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New documentary offers hope for vanishing mangroves


Mangrove deforestation is a global crisis, but this scientist-turned-filmmaker has found hope in a small Southern Tagalog town where culture and nature intersect in surprising ways.

The Philippines is the second worst country in terms of mangrove losses in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN): it suffered a 10.5% decline between 1990 and 2010, according to independent studies cited in a recent comprehensive survey. The country is surpassed only by Myanmar, which suffered a 27.6% loss between 2000 and 2014.

With mangrove decline continuing largely unchecked, coastal communities that have depended on these forests for generations face losing the heart not just of their food, fuel, shelter, and livelihood, but also of their very culture. But for Dr. Lemnuel Aragones, a marine biologist and former director of the University of the Philippines – Diliman College of Science Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology (UPD-CS IESM), all is not yet lost.


Dr. Aragones’ debut documentary, Bakawan (the Tagalog term for mangroves), tells the story of the people of Alabat Island in Quezon Province, a five-hour drive and an hour’s ferry ride away from the nation’s capital. Shot during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, the film delves into the townspeoples’ renewed relationship with the mangroves that they call home. With the theme, “Kahalagahan, isyus, at pagpapanumbalik,” Bakawan explores the human story of living in and with Alabat’s estuarian mangrove forest.

A collaboration between Dr. Aragones and UP Film Institute Associate Professor and filmmaker Nick Deocampo, Bakawan is part of the IESM’s 20th founding anniversary celebration this year. It is the only science-oriented video among the ten entries to the UP Emerging Interdisciplinary Research Grant’s (EIDR’s) Cinema for Education: Rationalizing the Philippine Audio-visual Industry to Promote Inclusive Education Through Film Literacy.


Funded by the UP Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs (OVPAA), the Cinema Education research project explored ways to improve audio-visual materials for Philippine schools, such as by looking at how documentaries could be used to supplement and augment existing teaching and learning methods.

The COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the need to improve the traditional Philippine education system, with educators and students around the globe relying on technology to teach and learn. With a vision to have an audio-visual industry that complements digital technology in creating educational content, Cinema for Education aims to integrate image-based learning, such as utilizing films and videos, and digital technologies into the current word-based Philippine education system.

“We are exploring ways to maximize the utility of cinema for education by promoting inclusive education in the Philippines,” Dr. Aragones explained.


The free public premiere of Bakawan will be on March 27, 2023 (Monday), at 1:00 PM at the Institute of Biology (IB) Auditorium, UP Diliman.

For interview requests and other inquiries, please contact [email protected]

Bakawan full teaser trailer

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