Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Food as a Gateway to Culture and ULAM: Main Dish

When we were still living in the Philippines, everytime we went to a new town, the first thing my husband Jojo Lucila would visit was the food market. He claims that you learn a lot about the people’s lifestyle based on the kinds of food sold in the market. 

Now there is more to discover, as we live in a society that prides itself of embracing and celebrating cultural diversity. There are festivals, events and community activities that allow us to engage in different cultures without having to travel to another country. There are many other ways to immerse in a culture - learning the language, folk dances, songs, literature. But the easiest to enjoy and digest (so to speak) is food. 

Food brings people together. Shows like Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown”, Eddie Huang’s “Huang’s World” and David Chang’s “Ugly Delicious” have focused on showcasing cultures through food. When one partakes of a dish, one learns about the topography of the region by the ingredients and its spices. The way it is prepared, presented and eaten speaks volumes about the traditions. Our food has sentimental value, usually passed down through generations, and connected to life moments, i.e. celebrations, or as comfort food to cheer us up.

In the documentary ULAM: Main Dish, Filipino-American director Alexandra Cuerdo focuses on the ascent of Filipino cuisine in American tables by following the journey of award-winning chefs. These chefs and restaurateurs share their stories of breaking prejudices, being authentic, using food as a vehicle to communicate and present ourselves, and validating our culture. They come from different walks of life, i.e. from Michelin-starred line cooks to high school dropouts, successful restaurateurs to first time shop owners - but all highly acclaimed by critics. They share their histories, their sacrifices and what it takes to run a successful restaurant in two of the most competitive markets in the world: New York and Los Angeles. The film also talks about the experiences of first and second-generation Filipino Americans, and the struggle to have Filipino food and identity be recognized in the larger American society and even their own Filipino community. There are also philosophical conversations on the Filipinos’ history, crab mentality, the effects of colonialism, and the need for support from the Filipino community.

The narrative for our food is a narrative of our history. In the words of the film’s creators, “It's like saying, this is me on a plate. We can say, we both enjoy this, this is some version of what we both grew up with, it's some version of ourselves — even more so when we're connecting with a non-Filipino. I can say: This is a version of me, this is a version of my history, what I grew up with, and you should try it. If you don't like it, that's OK. I have twenty other dishes for you to try…  Filipino food and its ability to succeed is also a window into our future — and we must discuss what divides us, to find what unites us. If we are to celebrate Filipino food, and be respected as a people, we must dig deep into what makes us, and examine the future we want to create.”

These are timely messages for us. There is a global surge on advancing the Filipino and the culture. For Filipino Albertans and Canadians, it is a crucial next step soon after the provincial and federal proclamations of Philippine Heritage Month. It is a call for unity, of collaboration and bayanihan spirit, and of collective, not just individual, pride.

As part of the Philippine Heritage Month celebrations, the Philippine Arts Council is presenting the screening of the much acclaimed documentary ULAM: Main Dish on June 19, 2019, 7 pm at the Myer Horowitz Theatre. A panel discussion will follow the screening. Tickets are $15 + s/c through Ticketfly, or at selected Filipino businesses. For more information, go to philippineartscouncil.com. 

This is a not-to-be missed opportunity in showcasing the Filipino culture and at the same time reflecting on who we are. The film has been featured in the international film festival circuits since its premiere and has even screened in the same theatre as the Oscar winning film “Roma”. It is the film that propelled the late Jonathan Gold, food and music critic, to convince the LA Times to book the whole LA Grand Central Market to do Filipino food pop-ups, for the LA Times Food Bowl. Jonathan Gold was a strong and early supporter of the film ULAM: Main Dish.

To quote a review on ULAM: Main Dish in the Vancouver Asian Film Festival 2018, “In the end, Ulam is a noteworthy film, mainly for shining a spotlight on a community and food that for so long has flown under the radar. According to an interview with the director, Cuerdo has been getting inquiries from teachers wanting to use the film to teach since there has been so little representation of Filipino-Americans in the media.[1] This film will certainly provide a crash course on Filipino food for the uninitiated, fill the Filipino-Canadian community with a sense of pride at what their fellow Filipinos have accomplished and hopefully encourage more visits to local Filipino restaurants.”


