Ditsi Carolino’s Lupang Hinarang

Just saw Ditsi Carolino’s latest documentary Lupang Hinarang (loosely translated as Obstructed Land or Barred Soil, a play on the National Anthem’s title Lupang Hinirang or Chosen Land). This is just an initial reaction, a few takes, as the film is yet to be released formally.

Before the screening, Ditsi made clear that it was a work in progress, but already the film looks like it will become another Filipino documentary classic, as the rest of her previous works (Riles, Bunso) are generally considered. I must reserve the right, though, to change my mind if the final veers from what was shown in the jampacked Ateneo screening last night.

The structure is pretty much there and the point already too clear. The first part, on the Sumilao farmers, feels more finished than the second part, on the Negros farmers, which clearly needed more work thematically in terms of emotional arch, and technically in color grading and sound.

However, I must say that screening a work in progress, an oft-used term among filmmakers and media people to stand for “unfinished,” has the danger of constricting the final output to stick to what has already been seen by many. But it seems Ditsi has already made up her mind on what the story is and how the docu is to be structured, meaning the final form won’t be too far from what has already been shown to many.

That said, it was very hard not to be emotionally affected with what she captured on cam.

In 2007, 55 farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon in Mindanao walk 1700 kilometers to bring their petition to Malacañan in Manila to revoke a DAR order converting 144 hectares of prime agricultural land, previously awarded to them, into an agro-industrial estate, thereby excluding the land from agrarian reform law. It takes the farmers 60 days to reach the Palace gates. Ditsi accompanies them in the entire trek, essentially documenting the farmers’ long, sun-stroked (or rain-drenched), mutilating march on foot. Five minutes into the film and I was already wiping away a tear. So did my friend beside me.

In the second part, 22 farmers from Negros Occidental stage a hunger strike in front of the headquarters of the Department of Agrarian Reform, denouncing the slow implementation of their installment in the lands distributed to them 10 years before. It would take 29 days before the Palace would give in.

Lupang Hinarang presents hope – lots of it – from the bravery of these folk to struggle for what was rightfully theirs. It is a pointed documentary, an imbalanced tale, a singular message whose agenda is on the side of the disenfranchised. This is the film’s strength.

There are 1.3 million hectares of land still to be distributed to those who can till them, but, as of today, only 4 session days are left for Congress to pass the law that would make that distribution happen.

That part of the story is crystal clear.

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