War correspondent Ernie Pyle once wrote, “In foxholes, there are no atheists.”
In Palawan, the Philippines’ last frontier, there are none as well in its forests and mountains.
“You have to rely on something divine to save the environment,” says Palawan NGO Network Inc. executive director Bobby Chan. “How to catch a bulldozer, dynamite fishing boat, chainsaws, and mining equipment … They are all noble and novel stories in themselves. But they are nothing to the bigger design and the workings of something higher. You will realize that when you are in the forest and in the middle of all this danger.”
Confiscating chainsaws, bulldozers, mining equipment, and explosives used in illegal logging, mining, and fishing is dangerous business in Palawan. And that danger is chronicled in the new film, “Delikado”, which tells the story of environmental defenders and their fight to save the island paradise from the destruction of its forests, fisheries, and mountains by corporations and government officials seeking to plunder increasingly vital and shrinking natural resources.
The film was conferred the Sustainable Future Award at the 69th Sydney Festival that was held June 8 to 19. Furthermore, the film will be included in the American Emmy-Award-winning PBS (Public Broadcast Service)’s 35th season.
Directed by Australian journalist and filmmaker Karl Malakunas, “Delikado” followed three key figures in Chan, Tata Balladres, and El Nido Mayor Nieves Rosento in the fight to save Palawan.
In doing so, Malakunas was exposed to the danger of being shadowed by local cops, not being allowed to enter certain areas, and even experiencing the death of one of Chan’s volunteers.
Since he participated in this crusade to confiscate the tools of wanton destruction some 10 years ago, Chan has seen 14 of his volunteers murdered. And that word is a gross understatement.
“I have 14 dead people under my wing,” sadly admits Chan. Their deaths weigh heavily on him. But Chan isn’t made of lesser stuff. He is as stern as they come.
“When one of our volunteers, Roger, went missing for the month of December in Rizal in South Palawan, we went searching for him,” relates Chan. “We found him in a shallow grave by the sea shore with his slippers protruding. The murderers wanted us to find Roger. His eyes were plucked out, tongue cut out, and his balls cut off and placed in his mouth. He has multiple burn marks and stab wounds.
“If they were trying to scare us off, it had the opposite effect … We felt more emboldened.”
One of the murderers was caught and is currently incarcerated. The other fled to Malaysia.
Despite the grisly death toll, the environmental protectionists have made a serious dent into the illegal activities that are going on in this province.
“Are we making a dent with this kind of work? I will have words with anyone who says otherwise,” asserts Chan. “When I went to Palawan in 1993 as a law intern, there was no deterrent then. Illegal loggers and miners were not afraid of anyone. If they got apprehended they paid off the authorities.
“However, because of this program, there is now a new group you cannot bribe and scare. There is a deterrent in place today, and they cannot get the resources they once did with impunity. We are able to accomplish this with little to no funding. We are all on the watchtower in this last frontier.”
“Delikado” is now on the to-watch list as it is being screened in various film festivals all over the world.
Whether the film stops the people behind this illegal trade is anyone’s guess. One thing is for sure – the problems these environmental protectionists face are real.
“I am glad the film is out,” says a relieved Chan. “There is a bigger audience who will see what is going on. Previously, when we speak about what is happening in Palawan in engagements home and abroad, people do not believe what we say. They need to see it to believe it is happening. Now, the truth – due to the film – is out there for all to see.”
The fight is a long way from being done. But there has been some sort of deliverance, at least for Chan.
On January 23, 2021, Chan, who was in Manila at that time, was declared persona non-grata by Palawan authorities for allegedly making malicious claims about the local government.
Around the same time, his colleagues in the NGO came across what they alleged was a plot to discredit and possibly murder him.
“We found video footage of a plan by a politician to plant an unlicensed firearm on my person,” relates Chan. “When I am arrested, I will be brought to the jail and eliminated.”
“I was already here in Manila because of the pandemic. If I had been in Palawan or that video wasn’t given to us, that plan would have been carried out.”
Chan paused to reflect on that near-miss.
“In the last line of The Lord’ Prayer, it says, ‘Deliver us from evil.’ I realized that if you do the Lord’s work, He will deliver you from harm,” he says.
“It is our prayer that we can receive the proper help and support to provide a much better environment for the next generation.”
Hopefully for Chan and the Palawan NGO Network, Inc., the attention that “Delikado” receives will provide the help they need.