My story “The Boys from Rizal Street” is part of this fantastic anthology of queer fiction, SANCTUARY: SHORT FICTION FROM QUEER ASIA, edited by Libay Linsangan Cantor and Ng Yi-Sheng for Signal 8 Press in Hong Kong. Other contributors include Lakan Umali, Danton Remoto, Jhoanna Lynn B. Cruz, Nero Oleta Fulgar, and Early Sol Gadong from the Philippines, Fatema Bhaiji from Pakistan, Dino Mahoney and Arthur Lewis Thompson from Hong Kong, Andris Wisatha from Indonesia, Miodrag Kojadinović from Macau, Ovidia Yu, Ash Lim, Lydia Kwa, and Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé from Singapore, Gemma Dass from Malaysia, Abeer Y. Hoque from Bangladesh, Hsu Yu-Chen from Taiwan, and Benjanun Sriduangkaew from Thailand.
From the book description: “Gathered in this book are nineteen tales of queer lives in Asia: stories of humour and heartbreak; magic and murder; love, lust and living happily ever after. Meet an altar boy in Davao City, a madrasah schoolgirl in Karachi, a former child soldier in Siem Reap, a mermaid in post-apocalyptic Hong Kong. Discover their passions in the saunas of Singapore, the hotel rooms of Taipei, the university dorms of Manila. Sanctuary: Short Fiction from Queer Asia is a celebration of the creativity and diversity of the continent’s LGBT writing, drawn from both established and emerging authors in ten different countries and territories in the region. It bears witness to oppression, but also dares to imagine strange new worlds and happy endings.”
The problems in heritage and cultural work can be myriad. Each one is complex. Each one demands to be understood in very specific terms. Each one is very much a challenge, some of them not for the faint-hearted.
One such problem is myopia—the inability to see things properly because of sheer nearsightedness, hence the inability to see a totality of vision. This is an understandable problem if we talk about the regular Juan, because not every one of us has enough information about everything else to make justifiable stands on most things.
But when myopia comes from a politician, it becomes something else. It becomes a warning.
In the March 24 issue of the Dumaguete MetroPost, where this column will soon land, I read with astonished incredulity the following words from William Ablong, who penned an article titled “Dumaguete’s Presidencia, A Legacy?” in his column Eye Opener, where he wrote: “I am just wondering why the city is into this ‘museum thing’ and spending millions when in fact, they know that there are so many Dumaguetnons right now who are hungry, who are jobless, and who are homeless. There are roads that until this time have not been rebuilt or fixed. Will this museum provide the solutions we need?”
He continued: “Can this museum bring food to our table? Can the homeless stay inside that building to have a roof over their heads? So that when it rains, they can take cover? Can the out-of-school children get inside there to obtain a semblance of education? Can our street children have a family they can finally call their own? Can our jobless be finally employed? Can it lower our unemployment rate? Can it improve the skills and knowledge of our underemployed so that they can finally secure better, higher-paying jobs?”
Still more: “Just to be very clear—I am not against working for something that will bring us pride as a people. And I am not against having museums here in the city. I believe, to become a city of refinement, a museum or anything that represents the arts is very much a necessity. BUT, we need to have proper timing. Who can appreciate a museum if more than half of the population do not have food on their tables or are struggling to make both ends meet? For sure, only the rich and the noble can give value to what this museum stands for.”
Usually, in this space, I steer clear of politics, it is not my cup of tea—but since this one touches on a topic closest to things I fight for in Dumaguete City, let me offer a rebuttal.
Ablong happens to be running for mayor of Dumaguete—and this article is clearly a pot shot. But it made me think: IF THIS IS THE TYPE OF PERSON ASPIRING TO BE A LEADER OF THE CITY, WHO NEEDS BARBARIANS AT THE GATE?
Because a city leader who cannot see heritage and culture as part of the very soul of the city he wants to lead clearly does not have that city’s best interests at heart. Ablong calls it a mere “museum thing,” denigrating this worthwhile project to something that sounds like whimsy. He decries the “millions” being spent on the project, when he should know that the City is not spending a single centavo on this. The funds for the restoration of the Presidencia comes from the coffers of the National Museum, which had allocated a budget for preserving an important architectural heritage designed by the great Filipino architect Juan Arellano. [Truth to tell, we almost lost this budget because the City was a little slow in accepting the invitation of the National Museum. Good thing then that things started changing in 2017, especially with the creation of the City Heritage Council, which is how we are finally getting this much-needed restoration, a fitting project that respects the history of Dumaguete City.]
That restoration budget was allocated precisely for that very purpose, and it would be foolhardy to think that Ablong can ask the National Museum to spend it instead on the problems he highlighted—joblessness, homelessness, education, etc., when those things are not the mandate of the National Museum.
What are the mandates of the National Museum for the country? One of these is to identify heritage buildings, and to set aside money for their preservation, because they are part of our cultural patrimony, and the Constitution provides for that very purpose. In fact, the National Museum is now proposing another round of national funding for a planned restoration of the bell tower or the campanario, which is now slowly deteriorating because of various causes, including plants taking root in its structure.
What Ablong wants is akin to asking the one government department to set aside part of its budget for another department’s projects. Didn’t he know the intricacies of government project management when he was City Administrator?
It is like scolding the fish for not running the marathon.
It is like begrudging the sun for not rising in the west.
It is like asking a trapo to be truthful during campaign season.
It is a foolish proposition—and only fools will believe this.
His second paragraph is composed of nothing more than a spewing off of motherhood statements all politicians love to trumpet when they are seeking public office. They are designed to make people shake their heads in commiseration, because they sound beguiling in their portrait of political neglect. Ablong was City Vice Mayor for six years (2001-2007), City Agriculture Officer for ten years (2008-2018), and City Administrator for six years (2010-2016). Not including the Agriculture job, that’s twelve years. Those are positions of such high power in City Hall, and such roles of great responsibility. He had inroads to power that could have helped solve many of the problems he is now complaining about. He couldn’t even install proper street signs, for twelve years. What did he do about the homeless and the street children in his twelve years combined as City Vice Mayor and City Administrator? What did he do about the garbage problem in his twelve years combined as City Vice Mayor and City Administrator? What did he do about education in his twelve years combined as City Vice Mayor and City Administrator? What did he do about culture and heritage in his twelve years combined as City Vice Mayor and City Administrator?
He talks big about “proper timing.” To quote the popular version of the rabbinic sage Hillel the Elder’s famous aphorism, “If not now, when? If not us, who?” There is no such thing as proper timing when the proper timing is now and is congruent with proper vision. What is proper timing for him? In 20 years, when the Presidencia’s original designs would have been totally erased because of ignorance and neglect?
Last January 18, President Rodrigo Duterte signed a law that mandated the conservation of the Gabaldon school buildings found nationwide, which sought to preserve “the architectural, historical and social significance” of these heritage school houses. The Gabaldon buildings were built around the Philippines from 1907 to 1946. In Dumaguete, the most famous example is the main building of the Negros Oriental High School, which was established in Dumaguete in 1902 [in the spot where the City Hall and the East City Central School buildings are now], but was later transferred to its current location along Kagawasan Avenue at the Capitol Area, where its Gabaldon building stands proud as beacon for local education.
These school buildings were designed by the American architect William Parsons, and are so named because their funding was made possible through Act. No. 1801, authored by Isauro Gabaldon. Including the one in Dumaguete, there are about 1,446 Gabaldon buildings all over the country—and under the new law, they are recognized as “built heritage,” and thus are included as part of cultural properties determined by the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009.
The new law requires local government units that have Gabaldon school buildings under their jurisdiction to “adopt measures for the protection and conservation of these structures,” with the aid of several government institutions, including the Department of Education and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. From the ABS-CBN news report on the passage of the law, Sen. Loren Legarda, the bill’s author, is quoted as saying that “these structures symbolize the first foundation of the Philippine public school system during the American period, in which each Filipino child, even from the most remote areas of the country, had access to formal education.”
It is that symbolic nature of these buildings that make them important—although most people do not readily see that about architectural structures, which leads to an ironic point: they are often the most visible kind of heritage in any town or city, and yet their importance as “heritage” are often unseen by people in the locality. They are often just perceived as “old buildings,” often dilapidated, and often fall victim to razing or demolition, always in the name of “progress.” Just a few weeks ago, the beautiful—although sadly neglected—Luis Rotea heritage house in Bais, which occupied a prime location in the city, is now gone, apparently to make way for a McDonald’s.
Built heritage, needless to say, is a most important cultural asset because it embodies the historical layers of our built environs made of materials such as cement, brick, wood, stone, and metal, even plaster—which make up the physical evidence of our cultural development. Built heritage thus includes houses and hotels, museums and markets, cathedrals and cemeteries, factories and fences, as well as plazas and streetscapes. It includes a wide range of historical and familiar landmarks that are vital in forming—and sustaining—a robust sense of belonging and affection to our community.
So quickly now, what are some of the other built heritage we can find around Dumaguete City besides the campanario and the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria?
The Locsin heritage house at the corner of Locsin Street and Sta. Catalina Street is one of the most important heritage houses in Dumaguete City. Legend has it that Jose Rizal once visited the house. But its true historical importance is that this was the venue for the election of officers for the Provisional Revolutionary Government on 25 November 1898. It had belonged to the Teniente Cornelia Yapsutco, and later became the property of the Locsin family in Dumaguete. It still stands intact.
The ancestral house of Ramon Teves Pastor at the crossing of Real Street [now named after him] and Dr. V. Locsin Street, popular known as the White House, is a testament to one of the most important figures in Dumaguete life and politics. Ramon Teves Pastor was mayor of Dumaguete from October 1912 until October 1916, and under his watch, M.L. Quezon Park was inaugurated a hundred years ago, on 20 September 1916, which paved the way for free nightly shows at the new Dumaguete landmark. The plot was donated by the Pastor family and the Patero family. The construction of the Rizal Boulevard breakwater was also done during his term, which makes him one of the major shapers of the Dumaguete environs we know and love today. The house still stands intact.
