Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A Past of Water, A Present of Blood

The balangay Sultan sin Sulu on Manila Bay
Balangay on Manila Bay
Before the Cinemalaya: Philippine Independent Film Festival at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) ended, there was an extra treat, a rare one. In the morning of August 12, 2017, a modern recreation of a balangay docked at the CCP, affording a ride around the Manila Bay to journalists and the film festival’s staff and guests.
The balangay is an ancient plank boat adjoined by carved-out planks edged through pins and dowels, some of which were excavated in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte, in 1976, then considered the first wooden watercraft ever in Southeast Asia. More balangays were discovered in the area, many dating hundreds of years old. They are attributed to the Sama people, who once settled in Butuan, and their boats are a testament to fine craftsmanship. The boat also became a Philippine cultural icon.
Cinemalaya uses its image as its symbol and logo because it “embodies the energy, imagination, courage and unbridled spirit, in short, the muse of diwata that inspires and guides filmmakers to create cinematic works of deep emotion and sharp insight that intrepidly cut through convention and prejudice to reveal the dynamic and vibrant complexity of what it is to be human and Filipino.”
The word barangay, which is the Philippines’ smallest political unit, is derived from balangay. One balangay was considered to carry one social unit.
Arturo Valdez, who led leader the Philippines’ Mount Everest expedition in 2007 and is currently undersecretary of the Department of Transportation, embarked on a project of recreating the balangay. The first boat was named Diwata ng Lahi and sailed around the Philippines in 2009. It then went around Southeast Asia, together with another balangay replica, the Masawa Hong Butuan, before becoming a permanent display on the grounds of the National Museum of the Philippines.
A third one was build, the Sultan sin Sulu, planned for a voyage to China in 2018. But before that, we cruised around Manila Bay. The sea was calm and the sky slate-gray as we waited for the sails to be hoisted up. Being without outrigger, the boat rocked to the wave and wind, while Valdez talked to us.
In between major expeditions, he said the balangays and their crew go around the Philippines to raise awareness of the Filipinos’ maritime achievements and attachment to the sea, the country being an archipelago. He spoke about greatness of the Filipino in maritime to the international jurors of the film festival as the balangay rode the waves, breaking up clumps of trash. Often, we were surrounded by floating maps of garbage.
He also told the passengers that we have lost attachment to the sea because of colonialism, despite the fact that there are peoples who are naturally more attached to the earth such as the peoples of the interiors, like the Cordillerans, and that many peoples live along the coast and on small islands as they do for many centuries, their daily lives very much attached to the sea.
If you close your eyes, you can feel the movements of the past. From a distance, a part of Manila seemed beautiful, a light blue strip bristling with a few coconut trees and many buildings, even pensive. But actually, when the dark comes, horrendous things happen in the city.

Blood on Philippine earth
We woke up after more than a year and realized more than 13,000 people were murdered. It has been more than year now since President Rodrigo Duterte launched his so-called war on drugs, which mainly constitutes the killing of drug suspects without giving them due process. These blatant violations on human rights the president himself endorsed in many of his expletive-filled and sexist speeches. What is more chilling is that millions of Filipinos are cheering this policy and even expressing approval and satisfaction, and policemen get to kill people, who are immediately dismissed as drug users or pushers.
The second week of August is the bloodiest week in the war on drugs with more than 80 murdered in Manila, Bulacan and Cavite. Among them is a 17-year-old student named Kian de los Santos, who became sort of a tipping point.
Condemnations, expressions of outrage and indignation, denouncements from the Catholic church, educational institutions, civic organizations, artists, cultural workers, writers and other groups poured in. This has been the most brutal and crudest administration that I have witnessed so far.
From the onset, I hesitated from calling the whole thing what it is, but it is what it is—evil, pure evil. Despite the heavy rains, I joined hundreds at the People’s Power Monument along EDSA to protest. Here, we cried, expressed outrage and tried to reclaim our humanity for the country. We should have not allowed this in the first place, and the fight is not over.


Friday, August 04, 2017

Journeys in Culture and Creativity in Western Visayas: The Panakayon Workshops on Arts and Culture in the Communities

