The violent frontline struggle to defend Palawan's forests and waters

November 8, 2022
Bobby Chan and PNNI activists with their "tree" of chainsaws seized from illegal loggers. Image provided

Delikado (Dangerous)
Documentary film written and directed by Karl Malakunus
A Thoughtful Robot Production
Screening at the 4th Asia Pacific Screen Forum
November 9–13 at HOTA, Gold Coast

Delikado means "dangerous" in the Filipino language, Tagalog, and is omnipresent in this documentary. It follows the work of environmental campaigners on the island of Palawan, which filmmaker Karl Malakunus says is the Philippines’ “most beautiful island”.

Palawan is both blessed and cursed with virgin rainforests and gorgeous beaches, lapped by crystal-clear tropical seas that are said to be the most bio-diverse waters on the planet. In a world of combined and unequal development where global capitalism comes knocking with promises and cash, the locals have discovered the hard way the meaning of development.

As Malakunus explained to Green Left, he spent eight years as an Agence France-Presse (AFP) journalist in the Philippines and always wanted to get to Palawan because of its reputation as a beautiful spot.

“My excuse to go down was to do an ecotourism story, to speak to an environmental campaigner there who was running a couple of ecotourism projects,” he said. “I had been on the phone with him, organising the trip and just before I was to go down, he was shot in the head and killed.”

“So, I went down to investigate his murder instead. And when I was down there, I met all these land defenders, all these environmental campaigners who were putting their lives on the line.”

Among these activists was Bobby Chan, who features in the film. He heads up the Palawan NGO network that sends volunteers into the rainforests to seize illegal loggers’ chainsaws using citizen’s arrest powers. As seen in the film he builds a “tree” out of the saws.

Malakunus personally went with the unarmed campaigners into the forest filming confrontations with gun-toting loggers. “The people who own these chainsaws are the politicians, the local businessmen who have the power,” Malakunus explained.

The group also acts against illegal fishing. To put it mildly, these campaigners have acquired a host of violent enemies.

In Delikado we see a local mayor, Nieves Rosento, who opposes environmentally destructive development, running for re-election against an establishment lackey who has the backing of then-Philippino president Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte goes on national television and threatens to murder her.

Delikado has been nominated for Best Documentary Film at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards as well as shortlisted for a Walkley Award.

The 4th Asia Pacific Screen Forum will be held from Wednesday 9th–Sunday 13th November, at HOTA, Home of the Arts, Gold Coast. For more information, visit:

Watch the trailer for Delikado here.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.