The row of beautiful, sometimes ornately designed, houses along the Paseo de Rizal or the Boulevard—stretching from the fringes of Tinago down to the corner of Silliman Avenue—are called by locals as the Sugar Houses, so named because these were the city residences of sugar plantation owners whose haciendas were mostly concentrated in Bais, Tanjay, and Manjuyod towns. For most of the life of the boulevard, these houses became the beautiful windows to the genteel air of Dumaguete, each one competing with each other with their disparate architectural details, and their singular grandness. Most of these houses over the years have been transformed into the various hotels and bars and restaurants that now dot the stretch. The grandest among them that still remain largely untouched is the magnificent, formerly green-tinged Serafin Lajato Teves Mansion at the corner of Rizal Boulevard and Burgos Street.
Of the school buildings aside from the Gabaldon structure of NOHS, we have Silliman Hall, named after Horace Brinsmade Silliman, the philanthropist who gave the initial donation to start the school that would become the university that it is now, is located right at the bend that leads to the sea-side Rizal Boulevard. Its sight is quite distinctive in the Dumaguete landscape, and it is perhaps the structure most iconic of the City besides the campanario. The three-story structure—held together by wooden arches stemming from cast-iron columns, its design complete with gables and intricate carpentry—is the first and the oldest building in campus. Dr. David Sutherland Hibbard, the school founder, was responsible for sketching out how Silliman Hall was supposed to look: his design represented American architecture of the stick-style, which dominated colonial buildings in the early days of the 20th century. The blocks used to build Silliman Hall were made from corals, and the components of the iron ceiling were shipped all the way from New York, from an old theater. Silliman Hall has served as classroom, dormitory (the future Philippine President Carlos P. Garcia stayed there when he was a student at Sillliman), library, faculty hall, and function hall—and in the early days of Silliman, it served as venue for recitals, plays, and convocations. Much of the building fell into disrepair and its first floor was converted to office spaces—until the late 1990s when Architect Manuel Almagro spearheaded efforts funded by USAid that restored the building to its original glory. The structure stands restored and intact.
Guy Hall in Silliman campus was built as a dormitory for boys. Construction began in 1918, with donations from Mr. William E. Guy of St. Louis, dedicated and named after his wife Kathryn Lemoine-Guy. Mr. Guy had met Silliman Institute benefactor Dr. Horace Silliman and pledged $15,000 to make two dormitories for boys. Instead of having two separate buildings, plans were made to change it to one with two wings—a more economical approach. Construction continued until 1927. It was made the general headquarters of the Japanese Imperial Forces during the duration of the war in Dumaguete. It still stands intact, and recently restored.
Among the government buildings, the City Hall—now referred to as the Presidencia—has the happy turn of being restored to its old glory. The Presidencia was built in 1937, and was designed by the great Filipino architect Juan M. Arellano who also designed some of the greatest pre-war buildings in the Philippines, including the Manila Post Office and the old Senate building, which currently houses the National Museum of the Philippines.
The Negros Oriental Provincial Capitol, located along Kagawasan Avenue around the city’s Freedom Park, was built in 1924 from designs made by architect and urban designer Daniel Hudson Burnham, which was based on the U.S. Capitol. (Burnham also designed the Flatiron Building in New York City and Union Station in Washington, D.C.) The design for the Negros Oriental Capitol, borrowing heavily from Greek architecture, symbolizes courage and strength, and the white paint symbolizes purity. It still stands intact—but needs restoration.
Public art and utilities, too, are part of the built heritage. The sculpture and fountain in M.L. Quezon Park was designed by Italian sculptor Francesco Riccardo Monti, who made it right around the time architect Juan M. Arellano was building the Presidencia in 1937. Monti stayed in the Philippines from 1930 until his death in 1958. During his stay, he worked with local architects and sculptors on major projects commissioned by the government and private individuals. Several of Monti’s sculptures are part of Metro Manila’s landmarks. His statues can be seen in front of public buildings or plazas, while his relief work decorate many exterior and interior walls in heritage buildings. It stands intact.
Built heritage is not just about beautiful or significant historic buildings. It also includes small and modest buildings of the commercial sort, including ones that reflect the social conditions of working families and local business titans. Of the heritage commercial buildings around downtown Dumaguete, my favorites are the few remaining Art Deco buildings mostly around Perdices Street, as well as Surban Street. Most of them are in various state of disrepair or use—and these include Park Building and the Uymatiao Building, as well as the Uypitching Building along Colon that blends Art Deco with Chinese motifs. Art Deco, also called style moderne, was a movement in the decorative arts and architecture that originated in the 1920s and developed into a major style in western Europe and the United States during the 1930s—formed with the “intention to create a sleek and anti-traditional elegance that symbolized wealth and sophistication,” according to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, its “distinguishing features [being] simple, clean shapes, often with a ‘streamlined’ look, ornament that is geometric or stylized from representational forms; and unusually varied, often expensive materials.” Most of these buildings remain intact, but their style have been “diminished” by outer structures, or bad paint jobs.
Cathedrals and churches are some of the most beautiful—and preserved—examples of built heritage, but so are cemeteries. The Dumaguete Memorial Park is the most recently conceived, and utilized—but the smaller ones are more of interest to me. The Bogo public cemetery is within the embrace of the Memorial Park, and provides an interesting study of contrast. I used to love the Bagacay public cemetery for its chaos—but it has since undergone a facelift of sorts. The Daro Chinese cemetery is interesting for how it commands a lonely stretch of road within that barangay—but a small and separate cemetery within it is of utmost significance. The American Cemetery is one of the least well-known spots in Dumaguete, owing perhaps to the kind of grim reminder it brings about mortality, but also perhaps because of its secluded location inside the Chinese cemetery. It no longer has internment space, but the place still “charms” the occasional visitor with its wrought-iron gate beautifully covered by pink cadena de amor, and grounds shaded by full-grown mahogany trees and indian trees. Among the Americans buried here include a host of missionary teachers from Silliman University, such as Henry and Margaret Mack, T. S. Dodd, W. M. Baugh, Ila Smith-Munn, Cal Reed Cole Sr., Elena A. Cole, Cal Reed Cole Jr., Charlie Bell Cole Sr., Rev. Lapsley Armstrong McAfee, Robert Sherry Matheson, and Elliot Thomas Bell.
Are there any built heritage within Dumaguete City that gives us a reminder of World War II and the Japanese occupation of the town between 1942 and 1945? Nothing much remains in Dumaguete indicative of the occupation during that war, except one. The “pill box,” or defensive position, in Tugas is a remarkable piece of that historical time—easily seen by pedestrians as this strange “pyramid” while traversing Hibbard Avenue. It mostly puzzles people though. How many times have I gotten this question: “What is that?” And admittedly, for the longest time, I did not have a clear answer to give. The pill box is located about four blocks in-land from Lo-oc, near the North City Elementary School in Piapi, on the right hand side of Hibbard Avenue going north. It is located on private property, and it is not a preserved historical site.
Built heritage is a key to the understanding of our shared history in the community. It defines our origins. It enlightens us about who we are today. It gives us a sense of place, which in turn helps establish identity for the community—because they contribute to a sense of our connectedness to each other, which inspires community pride and a confidence of Dumaguete as “unique.” Most of all, when our local built heritage is properly preserved and promoted, it can stimulate interest about Dumaguete’s past, which can enrich the daily lives of Dumaguetnons.
The Campanario de Dumaguete as it stands today was built during the time of Fray Juan Felix de la Encarnacion who took charge of the Dumaguete parish between 1867 and 1879. More famously called the Bell Tower, it is set on the remains of the original southeastern watchtower originally built by Don Jose Manuel Fernandez de Septien, parish priest of Dumaguete, between 1755 and 1760.
There were originally four of them.
Each of these four watchtowers was made from stone and mortar, and each was mounted with cannons. The first watchtower would have been at the corner of Bishop Epifanio Surban St. and Perdices St., where the Bank of Philippine Islands is currently located. The second would have been at the corner of Surban St. and Katada St., the rear corner of COSCA. The third would have been at the corner of Katada St. and Colon St., at the corner of the fish terminal. And the fourth, and the only surviving watchtower, would be the current campanario—standing tall and proud after all these years, the very beacon of Dumaguete City.
The "ghost" towers in these photos are not fully representative of the original structures. They might have been two-storey structures, with no belfry. The "ghost tower" used here is taken from a photo of the Panglao watchtower.
They were the four corners of an ancient Spanish colonial fortress that surrounded the massive stone church and the convento built by Fr. Septien, which kept Dumaguete safe from the pirate raids from the south.
From church historian Fr. Roman Sagun Jr., we learn that “the convento was built from choice strong materials, which covered even the rear portion. This edifice, in which remnants of warfare can still be found in its original doorway, was constructed like a strong fort and ensured safety from any attack by pirates. It was also fortified by a wall over two meters in height from the outside, forming a large square in the center where the church and the convento were situated; there was also a large plaza where the inhabitants could take refuge in times of necessity.”
We also learn that “aside from constructing the church, the convento, the fortress, the watchtowers, and the contravalla, Fr. Septien also built bulwarks which were located at strategic positions on the beachfront of Dumaguete. All these were made of stone and were well secured, and they were utilized to keep watch on the coast and prevent any surprise pirate attack.”
From some strange unfurling fate, the campanario has withstood the test of time, even though the original watchtower it is set on is largely gone, its ruins becoming the foundation of Fr. Encarnacion’s project. It illustrates very well the caprices of history, the brutal march of time, and the attendant ravages of the elements.
