Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Good Fight at the Muziklaban Fete

Jose “Pepe” Smith said that aspiring rock musicians must enjoy themselves while performingjust keep rock-and-rolling without thinking if they can win or lose in a contest. The previously obscure, young band Hatankaru must have epitomized what the Filipino rock legend said, performing like there was no tomorrow (and they must have felt it as they were about to disband) to clinch the championship of the Red Horse Beer Muziklaban Rock Challenge grand finals last Jan. 30 at the Metrowalk Complex in Pasig City.

Muziklaban is being held for 11 years now by San Miguel Brewery, maker of Red Horse beer, along with the well-known San Miguel Pale Pilsen and its varieties, to promote the strong beer brand as well as to boost the Philippine rock music scene by discovering unknown and unsigned bands. In the decade of its existence, the annual competition has risen in magnitude and prestige, emulated by other companies as well as by communities, from provinces to the smallest barangays, with their “battles of the bands” and producing such bands as 3rd Degree (2001 champion), 18th Issue (2002), Fuseboxx (2003), Mayonnaise (2004), Sunflower Day Camp (2005), Hardboiledeggz (2006), Gayuma (2007) and Even (2008). All were given a shot at rock immortality. Some did not garner outrageous fame; some continue to produce music to enrich the scene. But Muziklaban is always there -- one of the grandest rock events of the country and one that makes dreams come true, especially of rock aspirants.

Now, after a decade, organizers have deemed Muziklaban ripe for a change as it expands its scope to include other fields/interests to constitute a lifestyle that expresses a rebel spirit, independence and excellence, which Red Horse beer as a brand is aspired to project and uphold.

With its new slogan, “Bago na ang labanan” (‘It’s a new fight,’ or ‘The battle now is different’), Muziklaban now includes contests in tattooing, independent filmmaking and bicycle motocross riding, getting prominent personalities in those fields to act as promoters and image endorsers— local rock icon Jose “Pepe” Smith, tattoo artist Ricky Santa Ana, indie filmmaker RA Rivera and BMX stunt pro rider Armand Mariano.

Of course, making rock-and-roll music is still at the core and remains the most important aspect, if not the definitive soul of Muziklaban, as evidenced by the intensity of the contestants and the audience, around 11,000 people, who trooped to the event. The sprawling open parking area at the back Metrowalk Complex, a cluster of bars, stores and restaurants at the Ortigas Center, swelled with rockers, groupies and rebel-type youths, stomping to raise dust from the ground to the music of the grand finalists and guest bands.

It was a fine selection of grand finalists, distilled from regional elimination rounds held as far as Cebu and Davao since Muziklaban opened in May of last year. Five bands from different parts of the country were pitted against each other for a final showdown—Hatankaru from Valenzuela City, Metro Manila; Kukumban from Naga City, Camarines Sur; 2nd Squad from Baguio City; Cambronero from Bacolod City, Nergos Occidental; and Hoodswhite from Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao—to clinch P500,000 in cash prize, a recording contract with Viva Philippines and a shot at fame.

Representing the Bicol Region, in southern Luzon, was Kukumban, formed in 2006 in the town Baao in Camarines Sur, by vocalist Kurt Gonzaga, guitarist Kervi Gonzaga, guitarist Jimbo Boy Barcenal, bassist Marvin Bayrante and drummer Donn Llanes, who all previously belonged to different bands but, by twist of fate, collaborated to join in a band competition. The band’s name was taken from the children’s pronunciation of “coupon bond,” a white sheet of paper, which the members often heard children buying in the sari-sari store. Thus started the band, which went through the rounds of band competitions and then began writing songs inspired by their teenage experiences. Band members consider Kukumban not just a band, but as their family and the life they have chosen.

