PAWS slams ‘Balangiga’ for alleged animal cruelty, calls director ‘lowest of the low’

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A scene from 'Balangiga: Howling Wilderness.'

Even as maverick filmmaker Khavn dela Cruz continues to fight for a General Patronage or Parental Guidance rating for his acclaimed but controversial film, “Balangiga: Howling Wilderness,” he and the rest of the film’s production team face a new challenge.

This time, it’s the Philippine Animal Welfare Society’s turn to take the Dela Cruz’s film to task for alleged scenes of animal cruelty in the film.

In a statement posted on Friday on its Facebook page, the animal welfare group “condemns the killing of animals and the way the animals were killed for the film.”

“Several instances of cruelty and abuse to animals were involved in the making of the film. In all cases of animal violence in the story, humane alternatives to the graphic depictions of animal suffering were available. From a storytelling standpoint as well, the ideas and emotions of the film could be effectively conveyed without the need for actual violence to any living creature on set.”

PAWS detailed three scenes that they found objectionable.

“The scene…where a live pig writhes in pain as it slowly dies while impaled on an upright stick is a violation of the Animal Welfare Act. This form of cruelty and torture is something that would not even happen in a slaughterhouse or in a routine killing so that the pig’s meat can be consumed…The live chicken need not have been actually decapitated in front of an eight-year-old actor.

“Furthermore, in the scene where an old man is straddling a live goat in an implied act of ‘bestiality,’ one can clearly see the live goat suffering from the man’s suffocating embrace as it was feebly kicking and trying to get away from the actor.”

The statement further noted that “Balangiga” is “not a documentary where real situations and events unfolded by themselves and were just witnessed and recorded by a filmmaker.

“Even though its setting refers to a true event in Philippine history, ‘Balangiga’ is a work of fiction in which every scene was scripted and staged. So, just as in a movie about war or murder where there is no need to actually hurt or kill human actors, actual violence and abuse to animals included in a scene is never required and cannot be justified. This should be the general ethical rule that responsible and compassionate filmmakers live by.”

In its post-review of the film QCinema cited “[f]requent scenes depicting violence, animal cruelty and gore such as the beheading of a chicken, disembowelment of a carabao, a writhing and squealing pig impaled on a stake…Other gory scenes of dead humans and animal corpses” as among the reasons that led to the changing of its original, self-imposed GP rating to R-13.

PAWS executive director Anna Cabrera further posted on her Facebook that she had to watch the watch the film for “legal research” and considered it her “deepest regret.”

“So sad for the child actor who was asked to do the most horrid things: decapitate a live chicken and crawl into the hollow belly of a disemboweled dead carabao…If Khavn De la Cruz had to resort to animal abuse to elicit some form of response from his audience, he is the lowest of the low,” Cabrera posted.

In concluding its statement, PAWS further called on the Department of Agriculture and the agencies under it such as the Bureau of Animal Industry-Animal Welfare Division (BAI-AWD) and the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS) “to take the necessary legal measures against the filmmakers for violating the aforementioned laws.

“We likewise implore the QCinema organizers and the Quezon City government, to not allow films with obvious acts of animal cruelty to get funding and to participate in festivals which aim to showcase the best of Filipino movies.”

Asked to respond to the PAWS statement, Dela Cruz told InterAksyon that they will address the matter if and when complaints are officially filed.

Meanwhile, Dela Cruz posted that he has recut his film as he and his team plan to “take it around the country on a General Patronage or Parental Guidance rating.”

“Balangiga” won four awards at the just concluded QCinema festival including Best Picture and Best Director.