History is easily vanished; I believe the campanario has only truly survived because it has come to transcend history—it has become an icon. As an example of built heritage, its fate—at least for now—is secure. But the fight for heritage preservation is always a generational story, and the battle will always be fought every time another generation comes of age.
Perhaps definitive of built heritage that has come to transform significantly Dumaguete is the Paseo de Rizal, or the Rizal Boulevard, and the pier. The boulevard was named after Jose Rizal, the national hero, who is said to have spent a few hours along the stretch to stroll before departing for Dapitan for his exile. It currently extends at a length of 967 meters, from the Press Club to the pier, including the extended promenade. The promenade follows the city’s shoreline, and is lined with the beautiful [formerly] private houses—the so-called sugar houses—of local hacenderos and the buildings of Silliman University.
When the latter was still Silliman Institute in the early years of the 20th century, it had become a popular school for many students from other places to matriculate in, and people from other parts of the country started arriving in droves in Dumaguete, which had no pier. To land in Dumaguete then, according to historian Caridad Aldecoa-Rodriguez, passengers had to be “carried over the shoulders of some husky cargadores from the boat to the shore to avoid becoming wet. This was a common sight at the beach in those times.”
By June 1919, Vicente Flagrante, the local district engineer, had finished the plans for a pier in Dumaguete, and an appropriation for P50,000 was approved, with succeeding appropriations coming until 1935.
It was the greatest improvement Dumaguete had ever undertaken at that time. Before the building of the pier, however, the construction of a boulevard running parallel to the seashore of Dumaguete was a stroke of genius for the town planners. It was designed to connect the provincial road with the port, and four principal streets of Dumaguete—now declared first-class roads—were joined with the boulevard by 1916.
The boulevard came at the height of infrastructure construction under the leadership of town mayor Señor Ramon Teves Pastor [who served from October 1912 to October 1916], which also saw the construction of Quezon Park in September 1916. Señor Pastor as town mayor should be credited for having largely shaped the Dumaguete that we know and love today.
His ancestral home—another heritage building which has seen various phases of extensions and repair over the decades but remains a heritage structure at heart—is at the corner of Real Street and Locsin Street, a magnificent white house clearly of vintage mold.
Every time I see this house, I wish Dumaguete remembered more fervently the memory of this patriarch: Señor Pastor, after all, was instrumental in shaping Dumaguete. Without him, the Dumaguete we know and love—paseo, pier, and park—would not have become that city at all.
I never know what to make of Tanjay whenever I come to visit this city north of Dumaguete, an hour away by car. It’s a prosperous small city and I find it fascinating enough to have written two short stories set in it. It is also clear that its people take civic pride in the city as bastion of mavens, given the moniker it has come to embrace: “City of Professionals,” which sounds positively lofty, educated, sophisticated.
Local history gives us an even richer regard of the place. Tanjay is the oldest parish in Negros Oriental [the mission was established in 1580, and the parish became full-fledged in 1587].
When we take archaeology into consideration, we also learn that Tanjay was the site of an ancient maritime chiefdom of some importance in the Visayas in the period before the Spaniards came.
“Tanjay appears to have been the center of a series of economically and politically expanding regional polities, whose chiefs simultaneously controlled luxury good trade coming into the coastal port, and the river-based economy of lowland-upland exchange,” writes Laura L. Junker in Raiding, Trading, and Feasting: The Political Economy of Philippine Chiefdoms (1999), and suggests that its growth as a pre-colonial settlement is linked with the Tanjay chief’s increasing political power, themselves engaged thoroughly in production activities and trade, sponsoring crafts by skilled local artisans and becoming their patron.
[In the book, Junker also maps out the phases of pre-colonial civilization in Negros Oriental, from artifacts collected from archeological sites in Tanjay and nearby Bais, as well as Bacong and nearby Dumaguete: the Edjek Phase (1500-2000 BC), the Solamillo Phase (0-500 AD), the Aguilar Phase (500-1000 AD), the Santiago Phase (1100-1400 AD), the Osmena Phase (1400-1600 AD), and the Historic Phase (post-1600, in the early years of the Spanish colonial period)—all of them named after the properties the archaeological diggings were conducted. This gives the astounding insight that 2,000 years before the modern era, there was already a civilized culture in the island of Negros, then called Buglas.]
In Eufemio Patanñe’s The Philippines in the 6th to 16th Centuries (1996), we also learn that the Tanjay archaeological data suggests that the chiefdom founded at the mouth of the Tanjay River—the largest and only navigable river in Negros Oriental—was actually “strategically located,” the settlement small at first, but in time grew, “attracting migrants from upriver or from other less geographically favored islands,” with the “one major impetus for growth [being] trade, specifically, foreign trade…substantiated by excavations of Chinese porcelain represented by Sung, Yuan and early Ming trade pottery.” Patanñe admits there was scant evidence there was direct trade between China and Tanjay, “but certainly, by 1100 A.D. Chinese porcelain was present in Tanjay.”
And yet you don’t see any of that history—both the pre-colonial or Spanish colonial—manifested or preserved in Tanjay. No museums exist to exhibit the evidences of that pre-colonial chiefdom. No old houses preserved to give light of its rich sugar past, and no remains of the Spanish stronghold that made this one of the earliest Spanish settlements. In other towns—especially Bacong, Dauin, and Amlan—we still have standing churches that attest to that Spanish colonial history. Tanjay, oldest parish in Negros, has none of that.
I asked a particular friend from Tanjay who comes from the Calumpang family [specific identity withheld upon request], thinking he would have answers since he is pursuing projects invested in the city’s local heritage efforts. Of the church, he says: “From what I was told, it was renovated in the 1960s when they tried to ‘upgrade and update’ everything to concrete. The old church, based on pictures and accounts of people who saw it, was made of adobe. The floors inside the church, instead of lapidas, had names of the faithful who helped the church through donations. I’ve always wanted to know why it has been redesigned this way, but no one seems to have concrete answers to give me. I once saw photos of the old church and it was beautiful. It had two belfries and [the design] was typical of its generation. The most recent wave of ‘damage’ was brought on by a parish priest who gave the main altar a garish facelift and had all the pillars of the interiors removed.”
Of heritage conservation, he commented: “Tanjay has had a hard time preserving its heritage. I don’t think it even does this now. [And] I have yet to find a direct answer to why this has been so.”
I can very well imagine a Tanjay with its heritage intact. I can imagine walking down its Rizal Street and strolling across heritage houses that tell the tale of its storied past. I can imagine going to its parish church and see reflected back to me 318 years of Spanish colonial history. I can imagine going to archaeological sites within the city, or to a local museum, and see documentation in shards of ancient pottery and china indicating the richness of pre-colonial Tanjay. None of those exist.
[Note: Tanjay parish priest Msgr. Glenn Corsiga is currently constructing a museum. He hopes to finish it before he will be transferred for another assignment next year. Information from Fr. Roman Sagun]
In Dumaguete, despite the enormous heritage work still left undone, we have at least a few scattered efforts, for the most part existing because a visionary a long time saw a need for conservation.
We remain grateful, for example, to visionaries like Hubert Reynolds, who was founder of the Silliman University Anthropological Museum—an institution he established partly to house local ethnological and archaeological artifacts dating as far back as 200 B.C. Reynolds was a fraternal worker of the Disciples of Christ who, due partly to the nature of his calling, was a wide traveler who took a deep interest in different cultures. When he came to Dumaguete, he contributed greatly to the local understanding of the various native cultures of the Philippines. Dr. Reynolds came to Silliman in 1964 with his wife Harriett, after finishing their doctorate degrees at Hartford Seminary Foundation in Connecticut. They arrived with a vast portfolio of research materials and scholarly writings that focused on the cultures of the Negritos, the Isnegs, and the Tausugs. What might be considered the highlight of all the Reynolds’ involvements in and contributions to Dumaguete is the establishment of the anthropology museum in 1970, which stands today as a treasure trove of memorabilia from the early years of Silliman, as well as the aforementioned archaeological finds.
We remain grateful to the Dumaguete parish for finding an icon in the campanario, still standing and giving us a slice of the distant past when Dumaguete was a constant place of pillage by pirates in the 19th century—and from this, we learn of Fr. Jose Manuel Fernandez de Septien built a fort with four watchtowers to stand guard against future raids, and of Fr. Juan Felix de la Encarnacion who built the now famous bell tower upon the ruins of one of those Septien watchtowers. [But what is up with that orange photo-bomber of a building behind it?]
We remain grateful to the families who own the sugar houses along the Rizal Boulevard, for endeavoring to preserve their beautiful architectural integrity, which speaks volumes of the Golden Age of Sugarlandia in Negros Oriental, even as they are being repurposed to fit more modern needs—a restaurant, a hotel, a café.
These things are what we call in heritage work as “built heritage.” Built heritage is easily the most recognizable and most visible of the lot: it includes, after all, man-made historic environments including houses, factories and commercial buildings, churches and mosques and other traditional places of worship, cemeteries, school buildings, government buildings, the local marketplaces, monuments and plazas and parks, bridges, even streets, roads, railways, and bridges. It also includes physically created places such as gardens, mining sites, and stock routes, as well as archaeological sites.
These things—particularly buildings—are a city’s most obvious historians, but also ironically also most mute. When they are able to tell their stories, though, we get a slice of the Dumaguete story in such rich historical details.
Take a look at the Du An Sim Building, for example, which takes up most of the eastern part of the block straddling Calle Ma. Cristina, Surban Street, and Locsin Street. It is one of my favorite old buildings in Dumaguete. It currently houses several shops, which have been around for quite some time, including Good Luck Store, which used to have the best collection of movies on VHS for rent in the city. [Good Luck Store was veritably my film school when I was of college age, and was devouring movies to fill in a cineaste education.] The shops in this building are always busy, but I’ve often wondered, whenever I find myself in this area of Dumaguete, what’s upstairs, or better yet, how the building began.
