Directors' Guild to investigate 'Oro' filmmaker over animal cruelty complaint

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(File photo) 'Oro' director Alvin Yapan

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Allegations that one or even two dogs were killed in the process of making the film "Oro", that won several awards at the 2016 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), prompt the Directors' Guild of the Philippines to investigate the matter.

In a statement on Thursday, the Directors' Guild of the Philippines (DGPI) said the body will dig deeper on the complaint filed by the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) against "Oro" director Alvin Yapan, who is a guild member.  In its complaint, PAWS asked for the removal of Yapan from the DGPI.

"A disturbing allegation has been brought to the attention of the Directors' Guild of the Philippines (DGPI) by the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) concerning one of our members who directed the MMFF entry "ORO" regarding the depiction of a slaughtered dog in the said film," DGPI President Mike Sandejas said in a statement.

Sandejas added, DGPI "does not condone any illegal act, rights violations and animal cruelty committed during the filmmaking process."

DGPI-on-Oro_CNNPH_2.jpg The Director's Guild of the Philippines statement on the dog killing scene in "Oro" states that the "DGPI does not condone any illegal act, rights violations and animal cruelty committed during the filmmaking process."

Sandejas said Yapan is facing possible sanctions over the complaint.

"DGPI will investigate the complaint brought by PAWS and if appropriate, commensurate sanctions will be imposed on the member," said Sandejas.

Responding to allegations of animal cruelty, "Oro" director Alvin Yapan posted a statement on social media Monday, denying the accusation. He said he'd never slaughter an animal to increase a film's shock value.

"Hindi totoo na inutusan ko ang isang aktor para lang pumatay ng aso... hindi ko ilalagay ang sinumang aktor sa ganyang posisyon," he said.

[Translation: It's not true that I ordered an actor to kill a dog. I wouldn't put anyone in that position.]

The graphic scene, which depicts a dog being slaughtered and eaten, has garnered negative reactions from concerned citizens, as well as animal welfare organizations PAWS (philippine Animal Welfare Society) and PETA Asia.

Also read: 'Oro' director, producer break silence over controversial dog killing scene

Yapan further pointed out, the scene involving the slaughter of the dog was based on eyewitness accounts. 

"Nasa tunay talagang pagsasalaysay ng testigo sa 'Gata 4 Massacre' na bumalik siya para singilin ang Patrol Kalikasan para sa kinatay nilang aso," he said.

[Translation: The scene is in the 'Gata 4 massacre witness' account'. He said he went to Patrol Kalikasan to charge them for the dog they killed. ]

He added he had no right to chastise the miners for eating dogs.

"Sino naman akong burgis na tagasentro na bigla na lang lelecturan sila na barbaro ang kanilang ginagawa ni wala nga akong naitulong para iangat ang kanilang antas ng pamumuhay para naman baboy at baka na ang kanilang kainin?" he said.

[Translation: Who am I to lecture them on being barbarians when I'm incapable of doing anything to help improve their standards of living so they can eat pork and beef?]

In an additional statement, 'Oro' Executive Producer Feliz Guerrero defended the scene, calling it a "depiction of tradition" in other areas of the Philippines.

Dog slaughter

Critics however point out, Yapan could still have shot that scene without having to actually slaughter a dog.

The killing of dogs is prohibited in the Philippines as stated in the Animal Welfare Act (Republic Act 8485 as amended by R.A. 10631). The law does allow the killing (and even consumption) of dogs for religious and ritual purposes by indigenous tribes, as long as these tribes get a permit from the local government and the Committee on Animal Welfare (CAW) that operates under the Department of Agriculture.

In a letter sent to the MMFF Executive Committee, Anna Cabrera, who is a member of the Committe on Animal Welfare and chairperson of the CAW technical working group on the Committee on the Humane Use of Animals in Media and Entertainment, said that there is no record of the film's producers being granted a permit to slaughter a dog. Neither was any indigenous group granted a permit to slaughter a dog in connection with the film's production.

In her letter, Cabrera also said, "The dog slaughter that occured is illegal. If the dog killing was not deliberately filmed, as stated by Yapan, the film makers, at the very least, should have reported the (dog killing) to police so that the footage can be used as evidence and not as material for a movie."

The film's production had also issued conflicting statements in the course of the controversy. First, its statements said the dog slaughter scene was shot using prosthetics, then goat meat, then pork. However, in a meeting with the the MMFF Executive Committee and PAWS, the production finally said that a dog was indeed slaughtered--but it was done by locals and the film crew merely took footage of what was happening.

