‘Delikado’ bags Emmy nomination: When forest defenders become our rock stars

The docu film on the valiant work of Palawan’s grassroots heroes is nominated in the prestigious television awards

Scene from 'Delikado'— Tata Balladares in an angry moment after the murder of Kap Arzaga

Screengrab of ‘Delikado’: A tower of confiscated chainsaws stands outside the PNNI office in Puerto Princesa. The tower was later confiscated by the provincial government.

In a new development since this review was written in 2022, Delikado, the acclaimed film on the heroes and villains in the war to protect the forests of Palawan in the Philippines, has been nominated for Outstanding Investigative Documentary at the 44th News and Doc Emmy Awards, with the Documentary Awards set for September 28 this year in Los Angeles, California.  Delikado qualified for the honor as a Public Broadcasting System (PBS) series, one of five documentaries cited, including HBO Max’s Escape from Kabul, Netflix’s FIFA Uncovered and I Am Vanessa Guillen, and Amazon Prime’s Flight/Risk.

It’s the latest accolade for the provocative film, which also won the Sustainable Futures Award at the 69th Sydney Film Festival in June 2022, and was nominated for the Asia Pacific Screen Award. (The following article was a coverage of the film’s Philippine premiere in August 2022.)

“My director Karl Malakunas informed me at midnight about the Emmy nomination,” producer Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala told TheDiarist.PH. “I was stunned. I told everyone at home, I jumped for joy. Then I wanted to phone my mom to share the news, then I quickly realized I didn’t have heaven’s phone number!” (Magsanoc-Alikpala’s mom, the much-missed journalist and maverick Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, passed away in 2015.)

Our review published in 2022

YOU would have thought Cinemalaya was screening a film about rock stars at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) last August 13 at 3:30 pm. It was a packed house to the last balcony seats, people were hooting and clapping, and the all-too-brief talkback at the end of the hour-and-a-half documentary film Delikado proved that people were indeed concerned about the rape of the forests in the country’s last paradise, Palawan.

Based on reactions to the film directed, written, and produced by Agence France Presse journalist (he’s deputy editor in chief for Asia Pacific) Karl Malakunas that took several years to make, Filipinos can (generally) recognize true heroes—and know who the villains are, as was clear as day in the film that bravely named the alleged long-time illegal logger and warlord in the province.

‘Delikado’ has been doing the rounds of film festivals, to critical acclaim.

The film begins with the jarring sound of chainsaws piercing the air in the forests of El Nido, and the slipper-clad or barefoot para-enforcers of the Palawan NGO Network Inc. (PNNI) making courageous citizens’ arrests armed only with machetes. The film follows around these men, led by Tata Balladares and “Kap” Ruben Arzaga, and their leader, PNNI executive director and Ateneo-educated lawyer Bobby Chan. Arguing that the Philippine Constitution actually allows for citizens’ arrests, Chan has adopted a strategy of hitting illegal loggers and cyanide fishermen where it hurts—confiscating chainsaws and transportation like jeepneys and bancas.

That’s because, as Chan says in the film, he actually surrendered the very first chainsaw he confiscated to the government—and found it back in circulation just weeks later, thanks to bribes and widespread government corruption. Balladares, a former Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) member, recounts how he was ordered by a general to cut down trees using imported chainsaws—and how he was doing his current work to make up for his crimes.

Balladares, a former CAFGU member, recounts how he was ordered by a general to cut down trees using imported chainsaws

Former El Nido mayor Nieves Rosento (center, in white) gets a standing ovation at the CCP Main Theater after the screening of ‘Delikado.’ (Photo: Basilio Sepe)

Delikado also follows an ally of PNNI, former El Nido mayor and environment advocate Nieves Rosento, red-tagged in the Duterte administration’s list of narco-politicians, and whom the film follows during her 2019 reelection campaign. There’s stunning footage of Tagbanua elder Remedios Cabral, threatened with death by henchmen of the “Father of the Province” (she says this with such a powerful sneer) if she doesn’t sell ancestral land, but she counters with one of the film’s most memorable lines: “The earth is our parent.”

At CCP after the August 13 screening, from left, producer Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, executive producer Ali Marsh, director Karl Malakunas, former CCP artistic director Chris Millado, and members of the ‘Delikado’ team—field producer Alma Enriquez; Gretchen Malalad, who provided additional cinematography; production coordinator Eli Sepe; and Keith Matienza, who also provided additional cinematography— show off the Cinemalaya certificate.

The film is produced by Michael Collins, Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, and Marty Syjuco, written by Michael Collins, Malakunas, and Laura Nix, with cinematography by Tom Bannigan and with haunting original music by Nainita Desai. It already has been screened in film festivals worldwide, most recently in the Melbourne International Film Festival last August 9-11, before its milestone Philippine premiere.