I love the building’s rounded corners, and its wooden windows, and its generous corner balconies [there are two]—something you don’t see a lot in old buildings here. I can imagine the family that constructed this building, assembling in the balconies to watch parades or just the people of the town hustling by on ordinary days. [One balcony overlooks the wet market.] For a long time, I didn’t know when it was built, and I thought perhaps that it was probably in the 1940s.
When I posted a photo of the building on Facebook, captioning it with my rumination regarding its architecture and history, City Sports Coordinator Ike Xavier Villaflores contacted me, and over coffee told me a bit of family lore.
Mr. Villaflores belongs to the Alo clan, an old Dumaguete family known for its expertise in carpentry and whose patriarch in the 1930s and 1940s was one Generoso Alo Villaflores, or Popo, as he was fondly called by friends and family. [Popo was one of the local artisans responsible for building many iconic structures in Dumaguete, including the Silliman Church and the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria.] The Alo family owned the property fronting the Du An Sim building, where the Uypitching Building now stands, and Popo used to set out to do regular carpentry work at the Cathedral grounds before it was burned down in the Great Dumaguete Fire that consumed the area—including the public market—in 1953, which started at a store under the proprietorship of Nirmela Nanikram, in what is now MetroBank.
During the war, what is now the Du An Sim building was just a haphazard collection of wooden shops. The head of the Du An Sim family, who was very close to Popo, asked for his help: the Japanese had been occupying Dumaguete for some time now, and the later years of the war proved hard, especially for people of Chinese ancestry, and he was planning to evacuate the town for the mountains with the rest of the family—but he didn’t know where to entrust his accumulated wealth in bills and coins. Popo suggested burying the money in a nearby field—what is now the EROS Building, which currently houses Pag-IBIG Fund. In the darkness of one quiet night, the two proceeded to bury the entire lot, and the Du An Sim family evacuated the next day. Mr. Du An Sim unfortunately died during the war, and when his widow and the rest of the family later came back to the city, they arrived almost penniless, and their plight aggravated soon after by their property being engulfed in the Big Fire of 1953. Popo, according to Mr. Villaflores, guided the widow to the hiding place where her husband’s money was buried—and out of that, Mr. Villaflores told me, came the funds that built the Du An Sim building we see today. Popo was foreman in the building of that project, completed in 1954.
The Du An Sim Building tells a story significant to the historical development of Dumaguete. So do many of the old buildings here—although most of us have learned to become deaf to what stories they have to tell. Preserving them, and then digging up their history, is one way to appreciate them, and one way to chart Dumaguete history. I look at the Du An Sim Building now: it occupies a choice spot in the oldest section of Dumaguete. I can see its potential, if it’s spruced up and restored even just a bit; as an architectural piece, as a historical marker, as a vibrant commercial center, it would be a jewel.
4:55 PM |
Ang Sugilanon sa Kasakit ni Epefania, Radio Play
Of my stories, "Old Movies" and "Things You Don't Know" are anthologized more often and taught in schools, but "The Sugilanon of Epefania's Heartbreak" is the one that's always being adapted into something else. It has become a comic book. It has become a stage play [presented as part of the Virgin Labfest and staged at the Cultural Center of the Philippines]. And it has become fodder for many classroom projects. Somebody did a whole shadow play of the story. And now it's also a radio drama titled "Ang Sugilanon sa Kasakit ni Epefania." This one's produced and performed by Diza Apple Rubio, Andrea Maglipac, Carl Joseph Carazo Lara, Isabel Geronimo, Krystel Mae Santisteban, and Shane De Guzman, in J Marie Maxino's senior high class. Thank you, guys! "The Sugilanon of Epefania’s Heartbreak" is special to me because it is the story of my family and their past in Bayawan [which used to be called Tolong]. So every time somebody creates something new out of this story, I think of it as a chance to pay respect to my ancestors, because it is making them alive.
On February 27, Jose Javier Reyes—screenwriter of Oro Plata Mata and director of Pare Ko, Live Show, and Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo—posted this on his Facebook page: “The box office results of both foreign and local films that opened today are all dismal. It may be sooner than we expected.” The post had a fearful urgency, and since it came from someone who has been working deep in the trenches of the local film industry for so long, it also felt like a missive from someone in the know. A prophecy almost, and it smelled of doom. But what is that “it” that is “sooner than expected”?
A few days later, on March 3, Mr. Reyes again posted: “It is dismaying to see Facebook posts of movie houses with just one or two people in the audience today. And it is a Sunday.” To which the actor Ogie Diaz replied: “Oo, direk. Nakakalungkot. Ten or eleven lang ‘ata kami kagabi sa Familia Blondina sa Gateway. Wala ding pila sa ticketing.” Reyes posted a rejoinder: “Ito na ang pinangangamba ko. Di ko akalain na ganito kabilis ang kaganapan.”
Pangangamba. Kabilis ang kaganapan. Sooner than expected.
This is the “it” thus defined: nobody is watching movies in the theaters anymore. Except the latest from Marvel.
I was reminded of these social media posts from Mr. Reyes when I caught this headline from The New York Times, dated 6 March 2019: “‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ Is Coming to Netflix.” The news story was being posted in quick succession on the newsfeed of so many friends on Facebook—and I understood the excitement and the frenzy of the sharing. The Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, originally published in 1967, is a classic of world literature, and it is the favorite tome of the magic realist bent for many, many people—and it has never ever been adapted for the screen before. Considering what a landmark of literature it is, it is indeed a surprise that only now do we get stirrings of a film adaptation.
The New York Times article provides an explanation: “It was not for lack of interest,” the article goes. “In a recent call, the Nobel Prize winning novelist’s son, Rodrigo García…said that his father had received many offers over the years to adapt the book to film. But his father was concerned that the story would not translate well or fit within a single movie (or even two), he added. García Márquez was also committed to the story being told in Spanish, so many offers were ‘non-starters’ to him.”
In other words, for the author, the very form and the very business of film itself made him say no to all the offers of adaptation. Movies must be two hours long—three at the most, the industry insists, and to make sure it would have legs to carry it through the expected demands of the box office, it has to have the characters speak in English, even cast non-Latino movie stars to make it sell. Such have been the familiar strictures of commercial cinema, especially in Hollywood.
Only very recently have we gotten a pathbreaking platform that is currently making mincemeat of those very strictures, rendering them as relics of another time. With Netflix—and streaming in general—length has ceased to be a concern. We have learned to “binge-watch,” and we have learned to appreciate long-form storytelling. After Netflix gave the greenlight to Mike Flanagan to expand Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House into a 10-episode series, the show became an unexpected hit. There are similar success stories in the Netflix mold. Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma—which recently harvested a number of Oscar wins—is another such unlikely success story: an award-winning film that is set in Spanish, subtitled, made in Mexico, starring unknowns, and photographed in black-and-white. It found a home in Netflix the way it could never probably have in a regular studio. To quote Rodrigo Garcia again from the article: “Netflix was among the first to prove that people are more willing than ever to see series that are produced in foreign languages with subtitles. All that seems to be a problem that is no longer a problem.”
But that’s the thing about Netflix and why it’s capturing eyeballs—and why it seems to be rapidly displacing theaters as the shrine for contemporary filmed entertainment, as we could cull from the Facebook posts of Mr. Reyes: it is brave in its risk-taking the way movie studios haven’t been in years.
It does stumble a lot in that risk-taking [let’s never talk about True Memoirs of an International Assassin starring Kevin James as a James Bond wannabe], but it can afford to and the rewards more than compensate. The Oscars for Roma is the best and most recent example. Movie studios, on the other hand, have been boxing themselves in for many years now, churning out the formulaic and the franchise-rific, because they’re the “surest deal.”
Who can blame them though? The risks in mainstream filmmaking have never been greater, and movie studios today face the same kind of dilemma they once had when television was suddenly resurgent in the 1950s. To survive today seems to entail a regurgitation of what has already proven successful, hence the avalanche of superhero movies and the like. But when Hollywood actually does something totally out of the blue, sometimes critics are too ready to pounce unfairly with sharp knives—like the attendant hatred that came for Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, a great, if mind-boggling, movie that was fried critically and was largely ignored at the box office, even if it starred Jennifer Lawrence. Audiences stay away from the likes of Mother! because movie-going simply has become too expensive these days for anyone to gamble on the untested. It’s a lose-lose situation for movie studios.
Consider Netflix. It only demands a flat monthly fee that’s roughly equivalent to the cost of one movie ticket. For that, it gives the subscriber a smorgasbord of choices, from the safe [“The Kissing Booth”] to the zany [“Maniac”]. It is a business model the studios [and movie theaters] can never probably emulate, and it is killing the latter.
I still watch movies in theaters as much as I can though, simply because I know the experience of watching a movie in a theater can never be equaled by a computer or a TV screen—but I also completely understand why many people don’t go to the theaters anymore. Because, hey look, Netflix is actually giving us Gabriel Garcia Marquez! Also Rebel Wilson in a rom com! [If you’re into that.] Also Heneral Luna! What choices! And you don’t even have to bear with traffic and terrible popcorn and that tita who can’t stop rolling through her Facebook in the middle of a movie!
When was the last time a local movie in a theater seriously wowed me and many people in Dumaguete? Patay Na Si Hesus, actually—which beguiled and swept through most of the Visayas like the Second Coming. It proved a local hit because representation does matter! But do you think Star Cinema or Regal Films will ever make a film like this, in Binisaya, embracing non-Manila realities? I don’t think so. Even then, movie theaters barely released Patay. They also barely released Heneral Luna, too. Until the clamor from the grassroots for both films could no longer be ignored, and suddenly they were getting prime slots in the cinemas, but only after several weeks of independent screenings by the enterprising producers who were going through alternative distribution, in this case the school circuit, to have their films seen because no movie theater would touch them.