* This article was published in the May 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Cherry Samuya Veric: More than just Glitz and Glam

A Filipino designer has been showcasing his collections for three consecutive years at the Western Canada Fashion Week (WCFW), the longest running event of its kind in Alberta, and the second largest in Canada. Cherry Samuya Veric, known for his classic silhouettes and stunning detailed work, has been showcased in the International Collections segment of the fashion event, even featured as a closer for the night.
In his WCFW debut in 2017, Cherry brought his 26-piece collection of evening wear "Viva", his favourite collection to date. This was the same collection presented when he was chosen to close the 20th anniversary of Philippine Fashion Week, known as the Olympics of Philippine fashion, and a career highlight for Cherry. Viva is his tribute to the Ati-Atihan Festival and the Sto. Niño, as he hails from Aklan and is a Sto. Niño devotee. This collection was described as "a breathtaking collection... on the story of West meeting East through a fusion of indigenous patterns and modern forms. The lean lines and stunning visuals emphasized the alluring stylishness of ethnic patterns, and by mixing native designs with modern cosmopolitan trends. Veric proved that native design can be very appealing on a global scale." This collection featured a staggering amount of sequins to form the ethnic patterns. Needless to say, this was a great hit in his debut appearance in Edmonton. He would later bring this collection to Fashion Weeks in Paris, and New York.


In 2018, with the WCFW theme on Diversity, Cherry drew inspiration from Game of Thrones, and translated it into daily and evening wear. And in 2019, he brought his "Homage" collection, inspired by church frescoes, with fabrics that looked like paintings, paying homage to the romance and art of the Old Masters. Cherry is honoured and humbled to be presented for consecutive years by the Western Canada Fashion Week. His participation is a great platform for international exposure for him, but is a source of pride for the Filipino community here. I'm not sure he realizes enough the impact of his presence in this event.

The love for design was evident as a young child. Cherry remembers dressing up his sister's Barbie dolls with different fabrics, yarn and lace from their family's store. As an undergraduate, he was an abstract painter, joining visual arts competitions organized by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. This is why I believe his designs show fluidity in its lines and detailing, has drama, and has an affinity to works of art, particularly of the Renaissance period.

Right after graduating with a Fine Arts degree with a major in Advertising at the Far Eastern University, he landed a contract in Saudi Arabia by accident. He was accompanying a friend to the interview and ended up being offered the job. After his 2-year stint there, he went to Guangzhou, then Dubai. In between, he joined Season 2 of Project Runway Philippines, ending as one of the last 2 finalists. He recalls rushing from the airport and straight to the auditions, where he was the last applicant. This is where Cherry met Tessa Prieto, who was one of the judges and has since become his muse.


A Cherry Samuya Veric design is known as a work of classicism, alluring silhouette, and true workmanship of intricate patterns and hand sewn details. They are haute couture luxurious, glamorous, bold, personalized, yet wearable, taking months to create. He has been honoured as Top Haute Couture Designer of the Year 2016 during the Fashion Asia Awards in Chongquing, China. His works have been favoured by: beauty queens Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach, Miss World 2013 Megan Young, Miss International 2016 Kyle Versoza, Venus Raj, Shamcey Supsup-Lee; actresses Marian Rivera, Anne Curtis, Bea Alonzo.

I met up with Cherry along with his good friend Edge Gabrador, who is in charge of the Asian Division for Western Canada Fashion Week, and responsible for bringing Cherry Veric for 3 years along with Julius Tarog in 2018. The person I met is a reticent guy, confident in his capabilities and achievements but not overbearing. Evidently a smart and astute guy in the way he approaches life, faces challenges, intuitively designs and brings out a facet of a client, and conveys a point through his designs. Our conversations reveal a person who is grounded, who dreams but at the same time is aware of the pitfalls of the industry that has a very thin boundary line between glamour and superficiality. And yet, seeing him groove while taking a smoke break with his headphones, he is capable of enjoying the moment and just going with the flow. I guess this is why big things happen for him, even when not highly sought. I shared some planned and dream projects for the Philippine Arts Council, and he totally got it. It is an exciting moment when people connect this way. Here's hoping that Cherry Samuya Veric returns to our part of town once again and soon. And this time on a more extended and synergetic enterprise.


