Monday, May 25, 2015

Not-so-Special Program for the Arts

Some years ago, ca. early 2000's, every summer, I would get invited by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts to help facilitate a theater workshop for teachers from all over the country. They were members of the faculty of the Department of Education's Special Program for the Arts, and I would usually various classes on theater: Acting, Directing, Stage Management, Technical Direction, etc.

A lot of the teachers assigned to this special program were former P.E. teachers, and for some of the participants in that workshop with whom I continued to work with outside the workshop, it was inspiring to see them grow into their new tasks: help mold their students into the country's future artists and culture bearers. Such a program used to only be available at the Makiling High School for the Arts, and having the privilege of knowing some of the school's alumni: Raymond Red, Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino, Soliman Cruz, to name a few, I was really excited by the idea that the Department of Education has expanded the program to pilots schools all over the country.

When the opportunity for one of our children to be in the program at the Baguio City National High School (BCNHS) presented itself, we grabbed it. Our daughter has been taking ballet lessons and was really showing some potential. She took the written entrance examination and passed it, and the next couple of weeks were spent preparing her for the next step: a dance audition. She passed that too.

On her first year, as part of the first batch to be in the recently implemented K-12 program, much of their time was spent learning indigenous dances along with some traditional folk dances. Our daughter would come home excited to show us a new movement she learned and the story behind each step.

They got to experience performing infront of audiences too as their group would usually be invited to showcase a dance or two at various functions within and outside the school. I was already thinking of how much farther she can get in the field of the performing arts when she gets to college. I personally knew some of the first alumni of the BCNHS Special Program for the Arts and was immensely impressed by their talents. I worked with some of them when I had  a brief stint as an artist-in-residence at the University of Baguio (2005-06) and they delivered like professionals in each of the productions we staged.

From the early to the mid-2000's, Baguio City National High School was already slowly evolving into one of the city's arts and culture destinations - then, they regularly staged exhibits, plays, dance and musical performances that showcased amazing young talents. But in recent years, that stopped.

A couple of months ago, some of these alumni, most of whom have pursued more lucrative careers in other fields yet maintained their interest in the arts, while others actually started careers in various institutions engaged in different fields of creative expression, invited me to do a talk for this year's graduating batch. They were particularly concerned about the last few batches' apparent disinterest in pursuing careers in the arts.They were simply uninspired.

A new person was has been installed to head the SPA program of the school and one of her first directives was to trim down the "specialization time," or the time the young artists spent working on their craft, from two hours per day to just an hour. As a theater artist myself, I can't imagine what can be accomplished within just an hour. For theater, warm up and vocalization exercises already take up to 15 minutes leaving only 35-40 minutes for rehearsals or acting exercises to allow for at least 5-10 minutes for the students to cool down and prepare to go to their respective academic classes. It's basically the same with dance. Clearly, the new head has no real experience nor knowledge about the performing arts, or perhaps even the arts in general.

And then we received information that all the current mentors/advisers of all the specializations - dance, theater, musical, literary, visual and media arts were being replaced, mostly by MAPEH teachers. The current mentors have undergone several workshops, training sessions under different institutions through the years, and now they will be replaced by Music, Arts, Physical Education and Health teachers most of whom received their education through textbooks. The reason for the replacement isn't clear, but I'm almost certain that politics isn't totally out of the equation here.

Given the above circumstances, we now believe that the program may just do more harm than good as far as the children's potential creative talents are concerned so we decided to pull our daughter out of the program.

A bureaucratic approach to the program is what's slowly killing it. With Master's Degrees and Ph.D.'s being a dime a dozen these days, people may be given such lofty positions in the government bureaucracy, including public schools, on the basis of their years in service (which do not necessarily translate to wisdom/knowledge or actual skills) and 100% attendance in their post-graduate studies.

Sayang, is the only word I can think of. The Baguio City National High School's Special Program for the Arts held so much promise. But right now, it's just not special anymore.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Baguio in the time of Domogan

‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ In Baguio today, it's more like - those who choose to ignore history cannot learn from it.

Here's a portrait of today's Baguio: a tiny highland city a kilometer and a half or so above sea level with an estimated resident population of half a million with hardly enough resources to sustain such a huge population, its carrying capacity further burdened by tourists whose numbers can go as high as a million on occasion, water has been rationed since time immemorial where most households receive water only for a couple of hours once a week, a city facing a waste management crisis and its administrators are hardly doing anything substantial to address the problem, pollution levels are at an all time-high and continue to rise, crime is also on the rise and, perhaps with the exception of the few years under Japanese occupation, the quality of life of its residents are at an all-time low.