Panakayon participants' finale number during the camp's opening night
In Cuartero, an interior town of Capiz, near the center of Panay Island, a drab covered court blossomed into a makeshift museum, gallery, art space and venue for performances and discussions for a few days, showcasing the cultures, traditions, attractions and creativity of the Christianized ethnic groups of Western Visayas in central Philippines—the Hiligaynon, Kiniray-a and Aklanon—some unknown even within the region itself.   
There was a display of Cuartero’s cultural and natural sites of interest, photographed by budding photographers and made into postcards. The group from the town of Balete, in Aklan, brought in a loom to demonstrate the weaving of the fine fibers of the pineapple leaves into the piƱa fabric by its master weaver Raquel Eliserio. Hand-woven cotton fabrics from Miag-ao, Iloilo, were laid out in a bright and colorful spread. Pieces of embroidery from San Jose de Buenavista, the capital of Antique, were framed and mounted along with artworks. The municipality of Jordan, in the island province of Guimaras, brought in their tultul, big rocks of sea salt made in the traditional way in the barangay of Hoskyn, with several handicrafts and their famously sweet mangoes. 
Rousing performances enlivened the evening. A group from Antique mounted a dramatic retelling of its famous legend about the coming of the ten Bornean datus. Cuartero presented its Sayaw kay San Antonio de Padua, a dance for its patron saint characterized by young women dancing around a pole and holding multi-colored ropes until the ropes interweave around the pole with their movements, very similar to the Germanic maypole dance. Other towns presented dances highlighting their own traditions, melding folk movements and contemporary choreography. 
These were the products and creations of about 150 youth, students, teachers, cultural masters and artist-trainers from different parts of Panay Island—Balete, Aklan; Miag-ao, Iloilo; San Jose de Buenavista, Antique; Jordan, Guimaras; and Cuartero, Capiz—gathered here for the Panakayon Culture and Arts Camp, held from June 30 to July 2, 2017, the culmination of a series of workshops, lectures and cultural immersions held in these areas since January 2017. 
Initiated and organized the Sigmahanon Foundation for Culture and Arts (SFCAI), a cultural organization based in Sigma, Capiz, and supported by the government cultural agency National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Panakayon workshops are different from the others with their focus on arts and culture, creativity and their importance in their communities.
Nestor Horfilla, grassroots cultural worker. theater director and one of Panakayon’s facilitators, explained that panakayon is a word in Hiligaynon, the dominant language in the region, that means “journey,” to describe the multi-pronged project as a “creative journey of young artists and culture-sensitive educators.” It also emphasizes the safeguarding cultural heritage, and the role of culture and the arts in sustainable development.
It is often noted that the levels of consciousness about and appreciation of culture and the arts have been low in the country, and culture and the arts have often been neglected in national policies and agenda despite their vital role in national development. There are numerous endeavors to address this, and many begin with the youth and the communities and deal with local governments.
            “We believe this project will not only help the young people and the artisans, but the whole community as well,” said Alphonsus Tesoro, provincial tourism officer and head of the NCCA’s Subcommission on Cultural Communities and Traditional Arts, who hatched the idea in 2015.
Panakayon workshop series started in Miag-ao, known for its UNESCO-recognized church and hand-weaving industry, in January 16, followed by Cuartero in February 10 to 14 and Balete from February 16 to 18. The municipality of Jordan had theirs from May 11 to 13, and San Jose de Buenavista from May 29 to 31. These towns were preselected and deemed to benefit most from the workshops.
The workshops were multi-faceted, integrating several disciplines, but all intended to be culture-based, community-focused and youth-oriented. There were workshops on photography and journalism, performance and festival management. There were even workshops on climate-change mitigation and adaptation and disaster-risk reduction management, the region being frequented by typhoons.
The trainings were adapted according to the needs of the community. In Jordan, for example, there was emphasis on festival management and performance because the town expressed desire of creating their own festival. The workshop produced a festival management plan, tackling organization, financing and the festival proper, which they planned to present to the local government.
“We are hoping to develop creative industries,” Tesoro added.
He also hoped the Panakayon project will be instrumental in reviving traditional crafts that have vanished such as sinamay weaving in Cuartero. He said they have found artisans who still know how to weave the sinamay, a loosely woven cloth made of abaca fibers, and they are thinking to ways to document the practice and pass it on. 
The workshops culminated at the Panakayon Culture and Arts Camp, which aimed to strengthen a network of artists and cultural workers in the region and to exchange experiences and insights. The camp also provided opportunities for participants to refine their strategies in engaging their local government units to support community-based and culture-focused development programs.
The camp mounted an exhibit called “Mabihonon: Panakayon Traditional Arts and Crafts Exhibition,” highlighting the cultural richness of the region, and a showcase of performances. There were also lectures and activities about heritage and its conservation, and on developing community museums.
The camp provided a generous glimpse into the cultural richness of Western Visayas. These cultural products and practices by themselves are already valuable and important in the lives of the communities, but they’re in danger of being eroded or vanishing as awareness and appreciation wane. Panakayon endeavored to make people see the importance of creativity and cultural heritage, injecting a strong consciousness on and propagating a love for culture and the arts. 

As Panakayon project concluded, a second phase is being prepared, which will continue the initial efforts, as well as tackle how cultural efforts can be sustained and strategize on incorporating them more into local governance and daily lives, propelled by a hope of establishing a sort of “cultural renaissance,” and fomenting community-based productivity and development.

The "Mabihonon Panakayon Traditional Arts and Crafts Exhibition” during the Panakayon camp in Cuartero

Embroidery from San Jose, Antique
Weaver from Miag-ao demonstrates loom weaving

Colorful hablon pieces from Miag-ao, Iloilo

Tultul, traditionally crafted salt from Jordan, Guimaras, displayed at Panakayon's exhibit

Weaving the fine pina fabric of Aklan
Pineapple fibers

A work of sculptor Cipriano Lachica from Balete, Aklan
The performing group from Balete, Aklan

Capiz provincial officer Alphonsus Tesoro
Performers from Balete, Aklan

The Sayaw kay San Antonio de Padua of Cuartero, Capiz

Performance of the group from Jordan, Guimaras

The group from San Jose de Buenavista, Antique, did a dramatic retelling of the legend of the ten Bornean datus

Group of Miag-ao, Iloilo

 The lecture on developing community museums by Irene Magallon

Participants work on exercises in a session on developing community museums

St. Anthony of Padua Church of Cuartero, Capiz, with the ruins of an old belfry