As for Yapan's post on social media, he seems to admit that a dog was slaughtered--but he denies that the dog was eaten on the movie set.

"Hindi rin totoo na kinain iyong aso sa set. Sa pagkakatanda ko ibang araw shinoot iyong inuman scene doon sa mismong pagkatay ng aso. Baboy ang ginamit nila. Nasa pag edit na po iyon."

[Translation: It's not true that the dog was eaten on set. As I recall, the drinking scene was shot on a different day from the shoot of the dog's slaughter. The used pork (in the drinking scene). It's all in the editing.]

Overshadowed merits

Some fans and members of the film and theater community lament that the controversy about the alleged dog-killing has overshadowed the merits of the film itself.

"Oro" lead actress Irma Adlawan bagged the MMFF's Best Actress Award. The cast was also declared Best Ensemble Cast.  The film was also given the Fernando Poe, Jr. Memorial Award.

However, the FPJ Memorial Award was withdrawn by the MMFF Executive Committee upon consultation with the Poe family. In an official statement, the MMFF said the award was being withdrawn in light of animal cruelty allegations

Festival officials said, "the present controversy on the alleged killing of a dog in the course of the filming of the movie effectively casts a doubt on the movie's ability to exemplify the human and cultural values espoused by the late Fernando Poe, Jr."

Also read: MMFF ExeComm withdraws FPJ Award given to 'Oro'

"Oro" tells the story of the brutal murders of four small-scale miners in Barangay Gata in Caramoan island in Camarines Sur province. Members of an armed "environmentalist" group called Sagip Kalikasan Task Force (SKTF) are accused of the murders. The murders happened on March 22, 2014.

The SKTF was established by the provincial government, purportedly to help collect taxes and fees, monitor illegal mining activities, and establish security checkpoints. The accusation against the SKTF even affected the provincial governor.

On November 6, 2014, the National Police Commission (Napolcom) revoked the deputation authority of Camarines Sur Provincial Governor Miguel Luis Villafuerte. In its official statement, the Napolcom said it revoked Villfuerte's authority over the local police force "for engaging in acts inimical to national security or which negate the effectiveness of the peace and order campaign of the government".

The Napolcom further stated, "Governor Villafuerte was held accountable for having blatantly committed the following acts: continuous failure to obtain appropriate licenses for the firearms of the provincial government; unjustifiable failure to deposit the unlicensed firearms to the Provincial Police Office; unwarranted refusal to cooperate with the police authorities in the investigation of the shooting incident in Brgy. Gata, Caramoan, Camarines Sur on March 22, 2014 that killed four (4) miners; evident cuddling of individuals carrying high powered firearms with expired licenses; and deliberate refusal to provide information to the police on an unfounded claim that the persons subject of the investigation have no involvement in the shooting incident."

"Politicking"

For his part, Governor Villafuerte maintains the murder accusations against the SKTF are unfounded and dismissed them as politically-motivated.

Villafuerte is quoted by Bicol regional newspaper Bicol Mail, in an article posted online on January 28, 2016, as saying in an interview, ""Pamumulitika lang," he said. "Kung mapapatunayan na guilty ang mga tao ko, ako mismo mag papakulong sa kanila. Pero kung mapatunayan na wala silang kasalanan, sana naman mag sorry sila sa perwisyo."

[Translation: "It's all politicking. If it's proven that my men are quilty, I myself will have them jailed. But if it's proven that they are innocent, I hope an apology is made for the inconvenience done to them.]

In a newspaper interview in 2014, the head of the SKTF, Francis Mabulo, denied the murder allegations against his men. He said when the SKTF members arrived at the scene of the incident, the victims were already dead. He said that rivalry among small-scale mining operations could have been the cause of the killings.

On June 3, 2015, a special panel of prosecutors created by the Department of Justice, issued four resolutions related to the so-called "Gata 4 massacre".

These resolutions include the panel's finding that "Respondents (Joel) Breso,  (Servillano) Espares, Jr., (Francisco) Tria III, and eighteen other unidentified men, allegedly members of the SKTF, were responsible for the killings" of miners Julio Labiano, Rene Labiano, Salem Virtus, and Jesse Brondia.

Interestingly, the DOJ panel agreed with the claim of SKTF members that small-scale mining activities were being conducted illegally in Barangay Gata.