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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Revisiting heritage

Posted in Churches, Culture, Heritage, History by Erineus on May 21, 2009

By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:14:00 05/20/2009

The past few weeks I revisited places I had known as a boy. First stop was the ruins of the Dingras church in Ilocos Norte. In my nostalgia, I would remember the church as some abandoned Benedictine abbey after Henry VIII had looted it and had its monks hung, drawn and quartered on Tyburn Square. Memory does play out its own fictions because Dingras was wild pasture made smelly by a few goats awaiting slaughter for signature Iloco dishes. (I have been corrected by e-mail, Ilocano refers to the people, Iloco is the language.) Where the pasture used to be there is a church. Creative parish priests have put the ruins to good use—as a support for the steel roof that now covers a living place of worship. However, after a recent earthquake that left the church intact, there is fear that the posts supporting the roof could fall like dominoes when the ruins move and place stress on the roof. The suggested quick fix was to dismantle the ancient church façade, in whole or in part, to keep the church usable. To cut a long story short, a public hearing was conducted there, and it was agreed that the controversial ruins would be preserved and strengthened, and that a new church would be built around the ruins. The old need not be sacrificed for the new. Following the architects’ recommendations submitted last May 15, the bishop of Ilocos Norte and the National Historical Institute (NHI) will sign an order to begin preservation work.

Next stop was Bohol province where the NHI identified, installed and transferred to the church, the government and the people of Bohol not one but four historical markers: first, the Church of Maribojoc was marked; then Punta Cruz, the ancient watchtower (also in Maribijoc) that faces a crystal clear sea, was declared a National Historical Landmark; the same day the church of Dauis was marked, and this was followed by the declaration of the Dauis church complex as a National Historical Landmark. This covers the church, the watchtower and the kumbento (convent) in this sleepy town best known for its postcard pretty views and those heavy ensaymadas made with pork lard known as “torta.”

What do all these markers mean? Simply, that these sites and structures deemed historic and historical now form part of the fabric that is slowly being woven into that unfinished tapestry we call Philippine history. These four places newly inscribed in the NHI registry are not just part of the history of Dauis and Maribojoc; they form part of the history of the nation.

I spent two childhood summers at a farm in Bohol, but I can’t remember which town it was. All I recall was that it took an uncomfortable overnight trip by boat from Cebu to Tagbilaran in those days. Halfway to the farm, I was roused from sleep to see a tree sparkling in the dark like a Christmas tree in April, as it was filled with fireflies. I rediscovered Bohol in 1995 when I made a day trip from Cebu. I took a fastcraft from Cebu, rented a tricycle in Tagbilaran and visited all the churches possible: Tagbilaran, Loboc, Loay, Baclayon, Dauis, Maribojoc, Alborquerque, Dimiao and more. I learned a lot about Jesuit and Recollect architecture in Bohol but I returned to Manila deaf after spending hours beside a noisy motorcycle engine.

My next trip was better organized as I was introduced to Fr. Milan Ted Torralba of Baclayon and to Lutgardo “Gardy” Labad, better known for his involvement in cheesy Regal films. For many Boholanos who grew up in the shadow of these churches, they are just that—old churches, everyday sights that they see but do not notice.

Why did people from Manila come all the way to see these dilapidated structures. What did the visitors find so wonderful? Historical markers are a means to direct their attention, to make Boholanos see and notice the treasure in their midst. We are fortunate Bishop Leonardo Medroso of the Diocese of Tagbilaran is sensitive to heritage and what it contributes to make liturgy more meaningful. When I saw his predecessor Bishop Leopoldo Tumulak on the plane to Tagbilaran last week, he sighed and said, “We should have started earlier, Ambeth, we could have saved more heritage.” I replied that we should not fret, for experience is a polite term we use to describe our mistakes. There was no need to regret what is past, but to rejoice in what we still have.