Distribution is one of the biggest problems facing Philippine cinema today, compounded of course by the reality that most well-made films of certain gravity remain bound to festival screenings [hence, we have a very Manila-centric film culture, because most of the festivals are there] and they never really do the rounds of the rest of the country. But Vice Ganda films do. This creates a perception for many ordinary filmgoers that these are the only types of films we create for the mass audience, hindering them from seeing, and learning to expect, better fare. They are so used to these trashy films these have actually become an intrinsic part of the local cinematic diet. It’s like Jollibee; we know that fast food’s bad for us—but we have been taught to drool at the sight of a Chicken Joy or a burger steak. It’s no wonder these films earn millions every December when the MMFF comes rolling around; the local industry has taught them to expect only this. A change for the better will remain a pipe dream. MMFF had a rare and glorious turn for the better in 2016, which could have been a start—but now it’s back to the comforts of the old pigsty. The revolution never happened.
When smaller production houses try to book their films in a popular mall chain—guaranteeing, to some degree, countrywide distribution—the effort feels very much like dealing with the Mafia. In Cinema Rehiyon 10 in 2018, during a forum held in a cavernous Cavite mall theater, I was forced to listen to a representative of these mall chain cinemas give a fantastic spin for why the system is the way it is, even giving fantastic excuses for why local cinemas are still opening movies on Wednesdays and not on weekends, and for why they do the awful practice of pulling out a local movie if it doesn’t meet a certain quota on the very first day of screening. This, even if the film showed promise it would have better legs in the coming days, if only it was allowed to stay on for a few more days. So many good films have been sacrificed because of this practice—which does make a bit of sense if commercial interest has to trump over anything else. But why then did they allow Bato to linger on in theaters, even if absolutely nobody was watching it? And how could that terrible movie earn a B rating from the Cinema Evaluation Board? Politics?
And why is the testy compromise over the MMFF have to be the formation of the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, slated only for a week in August, a month which is acknowledged in the industry as the slowest movie-going month of the year?
The system is terribly rotten.
And so, if Netflix must be the one to burn down the current one to make way for hopefully something better [independent micro-cinemas seem to be one answer], so be it.
In the year that we celebrate the centennial of Philippine cinema, let it all burn.
What makes Dumaguete unique? When you are asked by a visitor this question, your answer—usually haphazardly arrive at—will be a compendium of things you believe are the features that make this city inimitably itself.
“Dumaguete is the Rizal Boulevard,” you would say. Or: “The campanario.” Or: “Jo’s Chicken Inato.” Or: “Silliman University.” Or: “One big tuyok.” Or: “The Tiempos.”
It can also be about identity. “What makes it a university town?” you will be asked. Or: “Why is it the ‘city of gentle people’?” Or: “What makes it the cultural center of the south?” We do love to fling about us these tags, often using them to market ourselves and this place—but these tags actually come with history and tradition, and they were coined because they meant something. But would we know, in fact, those hidden histories and the complexities of their suggestions?
When we come to confront ourselves with these things, we are essentially doing a kind of “cultural mapping.”
There’s a reason why it’s called a map. A map is an emblem, a representation of selected characteristics of a place; the geographic kind is usually drawn on a flat surface, a cartography, presenting information about a particular place in a simple, usually visual, way—and in the process teaching us about the world it represents.
A map educates us very quickly, and in convenient shorthand, about a specific place in assorted schemes of things, and it also provides, very quickly, a sense of direction, a sense of “where to go.”
When we talk of “cultural mapping,” we are invoking exactly the same things. First, it is a process where we come to identify various heritage resources of a specific locality, usually for purposes of conservation and development. And second, it is a process where we enable ourselves to understand and share that culture, which can lead to a re-thinking of local history, and which can finally be used to promote creativity and development. And both are possible only because the “cultural map” that has been assembled eventually provides the data, the information, and the numbers—identifying resources that can be used as indicators for social development.
The objectives of a cultural map is to identify the distinct heritage resources of a community, especially in comparison to another community, to thoroughly understand and properly record heritage resources for future reference, and to generate interest on heritage resources among users [and even non-users] of heritage. Thus a cultural map aims to name and list, which leads to a helpful inventory, and which can eventually be utilized to engender appreciation, and hopefully preservation.
In other words, you simply cannot appreciate something you have not identified.
The Dumaguete Presidencia is the best example of this. For years, the city had lost track of its architectural history, and the building itself—simply because it was seen as a mere government building—withstood slapdash “renovations” that altered most of its original beauty, and through the years, it shrank into the shadows of irrelevance, even considered by so many Dumaguetnons as an ugly building surrounded by an ugly parking lot with no redeeming features.
Then somebody identified it as a building designed in 1936 by no less than Juan M. Arellano, arguably the greatest of all Filipino architects. This made it distinct from all other presidencia from around the region, and even the country. It suddenly had historical, and aesthetic, importance.
That importance has since been properly recorded and mapped, and on March 6, it will be publicly declared by no less than the National Museum of the Philippines as an “important cultural property.”
And so now we see the Presidencia with a new eye, with keener interest, seeing it finally as veritably an icon of Dumaguete City.
What a fantastic change of perception it has undergone! And such an arc we see of its changing fortunes—essentially a story of riches to rags, and back to riches again. If the Presidencia were a teleserye, we would be rooting for it as the underdog that has won.
Cultural heritage is a fascinating thing to map. What is it exactly? A short way of explaining it could be this: it is anything of value from the past that provides identity to the present and inspires the future generation—which makes its importance “timeless.” The cultural heritage of a place is significant to it in terms of not only the historical, but also the architectural, the aesthetic, and the spiritual—it defines a social value encompassing all of these things.
Traditionally, cultural heritage is classified into five distinct categories: intangible heritage, built heritage, natural heritage, movable heritage, and creative industries and occupations.
Intangible heritage can include a locality’s festivals, songs and music, dances, locally developed technologies, local sports and games, rituals, literature, culinary arts, language, healing arts, folk beliefs, even jokes of local vintage. Part of this is also what we call “secret knowledge,” a set of information springing from a locality’s specificity, which has helped its people deal with the way they function in their lives. We call this “mga tinuohan.”
Built heritage can include churches and mosques and other traditional places of worship, school buildings, government buildings, the local marketplaces, plazas and parks, bridges, heritage houses, even streets and roads.
Natural heritage can include plants and animals endemic to the locality, mountains and volcanoes, valleys and hills, forests and woods, rocks and minerals, caves, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, beaches, and the underwater world, even rice fields.
Movable heritage can include the paintings and other artworks of local artists, the documents and books of its notable citizens, photos and other forms of memorabilia, local costumes, local weaponry, local furniture, local equipment and machinery, local crafts, musical instruments, and work implements that are unique to the place, or at least unique in a vital way. This type of heritage also includes personalities, the notable people who call a locality home, or at least the place of their roots. This also includes religious groups that are peculiar of the locality—and in Dumaguete’s case, that could be Father Eleuterio Tropa’s sect called the Lamplighters, also infamously called Spaceship 2000, which reached a peak of popularity in the 1990s, before Tropa died in 1993.
Creative industries and occupations as heritage can be considered the practical side to cultural production, and it includes local firms and companies involved in publishing, advertising, architecture, crafts making, furniture design, fashion design, software design, film and video production, live and recorded music production, TV and radio and Internet broadcasting, performing arts and related entertainment, and avenues that sell and display visual arts and antiques, such as galleries and museums and antique shops.
Just a mere consideration of all these types of heritage will make you see that these are the things that actually make a place’s singular identity, connecting culture very significantly to the local economy.
But a cultural map also identifies the condition of each specific heritage—whether it is existing, whether it is in good condition or deteriorating, or whether it is in fact dead. Cultural mapping then is a valuable tool for identifying a community’s cultural strengths. Identifying a heritage that is “deteriorating,” for example, can only happen if people come together to do a cultural map—and properly diagnose its condition, hopefully initiating a recovery. A cultural map, in the words of journalist Glynda Descuatan, is “our own investment on our identity.” We do this, and we set a foundation for future generations to reference.
To quote Dessa Quesada-Palm, “This process poses challenges that can further the discussion about our local heritage, which can create more research about it, and which can mobilize more people to share information, as well as more people to eventually promote it.” But it is a challenge, indeed—and there’s so much work to be done, and we can only hope that local stakeholders will not get tired whenever they are presented with an opportunity to deepen the work of local heritage.
I remember Ms. Descuatan telling us once that in creating a map of local culture and heritage, we bring in “our experiences, our resources, our knowledge, and our journey as residents of Dumaguete, and how this city has influenced us in how we do things.” She said that any effort at cultural mapping is “a huge first step to integrate [heritage] into a development plan for Dumaguete,” and it can only succeed through collaboration. “The task is daunting,” she continued, “but it is an exciting task, and it can fuel our enthusiasm—but we need to realize that it requires the absolute seriousness of research, an incredible task to do so as to come up with the most credible plans.”
Today, in Dumaguete, there is a significant number of cultural workers willing to be champions of local heritage. It took a long time—“Perhaps collectively we thought, like many others, that heritage was useless amidst rapid development and a consumerist lifestyle,” City Councilor Manny Arbon has reasoned—but there is now a significant push. These cultural workers are passionate, even if they are not paid for it. [Hopefully though that can change.] But like what Ms. Descuatan has said, there is indeed a fount of enthusiasm now. People have answered the call, because they feel this has to be done today.