* This article was published in the April 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Friday, 15 March 2019

The Quest for a Philippine Centre in Edmonton

 Ever since my family arrived in Edmonton from Manila, I have consistently heard random comments and yearning for a Philippine Centre in Edmonton. It is not difficult to imagine the benefits of having a venue uniquely catering to, and reflective of, the Filipino community - having a “home base” to interact and socialize with fellow kababayans; a resource and programs centre for Philippine art and culture; and an infrastructure legacy and monument of, for, and by, the Filipino.

Edmonton did have a Filipino centre before. In 1984, the Philippine Bayanihan Association in Alberta purchased a building on a ¾ acres of prime land by 12520 135 Avenue for the Filipino Canadian Community Centre. However, it was sold in 1995 due to the cost of maintaining the building. To date, the other Filipino centres in Canada that I know of are: the Filipino Centre in Toronto; the Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts and Culture in Toronto; the Filipino Community Centre in Windsor, Ontario; the Philippine Bayanihan Community Centre in Victoria, BC; the Philippine Canadian Centre of Manitoba in Winnipeg; and the Philippine Cultural Center Foundation in Calgary.

With the declaration of Philippine Heritage Month both provincially and federally, it is an importune time to revisit the goal of a Philippine Centre in Edmonton. After a consultation with Minister Amarjeet Sohi where the Minister committed to assist in the establishment of the centre, community leaders met to brainstorm on the vision, governance model, and feasibility of an Edmonton Philippine centre. There was commonality in the thought that this can only be realized with the community working together rather than in silos. An offshoot of that meeting was a survey that was released to gauge the Filipino community’s interest, current utilization of rented facilities, wish list, and thoughts for making the establishment of a Philippine centre a reality. Is it really possible? The sentiment in that meeting was of optimism and enthusiasm. But there are also naysayers who declare that this has been tried several times in the past and therefore, this current initiative is doomed for the same failure. But do we remain shackled in the past and keep this as a pipe dream, or do we learn from these experiences and dream big?

Let’s do the math. Edmonton alone, I believe has 30+ Filipino organizations. If we sum up the amount each organization, and in some cases individuals, spend on venue rentals for various activities, and allocate these to one centre, there is a strong possibility that this can cover at the minimum, monthly rent or mortgage for a dedicated facility. The most recent census revealed that there are 60,000+ Filipinos in Edmonton. Let’s look at a scenario where, even if just 20% of the 60,000 Filipinos donate just $1 a month to a building fund, that would already yield $12,000/month already. These are some schemes that can be worked within the community, in addition to the efforts to advocate and apply for funding from different levels of government. Money, as it turns out, may not be the biggest obstacle after all.

And here lies the challenge. For in order to build and to sustain a Philippine centre, we all, collectively, need a paradigm shift. I believe that we all know what it would take to make this a reality (i.e. accountability, transparency, credibility), but the bigger challenge is, will we do what needs to be done? And so I will pose the questions with the hope that this will galvanize us to be united in our goal. What would it take for us to work collaboratively in the spirit of servant leadership and trust? Do we have what it takes to focus on long term goals and veer away from trivialities? There is undoubtedly no individual financial gain, personal aggrandizement, and special entitlements in this initiative but the community legacy is immense. It is an initiative of selflessness, volunteerism, dedication and perseverance. 

In Toronto, there were several attempts since the 1970s, by the Filipino community to build a centre. They were able to purchase a property in 2002 for The Filipino Centre, 18 months after the group’s launch. Community leaders in Windsor convened in 1992, opened a centre in 1993, and in 2014, opened an expanded and improved Filipino Community Centre. The Bayanihan Centre in Victoria, supported by several Filipino organizations, raised funds since 1990, and was finally established in 2001 after acquiring a provincial grant and a credit-union mortgage. The Philippine Cultural Center Foundation in Calgary, sitting in a 2,750 square feet condominium property, took five years of hard work to fulfill their dream in 2001. The Filipino community in Winnipeg had the foresight to establish their Philippine centre way back in 1984 and have since then moved to a bigger location, sustained by continuous fundraising and volunteering.

