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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, November 05, 2017

entry arrow8:00 AM | Chasing Heritage

When Prudencio B. Sirilan passed away last October 18, he was 69 years old—and he would have passed on very quietly, remembered as loving father to his family and mentor to many, were it not for a quick notice that the Dumaguete City Tourism Office thought of posting in his remembrance on the day he died. Absent that, I suspect there would have been not much else, although it must be said that he was indeed a beloved figure. Perhaps his being an artist would be recalled by some friends, and the rest of Dumaguete would have moved on quickly, the way it usually does, comfortably ignorant of its history, of its shapers, of its heritage.

Prodi was the consummate cultural worker, and he had given so much of his life to the cultural development of Dumaguete City—and it is only right that we should remember him well. He was one of the original organizers of the city’s Sandurot Festival, conceptualizing the first ceremony in 1988 as a festival that would tell the story of Dumaguete and its people. That alone compels proper appreciation. It felt almost fitting—if we could say that—that he would choose to leave us at the height of this year’s iteration of the Buglasan, another festival he helped shape.

Today, Dumagueteños of course are familiar with Sandurot and Buglasan, but little remembrance is spared the inspired men and women who conceived of them. The truth may be that what they have created became bigger than them—as it should—which ensures an institution that belongs ultimately to local culture and tradition and not to specific names of people.

But I would have liked a memorial of some sort to carve in historical permanence their contributions to very specific heritage work. Thus far, however, Dumaguete as a city has no museums yet to showcase its culture and history, and there is almost an absence of research work and conservation efforts to properly showcase its heritage.

In 2012, when I was editing and putting together Handulanataw, the history of art of culture in Silliman University, that lack made itself profoundly apparent to me, and I finally confessed three years later of that frustration: “One of the things that constantly made my heart break was getting told that the art pieces and book collections and papers of cultural pioneers we were researching on were gone or were scattered to the proverbial wind: photographs destroyed by flood water, paintings burned and lost or stolen, papers eaten by termites, books relegated to dusty corners of stockrooms where they were being eaten by god-knows-what and pooped on by rats. I found old books owned by Albert Faurot that way. I asked for the manuscripts of one local playwright who had died many years back and was told by the family: ‘We burned them. We thought they were just trash.’ And Sendong, of course, destroyed many, many old photographs.”

I continued that confession with this observation: “I have to wonder how come no plucky young local historian is doing some initiative in scanning the old photographs of old families here in Negros Oriental? How come we don’t have a museum that would showcase the works of Jose Laspiñas and Francisco Verano, before they’re eaten away by more termites and neglect? How come no local theatre groups are producing the plays of Bobby Flores Villasis, Amiel Leonardia, Elsa Coscolluela, Ephraim Bejar, and Roberto J. Pontenila Jr.? How come we don’t make concerts of the music of Zoe Lopez and the collected Visayan folk songs of Priscilla Magdamo-Abraham?”

Of late, the digital absence of much of Dumaguete’s history and culture leaves a gaping maw that provides a sad answer to this revision of a popular existential question: “If you google something, and you come up with nothing, does it even exist?”

To test that, I googled “Jose Pro Teves,” Dumaguete’s longest-serving mayor, a politician beloved by generations of Dumagueteños, and instrumental in shaping much of the social infrastructure of this city. The hits in Google gave the most rudimentary returns, nothing at all substantial. I could get his birthdate, but the Internet did not even know when he died.

Everybody also knows about the campanario, the Dumaguete bell tower that has become the city’s enduring icon. But what about Don Jose Manuel Fernandez de Septien, the parish priest who was instrumental in building the Dumaguete convento and the original watchtowers, and Don Juan Felix de la Encarnacion, the parish priest who built the present campanario upon the ruins of one of Father Septien’s watchtowers? We don’t have pictures of them, and we don’t know much about them—although Father Roman Sagun, our indefatigable researcher of local parish history, does try to give what history he could find about them.

Things of late have been changing, of course. In 2017, after years and years of protracted planning and wishful thinking, we have finally created the City Heritage Council, under Dr. Earl Jude Cleope, and the City Art and Culture Council—and they definitely have their work cut out for them, because there is so much to do and so little time to accomplish what needs to be done now, and Dumaguete is in that crucial transition phase in its development where much of its heritage is in the brink of disappearing.

This is why I have decided to shift the focus of this column to local heritage matters, to give voice to what must be done in Dumaguete, and to ensure that our remembrance can become more concrete.

It’s the only way we can give honor to Prodi and to others like him who have toiled for years to give us what we now know—and take for granted—as the unique Dumaguete experience of being the “city of gentle people,” and the “cultural center of the south.”

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