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Baybayin: The Palawan Script

Baybayin poster, courtesy of
Baybayin poster, courtesy of


Baybayin: The Palawan Script

Written and directed by Aureaus Solito

Music and Sound by Diwa De Leon

Starring Alessandra and Assunta de Rossi, Adrian Sebastian and Sue Prado


Alba and Alban are half sisters who share the same name when written in “Baybayin” (which I’ve learned was incorrectly referred as “Alibata” but is known as the Tagalog/Filipino Script). Alba’s father is Canadian, while Alban’s father is a Palawan who died a few years back due to malaria. Their mother is a healer who at the beginning of the film cures a young boy named Bagtik from being sick and possessed. Upon being cured, Bagtik decides to never speak again and chooses to write in Baybayin as a means of communication for the rest of his life.

Alba and Alban form a friendship with Bagtik and they grow a fondness for him and his innocent ways. Their mother and their father notice this and had once talked about how their friendship might be like an old fable about two sisters falling in love with one man. A few months later, their mother dies from Malaria. As a tradition in the Palawan culture, when a family member dies the family left behind must leave their home and build a new one elsewhere, so that they can leave the past and move on. Alban being the oldest is left with her relatives, while Alba is taken by her Canadian father.

A few years later, Alban and Bagtik are now older, played by Assunta de Rossi and Adrian Sebastian. Their fondness has bloomed into love and so they decide to live with each other. Assunta picks the spot at her former childhood home, a lovely spot beside the shore and a shoreline that connects their home to the other island, which seemed to be traced by God Himself.

Alba is now played by Assunta’s real life sister, Alessandra de Rossi, who also played a part in Solito’s Busong. She is now clad in modern clothes and speaks Tagalog more fluently than Palawan. She makes a stop first by a relative’s birthday party wherein she meets a soldier who introduces himself to her. This man is played by Mon Confiado who reprises his role as, well, a promising villain. Alba ignores his attempts to woo her and he seems to be dissatisfied by this. On the evening of her stay, he attempts to rape her but she manages to fight back and run away into the forest. In the forest she is found by an old friend who takes her to her sister.

What I don’t like much about previous Filipino films is that when there is a necessary shot in the forest, especially at night, you will anticipate a fight with the darkness. You will be left clueless as to why there is a scene in the forest although there is nothing you could see. Independent and mainstream cinema has improved and we can now see into the dark spaces, unless it is a required technique that everything has to be dark and the acting is really blah.


Unless the projector used is really dull, I assure you that although some scenes were shot during dawn or at night, you can see that the acting (especially the locals) is really natural. I was worried at first that I might not see Alessandra properly making her way out of the forest, but I was not disappointed. The “innocent” love scenes between Alban and Bagtik are also impressive. Since it is told in the movie that Palawans do not kiss but rather they feel each other’s presence, and that is enough. It felt romantic and important, not cynically depressing.

The people’s love for tradition and their island is not always evident in all places. This pretty much describes our whole country in general. While others strive to protect our Indigenous people, others are blinded by what money, modernism and image can do. Aureaus succeeds in showing us the beauty of own country, our own traditions, our own language, and that love is innocent and kind, if that is what this movie attempts to show us about.

Mon Confiado’s character along with the American tourist and his stout, colonial-mentality infused wife help make the movie real, by trying to steal this Paradise from its caretakers. There is one scene in which Mon and his troop find their way into the elders’ ceremony and steal their gongs just because he heard that the gongs are expensive when sold and that the sound of these have irritated him for the past three years.

The de Rossi sisters are effective as Alba and Alban. I have never heard of them being in love with one man in real life but if they have been able to translate it to the film quite convincingly. They are both known to be loud and outspoken in real life but they have a way of being their exact opposites in the films they star in. Not that I am offended by them being chosen in this role. I was actually excited to see them act together again. They are effective as a team, along with Adrian Sebastian, because they understand each other. A normal person, let’s say that person has been brought up in values of this dog-eat-dog world, would not allow this situation to happen. But since Alba understands that Alban and Bagtik have been taught growing up that this kind of situation happens. That kind of innocence and naivety can exist. This kind of idea may sound threatening to most of us, but the three makes it seem harmless. That as long as love exists, in both sisters and their love for one man, and their love for cultures and traditions, it doesn’t really matter.