It’s high time for an Edmonton Philippine centre. Each one of us has the capacity to contribute for this cultural monument and legacy project. As the saying goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” So to all Filipinos and those of Filipino descent in Edmonton, shall we?


* This article was published in the March 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Antonio and Ross Baisas: Masters of Ice and Snow

I first met and wrote about the Baisas Brothers, Antonio and Ross, last year when they competed for the first time at the Ice on Whyte Festival. Already on a wave of a succession of top awards in previous competitions, they won 1st place, Judges' Choice, and People's Choice Awards for their ice carving "Alliance" in the 2018 Ice on Whyte. A day after the opening of the festival, they left immediately for work and two other competitions in the ice carving circuit. These were the Winter Interlude 2018 in Ottawa where they again garnered the top prize, and the Judges and Public Choices Awards at the Fete D'hiver Saint-Jean-Port-Joli International Competition in Quebec.

The top three awardees in Ice on Whyte are automatically qualified for the following year. And so, the Baisas Brothers were prominently featured in the 2019 Ice on Whyte media releases. However, before returning to Edmonton from Montreal and Ottawa where they are respectively based, they participated in the SnowDays International Snow Sculpture Competition in Banff. Their work "Tangled", which depicted two moose with interlocking antlers, won Judges' Pick and People's Choice Awards.

I had the privilege of spending some time with Ross and Antonio, and witness the stages of their creation "Roarrr!!!" in the Ice on Whyte, 2019 Canada Cup of Ice Carving. On Day 1, when they showed me their design, my eyes just popped with their derring do. Their design was the riskiest. While the other competitors had detailed designs, they had wide and solid bases. The Baisas Brothers' design, a skeletal tyrannosaurus, would after all just stand on two legs, and have unsupported front and back extensions, not to mention the detailing for the bones, head and teeth for the dinosaur. When I remarked on it, they answered with a shrug, "That's the risk. What's the point in competing when you don't challenge yourself? You can't always play it safe." Well said.

I referred to the Baisas Borthers' work in my previous article as A Story of Fire and Ice - fire for their passion for their work and ice as the medium. Observing them work for three days validated this notion. The longest I lasted with them outdoors was 30 minutes, whereas they would work on their sculpture for 14 hours a day, a total of 35 hours, with 15 blocks of ice. I would joke with them about having no right to complain anymore for shoveling snow and having to find a better way of earning a living. I witnessed how a plain block of ice is transformed into a t-rex's foot in a span of 10-15 minutes. I saw their patience and perseverance in the painstaking grinding and scraping they do in frigid temperature.

What struck me most though aside from their skills and talent, is the love for what they do and the humility for what they can do and have achieved. The ice and snow sculptors circle is a tight knit group. They regularly meet up in the competition circuit. So while they are competitive, they are also supportive. It is not unusual for Ross and Antonio to lend their tools to their competitors, especially those who fly in from other countries and whose tools will not be allowed to go through Border Security. Spending time with them allowed me to be privy to their conversations about which competitions to vie for, strategies for funding and making the trip viable, and commissioned works. All these made it more concrete for me the amount and the kind of sacrifices they make for something they love, and not necessarily something they will earn money from.

Stunned as I was initially with their design, I knew though that if there's anyone who could execute the design, it would be them. And they did, with flying colours. I was amazed by the detailing, the way they were able to make the long tail curve, and the clarity and seamlessness of the ice. When I asked him why their work was so, whereas with the other competitors' sculptures you can detect the delineations of the ice blocks, they just smiled enigmatically and said, "There's a technique for that. And that's the secret."

Nature, though, has cunning ways. On Day 3, with its 0 degree overnight temperature and +4 Celsius daytime high, lovely for Edmontonians for January, proved to be challenging for the ice sculptures. With the ice melting, a perilous part of "Roarrr!!!" collapsed 10 minutes before the final judging. Nature, after all, is something you have to contend with in these competitions. Nevertheless, "Roarrr!!!" and the Baisas Brothers were awarded 3rd Place and the Artists' Choice awards during the opening of the Festival. After its 2-week run, Roarrr!!! was announced the winner of the People's Choice Award despite having part of its tail in the ground.

