March 9, 2017
The 2017 Sinag Maynila Film Festival is being held from March 9 to 14 in SM Megamall, SM North EDSA, Glorietta, and Gateway. This film festival, a joint project between acclaimed film director Brilliante Mendoza and Solar Entertainment President and CEO Wilson Tieng, is already its third year of giving a venue for the exhibition of promising indie films which would have probably slipped through the cracks of oblivion had they not been chosen.
The first festival film I caught was Arbi Barbarona's "Tu Pug Imatuy," a title which means “the right to kill” in Manobo. The Manobo natives, their ancestral lands and their traditional way of life have long been ravaged by unscrupulous miners and loggers and senseless violence between the military and rebels. An indigenous woman Obunay and her husband Dawin were abducted, molested and coerced by a sadistic group of soldiers to serve as their guide to the camp of communist rebels.
The film was told in the Manobo and Visayan tongues with English subtitles. There were some beautifully-composed shots of nature in the rain forest. The story though began slowly and awkwardly, because of the very languid pace of the first thirty minutes. This was aggravated with the tentative, very self-conscious performances of the actors in the lead roles of Obunay (Malona Sulatan) and Dawis (Jong Monzon), and their children (Jillian Khayle Barbarona and Henyo Ehem), who all seemed to be untrained neophytes.
Interest and pace only picks up when the soldiers led by Lt. Olivares (Luis Georlin Banaag III) and Sgt. Villamor (Jamee Rivera) come into the scene to disturb the peace of the natives' blissful existence. From there, we will witness scene after scene of disturbing military brutality against the Lumad couple. Obunay, in particular, was subjected to unsettling inhuman humiliation. Lumad women, their infant children and their female volunteer teacher in a makeshift school were not spared from the soldiers' barbarism.
By the final act though, Malona Sulatan broke through her initial hesitation and gave her Obunay a strong final climactic kick. In the final thirty minutes, Sulatan totally dominated the screen with her silent but potent portrayal of a woman pushed to the very edge but still had the will to fight for her life against all formidable odds. Director Barbarona's execution of these chase scenes through the forest was very exciting with tense suspenseful editing.
You cannot miss that this film seems to say that all the soldiers had no redeeming value to them whatsoever. At first, you'd think this dashing young officer Lt. Olivares would be a voice of reason among them since the guy showed compassion to his captives. However, in later scenes, even he was also shown condoning and actually doing certain unforgivable acts of oppression as well.
Things will make more sense after you watch in the fascinating epilogue shown within the closing credits. These important extra scenes were about the terrible but true events that transpired in March of 2014 which inspired this film. It will be clear by then why this film harbored such strong anti-military sentiments. You will understand why the abused Lumad may invoke their titular right to kill. 6/10.