The film made by Mindanaons (Director Arbi Barbarona hails from Davao) and portrayed by the Lumad themselves is enough representative of the Southern Filipino narrative located amid the hotbed of rebellion.
By ADAM ANG
NOTE: The review contains “spoilers.”
MANILA — For centuries, the indigenous people of Southern Philippines have persistently fended off colonial threats to their existence. Yet after all, it seems that the Philippine state itself is its stubborn enemy.
Where lies the dignity of the “people of the land” has been under threat by mechanical “beasts” (or the backhoe) used to ravage the ancestral domain, that is exclusive for the land natives. It is located among corporate plunder, which is protected by state forces, state neglect, and rebellions of different political ideologies.
What ease can the opening scene bring to the onlookers (indeed one is a witness to a testament of a victim). Nature’s melody stringing together the lush greeneries, the pristine waters rushing, and the expanse of beauty. There, the Matigsalug couple, Dawin (Jong Monzon) geared with a hunting gun and Obunay (Malona Sulatan) donning the basket, roamed around the jungle to chase one wild boar. They eventually caught the poor creature to their snare of sharp bamboo sticks.
It was but occasional for them to feast on a meat, as they haven’t kept a livestock to grow. And such, they treated it as a blessing of nature to be shared in the community.
Then came a disruption. Awit is dead. Their youngest child was in incessant fever that the cool night river could not simmer. It was too early for an indigenous child to be six feet below the ground, atop stones and flowers by the ones who begot him.
But life moves on. Dawin and his two children went to the next village to ask their chieftain or datu for mongo seeds to consume. Strangely, the chieftain’s chickens were gone, as a military squad made him cook it for them when they visited. Without reservations, he easily offered some of his harvested mongo to Dawin. The datu even let the kids take one of his pet puppies.
Along the way back, they were stalled by a military squad. They were taunted, and Sergeant Villamor (Jamee Rivera) threw the mongo seeds to the ground. He suspected them of bringing supplies to supposedly impoverished Communist guerrillas hiding around the Bukidnon-Davao boundary. Humiliatingly, Dawin was made to count the seeds and pray the rosary, and yet, according to his daughter Ilyan (Jillian Barbarona), he was illiterate. He was then brought along with them to use as guide to the hideout of the NPA.
Later, he was rejoined by his wife when she was met by soldiers along the way. Series of excruciating humiliation followed in the days of walking down to hunt the rebels’ camp. They were stripped, forced to an intercourse to entertain the soldiers, and made to cook and serve them food. And alas! It was a cathartic rage for Sgt. Villamor to push the couple down in mud as to avenge his comrades who died in the hands of the rebels.
Finally they reached the alleged hideout: there, a school on top of a hill, where the Philippine flag hoisted outside. The military interrupted an on-going class discussion with parents and children. They were all forced to stay out while they run through materials supposedly used to indoctrinate the natives. The teacher was a Lumad, whom was found to be teaching about U.S. imperialism. Lieutenant Olivar (Luis Banaag III) immediately thought that she’s a rebel on a task of indoctrination. So, she was tied to the flag pole.
The soldiers set camp in the school as they wait for a battalion they called to enter the area. Everyone was held hostage that one night. After the dinner Obunay prepared and then the soldiers rested, she untied the teacher and her husband and helped the parents and their children escape. But not far, the couple were caught. And it was the last night for Dawin.
Obunay was kept alive to aid the soldiers track the rebels. And eventually they did. She was caught in a middle of crossfire but escaped. While Lt. Olivar battled it out with the rebels, Sgt. Villamor and few companions followed her.
It was unfortunate for the young Lt. Olivar to have left the battlefield alone. And as he searched for his remaining comrades, he found them dead, with bamboo sticks pierced through their bodies. They fell on the natives’ snare. He then shot Obunay who was on the spot. As Sgt. Villamor catches his last breath, he saw a blurry vision of the native woman.
He mistakenly pulled the trigger against Lt. Olivar.
Then the rebels found them all lying on the ground. After treating Obunay’s gunshot wound, the scene closed as she returned to her children in the field.
Most part of the film was silent with minimal dialogues from here and there. But the agony was deafening, set against the chill of the jungle night. The silence was a suitable canvas of oppression as it thrives.
Also an irony was the apparent material poverty opposed to the seemingly well-off simplicity. But that simplicity can be easily exploited through manipulation of their illiteracy. Even if self-sufficient, the State is forcing down their throats that they are poor and they need to subject their land – their life, to the benefit of private interests. Otherwise, no state service will ever reach the mountains.
The rampage of mechanical equipment in the ancestral land is spreading like a malady. It delivers fear, which is a potent killer of resistance of the indigenous people. But Dawin taught his children of the tale of Sagasa, the Manobo guardian of the forest, whose hunger and rage killed a logger operating in their land. They were not people without agency. Their history is of resistance and in the “right to kill,” they live.
Unaware of their historic struggle that started since time immemorial, one can easily judge the Lumad as a “pawn in a proxy way.” No. The film made by Mindanaons (Director Arbi Barbarona hails from Davao) and portrayed by the Lumad themselves is enough representative of the Southern Filipino narrative located amid the hotbed of rebellion. Whether or not it’s for the rebels or the military, the struggle against corporate and state plunder and ultimately, the ethnic cleansing is a fight that is theirs.