PAGLIPAY (2016), dir. Zig Dulay


Nicanor G. Tiongson

“Paglipay,” which means “crossing” in Zambales Aeta, is the title of Zig Dulay’s To Farm film. Appropriately, it is about the physical crossing by the young Aeta Atan of the vast lahar riverbeds from his mountain barrio of Baytan to the lowland town of Banwa; and the parallel metaphysical journey of this youth who temporarily deviates from the expectations of his traditional community and gets drawn into an emotional involvement with a young woman from Manila. Both outings end in the return of the native to his palace and culture of origin.

The 19-year-old Atan flirts with his childhood friend Ati, so custom law demands that they be married. Ati’s parents ask for a bandi (dowry) of two pigs, farm implements, and 20,000 pesos. The pigs and tools are easily delivered but Atan must raise the cash by traveling many kilometers to Banwa, to sell the family’s harvest of camote and to take on odd jobs, like plowing Mang Lando’s fields. In Banwa, Atan stays with his brother Iko and his lowlander wife Lota and their three kids. While watching a parade in Banwa, Atan meets two UP Manila graduate researchers, Rain and Cai, who are doing a thesis on the pilaokor marriages between the kulot (kinky-haired Aeta) and the unat (straight-haired lowlanders). The winsome Rain, the more sensitive one, interviews Atan and even hires him to be their guide for other interviewees. Attracted to Rain, Atan spends some of his dowry savings on new colourful shirts. Once, Rain breaks down at a drinking and karaoke session and airs her heartaches because of an unrequited love. She seeks comfort from Atan and the latter is only too willing to give it even if Rain is crying over someone else. But Atan’s obsession with Rain is broken by his father’s arrival in Banwa. Apu Matubag chides his son for forgetting about his dowry responsibilities and for his association with Rain. He decides to raise the rest of the dowry by borrowing money from Mang Lando and leaving their carabao Bana as collateral for the loan. As Rain and Cai prepare to go back to Manila, Atan goes back to Baytan with his father. With the dowry paid, Ati’s father prepares the nuptial fest.

But Ati notices Atan’s coldness and asks if there is someone else. Without answering, Atan runs for eight hours all the way to Banwa and finds Rain at the bus station. He is about to tell Rain his feelings for her when Cai arrives with JC, the guy that Rain is in love with. Atan keeps his silence. Rain boards the bust with Cai and JC, leaving Atan holding a wad of peso bills that Rain left him as honorarium for his guiding services in one hand, and a wilted water lily flower spray in the other. Dejected, Atan returns to Baytan, seeks forgiveness from his father, and asks Ati once again to marry him. She agrees and Apu Matubag’s adage is proven right once more, “Ang kulot ay para sa kulot; ang unat ay para sa unat.” Using a narrative that unfolds in an unhurried but well-edited pace, the screenplay is a story of romance that would be both familiar and popular with moviegoers of all ages. But unlike other love stories, Paglipay has ordinary flesh-and-blood characters, with credible backgrounds and traits, who propel the plot forward with the decisions they make. Memorable are Apu Matubag, whose faith in Apo Namalyari, custom law, and the centuries-old Aeta way of life remain unshaken even by the Pinatubo eruption; Ati who is as sensitive to the vagaries of nature as she is to the changes in human emotion; Atan who must run a gamut of emotions to understand what and who he is; the loquacious Lota, Atan’s sister-in-law, who defied her own lowlander family and asked her Aeta suitor to elope with her; Cai a plump UP Manila student who is more interested in posing for selfies than doing research; and Rain, who is as affable and friendly as she is fragile and insecure. Fortunately, good characterization is matched by highly competent acting, especially from Garry Cabalic who plays Atan. With his eyes, Cabalic is able to project a range of emotions, particularly in the scene at the karaoke bar and after, where he just sits and listens to Rain (Anna Luna) whining and breaking down over her unreciprocated affections for JC. Without saying a word, Cabalic steals the scene which is obviously meant to showcase Anna Luna’s acting prowess.

But Paglipay is many notches above the usual romantic comedy or romcom because it is able to weave into the love story pressing contemporary issues, not as abstract ideas but as living forces that directly and concretely affect the lives of the film’s characters. While clearing the bushes for a kaingin, Apu Matubag complains about the intense heat and changing weather that affecs his crops, while Mang Lando comments that the weather has made the soil so hard only machines can work the soil. Innocently while walking by the riverside, Rain asks Atan about black sand mining. Atan says it has been stopped because the removal of black sand under the lahar has deepened the rivers, making them treacherous, if not impossible. The presence of illegal mining in Zambales is discussed over the radio, as Atan takes a bath at the artesian well, and confirmed by the mining workers with whom Atan hitches a ride to Baytan. In Baytan, Apu Matubag complains that mining has scared the animals away, depriving Aetas of an important source of food.

Unlike rom coms that thrive on formulas and depend on mestizo actors and the “kilig” factor to attract their screaming fans, this rural love story with very ordinary-looking leads effectively exposes the difference between how love is seen by Aeta custom law and how it compares to lowland liberal mores. To the first, love is “simple.” If a boy fancies a girl, his parents must pay the bandi determined by the girl’s parents. With the dowry paid, a social contract is drawn and they are married. Such custom is reaffirmed and validated by folk stories about lovers who are hounded to death up a mountain because they broke custom law. To the second, love is not a social contract but a matter of personal choice and commitment, freely entered into by two individuals who are in love with each other. In such a relationship, marriage may or may not occur, and relationships may cease to exist when the personal commitment is betrayed or breaks down or fades away. The film also delves into how women in lowland society are categorized by patriarchal males into three stereotypes: women whom one can marry; women whom once have a child by; and women who should be treated simply as friends.