Mr. Arbon, in forging the resolution to create a Heritage Council in 2017, says, “Heritage is what defines the people—past and present. A growing city like ours cannot afford to forget its heritage. Hence, the need for a Heritage Council to serve as the conscience of the community. Ambitious perhaps, but necessary in these times.”
He continues: “Knowing who or what your community will make it even more cohesive in pursuing development programs. We become more collectively aware, hence we become more deliberate in our ways yet also tolerant of differences. I also believe preserving heritage makes a community proud of its beginnings and its potentials, and at the same time makes their kind of living meaningful and worth passing on.”
10:57 PM |
Short Takes on the Oscar-Nominated Live Action Short Films
Let's do the Live Action Shorts nominees for the Oscars, shall we? It is mostly a bunch of child-in-danger stories of varying effectivity, but the similarities in the themes will have you thinking, "What is up with Oscars and this deadly regard for children this year?"
I loved Gustav Möller's The Guilty from last year, a fine presentation of how you can create fantastic, tense-filled drama within the confines of a single room, with the gravest action taking place off-camera, registering to us only through the voices of people over the phone. Rodrigo Sorogoyen's Oscar-nominated live action short film Madre (2017) carries the same premise. This time we follow a divorced mother arguing with her own mother about the vagaries of life, only to be interrupted by a fraught call from overseas. The caller is her young boy, ostensibly on vacation with her ex-husband somewhere in France. And then the panic comes: the boy is lost somewhere on an unknown beach, abandoned by the father. Where can he go? Can he trust anyone? It's a child-in-peril conceit that never really registers, because the set-up feels rushed, and the dangers feels abstract, for some reason. It's a question of execution, and this film fails in that regard.
The most tense of all the live action shorts up for the Oscars this year has got to be Jeremy Comte's Fauve (2018), a harrowing story of two Quebec boys in one of the most toxic of all masculine shenanigans -- a pissing contest, which soon goes awry as they go about a small country town finding ways to dare each other in the worst ways possible. They soon meet their reckoning in a surface mine, and the less said about what happens there, the better. It is effective, sad, anxiety-ridden.
Guy Nattiv's Oscar-nominated live action short Skin (2018) is both repellent and riveting at once: its twists and turns are totally unexpected and makes for an exciting story, but in its choice of focus on a racist family -- which humanisizes them to some extent -- it can be both a bit too much to swallow. A skinhead father dotes on his young son, but an encounter with a black man in a grocery store turns deadly, with the boy as witness to the brutality. What happens next is a turn so unexpected that it borders on the sweetest revenge fantasy. What happens in the end is even more shocking -- but thoroughly earned. I liked its storytelling, but it does leave me very disturbed.
Vincent Lambe's Oscar-nominated live action short Detainment (2018) is a dramatisation of the horrific murder of three-year-old James Bulger in Ireland, based on taped interrogations of the two young killers behind it. By its subject alone it is controversial, and while I admired the filmmaker's insistence on exploring this tragedy as a learning lesson for all -- helped for the most part by wrenching portrayals by the young actors -- it is the humanisation of evil that keeps me at bay. It is a film meant to be seen once, but I doubt it is immediately forgettable.
Marianne Farley's Marguerite (2017) stands out because it is the only one in this batch of Oscar-nominated live action shorts that strays far away from depicting children in peril. Instead, it sets its intimate focus on an elderly woman in Quebec who feels a bond with the young female therapist who takes care of her. When she finds out her caregiver has a girlfriend, it triggers a memory of an old forbidden love with all its requisite longing and regret. To be touched by the love of a woman is the only thing in what remains of her life that she has yet to fully realise. In that quiet longing, the film shines -- the only ray of light in this bunch of dark, dark themes.
VERDICT: In order of preference, Fauve > Marguerite > Skin > Madre > Detainment
If there is a local visual artist that deserves fuller and more widespread recognition for the consistency he has exhibited in the name of the imaginative in the past decade, it should be Raz Salvarita—although sometimes it can be hard to pin down the singular artist, simply because he has done so much. He deserves bigger acclaim.
The Dumaguete-based painter who has familial roots in Bacolod has continued to beguile us with an assortment of passions, never an art dabbler, always laser-like in the reasons for his current pursuits—but Raz is all pluralities. He does experimental filmmaking, and has in fact been nominated for an Urian for his short film Patience, which infamously “chronicled” the languorous journey of a snail through a patch in a garden. [Recently, he is obsessed with the idea of filming Dumaguete geriatrics as they offer their memories of their youth.] He has done performance art, and in fact helped paved the way for the preservation of the forests around Lake Balinsasayao from possible encroachments by an energy company, by going around Dumaguete semi-naked, painted white from head to toe, bearing a sign that called dire attention to the environmental issue. Or photography, where he has always captured an uncanny but intimate feel of the environment—always being the gimlet-eyed naturalist. Or paintings, where his abstractions sometimes are a paean to his upcycling tendencies, but are often studies of the psyche in domestic mode, his paintings a portal to fantasies and nightmares.
It is of that latter preoccupation that delights us in his pop up exhibition, Midnight Talkers + Internal Monologues, now gracing the walls of Café Alima along Ipil Street [parallel to the Silliman Ballfield]—which, because it is a pop up—should be taken more as a promise for a larger collection deserving of full exhibition. Consisting of seven paintings, the exhibit is a kind of return to a previous style of painting he did more than a decade ago, away from the mandalas and circles and fiery vulvas of his Bali phase, and away from the found wood and textiles of his upcycling phase.
Midnight Talkers + Internal Monologues invites us to consider the playful and the playfully snide, its title immediately reminiscent of nocturnal talks with good friends which eventually embrace a healthy dose of the id expressing itself, knowing full well it is in good and forgiving company; or introspective musings done alone when the clock strikes the witching hour and we become proverbial “cats” inert in repose but always alert the subtle earthquakes of our ponderings and reveries.
I like how cats—or what look like cats—dominate many of the paintings of this series; as a cat person myself and a Leo to boot, I am fully aware of the significations of the feline: the mode, the mood, and the animal tendencies. Cats can also be monstrous, and the monstrous—existentially speaking—is what is at heart in Midnight Talkers + Internal Monologues.
In “Wake Up Call with Three Black Cats at 4 AM,” the titular cats make dreamlike havoc of the situation—but it goes beyond the surreal depiction of interrupted sleep to bring it closer to a kind of social commentary, as we see that the cats are somehow embodiments of what can keep us awake in the full horrors of the issues at stake. I will let the viewer tease out what those are, since they are so obvious they do not warrant mentioning.
But cats are not the only animalia represented in this series. Midnight Talkers + Internal Monologues is in fact a virtual menagerie of dreamlike, animal-adjacent creatures, most of them multiple-eyed, as if inviting us to think of these figures as “all-knowing” and “all-seeing,” our troubled psyches and dreamlike stances becoming zoos of all kinds of unfiltered feelings and raw emotions. But the exhibit also gives us an autobiographical invitation—via the captions here and there on the paintings giving us slivers of understanding the artist compelled to put on canvas these startling images.
There’s the pink monkey [or bear?] of “The Calm and the Elusive Dreamers Under the Bored Pink Sky,” doing a madonna-and-child repose whose eyes hint of a world-weariness, but as underscored by captions that read, “I dreamt like it’s 1983,” and also “I sleep talk like my five year old self,” we reconsider the significance of that smaller figure in the arms of the bigger figure—depictions of longed for innocence in childhood in the arms of ennui-filled adulthood.
There’s the multi-armed and double-eyed pig [or dog?] of “Dream is Over—Some Beginning’s End,” which carries over the previous painting’s sense of ennui. That boredom with the world, and with life, turns a more positive note in “Midnight Mystic Musing,” however; here, an owl embraces two frogs [or salamanders?] in the bluesiness of sleep, and tells us to “dream a little dream of me, and you,” like the song, which proves this series can be quite weirdly whimsical, too, despite its surreal and often devastating searches for meaning. It’s a whimsy though that is drenched in strong Dumaguete Tanduay-tagay, allowing the images to cross the gamut of excitation and exasperation.
This singular whimsy is embodied more fully in two paintings, again showcasing some kind of animals—a porcupine? a chicken? an octopus? a whale? a carabao? does it matter?—and again drenching them in surreal landscape, enlivened by captions that are snippets of every day expressions of vexations, such as in “Brain Critters on Graveyard Shift,” where one line of scrawled text cries, “Unsa na pud?” immediately followed by “Pastilan!” and “Samoka gud” and “… Utang na sad” and “Mantiaw” and “Nia na sad” and “Mao ba?” But in “Her Song Lingers, Usahay,” they become overtures of romantic expressions—in this case, snippets of lyrics from the famous Bisaya ballad.
I’m sure there is a bigger zoo in store containing more animals from Raz Salvarita’s surreal landscape, but as a glimpse of what’s to come, Midnight Talkers + Internal Monologues are appetizers. Paintings that are foregrounded as playful, but also somehow deeply thoughtful and subversive in their existential melancholy.
At noontime on Valentines Day, at the tail-end of the prejudging phase we were doing for the set of entries to the 2019 Valentine Songwriting Competition, I found myself suddenly reversing the expectations I had been harboring since I was requested by the organizers of the annual music tilt if I could serve on the board of judges one more time. My initial expectations were low—was I fit to be arbiter for something I was not looking forward to?
I didn’t want to judge, to be honest: I’ve judged the competition so many times before, and while I’ve enjoyed the songs as well as the company of fellow judges, I felt that I was hearing the same melodic lines year in and year out, and my heart remained unpierced: where was the commanding song that really embodied the quintessence of a Valentine song? This proved elusive so far. There were those years when most of the entries had reggae in their DNA, and there were those years when acoustic forlornness defined overwhelmingly the sound of all the entries. They were, of course, compositions culled from the musical trends of their years; what could you expect of these young composers, except to churn out exactly the music they were currently listening to? And they were very good—but there I was, looking for something else I could not exactly define.