At the northern end of Luzon was Baguio-based 2nd Squad, representing the Cordillera Region. Formed in November 2005, the band started as a project of guitarists-siblings Carlo and Neil Ian Briones and long-time friend Paul Victor Guieb, who is a bassist. Stephen Ancheta auditioned for the part of the vocalist and was immediately welcomed. Three years after, a drummer left the band and was replaced by Dan Allan. The band members, all in their mid-twenties, decided to name their group 2nd Squad because “incidentally all members have 2nd Squad as their second band.” Neil Ian’s hobby and business is guitar effects building, and 90 percent of the band’s guitar effects pedals is handcrafted by him. On the other hand, brother Carlo, who studied basic recording, editing and rendition of mastering techniques on his own, is the owner of 2nd Squad project studio and is in charge of the band’s recording and demos. Bassist Guieb “contributes ideas on the string section and arrangement of the song, and most of his bass lines were converted to guitar riffs.” Acosta, the youngest at 21, is described “as a fast learner” and they “appreciate his eagerness to contribute to the songs that they write.” Lastly, Ancheta is influenced by the music of Maynard James Keenan of Tools whom he considers his hero. His colleagues describe him as “the soul writer of 2nd Squad.”

From Bacolod City, the capital of Negros Occidental in Central Visayas, Cambronero held the flag of the Visayan region. The band was formed in 2004 by Joseph Desquitado (bassist), twins Jan Michael Bais (guitarist) and Jan Vincent Bais (drummer), who were in high school. The name came from the twins’ middle name. They started performing different genres from alternative to punk, then matured through the years as they frequently performed in different gigs until they were able to write their own songs. Cambronero is currently undertaking recording sessions from their own home studio, and hope that record companies take notice. Aside from the Desquitado and the Bais twins, other members include June Vincent Bernus, vocalist, and Vicente Bais III, guitarist.

Mindanao’s bet was Hoodswhite, an admirably well-educated lot, from Cagayan de Oro City in the northeast part of the island group. Hoodswhite was founded on Dec. 24, 1999, when siblings Michael Anthony Donina, the bassist and an accountancy and MBA graduate of San Beda College of Cagayan de Oro, and John Anthony Donina, the vocalist and a hotel and restaurant graduate from the Philippines Women University, decided to form a metal band. The band’s name is said to mean “fallen ones cover and act as pure for holy ones” and literally means “covering oneself with a white hood to be purely seen.” Other members followed: Paul Brian Salucot, the drummer and fourth-year tourism student of Liceo de Cagayan University, and Anthony Allen Sahirani, the lead guitarist and fourth-year information management student of Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan. The band said that Anthony’s arrival led them to revise old compositions, and he put leads and scaling to produce more horrific tunes. To make their dark music act complete, they got Nicole Charmaine Salise, a third-year business administration student majoring in marketing management at the Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan, on keyboards and for backup vocals, the only female in the band. John realized that it sounds much better to have rhythm guitars to make their music heavier to listen at so they asked their friend Michael Cosare, Jr. or Yoyong, a hotel and restaurant management graduate of Philippine Women University, to play rhythm guitars. Together, they produced new and more eerie and evil notes. The band covered songs from Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir, and got inspired by other black metal bands such as Satyricon, Old Man’s Child, Darkthrone, Dark Funeral, Gorgoth, Venom, Bathory and Immortal. Anthony or A2 took a break from the band and Yoyong was assigned in the lead guitars and Mark Glazer Niderost or Mackoy, information technology student of the Mindanao University of Science and Technology, as session in rhythm guitars. Hoodswhite performed clad in all black and with Kiss-inspired face makeup.

Finally, the champion Hatankaru represented Valenzuela City and the whole of the National Capital Region. The band was formed in 2004 and was about to disband in 2009 but an opportunity—Muziklaban Rock Challenge—prevented that from happening. Composed of Michael Villaflores (bass guitar), Elmer Glino (drums), Roy Elinzano (vocals) and Gilbert Pacariem (guitars), Hatankaru got its name from Aldwin Musni, the original bass player, who interchanged the two syllables with the last two of Karuhatan, the barangay in Valenzuela where the members hail. They claim that they are really proud of their hometown.

Each finalist performed three songs, originals and covers, and Hatankaru’s original “Lakip” (Something enclosed or attached) and “Larawan” (Picture) were crucial in the band’s victory aside from its engaging performance. It also covered POT’s “Ulitin” (Do it again) to the delight of the crowd. “Lakip” is said to be “a song about the unity among common Filipinos sharing the same aspirations and difficulties,” conceptualized after Pacariem and Elinzano watched Razorback’s performance at the Music Museum for Karl Roy’s recovery concert, inspired by Razorback’s simplicity and “feel good” rock and roll music. On the other hand, “Larawan,” originally titled “A Song for Francis” and written in 2006, is described as “about the joy and bitterness of having memories and giving up on those who are still with us and those who are not.” Its main guitar riff was a variation of the late Francis Magalona’s “Meron Akong Ano.”