One may say that Atan’s story is one who initially respected custom law, began to stray away from it because of love for an outsider, and eventually returns to the fold of this law when that love is nipped in the bud. But we realize that Atan’s return to custom law is not necessarily a validation of it, nor an assurance that it will prevail. In going to and working in Banwa, Atan has seen an alternative concept of love and marriage, so that even if he returns to Baytan, he will never be the same again. In the same way, we understand how the Aeta may continue to slash and burn, plan and harvest crops, and hunt wild animals, the way they have been doing for centuries, but their return to their original habitat after the eruption is no guarantee that their lives would be the same, because outsiders have already begun to invade and erode their ancestral domains. The reed of humans can be as devastating as the ire and fire of Pinatubo.

Meaningfully photographed and directed with insight and sensitivity, Paglipay is truly a perspicacious and moving film about social change among the Zambal Aeta brought about by forces both natural and man-made.


Gigi Javier Alfonso

Paglipay is the story of Atan Dimaya (Garry Cabalic), an Aeta from Baytan of Zambales, of Ani a woman dictated on by her elders, having a patriarchal system as plight of the women Aetas, and of a forthcoming marriage, for Ani (Joan de la Cruz) to marry Atan also from the same Community. It is a love story, a love triangle but beyond this love story of Atan, Ani and their beliefs, making their living and sustaining their way of life through traditional “kaingin” (clear and burn) farming system and gathering/hunting for food resources. We see the elders particularly Atan’s father leading him to prayer when “kaingin” is to be done. It is likewise the story of Rain (Anna Luna), “ang unat,” with straight hair from the lowlands and how we view original dwellers of our land and how we sometimes consciously and unconsciously fascinate and allure them to abandon their ways… They are subjects of research many times victims of culture shock as they are left to sort out their experiences and romance with the dominant culture.

The narrative starts with Atan and Ani shown with subtle a-courting, exchange of smiles, laughter and sharing of the cashew fruits. Their parents have agreed to marry them, giving two pigs for the wedding, tools for the home and farm and support for Atanto travel crossing the river and mountains for eight hours to raise the bandi or dowry to be given to the parents of the bride.

To do this he must ride his carabao across the mountain river going to Banwa, the nearest town where there is opportunity to earn and get paid cash for work and goods. This crossing is known as Paglipay. He brings his root crops and banana hearts to sell in the market and looks for work. In order to find a job, he adapts himself to the modern ways of life in Banwa. He changes his clothing, makes slight adjustments in the use of the language of the “unat,” associates himself with the straight-haired ones like Rain, a student from Manila doing her research for her thesis who would almost make him forget his reasons for being there. Rain at the same time immerses herself with the Aetas ways by knowing Atan whose work in Banwa was to accompany Rain in her research, interviews and in dealing with the locals in Banwa.

He goes through his journey, getting close to the world of the “Unat” and the “pilaok,” a term for the children of the unat and the kulot. He stays near his brother, a “kulot,” and sister-in-law, an “unat,” and their children who are “pilaok,” opens the window to the slight possibility of his following in the footsteps of his brother when he starts to feel something for Rain. He tries hard to remind himself of his main objectives of raising the dowry and to marry Ani. But Rain reveals her unrequited love for another man, and this seeming dependence on him muddles his affections. This triggers his unexplained feelings and fascination for this woman from Manila.

Director and writer Zig Dulay triumphs in his assemblage of well-motivated scenes that propel the narrative of the Aeta community specifically the love story of Atan, Ani, and Rain. It is also the story of the Aetas’ love for their land, their way of life being close to nature and looking at modernity with caution. It is a brilliant decision that the actors are locals. Garry Cabalic’s and Joanna de la Cruz’s touching and unaffected performances are grounded on authenticity. Anna Luna as the young woman from Manila is real as well. Paglipay truly respects our diversity of cultures.

The majestic cinematography of Albert Banzon makes viewers feel the grandeur scale of our land and the details of its beauty, texture and richness. His lenses show patches of the lack of greens in the mountains and the vestiges of lahar in the drying river. The vehicle tracks on brown land speak of mining activity quietly tiring the ground. The question is how long can our land sustain its majesty amidst modernity.

Our land’s richness in resources is real. That the Aetas are the earliest inhabitants of our land is likewise true. It is always good to be reminded of our roots. This reflexivity gives us the deeper understanding of the people who came before us and our people who have always maintained a small-scale but sustainable way of farming and gathering food for daily living, and respected God who has gifted us with this land for us to share and care for.

Here is reiterating the threat of the overly excessive exploitation of our land, warning us to take steps in retarding the rape and abuse of a hovering future where mass mining is seemingly inevitable.

We see Atan walking home and eventually riding the truck that carries the men who will work in the mines… a chilling note.

Another thing I must note, as I watched this film, there is a certain sadness that I feel for the women inn this story as they are consumed by the strong patriarchal rhetoric that continues to be in our narrative be it about the women “kulot” and “unat,” with Ani having no choice but to marry Atan and Rain all muddled by her affection for her man.


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