Visiting the churches of Bohol these days I realize how much of the moveable church art and architecture are now gone. A carved side altar from the church in Dimiao is now in the National Museum. Images of saints that used to adorn the now empty niches in church retablos and the intricately designed silver liturgical vessels and other decorations are now in private collections in posh Makati enclaves. Even religious images from private homes have been exported to Manila, the most popular of them being those hardwood images of the Virgin Mary, many of which are carved in the shape of a bell with small pin-sized heads of ivory, painted in a riot of colors: blue, yellow, red, and orange. These folk religious images came with elaborately carved and painted home altars or “urna”; and, of course, the distinctly carved cabinets, tables and chairs of molave and balayong all have been brought to Manila. Worse, many of these things have been exported to Europe and the United States where they are now lost to us.

(Conclusion on Friday)

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/columns/view/20090520-206022/Revisiting-heritage

Kultura: Filipino

Posted in Culture by Erineus on March 12, 2009
Unveiling a new perspective on our lineage
By John Nikolai Almelor
February 7, 2009, 12:00am
The heart-stopping Sayaw sa Bangko dance.
The heart-stopping Sayaw sa Bangko dance.

To capture the divergent layers of culture of the Philippines’ 7,107 islands, one needs to look at different avenues of history, art, music, dance, and even food if someone is to take a step towards understanding it.

However, anyone can capture the essence of the Philippines’ cultural distinctiveness through Kultura Filipino, a program launched by the Department of Tourism (DoT).

Kultura Filipino showcases performances that depict the life and ways of the Filipino through various exhibitions around Manila’s historical town of Intramuros.

One of its highlights includes several shows by Filipino artists, recognized here and abroad that will be shown every Tuesday and Thursday at Barbara’s Restaurant. The restaurant also served as the venue for its launching last January 27.

“One of the main staples in a tourist’s itinerary is cultural performance, and having one main venue to showcase our diverse artistic traditions to local and international audience helps to solidify our cultural identity,” said Tourism Secretary Ace Durano.

Barbara’s was once again illuminated as performances from various musical acts graced the stage of the famed restaurant.

Timeless tunes from yesteryear filled Barbara’s as bossa nova singer Sitti serenaded guests with her unique renditions of songs from the country’s great composers. The Mandaluyong Children’s Choir proved why they bagged top honors in the 2004 World Choir Olympics with an amazing performance. A dance medley from the Bayanihan Dance troupe demonstrating different folk and ethnic dances created the atmosphere of a party which would have been common a few hundred years ago.

Durano also added that Kultura Filipino should establish Manila, a city entrenched in history and culture, as a major destination in terms of cultural awareness as the project aims to be one of the highlights of their city tour packages. Interested groups are also urged to participate in the said campaign.

Kultura Filipino is planning to expand their repertoire to more than just music and dance. Other fields such as sculpture, painting, photography, printmaking, and cinema are being considered for inclusion in future campaigns, as are other traditional activities such as theater plays and poetry readings.

Mounting these exhibitions in Intramuros is considered an added incentive as the town within its walls couples history with an old world charm, thus creating another perspective as it provides for a unique cultural presentation.

Director Elizabeth F. Nelle of the DoT Office of Product Research and Development said, “With the country’s different regions tapped to participate in Kultura Filipino, the audience can expect a colorful presentation from a whole spectrum of different traditions and performing arts.”

For the month of March, the different dance groups slated to perform at Barbara’s include the Bayanihan Dance Company, Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group Halili Cruz Dance Company, Lahing Bulakenyo, and Sining Kumintang Batangas. The Philippine National University-Kislap Sining, Technological University of the Philippines-Kalinangan Dance Troupe, Sinukuan Performing Arts, and the Centro Escolar University Dance Troupe are also set to perform.

http://www.mb.com.ph/node/196013

Meralco Theater turns 40

Posted in Culture, NCCA by Erineus on February 21, 2009

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February is National Arts Month and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) has planned activities that will no doubt be a refuge from the global economic storm as well as from the constant irritation of local politics.

These activities are being held in various cultural venues and my thoughts turn to the fact that although we have seen three building boom cycles in our lifetime, there has been no major construction of theaters in the last four decades. Culture has played second fiddle to commerce in the last 40 years.

This year, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of two of the city’s cultural landmarks. The Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) by National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin is the first that comes to mind for most people, but it was actually another edifice by another gifted Filipino architect, that opened first.