Filipino filmmakers may not have had the immunity to take on government personalities unafraid to mow down anybody in their way

Surrounded by the forest defenders, Malakunas shows off the machete given him by the PNNI. To his right is Tata Balladares; to his left, Atty. Bobby Chan.

In the screening, many people ended up thanking Malakunas for having the courage to do the work for Filipino filmmakers, who may have not had the wherewithal, the funding, the backing, or the immunity to take on government personalities unafraid to mow down anybody who comes in their way.

Case in point: In a tragic development that turned out to be a gripping plot twist, “Kap” Arzaga is gunned down after an informal reconnaissance mission. Nor do you wonder why Rosento lost her reelection bid, after learning that the government candidate was buying votes at P1,600 per head. It’s an emotional turn of events for the protagonists, whose challenges and victories are captured in beautiful imagery.

The audience—which included as special guests the entire PNNI team, Rosento, Cabral, and Chan, who has been based in Manila for the last two years after he was declared persona non-grata by the Palawan provincial government—reacted animatedly to the scenes. There was widespread cheering when Rosento, who won a seat in the provincial board in the 2022 elections, declares, “I want to be governor of Palawan.” There were guffaws and more hooting when the woman who defeated her for mayor, asked by Malakunas in an on-cam interview about vote buying, answers, “All politics gives money to the people (sic)”—before checking herself and chiding, “That’s a personal question, ha.”

The film received a standing ovation, as did each protagonist called onstage. Members of the diplomatic corps in Manila took the chance to congratulate the team, most significantly a representative of the Embassy of Egypt in Manila, who recommended that the film be shown at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (Conference of Parties or COP 27) to be held November 6-18 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Moderator Karen Davila asked Chan directly how people can help fund PNNI’s work, and a donation channel has been set up on the film’s website,, where more information can also be found.

The daughter revealed how her father had always instructed her never to admit being his daughter—for security reasons

In another perfect ending, two relatives of PNNI para-enforcers took the mic—a brother of the slain Kap Arzaga and the daughter of Balladares. It was a very touching moment when the latter’s daughter revealed how her father had always instructed her never to admit being his daughter, for security reasons. Now, she said, was the first time she realized the danger in what he did.

During the crew dinner we crashed at The Bayleaf Hotel on that rainy evening (when we battled floods and traffic following the Billie Eilish concert at the SMX Arena), it was thrilling to meet the para-enforcers and trade stories with a now-retired Balladares and Kap’s brother, who revealed that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has been helping with the education of one of Kap’s kids, but the family would appeal for help for the youngest one. Cabral recounted how it was now wait-and-see with the new governor, and Rosento revealed how she had actually started her advocacy work with the Haribon Foundation alongside other Palawan environmentalists.

A highlight of the evening: Chan and PNNI presenting Malakunas with his own machete, fashioned from the blade of a confiscated chainsaw, with a wooden sheath made from a similarly confiscated piece of kamagong wood.

I must mention a moment during the talkback when a member of the audience, rather tone-deaf, asked where was the best place to buy hardwood, given the situation. Chan patiently asked her to consider NOT buying hardwood at all, and exploring non-endangered alternatives like bamboo or even synthetic materials, since a whopping 90 percent of all hardwood furniture available in the country most likely comes from illegally forested trees. I could hear murmurings among my seatmates.

I agree that using hardwood in the Philippines today for your stairs, furniture, and floors (unless it’s recycled and repurposed), simply because you “love” its sheen and feel, is no longer enough of a reason to get it. It has become a luxury tainted with blood.

The author (left) and producer Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala flank Tagbanua leader Remedios Cabral.

So these are the lessons we learned from Delikado, which we hope will have more screenings soon. First, villains must be recognized and named, even if they don’t give a sh-t. Second, the biggest heroes are the ones who often go unnamed, who risk their lives for very little reward. And finally, we can do our part to help, whether it’s making a donation to the PNNI para-enforcers who subsist on small wages, or even just being more responsible with our plastic bottles and bags.

After watching Delikado, when you realize that gorgeous hardwood dining table in your house might have cost the life of a forest defender, I sincerely hope you won’t feel like eating anymore.

Read more:

My Puerto Princesa ‘in the dark’: Face to face with 20-million-year-old fossil

When BTS met Biden

About author


She is a writer, editor, breast cancer and depression survivor, environmental advocate, dog mother to three asPins, Iyengar yoga instructor and BTS Army Tita. She edits part-time for a broadsheet, but is headed towards a full-time vocation as an online English writing coach and grammar nazi.

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