Aside from the plum prize, Hatankaru was also awarded special prizes: Best Live Act and Breakthrough Performance. The winner was chosen by judges Lourd de Veyra, poet and vocalist of Radioactive Sago Project; Ian Tayao, vocalist of Queso; Reg Rubio, vocalist of Greyhoundz; Bel Sayson, owner of 6Underground and marketing manager of JB Music; Joey Dizon, editor-in-chief of Pulp magazine; Brian Velasco, drummer of Razorback; Mally Paraguya, bassist of POT; Nadine Wee, Starcom media manager for Red Horse Beer; and Griffey de Guzman, copywriter of the agency JWT for Red Horse Beer.

The five newbie bands were joined by over 20 bands in an extravaganza that lasted from late afternoon to the wee hours of the morning. Past Muziklaban champions Mayonnaise, HardboiledEggz, Gayuma and Even made appearances together with Kadangyan, Zach Lucero and the Action Pack, Kapatid, Franco, Typecast, Music Hero, Chongkeys, Dogfight, Boy Elroy, Bloodshed, COG, Slapshock, Kamikazee, Greyhoundz, Radioactive Sago Project, Kjwan, Intolerant and Kapatid. Pepe Smith jumpstarted the rocking, as well as provided amusement. Other endorsers led the winners in tattoo art, biking and indie filmmaking. While the stage remained the heartbeat of the event, there were stations for Muziklaban’s new aspects—an indie film mini movie house, a booth to view live tattoo sessions and a BMX and skateboard gallery. A Muziklaban retrospective exhibit was also put up, attesting to how the Red Horse Beer Muziklaban Rock Challenge has helped in shaping recent Filpino rock-and-roll history, a better struggle and fight.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