The Baisas Brothers were scheduled to leave first thing in the morning after the announcement of winners. Reality sets in quickly and they needed to meet work demands for the upcoming Lunar New Year. I asked them to have an extended time in the city when they return next year to allow some time for the Filipino community to meet them. Unfortunately, a return to the Ice on Whyte or other competitions might not even be in the plans pending financial support to cover travel expenses to these competitions, and allowed time off from work. In fact, it was a little bit aching to attest that someone who shovels snow in the sidewalk probably earns more than someone who has earned top prize after 35 hours of hard and skilled work in the ice.

Nevertheless, I hope that Antonio and Ross find consolation and fulfillment in the fact that we are in awe of their talents and skills, and are proud of what they have achieved and will continue to reap representing both Canada and the Philippines.


* This article was published in the February 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.


** As an update, just this February, the Baisas Brothers together with Kiara-Lyne Baisas, won again 2nd place and Public Choice Award in the Snow Sculpture Competition at Fete L'hiver at Saint-Jean-Port-Joli at Quebec.


Saturday, 19 January 2019

2018 Retrospective

2018 proved proved to be a banner year for the Filipino community and a momentous one for me - meeting new people, working on new projects. It was a year of recognition of Philippine art and culture, and the talent of Filipino artists.

The year started with my meeting the immensely talented and much acclaimed ice sculptors Baisas Brothers, i.e. Ross and Antonio, based in Montreal and Ottawa, respectively. They were in Edmonton for Ice on Whyte where they won the top awards, and continue to win in global competitions. I also had the pleasure of getting acquainted with pastry chef Ely Rowen Salar of Calgary, and photographer Sherwin Calaluan of Banff, both winning competitions in their respective fields. In February, the Edmonton Arts Council announced award recipients which included three Filipinos: yours truly, Ida Beltran-Lucila for the Edmonton Artist Trust Fund (the first and so far the only Filipino recipient), and Erica Cawagas and Jonathan Sherrer for Cultural Diversity in the Arts. Another first is the feature on Rommel Tingzon's paintings at The Works Festival. Rommel is the first Filipino painter to be featured in this festival, and one based not even in Edmonton or Canada, but in Palawan.

It was also a landmark year of special events and collaborations on Philippine art: the concerts of Koro Filipino (Paraiso), Bamboo, Tunog Kalye, Heber Bartolome, Piolo and Iñigo Pascual, Jose Mari Chan; Emma the Musical; the 3rd Edmonton Filipino Fiesta; and MC College's New Designers Fashion Show which featured three Filipino designers Fely Agader, Gian Salvador and Francis Tungul. Fely Agader would later hold her solo fashion show in November at Fort Saskatchewan. Philippine Arts Council held Learning Table sessions with Bamboo, who was remarkable with his generosity of time and experience, and with the Tunog Kalye artists. Philippine culture had more presence in the Alberta Culture Days, with Philippine Arts Council's full day workshop at Lynnwood School and a stand alone folk dance workshop, and the UPAAE's Historya: Walking through the Story of the Filipino People. The Philippine Arts Council continued grassroots education on Philippine dance throughout the year at Sister Annata Brockman School, Blessed Oscar Romero High School, Balwin School, and Lynnwood School. And of course, there is the regular radio show Himig Pinoy at 101.7 World FM, featuring original Filipino music.

However, the significant moment of the year was the declaration of June as Philippine Heritage Month by the cities of Edmonton, Calgary and Fort Saskatchewan, then by the Legislative Assembly for the province of Alberta, and later in the year, by the federal government. All these efforts stemmed from community initiatives, consultations, and negotiations. Coinciding with the provincial declaration was a release of the Philippine episode of Seconds Please TV documentary, whose launch was organized with the Philippine Arts Council and the MultiCultural Health Brokers Cooperative.

There were several other events in the community. Shows in local establishments like Panciteria de Manila, TFC Restaurant, Casa Laurel featured local groups like The Girls of Crazy Sexy Cool, Sooner Band, Switch Band, Skyfall Code Band, Simplicity Band, Enrico Ilaga, among others. Individual artists like actors Danielle Yu and Jimmy Buena, were respectively part of productions by Walterdale Theatre and Theatre Yes, Mila Bongco-Philipzig was part of writers' reading AlbertaLitFest, and Kristina de Guzman was involved in an art installation exploring perceptions of immigrant communities.

