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Fighting chainsaws with truth

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Aug 28, 2022 5:00 am

Every two days, a land defender will be murdered somewhere around the world,” reports Global Witness, an international human rights group. “The Philippines is the most dangerous country in Asia to be a land defender.”

It was this reality on the ground — and a personal connection with the Philippines — that led former Agence France-Presse (AFP) Manila bureau chief Karl Malakunas to film Delikado, a gripping documentary on the lethal environmental battles being fought in Palawan and elsewhere in the country.

The film, recently shown at Cinemalaya, tracks three environmental defenders — Bobby Chan, Nieves Resento and Efren “Tata” Balladeres — and their efforts to protect forest lands from corporate greed and corrupt government forces that are, literally, out to kill them.

Bobby Chan stands in front of “chainsaw tree” at PNNI headquarters in Palawan.

Malakunas’ interest in the story began in 2011, while working for AFP in Manila. He was about to head to Palawan to write an ecotourism article, but learned his contact there, an environmental activist, had been murdered. He went anyway, and it led to a years-long journey that uncovered the dangers that come from within — government agencies that do the opposite of protecting the land, allowing illegal logging to flourish — and the struggles to bring this to light.

Chan, an attorney, is known for a strategy of confiscating chainsaws (that’s his chainsaw “tree sculpture” in the trailer). Resento was running for office during filming, facing the threat of assassination every day. In 2020, 227 land defenders were reported killed around the world. An average of four a week have been killed since the 2015 UN climate accord in Paris.

Filmmaker Karl Malakunas

The threats are real, and Delikado shines a light on the issue for a more global audience.

PHILIPPINE STAR: Your entry into this story was very close to home. How did you get enveloped in the story? 

KARL MALAKUNAS: In 2011 (after Doc Gerry Ortega was shot and killed in Puerto Princesa), I went to instead report on his murder and discovered a network of environment defenders who were risking their lives to save their island from illegal logging, mining and fishing. Some of them were even getting killed. I was shocked to see the incredible dangers they were facing and was immediately inspired and captivated by their bravery.

The beauty of the island made for a compelling contrast and backdrop for a film. I also knew the struggles of the land defenders in Palawan spoke to a global phenomenon. They’re on the frontlines of mankind’s efforts to save the planet from the worst impacts of climate change. I felt the strength and courage of Bobby, Nieves, Tata and others in Palawan could be a source of inspiration.

We are working with various groups in the Philippines to stage community and educational screenings, and will have our first one this week in a community battling to save their mangroves.

Why is environmentalism such a deadly subject in the Philippines? Does it just come down to greed and power?

It is more than just environmentalism that makes such a deadly subject. In almost any sector of society, challenging those in authority in the Philippines can be an extremely dangerous business. The Philippines is also one of the deadliest nations to be a journalist. The culture of impunity and corruption in the Philippines is, sadly, extreme. The powerful can literally get away with murder. 

Tata Balladares and other PNNI para-enforcers

What do you hope this film will achieve, in terms of change or awareness?

It was incredible to see the visceral reaction from the full house at Cinemalaya as the audience watched Delikado. Some were clearly shocked by the revelations of the corruption in the film. So many people came up to me after and asked what they could to help. They also had questions about how to travel to places like Palawan responsibly. We want to take that energy and continue to help “defend the defenders,” in the Philippines and beyond.

Where else will Delikado be shown here?

Tata Balladares rests on a fallen tree while searching for illegal loggers in forests of southern Palawan, Rizal, Palawan, April 2018

We have a plan to show Delikado as far and widely across the Philippines as possible, particularly in schools, universities and communities facing similar struggles to protect their environments. We are working with various groups in the Philippines to stage community and educational screenings, and will have our first one this week in a community battling to save their mangroves. We are looking for partners to hold screenings at cinemas for the general public as well.

What else can Filipinos do, besides becoming vigilantes for the environment?

Nieves Rosento on the campaign trail in the May 2019 elections

They can work with people in local communities to help defend their environments. It’s important to note that Bobby, Tata, Nieves and the others in our film were determined to continue to work within the law, and fight injustice through the legitimate system. There are so many avenues that people can follow to do their own bit to protect their forests and oceans and mountains.

Most importantly, when it feels like it’s getting too hard, the forces against them too strong, think about Bobby and Tata and Nieves. What did they do when it was all too hard? They kept fighting. They didn’t give up.

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Visit www.delikadofilm.com to learn more about the film. For those interested in hosting a block screening or community screening, email [email protected] or call +639178004409. Learn more about the film and its impact campaign at delikadofilm.com or  follow on Facebook , Instagram and  Twitter.

Learn more about donating to Palawan NGO Network Inc. (PNNI) by visiting their website at www.pnni.org and following them on their Facebook page.