watching Delikado.

Community screenings and Cinemalaya’s extensive schedule of this film can hopefully bring audiences to watch the film. It’s on some level a call to action, and it needs to be heeded, if we’re going to save this province that’s been called the last frontier, and which Bobby calls the lost frontier.

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