Fairly recent developments - City Hall approved and defended a mall's planned expansion which had almost two hundred trees, most of which are decades-old pine that served as one of the few remaining forest covers in the city's central business district, the Rose Garden at Burnham Park was "developed" which significantly reduced its natural space and replaced with concrete and a dancing fountain, the city's congressman caused the death of hundreds of pine trees in a forest reserve and the contamination of the areas water resources compromising the welfare of thousands of residents, and its aesthetically-challenged, shortsighted, unsentimental Mayor who has occupied various seats in the local government of Baguio for more than two decades is determined to trample on the historical value of two heritage sites: the Baguio City Hall (where they want to build a fence around it and concrete structures right in the tree-covered gardens that beautifully frame the government building) and the Melvin Jones Football Grounds (that the Mayor think nothing about digging up to erect a parking facility - his solution to the city's worsening traffic situation). 

It is interesting to note that the current mayor, Mauricio Domogan, seem to be obsessed with parking facilities having figured prominently in the Jadewell on-street parking fiasco that caused his erstwhile political sidekick, Bernardo Vergara, the mayoralty but he was lucky enough to survive the backlash and still bagged the city's lone congressional seat in the 2004 elections).

Both the Baguio City Hall and Burnham Park where the football grounds eyed as the site for this parking facility is located are declared heritage sites - as such, any improvements, alterations, construction activity must go through and be approved by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP). Why?

I was fortunate enough to have been able to visit Paris, France as a young man, and I will never forget the experience. Perhaps it worked to my advantage that this was way before the advent of digital cameras, so I took in all of that Parisian visuals with my eyes and not through an lcd screen and saved all of it in my mind and not in some memory card, the reason why I can still vividly recall not only the images but the whole experience itself. 

Paris has a soul, it is alive and the city speaks to you, it tells you her story with every cafe, building, park, boulevard and side street. All infrastructures in the city complemented the city's heritage, its feel, its soul. Two major structures built a century apart do jump out of the renaissance painting that is the Parisian skyline: the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. 

Mayor Domogan is not proposing to build an Eiffel Tower and a Louvre. Not at all. 

At the City Hall grounds, he wants a fence that will serve as "protection" from vandals and is not meant to deny the public access to the grounds. A stage is also part of the this improvement design "to be used by performers..." Local advocacy groups have denounced the project. Mayor Domogan defended it saying that the construction project is not meant to deface a historical site and that this will, in fact, enhance its historical value. 

Why am I not buying that? I just have to look at the "improvements" done at the Rose Graden in Burnham Park where parcels were cemented over reducing the area's natural space significantly and and how the place ended up with a "dancing fountain" but much less roses. I have just to look up at the mostly empty flyover at the Baguio General Hospital rotunda and the traffic jams right below it. I have not gotten over the hideous concrete pine tree at the top of Session Road (the construction of which was lauded by Domogan and its eventual removal by another mayor he denounced so vigorously). The man just can't be trusted with a backhoe and a cement mixer. Who knows what he's got up his sleeves this time.  

Let's not forget his proposal to put up gates on top of the fences around the whole of Burnham Park.    
At the Melvin Jones grounds, the proposal is multi-level underground parking facility, with shops and other commercial establishments on ground level, and a rooftop with artificial turf so "football may continue to be played." I first heard it from on of the horses' mouth, so to speak, soon after the 2010 elections when then congressman-elect Bernardo Vergara announced during the opening of a football tournament their (his and Domogan's) plan to construct an underground parking facility in the area.

Mayor Domogan refuses to acknowledge, and this sentiment is shared by much of the councilors who have either come out to support the ridiculous proposal or have said nothing at all about it, the area's historical value. He also doesn't see the aesthetic value of a wide open space surround by towering trees. He also ignores such an area's ecological value and what could happen if such a huge rainfall catch-basin, aquifer, carbon sink is cemented over. He just has to have his parking lot. 

In the meantime, City Hall prohibits activities such as football and other similar sports to be played there as these result in the destruction of the lawn. No football in the football grounds, but yes to destroying it totally and building a parking building?
Baguio was much like Paris in a way before - it had a distinct character. Vestiges of both its colonial past and indigenous heritage against backdrop of pine forests. The city even had a distinct aroma. The cool climate is fast becoming Baguio's only tourism draw and that's why we need to come up with events such as Panagbenga to prop up the industry. Soon, as more cars ply the streets or get caught in traffic jams spewing carbon in the air, that cool climate might just go too for as early as now, we have been experiencing temperatures north of the thermometer that most Baguio folks never experienced before. 

Paris has managed to keep its character while our current administrators seem to be doing all they can to destroy Baguio's. Session Road used to be a showcase of Baguio's colonial past - but not anymore, viewing the historic road from any angle today only offers a noisy collage of over-sized commercial billboards. They ignore the very laws that they are supposed to enforce to satisfy their conscience-less capitalist cohorts. Much noise was created about that new building on Session Road that violated the permit issued to its owners who built additional floors on top that exceeded that number of floors that those same owners originally applied for. After much noise? Nothing, it's business as usual. 

