Wake Up, Philippines!

Saving Bohol’s past

Posted in Cultural Heritage, Culture, Heritage, History/Origin, Tourism, Travel by Erineus on May 22, 2009

By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:14:00 05/22/2009

Once in the great Paris flea market, at the Porte de Clignancourt, I saw a handful of Bohol “santos” on display. Before asking for the price I innocently asked for their provenance—where were these wonderful folk images of the Virgin Mary originally from—and was told they came from Latin America! I did not argue because I was certain that if these were correctly labeled as coming from the Philippines, they would cost much less. I had a similar experience in an antique mall in New York City where Bohol “santos” were said to be South American and cost more.

The Philippine “santos” came into their own two decades ago when an Architectural Digest cover story carried pictures of Elton John’s sitting room ornamented with Philippine “santos” of wood and ivory heads. In the recent Christie’s Paris auction of the collection of Yves Saint Laurent, there were two Hispano-Philippine ivories from the 17th or 18th century. One of the ivories, a head of Christ figured prominently on YSL’s coffee table. There is belated awareness of Filipino heritage these days, helpful if only to preserve the little we have left.

Fifteen years ago, I was shown an empty niche in Dimiao church where an ancient retablo once stood. It was sacrificed to fund church repairs in the 1970s and pioneering antique dealer Nene Cortes shipped it to Manila. Is this the same one now displayed in the National Museum? If large objects like retablos, pulpits and architectural details can be moved, what more portable valuable objects like church silver and ivories? What about old books, manuscripts and archival material that are the first consigned to a fire?

I remember a fiesta in Bohol where I watched the town band perform pop hits. While everyone had their eyes on the legs of the majorettes who twirled batons seductively, my eyes spotted the drum tops covered with Gregorian chant. Someone had put these ancient pig-skin choir books in the bodega to good use: when the drums of the town band broke they replaced it with a page from the over-sized choir book. Frankly, if it were possible to convert these choir books into chicharon, these would have disappeared much earlier and Dr. William Summers would not be able to tell us about early music in Bohol, including the crude but historically important “Misa Baclayana,” a musical setting for the Mass reconstructed from old music found in Bohol churches.

While I am happy that foreigners come to study Philippine culture, one wonders why Filipinos don’t seem to care. One reason is that we see our culture every day but we rarely sit back and notice. With the exception of Bohol historians Marianito Luspo and Jess Tirol, much of what I know of Bohol heritage comes from Manila-based researchers: Regalado Trota Jose (now a Dominican), Fr. Rene Javellana (Jesuit), Augusto Villalon (secular), Romeo Allianigue (ex-Carmelite), Osmundo Esguerra (furniture expert), Ramon Villegas (antique dealer) and Esperanza Gatbonton (independent researcher). Why isn’t more research on Bohol being done in Bohol? By Boholanos? Now that is both a challenge and a wish.

Heritage awareness these days is often focused on structures at risk, those that are being torn down to make way for modern buildings, or those being renovated beyond recognition. There is much more to Bohol than churches, watchtowers and natural landscape—the draft for the pre-history of Bohol, the history of Bohol before written records, is waiting to be written up from archeological records and artifacts in the National Museum and the writings of the pioneering pre-historian of the Philippines, H. Otley Beyer. Then there is the Guthe collection in the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology in Ann Arbor.

Carl E. Guthe headed an archeological expedition to the Philippines from 1922 to 1925, and from his base in Opon, Cebu, he excavated thousands of artifacts that now form the core of the museum’s Asia Division. These artifacts and records were brought back for future study and research, but 84 years later these material still cry out for a researcher to piece this unwritten history together.

Bohol is a success story for eco and heritage tourism, it has everything a tourist will want: beaches, Chocolate Hills, tarsier, colonial churches and watchtowers, plus a hospitable people. Loboc is a smashing success with its choir and river cruise. The Baclayon church museum is run by Baclayanons proud of their “native” delicacies: the Bohol chocolate, Baclayon broas, and Dauis torta are welcome contributions to the development of our national cuisine.

Loose tongues from narrow minds often argue that cultural heritage is a useless expense in a country with so much poverty. But in Bohol cultural heritage has generated jobs, encouraged small businesses and given Boholanos a sense of pride, self and identity. Perhaps there is truth to the saying that familiarity breeds contempt, worse, it often breeds apathy—that is why four historical markers were installed in Dauis and Maribijoc last week so that people will see and notice. That Bohol is culturally rich led to a suggestion that the National Historical Institute declare the whole province a national landmark.

At the very least it will save on historical markers from Manila, and preserve and develop what’s left of Bohol heritage.

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Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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Philippine Veterans Bank updates history panels at Lingayen Veterans Park

Posted in Cultural Heritage, DOT, History, PHI, Tourism by Erineus on February 16, 2009

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MANILA, Philippines – As part of the 64th anniversary of the Lingayen Gulf Landing, Philippine Veterans Bank (PVB) in partnership with the Pangasinan Provincial Government and the Veterans Federation of the Philippines updated the history panels of the Veterans Memorial Park located at the Pangasinan Capitol Grounds, Lingayen. The new feature was inaugurated during the Lingayen Landing event led by Gov. Amado Espino Jr. (rightmost) The National Historical Institute (NHI), represented by deputy executive director Emelita Almosara, supervised the updating of the historical panels.

The new panels, 12 in all, contain photographs and maps about the Lingayen Landing and other World War II vintage photographs mostly featuring various locations in Pangasinan such as Dagupan, San Fabian and others.

