There is nothing delicate about “Delikado.” This documentary is about the harsh reality of a war to save an environment. People die in order to save the island of Palawan. Director Karl Malakunas doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of the war being fought here.
In this reality , the greenery of the forest is a hypnotic; the grimy sweat of the humidity and the inhumanity are almost visceral. At one point, the camera shows a tall structure, a totem or sculpture of rusted electric tree cutters. It’s a threat to both sides, one that could prove fatal. Malakunas shows us a Philippines that could be an island paradise.
Be warned that this film contains footage of dead people (in reference to Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs”) and, as one might expect, there is grief, but there is some hope. In this documentary, Malakunas follows three people: a lawyer, a former logger and a politician. The logger, Tata, began as one of the illegal loggers, plundering the lush forests, but switched sides to become one of a small network of environmental crusaders. That’s where the hope lies.
When you think politician, you might be thinking of some slick, good-looking man, but the politician here is the grandmotherly Nieves Rosento. She is the mayor of El Nido, Palawan. She doesn’t have big bucks for her second-term campaign, which she needs to continue enforcement of environmental laws. And because laws are involved, you need lawyers like Bobby Chan. Chan runs an NGO that holds town hall meetings with Indigenous groups and keeps them informed of their rights so that property developers and government officials can’t take advantage of them.
And yet, we see that people in the Indigenous communities are under threat and environmental activists are killed with their murderers seldom caught and punished. The problem is not just the black market, but also the kind of government run under Duterte, corrupt and violent. Palawan is a Unesco World Heritage site with one of the oldest and most diverse rainforests in the world. It is beautiful but for its defenders, it is also a deadly place.
The documentary makes our concerns and protests and other efforts to fight global warming seem like child’s play. By that I don’t mean we should stop making efforts, but what little hardship we face is something we shouldn’t complain about when there are people, in the jungles, at the frontlines dying.
This documentary, in English and Filipino languages, is well worth watching, but not an easy watch. “Delikado” is a Tagalog term that means “likely to cause harm or injury” but it also means both “dangerous” and “dainty.” It’s a good reminder that our planet’s ecosystems is delicate and messing with it is dangerous.
“Delikado” make its premiere at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Canada (April 2022). The film also screened as the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival where it made its US premiere and CAAMFest 40. “Delikado” has been acquired by the Emmy-winning PBS documentary series, “POV.”