PEP REVIEW: Secrets of Palawan revealed in Auraeus Solito’s Busong

Busong is currently being screened at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and Greenbelt 3 as part of the 7th edition of Cinemalaya.

In the deep of Palawan’s pristine grounds, waters, and mountains lies a secret that Busong subliminally unravels before its audience.

The journey of Angkarang (Rodrigo Santikan) and Punay (Alessandra de Rossi) reveals the impenetrable path that takes the audience to Palawan’s pristine grounds—not only the terrain of Sitio Tarabanan but the culture, beliefs, and heart of its natives as well.

The quest of the siblings is to find a shaman to cure Punay of her congenital wounds—sores that spread to her feet, making her weak and unable to walk. Carried on a hammock for the most part of her life, Punay’s feet have never kissed land.

In the course of their pursuit, brother and sister come across three different characters who offer them help. These characters relay separate stories, each one with a struggle of his own. In effect, Angakaran and Punay’s narrative is enhanced by the tales of the people they meet.

The film centers largely on conflict, demonstrating a kind of retribution system: nature punishing guilty persons for doing harm against living things, including fellow humans. Each character’s struggle presents fate, or "busong" to the Palaweños, that has befallen him/her after disrespecting a living thing. The only way for a character to come out of a conflict is to find his "oneness" and peace with nature.

Ninita’s (Bonivie Budao) story is intertwined with an Amingus tree which she promises to protect in exchange for the healing of her sprained ankle. But her husband Tony (Walter Arenio) cuts down the tree and thus the couple meet their fate.

The second story deals with a native fisherman (Dax Alejandro) who is insulted by a foreign white man upon legally acquiring the shores of the Palaweños (a postcolonial approach). To get back at the belligerence of the white man, the fisherman uses the power of his amulet to make a stonefish sting the foreigner’s feet.


The last story is of Aris’s (Clifford Banagale) struggle to find himself. He comes back to his native roots to fulfill his destiny as a shaman. The film comes full circle in this last narrative as Aris turns out to be the healer of Punay’s wounds.

The natural elements—forest, water, and mountain—stand for each of the three narratives, respectively.

Busong succeeds in its portrayal of animism. Moreover, what is poignant about Solito’s film is that in the indigenous Palaweños’ primeval world, nature is the god that has power over humans. That is what Busong conveys to the modern audience who may think otherwise.

The film reaches its climax at the end of the story when Punay is healed of her sickness. From the dried skin where the sores used to be, butterflies emerge—a metaphor of healing and rebirth.

When Auraeus Solito’s film made it to the Cannes Director’s Fortnight in April 2011, festival director Frederick Boyer spoke of Busong’s winning appeal by saying that the film "transcends the border between documentary and fiction."

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Director Auraeus’s intention of presenting Palawan’s secrets, which he grew up with while listening to his mother’s bedtime stories, bares the emotional aspect or the very heart of the film. He is like the Aris of the film who returns to his roots to come to terms with his own fate.

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