An Icon for Our Time: Swatch Issues Corazon Aquino Tribute Watch

On January 24, 2010, a nice Sunday afternoon, the business hub of Makati City was laidback, but the Ayala Museum, within a cluster of malls, put on a conspicuously festive atmosphere, mimicking a Filipino fiesta but with an “upgraded” and thematic look complete with popular merienda fares served with flair—chicharon baboy topped with a blob of cottage cheese and sariwang lumpiang ubod, sliced and served on a sungka—and common street food such as popcorn, cotton candy, sorbetes in carts and sorbeteros. More noticeable was the color yellow—on buntings, on the confetti, on the uniforms of the band players and baton twirlers, and clothes donned by many of the guests. This event was for former President Corazon “Cory” Aquino, considered by many as the “mother of Philippine democracy” whose death last year was overwhelmingly lamented and who would have been celebrating her 77th birthday the next day, Jan. 25, and the launch of a tribute watch by Swiss watch company Swatch designed by eminent industrialist Jaime Zobel de Ayala.
Yellow, the “color of courage,” Aquino’s speechwriter and politician Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsin said, is the emblematic color of the Aquinos and revolution that the 1983 assassination of Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino sparked. His unassuming wife Cory was the leading figure in that Edsa or People’s Power Revolution in 1986 that toppled the 20-year dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. The event gained worldwide recognition, and Cory was hailed as Man of the Year by Time magazine and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Her administration, while beset with many problems, was praised for its sincerity and attempt at honest governance. Even after her presidency, Cory’s voice carried weight. As she reverted to private citizenship, her power seemed to wane, but her death proved how much she is revered.
After suffering from colon cancer for over a year, Cory died on Aug. 1, 2009, at the Makati Medical Center. The Aquino family declined an offer for a state funeral and Cory’s wake was held at the Saint Benilde Gymnasium of the De La Salle School in Greenhills, San Juan. She was then transferred to the Manila Metropolitan Cathedral in Intramuros on Aug. 3, becoming the second lay person permitted to lie in state in there as the church is reserved for deceased archbishops of Manila. People trooped to the cathedral day and night to bid her farewell, the queues stretching to several kilometres, and kept vigil. The outpouring of grief and support magnified when she was brought to her final resting place at the Manila Memorial Park in Sucat, Parañaque, on Aug. 5. Mourners flocked along the funeral route and many more accompanied the cortege. It was a revolution once again—streets decorated with banners, television and newspapers making tributes, people wearing literally or symbolically yellow ribbons, institutions pronouncing their grief—and Cory became the most exalted personality in recent times.
The fast iconization of Cory Aquino has begun. There are even talks of sainthood. As with many groups of people, Filipinos are fond of symbols and images and the mysticism surrounding them, and seem to have a constant need for heroic icons. Cory represents the Filipinos’ finest hour.
Starting with books and shirts, other commemorative items are now being made, and a watch seems to be an important item in the process of becoming a cultural icon. Mickey Mouse, Mao Zedong and other popular icons are in watches. But with Cory, the watch is invested with heavy meaning.
The first company to unveil a commemorative watch is the luxury watch company Philip Stein. Made available in November 2009, the Philip Stein Corazon C. Aquino Commemorative Watch features a yellow ribbon on the dial, a yellow lizard leather strap, the engraved phrase “A Tribute to the 11th President of the Philippines Corazon C. Aquino—Mother of Democracy” at the back, the number 11 highlighted in yellow on the clock face, a sapphire scratch proof glass, and other Philip Stein technology. Endorsed by Cory’s youngest daughter and celebrity Kris Aquino, the watch, with only 1,011 pieces made, costs a hefty P53,000.
The Cory Aquino Swatch watch is more accessible and popular, and perhaps more memorable because of the involvement of personalities close to the late president. Virgie Ramos, owner of the company Gift Gate, which exclusively distributes Swatch in the Philippines, is a close friend of Cory, as well as the designer Jaime Zobel.
The former chief executive officer of the Ayala Corporation and his wife Bea first met Cory when they visited Ninoy Aquino, who was in exile in Boston in the United States. From then on, they became strong supporters of Cory and crucial personalities in the revolution.
“They were among the few who openly supported Mom and her fight for democracy and decent governance even when it was not yet safe or fashionable to do so,” Cory’s daughter Ballsy Aquino-Cruz said.
Yellow confetti raining on the stretch of Ayala Avenue was one of the most memorable images of the revolution. Yellow confetti also rained at the Swatch launch, reliving those momentous times as about 300 friends, family and supporters of Cory attended the event. The Aquino children were present—Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, Ballsy, Pinky Aquino-Abellada and Viel Aquino-Dee—except for Kris, a former Swatch endorser and image model, who had work that day.
Hosted by singer Martin Nievera, the program included actress-singer Lea Salonga singing “Ang Bayan Ko” (My Country), which is considered an alternative national anthem, and Zobel telling the story of how the Cory Aquino Swatch came to be.
In August 2009, Zobel was vacationing in Europe Ramos called and asked him to design a tribute watch. Although a noted art photographer himself and an art patron, and having designed a Swatch watch—the Philippine centennial Swatch watch—before, Zobel said, “My first reaction was panic.”
“How does one put a heroic life into a watch?” he asked himself.
That night, he wrote a letter, more of a tribute, to Cory, pouring out his emotions, and then began the processing of creating the tribute watch, a project in partnership with ABS-CBN Licensing and the Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. Foundation.
Swatch released two watches, both with yellow-and-black straps with the faces of Cory and Ninoy, the words Ipagpapatuloy Ko (I will continue) and a rain of the emblematic yellow ribbons. One has a black clock face with the yellow sun of the Philippine flag, evocative of Zobel’s Philippine centennial watch. The other, a bigger one, has a plain yellow clock face. The two watches are sold as a set in a case formed like a coffee-table book titled A Woman Dressed in Sunshine, reminiscent of an epithet of a Marian apparition and an attempt at iconography. The book casing has several pages of pictures, articles including a reprint of an important piece that appeared in Mr. & Ms. magazine in Sept. 16, 1983, and an introduction by Locsin. The letter Zobel wrote is reprinted at the back of the casing.
Swatch has only made 801 sets, each selling at P8,100, the number signifying Cory’s date of death, which was almost sold out during the launch.
“Today, in a small but important Swatch watch, Cory becomes alive again. We must all remember not to forget and we must not forget to remember,” Zobel ended his speech.
The culminating activity of the launch was the unveiling of the 24-foot replica of the tribute watch at the plaza of the elegant Ayala Museum, along Makati Avenue. Yellow confetti rained down. The band played “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” Ninoy’s favorite. Attendees glowed reliving what they called the “golden times” and basked in the sense of unity and pride at that instance. There was an emotional bubble at that time. It may create tension with reality like the tension of the tribute watch itself—between the watch’s essential function of telling time and the tribute purpose, which wants to break time into timelessness.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Art for Eye: Raising Funds to Combat Eye Diseases in Northeast Luzon

