A film that featured street girls as actors has taken out the best actress award at the Mindanao Film Festival in Davao, the southern Philippines.
Titled Panon, the film is inspired by true events from the year 2002, following a bloody clash between all-girl gangs Panon also highlights the root causes of juvenile crime, as well as justice and rehabilitation.
Madonna Virola and Mariel Gardiola have this report from Davao city.
When she was 17, Kakay stabbed and killed Inchik, a member of a rival gang called War Shock.
In the film Panon, she is shown seeking forgiveness from the victim’s mother.
“Forgive me for what I did to your daughter. I will pay with the many years of time in prison just so you can forgive me. I hope you can forgive me, mother,” begs Kakay.
This scene is among the highlights from the 20-minute film, shown last month at the 12th Mindanao Film Festival in President Rodrigo Duterte’s hometown of Davao.
Kakay's character is based on real life events – although the names have been changed. In the early 1990s-2000s street gangs, usually composed of minors, often got caught up in violent clashes in Davao.
Social worker Carla Canarias handles the case of the character the film if based on. And says if you dig deeper into the issues around juvenile crime, abuse often springs from abuse.
“I learned she used to be hung upside down inside a sack and beaten up very often. I first met her during her brother's funeral. He was also a victim of gang wars,” said Canarias.
““Kakay” wandered around to hunt for her brother's killer and also became involved with an all girl gang. She was a survivor of a riot where she was stabbed and almost died. She also experienced sexual abuse in the gangster environment,” explained Canarias.
Lead actress Laura Parapina played Kakay in the film, and was awarded best actress at the event, which this year carried the theme, ‘Cinema of Change.’
Growing up, Parapina had a similar experience with gangs. Most people, she says, are quick to dismiss rather than try and understand why young people get involved in crime.
“They have no idea why we became this way. I hope they won't judge us because it hurts,” Parapina said.
She believes that for youth like her, those negative perceptions are a challenge. She wants to prove them wrong, and show young people that they have a bright future ahead.
And that is the core message of the film, explains Joyce Penales, from the Tambayan Center for Children’s Rights, a local NGO that was involved in the production of the film.
Penales explains how the idea for the film started.
“We first conceptualized the film. Then had scriptwriting and audition for the performers. Then we had meetings with the actors and the real life gang members especially the character of Kakay. They were very supportive,” recalls Pernales.
The filmmakers were careful to protect those involved in the story. That included not revealing the identity of the real life characters, and refraining from having the children act out sensitive scenes.
In real life, ‘Kakay’ was released from jail after three years because of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006, which upholds the rights of the child.
But that was after months of intensive counseling, as well as meetings with social workers, police, and the victim’s mother. This is part of the restorative justice process that is the framework for Juvenile Justice involving child and youth offenders in the Philippines.
But as social worker Canarias from Tambayan points outs, youth acting out is usually indicative of deeper social problems.
“As we often say in Tambayan, the way children are only mirrors the bigger problems in society. They are not the reason. They are just victims of our shortcomings as duty bearers and the government.”
Canarias asked, “Do we have programs, services, opportunities for them? And do these programs reach them?”