A SOJOURNER'S VIEWS: Lupang Hinarang: must watch. By Karl M. Gaspar

Fortunately, at the end of the film's viewing, one also feels elated at the courage of the peasants who struggle for their liberation from landlessness.

Truly since the days of the peasants' revolts throughout the colonial regimes of Spain and the United States of America up to the present neo-colonial regime of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, it is the peasantry who have continued the struggle for our emancipation from greed and heartlessness.  One has to remember the more than 400 peasant revolts against the Spanish oppressors culminating in the Katipunan rebellion, the armed uprisings against the American occupiers, the Hukbalahap and the continuing struggles of peasants across the country since the Republic was established.

Historians from David Sturtevant to Rey Ileto have documented such struggles and books have been published to remind us of the courage and conviction of peasants who dream dreams for their children's future.  It is the simplest of dreams: to own a piece of land to till.

But for tens of thousands of them, it is, indeed, an impossible dream.

Now comes Ditsi Carolino's Lupang Hinarang, a film in two parts about "a fierce and deadly battle raging between farmers and landowners," as the film's blurb would indicate.

The first part of the film chronicles the plight of the Sumilao Higaonon farmers who walked 1,700 kilometers from Bukidnon to Manila to claim back what has always been part of their ancestral domain. The property in question is but a pittance, just over a hundred hectares. But the present "owner", the San Miguel Corporation wanted it badly for a piggery project. The only way the Sumilao farmers could get their land back was to follow the Gandhi route: walk close to two thousand kilometers to get the needed attention.

The Hacienda Velez-Malaga of Negros Occidental is the setting of the battle of the film's second part, although most of the action takes place in the camp outside the DAR (Department of Agrarian Reform) officein Quezon City when the peasants went on a 29-hunger strike. Through CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program), they had been awarded a CLOA (Certificate of Land Ownership Award) to a piece of property formerly owned by the sugarcane landlord, Roberto Cuenca. Unable to part with this piece of land, Cuenca sent his armed goons to drive away the peasants who had self-installed themselves given the government's failure to implement the law. Their hunger strike was their desperate attempt to get the law implemented so they could be installed as beneficiary of the land reform program.

Lupang Hinarang is a most powerful film; one can't sit through the more than ninety minutes of viewing time without thinking theories as well as going through a  rollercoaster of emotions!  In that sense, Lupang Hinarang is a film that could easily be embraced by cerebral film critics on one hand and the lovers of teleseryes who get full satisfaction only if they can cry a river (as in the  Ilonggo joke: Naghibi amo nga namit gid!)

Film as art is fully realized in Carolino's films if one goes by her track record.  This is an assessment not only by Carolino's fans (and the fan base has expanded considerably since her first major success  in Minsan Lang Kami Bata) but among discriminating lovers of documentary films in many parts of the world. Which is
why Carolino has been winning awards in the most important local and international film festivals with her films Riles and Bunso. 

Lupang Hinarang is a worthy successor of the films mentioned above.  Carolino's filmography is further enhanced with this production about peasants' struggles. And yet, she claims Lupang Hinarang is a work-in-progress; even as an "unfinished" production, it is already far more superior than most documentary films that have taken years to finish.  One wonders how she can still improve on what is already a superior film production that could easily collect all sort of awards.

What makes Carolino's films so striking and moving is that these are  film products without any trace of dualism; there is a yin-yang element in all her films and Lupang Hinarang proves how sharp her gift is in bridging the various elements constituting reality.  Fierce screaming co-exist with prayerful poses, passion intertwines with humor, anger interfaces with tenderness.

Carolino claims that the film should already be viewed given the urgency to have the CARP be extended beyond June 30, 2009. (CARP was supposed to end by December 30 but Congress has extended it another six months. The pro-CARP peasant organizations want a longer extension period given that 1.3 million hectares of land could still be appropriated to landless peasants).

This brings us to the discourse of film as advocacy instrument.  Lupang Hinarang is as powerful a product as any history book or novel to bridge art and praxis. Carolino and her friends among the NGO circle who have taken an active engagement with peasant struggles (e.g. Saligan) fully know the power of film to agitate viewers to support a campaign.  As Congress – after taking a recess – reconvenes in mid-April to deliberate on pending bills, there is an urgent need to get them to act on an extension of CARP. However, given that Congress is dominated by landlords, it is an uphill fight. 

The power of Lupang Hinarang is that immediately after viewing the film, the viewers want to be engaged in any form to support the peasants' struggles.  A million signatures are now being collected and be delivered to Congress; if only by affixing their signatures, the viewers are moved by the film to be engaged in this struggle.

The film's universal David and Goliath theme works very well in its favor.  In the first part, David are the Sumilao farmers; Goliath is made up of San Miguel Corporation, the DAR Secretary, Congress and PGMA (Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) and all her guards around Malacanang Palace.  In the second part, the Negros farmers are the hungry Davids while Cuenca, his armed goons and the same government functionaries constitute Goliath.  As with the biblical story, the farmers win in the end. (However, for the Negros farmers, tragedy would still unfold even as they install themselves in land long after they went on hunger strike).

Carolino rightfully makes the peasants the leading persons (bida) of this film.  She does not intend to demonize Goliath characters as kontrabidas.  However, the filmmaker makes a very definite stance, as if she were a prophet of the Old Testament. She does offer the viewer footages showing the behavior of those who are on the other side of the fence, e.g. the Congresspersons in session.  Their very own behavior in the chamber is very much in character.  What is the viewer to think? One sees what one sees; such is the power of reality documentaries.

The faces of the peasants are beautiful and brave ones and they are captured by Carolino's  camera at the peak of their beauty and courage. Their voices, too, are very distinct, sharp and articulate.  No scripts here written by scriptwriters in the safety and comfort of their airconditioned rooms.  When Ka Rene, Linda and Bajekjek speak up regarding what the Sumilao farmers experienced walking for close to two thousand kilomters, one cannot but be fully attentive. When Chay Linda, Chay Gamay and Chay Biray of Negros speak with words, prayers and tears, the viewer cannot but be touched by the sheer honesty of the lowly hoping to be lifted up.

For so long the poor's voices have been silenced. In Lupang Hinarang, the silence is broken. It is to the credit of Carolino's gift as a filmmaker that she refuses to employ a narrator. A voice-over narration would have muddled the power of the poor's lament and scream (in one scene Bajekjek's screaming scene right in front of the DAR Secretary is a tour de force!)

As a work-in-progress, Lupang Hinarang can still be improved and Carolino will be the first to admit it. But let that be a matter in the future; the two parts, indeed, could be two films (given the vast quantity of footages that Carolino says she was able to shoot). But for now, this version of Lupang Hinarang is a must-see! 

All 88 million Filipinos must watch this film, if we are to save our collective soul. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar of Davao City, former head of the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team and author of several books, including "To be poor and obscure," and "Mystic Wanderers in the Land of Perpetual Departures," writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English [A Sojourner's Views] and the other in Binisaya [Panaw-Lantaw].)