Land defenders consider the earth part of their family, defending its conglomeration of spaces and taking risks to maintain its beauty and rich resources. Some people in power consider the earth their personal resource to exploit and profit from. It is rare to see the media cover the intricacies of these realities. It is even rarer to encounter such media in developing countries. Luckily, recently released environmental thriller documentary Delikado covers these implications, exposing the culture of impunity, harassment and oppression people in the Philippines face from those in power.
Delikado is an environmental thriller documentary that surrounds three environmental defenders battling with political leaders and other groups as they save forests, mountains and mangroves in Palawan, an archipelagic province of the Philippines spanning over 14,000 kilometers. Recently, this island paradise was described as the Philippines’ last ecological frontier, according to documentary producers.
One of the environmental defenders in the documentary, Bobby Chan, shared his thoughts on the film with Michael Collins in a PBS interview. Chan said the government has a lack of concern and persistent apathy towards basic maintenance of ecological spaces.
“You’ll see that all the basic services for land and oceans that are in place in first world countries are not in the Philippines. The government is not doing anything to maintain these resources,” Chan said in the interview. “(As) land defenders like me do their job to give back, there needs to be more people involved. Sadly, nobody wants to do an active service because they know their efforts will not get them anywhere; and, in fact, just get you into more trouble from the government.”
Additionally, Chan emphasized many leaders and local communities give in to feelings of hopelessness while trying to combat these issues.
As a Filipino citizen who lived in the Philippines for most of my formative years, I can vouch for the intensity of this feeling. It is almost as if one is paralyzed from these constant roadblocks to progress. I talked more with one of the film’s producers to learn more about leaders’ perspectives on this topic and the impact that the art of film has to amplify that solutions are still possible, even for deeply rooted issues.
Deeply inspired by her family to pursue storytelling, award-winning environmental documentary film producer Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala noted the “soft power” film has to raise consciousness. Alikpala started pursuing this mission of storytelling and advocacy through journalism, then began to produce documentary films. Along with co-producers Karl Malakunas, Marty Syjuco and Michael Collins, the group covers the latest problems Filipino people tackle to preserve their homes.
What induced her to produce Delikado was that she knew land defenders have been historically underappreciated and underpaid in the Philippines. After advocating for anti-martial-law initiatives in the country, she saw that what stops these land defenders, activists and nonprofits from succeeding is the greed of government officials. Budgets for the preservation of the Philippine Islands are cut consistently to line the pockets of leaders. Whether corporate or political, these leaders are blinded from doing good because of the idea of gaining more money. While it was already a known fact in the Philippines, it makes a difference when people talk about it at greater lengths through a film.
Alikpala continued that everyone involved with Delikado put themselves at jeopardy.
“With every cut and part of the movie, the land defenders named names. We had to check up with each of them and ask if this was okay to add in the film and they agreed,” Alikpala said. “It has no filter. They are honestly all superheroes, they were all so courageous in telling the truth.”
Additionally, I found that another entity that continues to carry these important conversations aside from the film are nonprofits in the Palawan region that have the same goal of conservation.
One major program the film focused on is the environmental and climate nonprofit network the island uses to monitor projects in and out of Palawan. The Palawan NGO network houses the last remaining forest and mangrove corridors in the country, along with the last 5% of corals in excellent condition. It also contests big commercial projects including illegal mining, fishing and logging. Their efforts beg the question: “Who said these leaders were our leaders in the first place?”
After numerous features of Delikado in film festivals from New York City to Sydney, it taught its global audience to speak up and to not overthink the simplicity of care and justice. For land defenders, the earth is a family member. It is clear to me and hopefully to many others that the paralysis in climate change action not only stems from avarice, but from lack of good values. Mental paralysis stems from what your principles are and the purpose you pursue. The disparity between these land defenders and leaders is distinct. It serves as a great example of integrity and which path of life to choose as young people.
Alikpala wrapped up our conversation with a statement that stuck with me.
“A lot of people didn’t support us in the film since some of them were afraid, but others really took the risk because it was worth doing,” Alikpala said. “We can accomplish so much if we have the ability to banish fear.”
Early in our lives, it is important to think about how we use our resources and knowledge. Will we use it for selfish desires or the greater good? Will we let fear get in the way of what truly needs to be done? It’s important to come to terms with the fact that most of the climate crisis rests in the hands of the upper one percent; those who have the autonomy, power and privilege to direct their work towards sustainability. I encourage all, especially young people, to do more action-oriented work toward environmental justice instead of just discussions. If done consistently, actions by the younger generations would trump the ones before them any day.