There were probably more events and achievements which I unfortunately was not able to attend or were not in my radar. Nevertheless, these mentioned are proof of a revitalized regard of, and by, the Filipino community in bringing forth our cultural fabric. Everyone of us should continue to be guardians and good representations of our heritage. And here lies the challenge. For artists, stretch your boundaries, explore your creativity and create something authentic. For producers, respect your artists and your audience. And for the general public, support, promote and be proud of your culture. This way, we Filipinos significantly show up in this multi-cultural arena, creating a legacy that is truly deserving of the municipal, provincial and federal declarations of Philippine Heritage Month that have been bestowed on us.

* This article was published in the January 2019 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.



Saturday, 22 December 2018

Art for Social Change: Viscosity and The Right to Exist

In this past month, I attended two events that remarkably utilized art to deliver messages for social change. The first was Theatre Yes' "Viscosity", which ran from November 7-17, and "The Right to Exist: An Evening of Arts and Culture", presented by Migrante Alberta and Climate Justice Edmonton, last December 8.

Viscosity was a uniquely staged production in the manner of performance and installation, tackling real life stories of people working in the front line of the oil industry. It featured a powerhouse cast - Chris Bullough, Leo Campus Aldunez, Murray Farnell, Byron Martin, Sandy Paddick, Melissa Thingelstad, and our very own, Filipino Jimmy Buena. This performance thrust people to engage in one-on-one encounters with the actors, absorbing the highs and lows of their respective experiences. The vignettes were culled from transcripts of interviews and delivered verbatim. The most heartrending of which was the story of a Filipino worker entangled in the ploys of an illegal recruiter. Jimmy Buena delivered a compelling portrayal, and I saw several in the audience in tears.


The production garnered rave reviews: ... unlike anything we've seen on Edmonton's stages before (Jenna Marynowski, After the House Lights); ... I invoke no hyperbole at all when I say it was one of the most engaging and enjoyable artistic experiences of my life (Dylan Howard, film director). We may know and have heard of experiences like these in the oil industry, but this staging just brought things to the heart. The transcripts of the interviews made for Viscosity will be provided to the Alberta Labour History Institute. Theatre Yes is a company dedicated to "responding to local, national and international conversations in thought-provoking ways". To know more about their work, go to theatre-yes.ca.

The Right to Exist: An Evening of Arts and Culture, was held in commemoration of International Human Rights Day and International Migrants' Day. It brought together activists, supporters, and artists across the Treaty 6 territory. It was a night of music, spoken word, visual arts, and thought provoking
messages. The blessing was given by Elder Eli Green. Different cultures were represented in the performances provided by: drumming by Carol Powser and Chubby Cheeks (Noah), 8 year-old with a powerful voice; dry humour from comedian Mav Adecer; soulful and passionate singing by Chilean Marianela Adasme, Jesse Cunningham, Lyla Luciano, and trio Gregie Flores, Gina May Ramirez and Gemalil Bonaobra; spoken words by Shima Robinson and Brandon Wint. The performances addressed issues of displacement, racism, advocacy, and healing. Whitney Haynes shared her insights from a trip to the Philippines where indigenous tribes were violently displaced and abused, in favour of Canadian mining business. Visual artist Yazmin Juarez exhibited works of exploring the imagination and of art as the balance and catalyst for social awareness, specially made for the event.


Art breaks down language barriers. Even when performed in a foreign tongue, the passion and spirit of the delivery still sends the message across. Interestingly enough, the issues that had roots from one culture resonates in various levels with another culture, setting and time. This demonstrates that these are universal issues, that events have a ripple effect across humanity, and that people don't live in silos.

Both events made me ache and naively wonder how these things can happen in our world. It made me grateful that there are people who go beyond their comfort zones and continue to push these issues into our awareness. All of us, in whatever capacity, i.e. artists, activists advocates, can be galvanized into action and heed John F. Kennedy's words "One person can make a difference, and everyone should try".


* This article was published in the December 2018 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.