Through the eyes, we imbibe with profound pleasure the beauty of a painting or sculpture and process the insights it gives. This is but one of the multitudinous benefits of sight that its loss can greatly diminish not just how we function in everyday life, but how we appreciate life in general.

It may be a rare but not altogether farfetched twist that art now helps in restoring eyesight. Prominent artists, art lovers and an eye doctor gather together to raise funds for the operation of a little eye hospital in the province of Ifugao on Feb. 3, hosted by the Manila Polo Club.

Curated by Italian gallery owner and art connoisseur Silvana Ancellotti-Diaz, a small assemblage of works by renowned artists such as National Artist Benedicto Cabrera or Bencab, Betsy Westendorp, Valeria Cavestany, Duddley Diaz, Ramon Diaz and Impy Pilapil will be put up on sale, and the proceeds will go to the projects of Restoring Sight International (RSI) and the Ophthalmological Foundation of the Philippines (OFPHIL), led by Dr. Felipe Tolentino, particularly to the operations of and treatments to be done in the newly inaugurated Ifugao State University-Ophthalmological Foundation of the Philippines (IFSU-OPHIL) Eye Center, located in the town of Alfonso Lista in Ifugao. The eye center will help not just underprivileged residents of Ifugao but of the Cordillera Administrative Region and Cagayan Valley as well.

“The impact of this project is great for the people of Ifugao and the Cagayan Valley region because it is located in an area with the highest incidence of blindness in the entire Philippines. Thousands of patients with cataract are expected to benefit from this center after several years,” said Dr. Tolentino, who is the founder of RSI.

It is said that there are more than 40,000 needy sufferers of cataract blindness in the region, and the eye center, which was inaugurated just last Jan. 26 at the Potia campus of IFSU, will be of great help to them.

Awarded the Philippine Presidential Medal of Merit in the arts in 2008, Westendorp, a Spanish painter of Dutch descent married to a Filipino and who is known for her portraits of the Filipino elite, has been very keen on the project: “This advocacy is very meaningful to me as I myself suffer from age-related macular degeneration (ARMD). It affects older adults resulting to the loss of vision in the center of the visual field. I am more than happy to be part of this fundraising project especially when Ambassador Isabel Caro Wilson broached the idea of hosting a cocktail to support Dr. Tolentino’s eye center program.”

A former ambassador to Spain and the recently installed president of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Wilson is organizing the cocktail-cum-art-sale as a project also of the Manila Polo Club, in which she is also the president, the first woman to hold the position. The club celebrated its centennial last year, in 2009, and Wilson led a renewal project including the construction of a state-of-the-art kitchen, an elegant new lobby leading to the Turf Room and McKinley Room and the Banyan Garden overlooking the lobby. The art sale event will be held at the Turf Room.

“Both Betsy and I are patients of Dr. Tolentino. The IFSU-OFPHIL Eye Center in Alfonso Lista is a prime example of corporate social responsibility, and of giving back the blessings we receive to those who have less,” Wilson said.

The involvement of the personalities in this fundraising was serendipitous. A friend of Westendorp, who also had ARMD, referred Dr. Tolentino, a Filipino-American eye doctor practicing in Boston, Massachussetts in the United States and said to be the best doctor for that disease, to her. On the other hand, Dr. Tolentino often went to Madrid, where Westendorp is based, for his patients including the Spanish royal family. One time in Madrid, a common friend suggested that Westendorp help out Dr. Tolentino’s cause, and Westendorp eagerly agreed. Two years later, Dr. Tolentino wrote to Westendorp to help out in an auction.