Updated February 13, 2009 12:00 AM

A people’s theater

Posted in Art and Culture, Conservation, Cultural Heritage, Landmarks by Erineus on February 3, 2009

IT all began in 1924 when a member of the Philippine Legislature proposed that a theatre be constructed at that Mehan Garden, the former Jardin Botanico, Asia’s first botanical garden. Manila then was truly a most extraordinary capital city as it embraced four cultures, the Asian, European, North American and through Spain and Mexico, it had charming Latin American features. Travel books named Manila the “Paris of the Orient,” the “Milan of Asia;” it was a must see destination, the unrivalled “Pearl of the Orient.”

In those glory days, hardly anyone thought it excessive to build a grandiose Metropolitan Theatre as government priorities were correctly set. Insular taxes were spent on constructing public schools all over the country side; we still refer to those venerable educational centers as Gabaldon schoolhouses, after the assembly man who earmarked the first million pesos in 1907. The infrastructure-building frenzy included roads, bridges, ports, hospitals, town and city halls, plazas, monuments and gazebos.

It took another six years to lay the first stone of the Met (as it was popularly called) on that more than eight thousand square meter Mehan Garden. Finally, on December 10, 1931, it was formally inaugurated.

The Arellano brothers, Juan and Arcadio, were among the first batch of Filipinos sent to the USA to study architecture. Young and creative, they worked for the Bureau of Public Works and designed most of the town and city halls and other public edifices that have survived political vicissitudes and the onslaught of time.

The Met was Architect Juan Arellano’s dream project of a theatre done in art nouveau style, then rage in the US.

Post-World War II Filipinos are bewildered by the Met. For decades, it remained a forlorn reminder of Manila’s destruction yet has refused to crumble into dust and disappear. I had always thought the Met frightfully grotesque with that tiara-like dome of stylized minarets, a facade embellished with tiles of elaborate geometric designs and a rectangular stained glass panel on top of the canopied main entrance. The sensuous female figures in exotic robes seemed excessive, the mask-like faces of chimera downright ugly and the friezes, ropes and curly cues overloaded with clashing ethnic patterns.

That was because I did not understand art nouveau and had not yet learned to appreciate Arch. Arellano’s exquisite, exhuberant and almost whimsical rendition of it. I had to spend 18 years in Mexico to discern its intriguing charm of art nouveau.

During the Japanese occupation, many theaters in Manila closed but the Met continued to be the center of cultural entertainment what with zarzuelas, plays, operas and stage shows. However, it was damaged during the battle for Manila in February 1945 and was never restored until then First Lady, Imelda R. Marcos, began to patronize the arts. By December 1978, she had restored it to its former glory. Once, while vacationing in Manila, I went to the newly-restored Met for Cecile Licad’s piano concert. The Met was no longer that grotesque ruin I had deplored, suddenly it was spectacularly beautiful.

Francesco Monti’s sculptured deities at the Met lobby were graceful, the Amorsolo murals that celebrated dance and music (where could these be now?) breathtaking like the stained glass facade by Kraut. The stage proscenium by House of Precast was elegant and the Tomas Pinpin ceiling was a delightful trellis of lush tropical botanica, succulent mangoes and enormous bamboo stalks, anahaw and banana leaves.

Under Mrs. Marcos’ watch, the Met had a ballroom with a chandelier and furniture from Europe, there were offices, dressing rooms, verandas and the interior gardens were landscaped and well-kept. The Met housed the Manila Symphony, a gallery of Philippine costumes and two rare grand pianos, the names of which I could never pronounce. Mrs. Marcos had appointed Ms. Conchita Sunico, venerable socialite, as the director of the Met.

When the Marcos government was overthrown in 1986, the new dispensation declared culture as the least of its priorities. I think Ms. Sunico was constrained to resign; GSIS claimed ownership of the Met due to unpaid loans; Mrs. N. Manzano (Edu’s mothers) took over, valiently, as the Met without official support began to die, slowly and painfully. It was leased to several entertainment companies that produced vaudeville type shows. Then for some reasons unknown to me, the City of Manila and the GSIS were both claiming the Met and the ensuing litigation closed the theatre for good. Mrs. Manzano (may she rest in peace) could not even hold regular hours in a place where electricity and water had been cut off. In the meantime, thanks to then Mayor Lito Atienza an ugly Park n’ Ride building was constructed beside the Met, surrounded with illegal bus terminals and food stalls, ruining its landscape.

However, the Met refuses to die. In late 2006, the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) received R50 million from President Gloria M. Arroyo for the restoration of the Metropolitan Theatre. In July 2007, Senator Alfredo S. Lim became mayor of Manila once again, revived Manila Historical and Heritage Commission (MHHC) and assigned it the restoration of the Met. NCCA hired a private firm to prepare a feasibility study which is now being implemented by the City of Manila Engineering Office.

Happily, the main roof has been repaired followed by the two minor ones; the orchestra pit is no longer submerged in water. House of Precast is restoring the proscenium it made in the 1930’s and Kraut is working on the stained glass facade. Representative Monica P. Teodoro has donated R1 million and the Special Allotment Release has been received by the City of Manila. Likewise, Representative Mary Anne Susano has pledged R5 million but has yet to send the SAR.

Mayor Alfredo S. Lim plans a soft opening during the week-long celebration of “Araw ng Maynila” so the NCCA (Executive Director’s Office) and the MHHC are already planning the cultural presentation which will highlight the history of the Met. Mayor Lim has declared that the Met will be a people’s theatre that will promote Filipino art forms like the zarzuelas, the kundiman, traditional dances and theatrical presentations that will make us all proud of being Filipinos. (gemma601@yahoo.com)