There's very little left of what Baguio is all about, and Mayor Domogan is determined to erase all that. He's no urban planner, he's no engineer, he's no architect, he obviously doesn't have an artistic sensibility, or any eye for aesthetics, yet his administration has all been about infrastructure. Ugly infrastructure. He's a lawyer, but that doesn't even come into play when it comes to legally defending the city from abuses such as SM City Baguio's insistence on making the biggest commercial establishment in the city even bigger at the expense of the welfare of the people. 

The city's heritage cannot and must not be ignored, and I'm not only talking about old buildings and parks here. I'm talking about all the past administrators of Baguio who made sure that the city progressed without sacrificing the city's heritage, its raison d'etre and most importantly the welfare of its citizens. That is a very important aspect of the city's history, and Domogan must ignore that, must learn from that.    

We inherited a beautiful city from those who came before us, we cannot, must not allow Domogan to hand over a decaying city to our children on behalf of our generation. Because that's what it all boils down to - we are turning over a dying, soul-less Baguio to our children.  

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Chavi's point

I'm quite sure this particular client never reads my blog - in the middle of a ridiculously rush job, dozens of text messages coming in with edits, suggestions, directions coming in as I was trying to put together a story on the timeline. A text comes in from Ferdie asking if I was home. I am. On my way Chavi and Millie. Cool. A bottle of Jim Beam. Yes. I take a break at sunset. I can continue after dinner.

We reminisce about Baguio of two decades ago. We talk about our sons and daughters today. The challenges of playing the role of parents to teen-aged children. Of course we'd like them to be safe, avoid the mistakes we made.

Cue: Kenny Rogers' Coward of the Country.

"Promise me son not to do thing I've done... walk away from trouble if you can."

That's the biggest mistake we're making, actually, Chavi offers. Sure we made some stupid mistakes, and we don't want them to make the same mistakes as much as possible. So we tell them about those mistakes, try to make them understand and learn from those mistakes. But we have to realize that for them to learn from those is for them to actually make those mistakes too.

Good point.

"Now it don't mean you're weakIf you turn the other cheek
And I hope you're old enough to understand
Son, you don't have to fight to be a man"

I don't know, just take care, very good care, always.

Monday, May 4, 2015

No spare, spare none and waking up

The day was ushered in by a beautiful sunrise, I usually wake up before light these days as it has been for the past several years. While there are times when I wish I could stay under the covers a bit longer, I've learned to love waking up as the sun rises. 

This was a particularly good batch of yogurt, even our guest at home agreed after she helped herself to a bowl topped with honey. Even the first press of coffee was wonderful, I step out for a bit to check on the tomatoes and lettuces that Aeneas and I planted a couple of weeks ago and are now finally sprouting - they too seemed happy to welcome the new day. 

I drive Leon to school and our guests to the bus station to get a ride to Sagada - wished we were going too, and off to the rest of the morning's chores. Then I spotted this...

Life goes on for as long as it can, then lights out, and we don't know for sure what comes next. For now, this is it, the one and only life we have on this planet.

Jeepney wisdom, nothing like it. Go ahead, seize the day, bring about happiness and joy, that's what life, this life, is all about. Spare none.

Good day.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Binaliw ng kahirapan

Mary Jane Veloso's execution has been temporarily put on hold, and the reason for it depends on which side of the political fence you sit on.

It was Indonesian President Joko Widodo himself who said that his decision to grant Mary Jane a stay of execution was out of "the Indonesian government's desire to cooperate with the ongoing case in the Philippines."

"There was a letter from the Philippine government saying that there is a legal process related to human trafficking there. So we need to respect this legal process," a CNN report quoted Widodo saying. (CNN)

The Department of Foreign Affairs simply says, ""We are relieved that the execution of Mary Jane Veloso was not carried out tonight," said DFA spokesman Charles Jose. (GMA).

Migrante says credit should go to them. Veloso's mother echoed the same, and went on to bash the Aquino administration, and Aquino himself, "Dumating na kami dito sa Pilipinas para maningil. Maniningil kami, marami kaming singilin — marami kaming pautang eh, kaya lang hindi pera. Pautang sa gobyerno natin dahil hanggang sa huli, niloko pa rin kami..."

Let us not forget that what Veloso got was a postponement, not a cancellation, of her execution. Let us not forget, that the fight was about saving Veloso's life, and not about billing. Let us not forget, that in all this, we are taking advantage of Mary Jane all over again, using her, abusing her, along with her mother, to advance our respective political agendas.

Are, indeed, a nation of trapos? Have we, Filipinos, really gone that low that we now refuse to celebrate anything good that happens in, to this country? That we have lost all respect for each other?

In the meantime, Veloso's life still hangs in the balance.
Amado V. Hernandez said in his poem, "Kung Tuyo Na Ang Luha Mo Aking Bayan," 

Sa libingan ng maliit
ang malaki'y may libangan
Katulad mo ay si Huli, naaliping bayad-utang,
Katulad mo ay si Sisa, binaliw ng kahirapan