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#367: Busong (Palawan Fate)

3 August 2011
Where do I start explaining how it felt like watching this Cinemalaya 2011 entry by Aurelius Solito? Well the film starts off in a freshing by the beach view of Palawan as two half naked locals carrying a woman in a duyan on a stick (its literal english translation is swaying bed..on a stick). But I guess we should move a little backwards, ten minutes before the film starts wherein the announcer asks the film’s director and screenplaywright Aurelius Solito to introduce his film. I’m not familiar of his films except that I’ve seen his name mentioned before in Cinephiles. My friend Chris tells me that his credits include several gay films and some other entries in Cinemalaya which includes his most famous work, Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros). As it turns out, Solito’s film was featured in the Cannes 2011 Directors’… As he spoke, he introduced the film as a collection of folk tales he learned from his mother about Palawan. He says he stayed in Palawan for about 5 years hence the translation of the film means Palawan Fate. He even thanked his literary teachers in UP as well as his film teachers, one of his main star Alessandra de Rossi whom he says would be one of the most efficient actors he would like to work with after this film. I looked forward to the promise of a touching, eloquently made story. What I completely felt about the film I would express in a couple more paragraphs..
And so the movie is a collection of three folklores in Palawan. Story 1 is about a man named Tony who works as a lumberjack (magtotroso) who also promises to his wife, Ninita that he will never cut the sacred Amugis tree for as long as they will live. Apparently he dies after cutting one. But an evening before that incident, Tony also promises Ninita that he will metaphorically give her fire that doesn’t leave a mark and dies but one that will blaze forever. So, with the faith that the local Shaman might still be able to bring back her husband back to life, they attempt to relive Tony’s dying body but it’s already too late.
Story number 2 is about a father, a son and the secret name of the stonefish. It shows us how we must respect all kinds of creatures, which is mostly why our parents (I don’t know about yours but mine tell me lots of stories such as this) tell us fables to mainly point out the moral of it. Story number 2 is mainly my favorite because for some reason, the scenes in this film keep jumping out like a jack in a box that I really, really do not want to open. But story number 2 is fluid and subtle, the way good stories are supposed to be told. Plus, the color of the actors skin match perfectly in the bright, sandy tones of the place. The dialogue is even better. There is a part wherein the American who “privately” owns the island played by Chris Haywood bickers at the father and tells him to read the document showing that dynamite fishing is not allowed in “his” land. Perhaps father’s role doesn’t allow him to read, and so Haywood’s character laughs at father and tells him “You are indeed a Palawan.” Almost saying “you know nothing.” But father fights back and says “Oo! Tama, isa nga akong Palawan. Bago pa ipinangalan ang islang ito na Palawan, ako, ang mga magulang ko, at ang mga ninuno ko ay tinawag nang Palawan!” (“Of course! That’s correct. I am a Palawan. Even before this land was named Palawan, me, my parents and my ancestors were already Palawans!”)
Story 3 is about the siblings played by Alessandra de Rossi and Clifford Banagale and a guy who’s character’s name is Aris. Aris who currently lives in Manila is anxious to go back to his hometown. He meets his old friend and thinks that the boy he’s with is his friend’s son who was named after him. He’s surprised to find out that his friend’s wife and son died years before. The part where he begins to talk to the siblings is something that I was unable to follow, and I bet you I haven’t left my seat since the movie started because I wanted so much to have the jumping scenes end. Anyway, Aris told them, like most of the people in the film tell them that the two should visit the local shaman to have Alessandra’s wounds be cured. In the end, he expresses that he wants to be a shaman as well and with the help of the dead shaman’s spirit he cures Alessandra’s wounds.
There are several techniques used in the film to depict some sort of meta message that would apply in real life. The camera angles to show the beauty and secrets of the place were sufficient however what I don’t like about this film was how some non-dialogue shots just seemed hanging. This film looks like it’s made for people with massive creative thoughts but the scenes and the lines didn’t seem enough to evoke anything usefully creative in me. What I mostly thought was that maybe this film could get better. Maybe, just maybe..
Just to redeem this film, it’s not at all a bad film. Although I remained indifferent up until two days ago while I was writing a very lengthy review about this film, I understand the use of flashback to tell the stories. Metaphors are very evident even in the most little details. But the more I thought about the film, the more I thought I kinda like it. The use of the local dialect was just perfect.
I’ve seen two films in this year’s Cinemalaya, and I’m hoping this one’s not the only film that I can call as the best.