‘TROUBLE IN PARADISE’: PHL’s last eco frontier faces tough battle in docu-film

By Rjay Zuriaga Castor and Joseph B.A. Marzan

Palawan holds significant renown as it is home to two Heritage Sites listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO): the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park near Cagayancillo town and the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Puerto Princesa City.

Famed as the Philippines’ ‘last ecological frontier,’ its landscapes are adorned with breathtaking natural beauty. However, beneath the surface of these picture-perfect sceneries lies a formidable struggle for the survival and prosperity of the island. Palawan faces numerous threats arising from the destructive forces of human greed and apathy, which pose significant challenges to its ecological well-being.

The 2022 documentary film “Delikado”, directed by Australian filmmaker-journalist Karl Malakunas, tackles the struggles of environmental defenders in one of the country’s most vast ecological landscapes, on their quest to save it from potential ruin amid the illicit hardwood logging and taking on the government’s so-called crusade against illegal substances, all at the same time.

Delikado follows El Nido’s former mayor, Nieves Rosento, and the leaders of Palawan NGO Network Inc. (PNNI), Robert “Bobby” Chan and Efren “Tata” Balladeres, as they courageously confront politicians and businessmen who pose a grave threat to the preservation of Palawan.  Also at the forefront of the 94-minute documentary is Robert “Bobby” Chane, an environmental lawyer and PPNI chief.

For PNNI and the environmental defenders of the island, every operation to apprehend illegal loggers and fishermen is a perilous undertaking, with their lives perpetually hanging in the balance.

This tragic reality is vividly depicted in Delikado, showcasing how the island’s environmental crusaders become marked targets.

Rosento, for instance, finds herself on former President Duterte’s list of narco-politicians; Chan being declared persona non grata by the Palawan provincial government; and Ruben Arzaga, one of PPNI’s dedicated advocate, losing his life to a fatal shotgun wound to the head by illegal loggers in El Nido in 2017.

Artistic collective DAKILA brought the show to Iloilo on Friday, May 26, to an audience consisting mostly of members of the sectors including youth, academics, and creatives, among others.

DAKILA Managing Director Rynshien Joy Olivete told Daily Guardian that they hope that the documentary becomes a call to awaken the public’s senses and join in protecting remaining natural resources.

She added that local environmental defenders in Western Visayas have also been facing similar threats to their families’ lives and livelihoods.

“All of us are environmental defenders on our own [right], and sometimes it’s a calling that just needs to be awakened. That’s our goal [in the film showing], for everyone to be an environmental defender in their own respective communities,” said Olivete.

“It’s about time for the Ilonggo audience to witness ‘Delikado’. Though the story is based in Palawan, we actually encounter the same problems here in Iloilo and Western Visayas,” she added.

Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, broadcast journalist and the producer of Delikado said the documentary seeks to celebrate the heroism of the simple folks of Palawan who are fighting for their land.

While the environmental defenders risk their lives in a David versus Goliath-style struggle, Kara emphasized that they never perceive themselves as heroes because safeguarding Palawan is simply an inherent aspect of their daily lives.

She added that it is also important to highlight local community stories since “they are the first ones who feel the impact of the destruction and abuse.”

Kara believes that Dakila is an eye-opener as most of the feedback her team received is that they didn’t know it was happening, and while awareness is cliche, she also furthered that it is still a great start for something bigger.

“People must know that this is going on so they can stop whatever wrong they are doing… We really have to start early in thawing out something wrong because if you will just let it go, it will just compile and compile and it will be overwhelming to fight back,” she explained.

Kara said the Ilonggo community should “meet the champions of Palawan, who gave us so much hope because they fight the Goliaths despite the odds. They show us what it’s like to love their home, what they’re willing to do and they are so infused with the Earth, [treating] it as a member of the family.”

“It is one in the same indivisible, we should fight the same that they do, not only for the land, but anything you believe in,” she said.