My hesitation proved porous, and I found myself soon in the company of composer Odoni Pestelos, composer and music therapist Danielle Elise Zamar, performance artist Lorenzo Mendoza, and journalist Glynda Descuatan—our chairperson—that Valentine lunchtime, fed by cafeteria food while we listened and deliberated on each of the ten entries, first via their raw and original vocals, and then a rendition of their songs in their new arrangements.
By the fifth entry, I found myself gagging with excitement.
“This is it!” I said. “This is the VSC song I have been looking for, for years!”
The other judges quickly agreed with me.
The song was “Led Us Here,” composed by Francis Enrico Cuenca and Gianna Aguilar—and their raw vocals, in a rare duet, promised all the subterfuges of loving and being loved, with a melody that felt like a sweet, sweet throwback to the best of 1990s romantic ballads.
“This is something I can imagine James Ingram sing,” said Lorenzo.
“Yes!” I replied. “And even better: in my head, this is Regine Velasquez and Janno Gibbs singing!”
That fifth song was the clincher that opened the competition to an avalanche of other great songs—and to be honest, the 2019 edition of the Valentine Songwriting Competition has the best lineup I have ever heard in years, and VSC is now in its 29th year. When we came to the end of that phase in the judging, I made my reversal: “I expect to enjoy tonight’s show, and I think we have a gold mine of songs,” I told the others.
It’s not an easy task to judge a composition contest, and as the VSC handles it, judging allows many levels of consideration.
First, there are the lyrics and the melodic line, gleaned for the most part from the original vocals—often haphazard affairs featuring broken voices, broken instrumentation, inferior recording environment, and once in a while, the interruptions of cocks crowing in the background. [That happened in two entries.] As a writer, at this stage of judging I look for the “story” in the lyrics and, when I can, I look for acceptable intelligibility of its metaphors. I’m all for creative imagery, but what does a lyricist exactly mean when he writes, “The dust and blues in your velvet eyes is a million dollar” [sic]?
Second, there is the arrangement, which has the potential to either elevate or devastate a song. This is gleaned from the second recording of the entry, this time sung with the final instrumentation in place. This is the pinnacle of collaboration between composer and arranger, and demands that the latter must somehow get the song, must somehow render it in the style most appropriate for it. Sometimes a song that is quite forgettable in its original iteration suddenly finds wings in its new version. But sometimes a song we loved in its original form would get butchered by arrangement so inappropriate. I remember the year Andrew Alvarez won. His original take of a song plucked out of a ukulele was so charming—only to have the arrangement drown out what was so charming about it. The judges actually thought of asking the organizers to jettison the arrangement and let Andrew sing the song in the way he had conceptualized it. We restrained ourselves, of course—but thank heavens Andrew still won. He won because the charm of the song was sufficiently carried over by the third and last consideration: the performance, the interpretation.
During Finals Night, the interpreters take the last hurdle—and their voices as well as their command of the stage largely shape the reception of the songs. Most of the time, the composers themselves decide to perform their own songs—often an unfortunate thing, because composition and singing are two very different talents. A magnificently written song can simply fade from serious consideration by the strained vocal efforts of its composer/interpreter, who should have known better. But the opposite can also happen: a lackluster composition with middle-of-the-road sensibilities suddenly finds a new urgency with a performer who knows how to command the stage with both presence and voice. They become the song, and their singing demand that we pay close attention.
All three things intertwine in the long arc of judging considerations.
This year, we found ourselves having to weight all considerations and choose from at least six—SIX—great songs out of the ten entries, all of which could have easily won in a less competitive year.
“Beyond the White Light,” composed by Lara Jemima Afdo and arranged by Henrix Paul Tubil, offered the most beguiling story of the lot—that of loving someone who has passed on, and knowing that it is in remembrance that this love could prove to be immortal. Afdo’s performance of her own song was moving as well, which made this song a favorite. There is also a story in Rine Christelle Anfone’s “XXY,” the sole Bisaya song in the competition, but it limns a little too much on the darker side of loving, a consideration of infidelity done with a small measure of bisdak wit—but not enough to elevate its theme.
“Sa Ilalim ng Buwan,” composed by Bridgette Apple Shanne Villasis, is the only Tagalog song of the lot and as sung by Villasis, becomes easy comparison to OPM favorites. She begins her interpretation in magnificent, and well-applauded, a capella, which soon climbs up the emotional scales—but gets undone by quirks in the arrangement that felt like strange choices for the narrative. Because if you want a song to make us think of love under the moonlight, such serenity of imagined space have no place for the drums and cymbals threatening to overwhelm it. Let us have violins! That arrangement quirk also proved to be what marred the sheer beauty of Cuenca and Aguilar’s “Led Us Here,” admittedly the emotional favorite of all the judges—but it didn’t find a place at all even in the top three. Here was a ballad of sheer and gorgeous emotionality—but what’s that very long guitar solo amping for a rock and roll feel doing in the middle of it? This was the sayang of all sayang. It’s exact opposite is the song “Exquisite,” an overwritten piece saved by the gorgeous and well-produced arrangement by Johann Beira, who rightfully won the Best Arranger award. Beira did so much for that song, elevating it to impressive heights.
“Feels Like Home,” composed by Jesza Belle Hope Lirazan and arranged by Diego Joshua Lipura, actually garnered second place, buoyed by the sheer magnetism of its interpretation also done by Lirazan. This was a song with an embracing folksy vibe reminiscent of Florence and the Machine that had the judges taking to calling it “that road trip song,” because it seemed to invite the listener to an instant adventure aboard a top-down convertible. In third place was Zephaniah Aethelbard Buenavista’s “For Emma,” arranged by Lee Albertino Añiga, which was to be honest not really memorable in the prejudging—but surprised us by soaring to great heights because of the singular performance of its composer and interpreter, whose voice and whose presence, bathed by the spotlight, demanded attention to the forlornness in his voice. Seeing him sing felt like watching heartbreak manifest itself in all its totality.
But the night belonged to Samuel Akinbode. Even from the prejudging, there was no denying the song “Backwards” the ultimate prize. This is a clear winner through sheer confluence of time, talent, and circumstance. It was just Akinbode’s time, after two previous efforts at joining the VSC that led only to almost-ran placements. (Last year, he actually tied for the championship—but the judges opted to give “Pagya” the prize.)
He almost didn’t win because he almost didn’t join. From his Facebook post, he admitted: “I withdrew my entry minutes after I passed it. I was scared to lose for the third time. I almost let my pride get in the way, and I forgot why I first joined, which [was] simply [because] I just love to write [songs] and sing. I guess the fact that it’s a competition kinda gets to you, [because] personally I felt like I wasn’t good at anything else, and if I couldn’t excel in what I think I’m good at then, [then] I am of no use.
“[But] I decided to swallow my pride and rejoin the contest. And all I wanted to do was to put on a decent show for the audience one last time and I’d be happy regardless of the outcome. I didn’t really let people know about it, [and] I only told my [mother two] days [before the] show time [because] I didn’t feel like [my family] should be there. I was just going there to sing, and not for the contest [because] frankly the competition [was] over for me.”
But he won. He created an earworm of a song—I’m still singing its refrain “How to love you backwards...”—that felt like it was culled from a full experience of knowing what made something memorable and hummable. Rojan Max’s arrangement, too, felt like it understood the undercurrents of the song, understood that it needed its moments of silence, and understood that its biggest drama could actually be highlighted by restraint.
And there was that magnificent performance, also by Akinbode. Where was that shy Nigerian boy we all first saw three years ago, whose tallness seemed to belie the demeanor of a wallflower? On the Luce stage that Valentines night, Akinbode unleashed all that he has learned being on the stage—this boy has been performing in local spoken word competitions and in musicals, too, the past few years—and distilled everything to a singular presence: he began his song tinkling the grand piano, then taking to the spotlight to unleash the sheer emotional rawness of its middle, and then finally going back to the piano for the last stretch, which folds into the precarious stillness of the song’s end. That was sheer performance.
This was the first time I’ve gotten out of the Luce Auditorium where I wanted a CD of all the entries. The winning song might be titled “Backwards,” but on the 29th year of the Valentine Songwriting Competition, the longest-running contest of its kind in the country, everything suddenly feels like a momentum pushing forwards.
Congratulations to everyone who made this VSC truly memorable.
1:42 AM |
Short Takes on the Oscar-Nominated Documentary Short Subject Films
Let's do the Documentary Short Subject nominees for the Oscars, shall we?
Marshall Curry's Oscar-nominated documentary short A Night at the Garden (2018) is a Trump rally held in 1939, when the Madison Square Garden in New York played host to 20,000 Americans who were demonstrating their Nazi ideals. This was only a year before the U.S. entered World War II. Observe the similarities. It's chilling. It's archival documentary that speaks so much of the present that its very simplicity is its power.
I don't like watching end-of-life-at-the-hospital drama, but Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's Oscar-nominated documentary short End Game (2018) manages to not just shed light on the plight and pluck of people suffering from terminal illness in a hospice... But it does this with keen, gentle, observant eyes, totally interested in all high and lows of palliative care. But I have always adored the work of Epstein and Friedman, who have mostly charted the queerness of popular culture. Here, Epstein and Friedman explore a topic almost tangential to their ouevre, but they do it so well, and so full-heartedly, you can't look away.
Ed Perkins' Oscar-nominated documentary short Black Sheep (2018) is compelling enough in its story about a black kid in 90s London trying to escape racism by whitening his skin and donning blue contact lenses in order to become "friends" with his racist neighbors.