The Meralco Theater by Jose Maria Zaragosa was inaugurated on March 22, 1969. The theater forms part of the larger Meralco Building, which was completed a little earlier. The 14-story building, theater and adjoining buildings form a landmark in the Ortigas district. Its elegant silhouette remains uncompromised mainly due to the fact that the posh Corinthian Gardens’ low suburban spread surrounds it.

I literally grew up in and around the complex. My father moved us to Barrio Kapitolyo two years earlier for him to be nearer to work and us to our schools. Now a few years retired from the Meralco, he was one of the head doctors at the John F. Cotton Hospital right behind the building and under the shadow of the theater.

The Meralco Theater was and still is one of the most modern and fully equipped theaters in the country. It seats a thousand, half the capacity of the CCP, but arguably with better acoustics. My old professor and former dean of the UP College of Architecture, Aurelio Jugillon, was the acoustic designer and he used the theater as an example of good acoustics. He also did the acoustic design for the studios at the Lopez-owned ABS-CBN studios in Quezon City.

I got my first taste of musical theater, ballet, and opera at the Meralco. The building’s inauguration was marked by performances of the Bolshoi Ballet of Moscow with renowned dancers Raisa Struchkova, Alexander Lapuri, Boris Khoklov, and Vladimir Levashev. The four were ably supported by the corps de ballet of the Hariraya Dance Company of the Philippines, products of the rigorous training of Totoy de Oteyza and Inday Gaston Mañosa. The music was rendered by the Manila Symphony Orchestra under the baton of the Bolshoi’s Mikhail Bank. I caught one of the matinees; the lack of a tux prevented me from attending the gala.

Then First Lady Imelda Marcos attended the performance and was promptly mesmerized by the Bolshoi and the new theater. Her CCP still had a few months to go so she requested Don Eugenio Lopez for performances by the Bolshoi at the amphitheater in Rizal Park (also designed by Leandro Locsin).

In the next few months, also in celebration of the Meralco company’s 66th year of operation and the inauguration of the Ortigas complex, there was a slew of world-class offerings at the theater. The Hariraya Dance Company mounted a ballet concert with British ballet star Robin Haig. A few evenings of beautiful classical music were offered by the Manila Symphony Orchestra led by guest conductor Helen Quach (the theater has an orchestra pit that can accommodate a full 60-piece orchestra). The operas La Traviata and La Boheme were staged by the Philippine Theater of the Performing Arts. Finally, right before the CCP’s opening, the Meralco brought in Beverly Sills, the famous American coloratura soprano.

Between that year and my entering the university, the Meralco Theater was a regular venue for these performances as well as movie premieres. One evening in September 1972, I watched my first musical performance. It was Mass with Chinggoy Alonzo in the lead. I was overwhelmed by the experience and would probably have ventured into theater if not for the imposition of martial law the next day.

Musical theater’s loss was architecture’s gain. The theater and the building were and are still one of my favorite landmarks of modern Filipino architecture. Zaragoza created work in a hybrid international style that utilized elements of the movement like sunshades or brise soleil and large expanses of glazing, but he also imbued his compositions with vestiges of art deco and pre-war abstract decorative styles. The trim he used in the massing of the theater was pure art deco while the use of curves echoed the work of contemporaries like Eero Saarinen.

The original landscape design of Dolly Perez was also an inspiration as her large expanses of lawn and lush shade planting design complemented Zaragoza’s architecture. Subsequent over-planting by others has since obscured the architecture and cluttered the composition.

I loved the Meralco building during Christmas. They used to turn on all the lights. Zaragoza’s vertical sunshade fins (reportedly inspired by an automobile grill) were lit from behind, making the whole 14-story façade glow like a lantern. The lighting design won raves from the magazine International Lighting Review.

Philippine architecture was getting noticed in international circles. Locsin’s CCP came later in the year (I’ll feature that iconic structure in a later column). The building boom of the ‘70s saw more modern structures come up but after the Folk Arts Theater, all that followed were of other building types.

