MANILA, PHILIPPINES — For eight years now, environmental organization Global Witness has named the Philippines one of the deadliest places in Asia for environmental defenders. Forest rangers, anti-logging advocates have been murdered, hacked to death, threatened. There were 29 documented killings of people who were protecting their lands and ecosystems in 2021 alone. And yet, for lawyer Robert “Bobby” Chan, the task of preserving Palawan’s natural resources falls to no one but themselves.
“I have friends who died doing this. Sometimes when I hear the critics say we should not do it because people get killed. I know. That is a good argument … There is a spirit that tells me we have to do it because nobody else will,” Bobby said in the trailer of Delikado, an enviro-thriller documentary directed by journalist Karl Malakunas.
The Palawan NGO Network Inc. (PNNI) executive director sits at the veranda of the organization’s office, an ordinary building, save for a tree installation made of chainsaws that he and his team have confiscated from illegal loggers.
Environment crusaders like Bobby have dedicated their lives protecting Palawan from mining, illegal fishing, illegal logging, and agri business.
In the 96-minute documentary, Karl follows Bobby, former El Nido Mayor Nieves Rosento and land defender Efren “Tata” Balladares in their fight against environmental ruin. What’s at stake in their crusade are their homes; the Palawan rainforests — which are one of the oldest and most diverse in Asia; and centuries-old customs and traditions of its indigenous peoples.
Delikado premiered at Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival in April this year and has since reaped recognition from all over the globe. It won the Sustainable Future Award and Audience Award: Best Documentary #2 at the Sydney Film Festival; Special Jury Prize: Best Documentary Feature at Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival; and Special Mention: Best International Feature at Doc Edge, New Zealand. The film was also featured at Sheffield Docfest, Human Rights Watch Film Festival, and MountainFilm.
It will be screened from August 11 to 13 at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
On August 13, at 3:30 p.m., audiences here in Manila will get the chance to watch the gripping documentary at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Main Theater (Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo) for its Philippine premiere.
Delikado — produced by Karl, Emmy-nominated Marty Syjuco, “Give Up Tomorrow” director Michael Collins and broadcast journalist Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala — will be among the closing films of the 18th Cinemalaya Film Festival.
Karl, who directed, produced and wrote the docu, learned of the dangerous plight of Palawan environmental advocates in 2011, while he was preparing for a trip to Palawan for an ecotourism story.
“Palawan is home to the Philippines’ last great rainforests and it’s one of the most beautiful places in the country. But my contact for the story, an environmental campaigner, was shot and killed just before I was due to go. I went anyway to investigate his murder. When I was there I discovered this seemingly idyllic island was being destroyed by the people in power who were meant to be protecting it. I also discovered a small group of people putting their lives on the line trying to stop the destruction,” Karl said in a statement.
Karl has since spent years documenting this resilient group of people, building a relationship with the film participants, even sleeping in the forests with anti-illegal logging advocates.
“I filmed ‘Delikado’ with the intention of it being an intimate thriller about the lives of the land defenders, to ensure that audiences feel an emotional connection with the characters while learning about extremely compelling social and environmental issues.”