Skye Fitzgerald's Oscar-nominated documentary short Lifeboat (2018) should be memorable, but it's not. It is a chronicle of efforts by activists to save refugees from the treacherous waters and the rickety boats they have set their hopes for better lives on... The subject matter should be compelling enough to follow -- but nothing sticks in this cinematic effort to give face to this very current humanitarian struggle. I couldn't remember a single frame a day after I watched this short film.
It took a long time for Netflix to release on its platform the Oscar-nominated documentary short Period. End of Sentence (2018), Rayka Zehtabchi's attempt to follow a charitable effort to provide cheap sanitary napkins to poor girls in India who needed them most. It has particular importance in a society where the mention of "menstruation" is still a perplexing taboo. It's really a feminist call to arms, using an unlikely object as lens. But the wait proved disappointing, because the film does not live up to expectations as pathbreaking social documentary. Its message feels forced. This film, noteworthy its subject matter may be, has no nuance, has no discernible difference from mere NGO pitch presentation. Also, there's a whiff of Orientalism here I can't quite shake.
VERDICT: In order of preference, End Game > A Night in the Garden > Black Sheep > Period. End of Sentence > Lifeboat.
Can the Oscars scrap one of the last three and replace it with Charlie Tyrell's brilliant My Dead Dad's Porno Tapes (2018)? Why is the Academy so standoffish when it comes to finely etched domestic explorations like this and Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell (2012)?
The truth of the matter is—and this has been the very heart of my argument since this series of articles on local heritage started last month—Dumaguete is a city rich of history, of heritage, and of culture. It is in fact a city that has largely been shaped in that regard.
Imagine the Dumaguete that you love right now—and I can bet that none of you will think of it without any regard of any of the following: the beautiful Rizal Boulevard, the historic campanario, the stately Silliman Hall, the bountiful nature of the adjacent Bohol Sea as well as the neighboring towns, the vibrant art and culture that has produced two national artists: Edith Tiempo as National Artist for literature and Eddie Romero as National Artist for cinema. And if we are to go even further, two National Scientists as well: Clara Y. Lim-Sylianco for biochemistry and Angel C. Alcala for marine biology. How magnificent for one small city to produce such giants!
These are all instances of local history, heritage, and culture. Without all or any of these, Dumaguete would not have been a draw, would have just been a regular Philippine town devoid of magic and heart.
And yet in any consideration of development for the city, these are the things that are easily scrapped and forgotten.
Consider the many historical and ancestral houses we have in the city that are slowly being torn down and redeveloped, to become nondescript office buildings without character. Consider that we have not done a full cultural mapping of the place, which is always the first step to any attempt at heritage conservation. Consider that most of these things are not appreciated by so many locals, simply because there is no reminder nor incentive to do just that.
But there is a hopeful start. It is as of this moment quite inchoate, but nonetheless it is a start. One of the first things that Mayor Ipe Remollo did in his recent term as head of the LGU was to constitute, after a resolution passed by City Councilor Manuel Arbon, a City Heritage Council—the first of its kind in the city in an official capacity in all of its history, the lack of which had been such a puzzle to consider, given our vaunted love for Dumaguete as a city of culture.
Executive Order No. 2 of 2018, signed by Mayor Remollo that year, acknowledges that “there are a number of valuable and existing sites, properties, buildings, institutions, books, and cultural practices and traditions in the City of Dumaguete that are worth preserving, rehabilitating, or protecting for posterity’s sake,” and that “there is a need to preserve such heritage in order to secure the identity of Dumaguete City for generations yet unborn, especially in the present age of rapid socio-economic development and cultural diversity as these define the unique image of the city.”
This is consistent with Republic Act 7160, in relation to the State policy to foster the preservation and enrichment of a Filipino national culture, under Article XIV of the 1987 Constitution, and with this Dumaguete has proclaimed a very real need for the City Government to have a “Cultural Heritage Council.”
The founding members of that council include Dr. Earl Jude Cleope as Director and yours truly as Deputy, together with Dr. Angel C. Alcala, Dr. T. Valentino Sitoy Jr., the late Justice Venancio D. Aldecoa Jr., Rev. Fr. Roman Sagun Jr., Ms. Jacqueline V. Antonio, Hon. Manuel R. Arbon, Mr. Justin A. Bulado, Engr. Leonides P. Caro, Mr. Nick Ian Cornelia, Architect Zorich D. Guia, Prof. Regan P. Jomao-as, Mr. Peter Macabinguil, Prof. Carlos M. Magtolis Jr., Mr. Leo Mamicpic, Ms. Dessa Quesada Palm, Mr. Camilo E. Pangan, and Engr. Edwin C. Quirit.
We have so much work to do [and in the next articles in this series, we will try to delineate how much work is cut out for us]. I’ve also quickly learned however that in government most things do take their own sweet time to come to fruition, often because there’s bureaucracy and accountability to face. Patience is a virtue in, but when you work hard at it long enough, the rewards can be gratifying.
One of the first projects that Jacqueline Antonio took on when she put on the mantle of City Tourism Officer in 2016 was to make sure that all Dumaguete streets were properly labeled with street signs. “Because how can you expect guests and tourists to go around when they can’t even tell where they are, even with a map?” she told me once. She and her office proceeded to map out all street corners—even including the ones deeper into the western side of the city—and inventoried what remained of the old street signs, taking note what needed a new structure and what needed only a few repairs. It took time, but finally, at the tail-end of 2018, the new street signs are out in its first phase of installations, in a project worth P600,000. The second phase will consider the inner streets of Dumaguete.
A project of the Heritage Council, under the auspices of the Tourism Office, is the Hugkat Journal, its official publication, which seeks to document all manner of articles and research on local history, heritage, culture, and the arts. [“Hugkat” is the Binisaya word for “to unearth” or “to trace,” and is related to kabilin or “heritage”.] Its current editor is Dr. Cleope, with yours truly as associate editor. This, too, is taking some time to take shape—but the first volume is already out, containing particular histories of Dumaguete City by Fr. Sagun [on Padre Mariano Bernad’s history of Dumaguete in 1895], Prof. Magtolis [on the early Protestant endeavors in Negros Oriental, focusing on the Malahay Brothers and Angel Sotto], Prof. Caridad Aldecoa-Rodriguez [on Dumaguete during World War II], Dr. Cleope [with a list of presidentes, municipal and city mayors of Dumaguete from 1901 to 2001], and Prof. Victor Emmanuel H. Enario [on the political career of Mayor Jose Pro Teves, 1948-1978]. At least two more volumes are forthcoming in 2019.
Dr. Cleope, meanwhile, is also soon spearheading a city-wide cultural mapping project, which he has already began in a smaller scale with his senior high students at Silliman University, where he is a history professor as well as the Vice President for Academic Affairs. A cultural map is a vital necessity, a tool that helps identify what constitutes a place’s heritage in terms of five markers: movable heritage, natural heritage, built heritage, intangible heritage, as well as local creative industries and occupations. Once verified and properly documented, it serves as a blueprint for specific pursuits for conservation.
A precursor to this effort has also already happened—although in lightning mode. Heritage Council member Dessa Quesada Palm and YATTA have undertaken a project for the National Commission for Culture and the Arts [NCCA] titled Mugna. In 2017, they invited several prominent cultural stakeholders in the city to do a one-day cultural mapping project.
“A couple of years ago, the NCCA set a very brave question,” she told the participants then. “How can you really say that art and culture has helped economic goals, has helped in poverty alleviation, has helped in disaster risk management, and others? What has the arts and culture done so far for social development?” The bottom-line, she said, is that whatever relevance had been identified, it needed indicators.
Mugna as a project sprang from that need—this one specific to what was then the Negros Island Region [now defunct], with the Oriental side focusing on the cultural heritage of Dumaguete, Bais, Amlan, and Bayawan. (The Occidental side focused on Calatrava, Kabankalan, Murcia, Bago, and Talisay.) The focus for Mugna in 2017 was to identify and assess what is in local communities that we needed to celebrate, culturally-speaking, and how they could be used as indicators for social development.
That meant, for Dumaguete at least, identifying the “rhythm” of the city, identifying what exactly is the inspiration of being [or becoming] a Dumaguete artist, and identifying what has been created locally that is authentically inspired by Dumaguete.
That last point, for example, is a vital consideration. An example: go to a local souvenir shop, and chances are that part of its inventory would include products extolling Boracay or Bohol—and often very rarely Dumaguete. “How can we create what is really from Dumaguete?” Ms. Quesada-Palm asked.
Observation was also made that in preparing for local festivals, many organizers and performers would hire trainers from other places like Cebu, infusing into the local festivities rhythms that are distinctly of another place—which ultimately affects local culture. How many local festivals have absorbed the familiar sounds and beats of Cebu’s Sinulog, for example, and have inculcated that into the making of their “own” [but ultimately inauthentic] sounds and beats of their respective town’s cultural revelries?
The antidote was this, at least for the Dumaguete participants of Mugna: first, to find what exactly is the rhythm of Dumaguete, and second, once that rhythm has been identified, to find out how best to infuse it to make an authentic sound for the Sandurot. The brainstorming that occurred during that Mugna session, which later on spilled into ensuing workshops with local trainers and performers—moderated by experts sent in by the NCCA—resulted to moving the Sandurot from its former November perch to September, and with the festival taking on a specific motif, both in terms of the visual and the aural, which considered more fully Dumaguete’s history, and finally centering on the local natural heritage of pulang lapuk.
Ultimately, the goal is to find a vital link between heritage preservation and risk reduction management, and environmental concerns, and socio-economic responsibilities and concerns. What is the role of local artists in terms of any of these so-called “more pressing” concerns? That is the question we have only begun to answer. And we have only started just now—but better now than never.