“I don’t believe in auction because people come to buy an item for a lower price. If they believe in the charity they would buy something even it is above the usual market price,” Westendorp said.

At the same time, Wilson asked Westendorp for a painting she could buy for the Manila Polo Club, and Westendorp asked her to give the money instead to Dr. Tolentino’s project. Eventually, the art sale event came about and Westendorp thought of gathering other artists for the eye center project.

The eye center, which is the first RSI and OFPHIL eye care center outside of Metro Manila, represents the largest commitment of resources of the two humanitarian non-government agencies have ever dedicated to a single project, serving as a model for future projects of RSI.

The OFPHIL, in which Dr. Tolentino is currently president, was established in 1989 by philanthropists from the Philippines, Japan and the United States, to upgrade eye diagnostic treatments and technology and provide training to medical staff. It has partnered with RSI for outreach missions to poor communities. Established by Dr. Tolentino in 1996, RSI aims to raise funds for medical missions to the indigent blind throughout the world. Its first project, still ongoing, is focused on the Philippines. It is a way of “giving back” to his home country for Dr. Tolentino, who studied and practiced almost entirely in the United States.

“I came from a middle class family from the boondocks of Agusan,” Dr. Tolentino related. “My parents were from Luzon who migrated to find a better life in Mindanao. They started as hardworking teachers and became pioneer farmers in Agusan, clearing up the jungles there and converting them into rice land. (My) mother quit teaching to become a woman farmer while my father remained a public servant. I helped my parents worked on the land, exposing me to the value of hard work and honest labor. I helped my parents sell the products of their farm which allowed me to see the value of money, trust, integrity, dignity of labor and honesty in dealing with all kinds of people.”

He further recalled: “I am the product of World War II and learned how to survive and stay ahead of the enemy. This was a valuable lesson because the experience, though very risky, was completely enriching. Since my father was part of the guerilla movement against the Japanese Imperial Army, I was left to head the family of six children at a very early age of 11 years old, acting like the head of the family at such a young age. The family stayed in the jungles of Agusan for four years and survived in 1946. I had the satisfaction that we survived despite the lack of food and constant harassment by the enemy.”

When Tolentino was about to enter college he chose to become a doctor because an uncle is a physician who was well loved and respected and “left a very positive and deep impression on me that…I quietly told myself that I want to be physician like him.” Becoming an eye doctor he told was inspired by his professor, Dr. Germiniano de Ocampo, said to be the “father of modern Philippine ophthalmology.”

After graduating from the University of the Philippines medical school in 1957, Tolentino stayed for two years at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) to specialize on eye, ear, nose and throat treatments. Then, “I felt at that time that to succeed, graduates had to specialize in the United States. In 1959, I was fortunate to land a residency training program in Rochester, New York, for two years, then to St. Louis in Missouri for one year,” he said.

Also, he got accepted at the famous Retina Associates at Harvard Medical School in Boston to train in retinal diseases. He related, “I did pioneering work in the less understood vitreous diseases which became my passion in research, resulting in new discoveries and the publication of hundreds of scientific articles as well as two definitive books based on my research work.”

He returned to the Philippines in 1966, joining the medical faculty of the University of the Philippines. Then, he explained, “I saw the disturbing clouds of trouble in 1970, forcing me to accept the invitation of my mentors at Harvard to join them at the famous Retina Associates. The decision to return to Boston was not difficult, since I foresaw the trouble ahead in the Philippines at that time. My wife strongly supported me in this decision.”

During the 1980s, there were suggestions of returning to the Philippines and helping out. In 1989, he finally did. One patient, Benita Marasigan Santos, granddaughter of Marcelo del Pilar, from Bulacan, encouraged him and said to remember the country of his birth.

His first project in the country was with the PGH, which badly needed equipment for eye treatments. After the establishment of OFPHIL, he helped establish an eye operating room at the public hospital with the generous donation of the Miyake family of Nagoya, Japan. Additionally, the organization introduced phakoemulsification cataract surgery in the country and made possible modern eye surgery training to several ophthalmology residents of the PGH. The Miyake Eye Operating Room was the beginning of the journey of giving back.