Monday, 19 November 2018

2018 National Artists - Seven Stalwarts of Philippine Art

Seven icons in art and culture were bestowed National Artist status by President Rodrigo Duterte in a ceremony last October 24, 2018 at Malacañang Palace. Do you know the songs Kay Ganda ng Ating Musika, Paraisong Parisukat and Tuwing Umuulan at Kapiling Ka? Have you been to The Coconut Palace or seen the San Miguel Building in Pasig? Do you remember chuckling at the humour of the Mang Ambo and Slice of Life comics? These are just some of the works of these artists. The 2018 National Artists are: Larry Alcala (for Visual Arts), Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio (Theatre), Ryan Cayabyab (Music), Francisco Mañosa (Architecture), Resil Mojares and Ramon Muzones (both for Literature), and Kidlat Tahimik (Cinema). The awards are bestowed posthumously for Alcala and Muzones. This brings to 73 the total of proclaimed National Artists of the Philippines, the highest national recognition bestowed on Filipinos who have made significant contributions to their artistic field.

Cartoonist and illustrator Larry Alcala is best known for his Slice of Life which depicts the quirks of the Filipino psyche. He pioneered animation for tv commercials in the late 1950s, and was given the title Dean of Filipino Cartoonists. He is the creator of 500 cartoon characters, 20 comic strips, six movies, two murals, and 15,000 published pages of comic strips.

Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio is the founder of Teatrong Mulat ng Pilipinas, a children's theatre and puppetry company based in the University of the Philippines (UP). Known as the Grand Dame of Southeast Asian Children's Theatre, she was also the chairperson of the UP's Creative Writing Program. Her literary output covers 20 books, 40 plays, 130 stories, and a number of essays and research on theatre.


Musician, composer and conductor Ryan Cayabyab, aka Mr. C, is probably the most famous composer of the century, having crossed over many disciplines and industries. His body of works range from theatre musicals, commissioned full-length ballets, an opera, a Mass, popular music, film scores, tv specials, and orchestral pieces. He has been a recipient of numerous awards, i.e. Philippines' Ten Outstanding Young Men, 2001 Onassis International Competition in Greece, as well as accolades from the film, television and recording industries.

Architect Francisco Bobby Mañosa is known for his designs using indigenous materials and forms (i.e. bahay kubo, bahay na bato), combined with modern building technology. Among his iconic designs are: the Coconut Palace; Amanpulo Resort in Palawan; Pearl Farm in Samal Island; Shangri-La Hotel in Mactan; the San Miguel Building in Mandaluyong; and the EDSA Shrine. He was among those proclaimed National Artists in 2009 by President Gloria Arroyo but was rescinded by the Supreme Court due to legalities in the proclamation.

Writer, historian and literary critic Resil Mojares' writings focus on literary criticism, urban and rural history, and political biography. He is the founder of the Cebuano Studies Center, a library and research center dedicated to Cebuano culture and history. Because of his significant work on Visayan literature, he is touted by peers as Visayan Titan of Letters. He has won numerous National Book Awards by the Manila Critics Circle and was honoured with a Gawad Balagtas award from the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL).

Ramon Muzones completed his law degree at the Central Philippine University in Iloilo City. He founded Sumakwelan, a group of Hiligaynon writers, and has 62 novels to his name. He was awarded the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas from UMPIL in 1988, and the Cultural Center of the Philippines' Gawad para sa Sining in 1989. He passed away in 1992 at the age of 79.

Kidlat Tahimik (real name Eric de Guia) is widely regarded as the father of independent Philippine cinema. He earned his MBA from Pennsylvania's Wharton Business School and worked in Paris for the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. It was a chance meeting and a small role in Werner Herzog's film that started Kidlat's film career. His first film, Perfumed Nightmare in 1977, won the International Critics Award at the Berlin Film Festival. Since then, he has acquired international and local awards for his films, and has inspired filmmakers to pursue their vision, independent of commercialism.


These are some of the artists who have forged paths in Philippine art and culture and are a source of national pride. The bestowment of the National Artist Award is valuable in that nominations come from peers and as proclaimed by the President of the Philippines, is the highest state honour conferred to artists. May the legacy of all National Artists continue to be recognized and appreciated by Filipinos, in the Philippines and globally, for the present and the succeeding years.


* This article was published in the November 2018 issue of the Alberta Filipino Journal.