Award-winning director Solito pays tribute to his Palawan roots

The Inbox

By Pablo A. Tariman,VERA Files

Films about hometowns are rare indeed and if they come, you get to share a part of the director’s rarely known childhood.

Lino Brocka’s “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang” is a classic example and it was a reflection of his childhood in San Jose, Nueva Ecija and perhaps, Donsol, Sorsogon where his mother came from.  The film not just zeroed in on the peripatetic town gossip but portrayed double morality and dirty politics for what they are.

Another gem of a film with riveting look at one’s roots is  Auraeus  Solito’s “Baybayin” which graced the latest edition of Cinema One film Festival.

The film came after the much-awarded “Busong” which again earned for the director the Ani ng Dangal Awards along with other cultural workers in different fields. The award will be given next week as a concluding event for the month-long celebration of National Arts Month.

According to Solito, “Busong” and “Baybayin” are part of a trilogy which is his tribute to his home island, Palawan.

“Baybayin” -- which was filmed entirely in Palawan -- captures the beauty of the island and how it is losing war against people determined to erase the original cultural heritage of the place. The film make much of the remaining symbol of that lost heritage – the inaborlan writing – which probably dated back to pre-Spanish time.

The two sisters (Alexandra  and Assunta di Rossi) are the link to that heritage and its unlikely epitome is a tribal swain named Bagtik played by  Adrian Sebastian. As it is, Bagtik looks like a hold-over figure from the distant past with his purity and pristine lifestyle.

But about to defile the island are missionaries who inflict their western beliefs on the islanders and worsened by the  presence of mercenaries  in cahoots with  land grabbers represented by an army man superbly played by Mon Confiado.

As it is, "Baybayin" sinks into your psyche with throbbing joy of rediscovery but retains a  peculiar hint of sadness over the present state of things. A parable of good and evil, the film has unraveled the beauty of ancestral roots helpless over scheming cultural colonizers. For looking deeper into his roots, Solito has proven his sensitivity goes beyond contemporary concerns.

He is indeed highly deserving of the NCCA Ani Ng Dangal Award.

Solito points out the difference between “Busong” and Baybayin” and the latter’s inherent message.

“Busong” he explained  is more the philosophy of the Palaw’an, the indigeneous people of South Palawan where  his Mom  came from . “Here I am trying to convey the belief that what you do to nature, you do to yourself. ‘Baybayin’ is more of its culture- the ancient script, the partnership concept and little details on every day life.”

The strong message of the film, according to the director is that Palawan had an advance thriving culture even before the colonizers came. “It is not true that our indigenous peoples are uncivilized and primitive. We had our own ritual structure called a Panggao which is like our own theater, a marriage ritual, allegorical tales, myths and  the fact that we have our own way of writing shows the our culture was sophisticated and complete.”

The filmmaker’s voyage of self-discovery started in 1994 when he went to south Palawan. “One of the elders Upo Majiling ( my grand-aunt) taught me the Inaborlan, the Palawan baybayin. In fact, my signature is in the Inaborlan. She died early last year. ‘Baybayin’ is for her. What she taught me then was all in my cinema One Originals entry and hence,  will never be forgotten.”

Needless to say that everything he wanted to convey in the film depended on the quality of his actors. How he guided his actors is a story by itself. “    I always have a complete reading with my cast. As for Adrian as Bagtik, he knew his character a month before the actual shoot. I advised him on the actual look of the character. I told him to grow his hair and not to work out and look ‘steroidal’ but work more on a natural lean body. He also  showed up a week earlier for the shoot, and we had a retreat in Bahay Kalipay in Puerto Princesa were we had raw food, yoga and practiced the inaborlan writing --  the baybayin – on  the beach. What I like about him is his purity and guilelessness. He embodies Bagtik , a man that two sisters would fall in love with because of his purity.”

On his part, actor Sebastian points out that the main challenge of his role was portraying a deaf-mute native of Palawan and communicating only by the use of writing baybayin or inaborlan.

“But what I liked most in the role  is his personality. Bagtik is a simple, hardworking, and loyal person who stands up and fights for what he believes in and for the rights of his own people,” said Sebastian.

The other thing he enjoyed about the film, he said,  is about the Palawan culture. He  shared his insights:“It can teach lots of things to many Filipinos and also to many people around the world about our unique Palawan culture.”

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)