OFPHIL established a mobile eye clinic in 1995 and pioneered ambulatory cataract surgery especially to poor communities in the country in 1996, through the efforts of Dr. Jose Pecson, vice president of OFPHIL.

In 1996, Dr. Tolentino established RSI, with the mission “that no person should be needlessly blind,” which established long-term affiliation with OFPHIL. The two organizations have made several eye operation missions; established the Manila-OFPHIL Eye Center in Gat Andres Bonifacio Memorial Medical Center in Tondo, Manila, in 2000; established the Asian Eye Institute at the Rockwell Center in Makati City in 2001; formed the Pediatric Eye Center at the Philippine Children’s Medical Center in Quezon City in 2002; and helped train eye doctors, among others.

To date, over 6,500 surgeries were done, over 42,000 patients treated and over 30 clinical missions held by the organizations. Now, the latest project is the IFSU-OFPHIL Eye Center.

Dr. Tolentino related that they had several medical missions to the province of Ifugao since 2004 because one member, Dr. Joseph Odan, is a provincial board member there. But the missions were not enough to address the overwhelming problem of eye disease in the area that a permanent eye care facility must be built.

“The Ifugao provincial government made a request to RSI to help build an eye center in Ifugao because the surgical missions being conducted several times a month have not reduced the high incidence of blindness in the region,” Dr. Tolentino explained.

The IFSU, through its president Dr. Serafin Ngohayon, offered a site in its campus in Potia, Alfonso Lista. Through the efforts of local governments and private donors, the eye center was put up, a simple two-story building with several rooms and a bulol adorning its stark white façade.

“The center will focus on cataract surgery which is the most frequent cause of blindness in the region. RSI will fully subsidize the IFSU-OFPHIL Eye Center for the first few years. As soon as the center becomes Philhealth approved, it can become self sustaining which is the ultimate goal,” Dr. Tolentino said.

He added: “The eye center will be managed by OFPHIL which has many volunteer eye doctors helping out. International doctors will be recruited soon.”

Now, the operations and treatments will be funded by the money raised by the Manila Polo Club art sale. The fund-raising event is an intimate affair with small number—13 in all—of works to be up on sale. But the art works are all masterfully done by esteemed artists led by the National Artist Bencab, fetching hefty prices. The five paintings of Westendorp alone are said to be collectively worth P2 million.

Multi-awarded and highly respected Bencab, who is based in the Cordilleras, donated a recent work of acrylic on paper, Sabel (2009, 37.5 x 27 cm./14.775 x 10.638 in.)

Westendorp’s sizable paintings, in oil and acrylic on canvas, are very recent, most especially made for the mission, depict mostly flowers, which is the subject of her latest exhibit here in the country.

Sculptor Impy Pilapil, who is versatile and works with different media, gives her Aqua Bella Series (1999, H 67 x W 56 cm./H 26.38 x W 22.05 inches) done in glass and other materials, while Ramon Diaz, husband of Sylvana, printmaker and businessman, offers Ribs, a painting of acrylic on braille paper (2007, 87 x 96.5 cm./34.278 x 38.021 in.).

Duddley Diaz, who is based in Italy and is known for his religious sculptures, has two works: Small Messenger in cast bronze (23.3 x 6 x 6 cm./9.1802 x 2.364 x 2.364 in.) and Blue Angel II in larch with acrylic (2007, 44 x 90 x 9 cm./17.336 x 35.46 x 3.546 in.). Filipino-Spanish artist Valeria Cavestany offered three paintings: China Girl (acrylic on canvas, 91.7 x 72.8 cm. /36.1298 x 28.6832 in.), To D.H. (acrylic on canvas, 86.9 x 88.7 cm. /34.2386 x 34.9478 in.) and The Blues (acrylic on wood, 109 x 69 cm./42.946 x 27.186 in.)

The greatness of these works will be enhanced now with the ability of restoring eye sights to many people, aside from giving insights and making the world more beautiful and meaningful. The artists are more than happy to help out, after all making art is itself already an advocacy and a way of giving to the world.

For his part, Dr. Tolentino said, “Like many ophthalmologists I know, I have the passion and moral obligation to help the blind. Society has been kind to me. I am happy to share what has been given to me over the years.”