A filmmaker’s Christmas wish

Mark Z. Saludes
A filmmaker’s Christmas wish
'It shouldn’t be just an emotion of compassion. That compassion has to be propelled into action, we need to act.'

BENGUET, Philippines – A Baguio-based filmmaker is appealing to all those who are willing to share their blessings this yuletide season to send a miner’s ailing son to a specialist in Metro Manila for medical examination and treatment.

Ferdinand John L. Balanag, 43, is an artist and independent documentary filmmaker who has created 9 independent films since 2003. Balanag studied Theater Arts and Speech Communication in UP Baguio and started doing experimental productions while in his college days. His exposure in theater arts influenced him a lot in doing movies with real life stories and actors. 

He was given 8 recognition and international awards for his film “Walking the Waking Journey (An Epic Voyage to Awaken Humanity and Open a Door to the Future)” which he did in the Himalayas, including Best Director–South Asian Filmmaker Category in Silent River Film Festival, in Irvine, California, in 2011.

MORNING BREAK. Miners take a break outside of their tunnel between their daily 8 to 12 hours shift of collecting gold ores. Photo by Mark Saludes/Rappler

In January 2014, Balanag received a grant from GMA Network’s Sine Totoo – The First Philippine International Documentary Film Festival to do another project he calls “Agbalbalitok” (The Gold Prospector). The film was launched last September 27 during the Sine Totoo Festival in Metro Manila.

“Agbalbalitok” was shot in Sitio Luneta, Barangay Loacan in Itogon, Benguet. An old and abandoned large-scale mining pit of Benguet Corporation, Sitio Luneta now is a refuge for small scale miners and 140 families.

“When we were doing the pre-production for “Agbalbalitok,” my scriptwriter asked me why and for whom we are doing the film. And I said, it is for Sitio Luneta, for its people and the environment. And then we find John Rey Guinapon, a yound Ibaloi miner trying to support his family, making difficult choices. We met his family and his son, Kirk John “KJ” Guinapon. KJ is only 12 years old and he is very sick. That was the time I told myself and my crew, we will do this film for KJ, his family and for all of Luneta,” said Balanag.

KJ. Kirk John Guinapon (center) with his siblings. Photo courtesy of Glenn Pat-ogan

Kirk John was diagnosed with mild hypochromia with mild anisopoikilocytosisan anemic condition in which the percentage of hemoglobin in red blood cells are abnormally low and the presence in the blood of erythrocytes of varying sizes and abnormal shapes.  

“KJ was advised to go to Metro Manila to undergo further testing and medication. We were instructed to visit Philippine General Hospital or University of Sto. Tomas Hospital and ask for medical opinion. The doctor told us that he really needs more examination to determine if it is from a bone marrow problem, which may lead to something worst. Also, they have a conclusion that KJ’s condition might be a problem caused by his exposure in Mercury and other toxic chemicals that we can find in a mining site,” added Balanag.

“He also has an enlarged spleen – this serves as a blood filter. Our initial plan is to bring him to Metro Manila on January of 2015. But we can’t do this without raising funds for his medication. So I decided to donate all the income that the film Agbalbalitok will generate from ticket sales, and of course to seek help from friends and other people who might want to give KJ a Christmas present.” said Balanag.


“This film really changes my life and affects me so much. My relationship with my subject and the whole community of sitio Luneta deepens as the time goes by. My goal is to help them build what is lost because of the large-scale mining.  I want to show everybody that we must act on something, especially today that the environment and natural resources are exhausted and pushed to its limits,” he said.

“We can be compassionate about something but it should not end there. It shouldn’t be just an emotion of compassion. That compassion has to be propelled into action, we need to act.” Balanag said. – Rappler.com

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