Since the late ‘60s, we have seen little come up in the way of cultural venues, theaters or auditoriums (except for some school ones). We have lost many others to the wrecking ball or changes in company policies. The San Miguel and Insular Life auditoriums, the Rizal Theater, the downtown movie houses, the old Metropolitan Theater, even the Folk Arts Theater are sorely missed.

New York’s Broadway district has over three dozen theaters with close to 20,000 seats and nonstop presentations. The CCP complex and the Ortigas district, each of which can swallow Broadway, have less than 4,000 seats between then, sporadic seasons and no venues specific to theater (musical or otherwise), opera or dance — all being multipurpose theaters, which leads to design compromises.

We laud the commitment of companies like the Meralco to keeping its venues available to a public starved for cultural nourishment. Imagine just how many theaters or cultural venues can be built from just one “bukol” of any of the recent corruption scandals. Maybe that’s our lot in life — we have to suffer the never-ending drama of our politics, the inane comedy antics of our government officials and, alas, the tragedy of living in a soulless city built only for commercial profit.

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Feedback is welcome. Please e-mail the writer at paulo.alcazaren@gmail.com.
View previous articles of this column.

CITY SENSE
By Paulo Alcazaren

Updated February 21, 2009 12:00 AM
http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=442044&publicationSubCategoryId=85

Kultura: Filipino

Posted in Culture, DOT, Tourism by Erineus on February 11, 2009

Unveiling a new perspective on our lineage

John Nikolai Almelor

To capture the divergent layers of culture of the Philippines’ 7,107 islands, one needs to look at different avenues of history, art, music, dance, and even food if someone is to take a step towards understanding it.

The heart-stopping Sayaw sa Bangko dance.

However, anyone can capture the essence of the Philippines’ cultural distinctiveness through Kultura Filipino, a program launched by the Department of Tourism (DoT).

Kultura Filipino showcases performances that depict the life and ways of the Filipino through various exhibitions around Manila’s historical town of Intramuros.

One of its highlights includes several shows by Filipino artists, recognized here and abroad that will be shown every Tuesday and Thursday at Barbara’s Restaurant. The restaurant also served as the venue for its launching last January 27.

“One of the main staples in a tourist’s itinerary is cultural performance, and having one main venue to showcase our diverse artistic traditions to local and international audience helps to solidify our cultural identity,” said Tourism Secretary Ace Durano.

Barbara’s was once again illuminated as performances from various musical acts graced the stage of the famed restaurant.

Timeless tunes from yesteryear filled Barbara’s as bossa nova singer Sitti serenaded guests with her unique renditions of songs from the country’s great composers. The Mandaluyong Children’s Choir proved why they bagged top honors in the 2004 World Choir Olympics with an amazing performance. A dance medley from the Bayanihan Dance troupe demonstrating different folk and ethnic dances created the atmosphere of a party which would have been common a few hundred years ago.

Durano also added that Kultura Filipino should establish Manila, a city entrenched in history and culture, as a major destination in terms of cultural awareness as the project aims to be one of the highlights of their city tour packages. Interested groups are also urged to participate in the said campaign.

Kultura Filipino is planning to expand their repertoire to more than just music and dance. Other fields such as sculpture, painting, photography, printmaking, and cinema are being considered for inclusion in future campaigns, as are other traditional activities such as theater plays and poetry readings.

Mounting these exhibitions in Intramuros is considered an added incentive as the town within its walls couples history with an old world charm, thus creating another perspective as it provides for a unique cultural presentation.

Director Elizabeth F. Nelle of the DoT Office of Product Research and Development said, “With the country’s different regions tapped to participate in Kultura Filipino, the audience can expect a colorful presentation from a whole spectrum of different traditions and performing arts.”

For the month of March, the different dance groups slated to perform at Barbara’s include the Bayanihan Dance Company, Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group Halili Cruz Dance Company, Lahing Bulakenyo, and Sining Kumintang Batangas. The Philippine National University-Kislap Sining, Technological University of the Philippines-Kalinangan Dance Troupe, Sinukuan Performing Arts, and the Centro Escolar University Dance Troupe are also set to perform.