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Culture collective.

The four champions of Philippine culture and arts--Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino chair Virgilio Almario, NCCA chair Felipe De Leon, Jr., CITEM executive director Rosvi Gaetos, and CCP president Raul Sunico--talk about Filipino cultural identity, the kind of cultural renaissance and 'P-pop' they hope to see, and what every Filipino can do to make it happen (Portraits by Noel B. Pabalate )

VIRGILIO ALMARIO

Chair - Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino

The Philippines has always been regarded as an amalgam of different cultures with no real identity of its own. What can you say about this stereotype?

First, you are right in calling it a stereotype. And we know what happens when we create stereotypes--the act proceeds from partial, if not total, ignorance.

Filipino identity is the total sum of all the influences that went into it, with the distinct "native" element--the manner of thinking, the regard for people and the world, and so many other uniquely Filipino elements--more or less intact, surviving, and inevitably dominant. And all this are contained or stored or reposed in language.

There is no such thing as a pure culture (or a pure language, for that matter). If we want to talk about culture as an amalgam, well, American culture is the best example. It is a direct descendant of the British, and a hodgepodge of all the cultures of its multitudes of immigrants. Then it regards and styles itself as the inheritor (in spirit as in practice) of the biggest imperial (or imperialist, if you may) power of Western civilization, the Romans (which in itself comes from the classical Greek).

What makes Filipino arts and culture unique and different? What can it offer the world?

The Filipino artist inevitably expresses, represents, or magically transforms in his work the Filipino experience--in literature as much in all the other arts. Like all arts coming from different sources or geographies, Filipino art can offer the world only the Filipino experience,wherever it takes place in the world, in whatever variation, and under whichever influence.

Three cultural and artistic works that best represent the Philippines and the Filipino spirit.

Artistic production is a vast field, as vast as the human activities the arts represent. It will be a very arbitrary process to choose any work from among these fields. I can only cite what I personally like or is meaningful to me, and which I'd like to think would be meaningful for most Filipinos, as well as the foreigner looking at or experiencing the artwork. In literature, I can cite three: the landmark metrical romance, Florante at Laura, by Balagtas, and Rizal's two novels, Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. In sculpture, there is Guillermo Tolentino's Bonifacio Monument.

Are we experiencing, right now, a cultural and artistic renaissance?

In terms of artistic production, Filipino artists have not been remiss or lacking in both effort and initiative. Our writers have always been constantly engaged with what Dylan Thomas called their "craft and sullen art." There was Florante at Laura, for example, which became a landmark in the national narrative, influencing the thinking of people who later became the initiators of change through their writing, like Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio.

The artistic renaissance, however, that I would like to witness is in the form of more Filipinos going to the museums and art galleries, watching Filipino plays, which may even include adaptations of foreign works, and even less sensationally, more Filipinos reading the literary works of fellow Filipinos. It will be we, the audience, who should now keep demanding for quality and meaningfulness in artistic production and give the corresponding reward of patronage, if not recognition, that culture and the arts are essential and foundational to any human, social, and even economic growth. Such recognition of and attitude toward culture and the arts are the best indicators, I think, of a real renaissance.

Our Asian neighbors like Korea and Japan have successfully exported their cultures to surrounding countries. Can P(hilippine)-pop, in the tradition of K-pop and J-pop, come to fruition?

I don't know if our version of K-pop or J-pop--P-pop as you call it--will happen. But what I know is that Korean and the Japanese pop invasions happened because their governments initiated it. There was a deliberate effort to produce quality material (even if "commercial" to certain points-of-view) or the encouragement and incentive to produce, and the "exportation" was undertaken like real trade. If we want such a thing--exporting pop culture--that is what we should do. On the other hand, I'm not sure if pop culture is even what we should aim to export.We have our own kind of Filipino artistic and cultural production to develop and promote. That is the "fruition" I would like to see.

How important is the development of arts and culture in a country's growth and progress?

Culture (and the arts), in fact, underlie all social and economic activity. It is the unacknowledged foundation of national life and progress.

Literally, on the other hand, culture and the arts can drive national development and progress. For one, culture is itself an industry. Policy and government accounting-wise, culture and the arts must not be considered as expense but as investment. Enlightened societies in Europe (where culture is part and parcel of national growth) earn and literally make profit from culture. A robust film industry, for instance, is a good source of revenue and taxes. A reading populace will make the book publishing industry (online or virtual as well as physical) a healthy tax-paying economic sector that not only entertains citizens but educates them as well. A well-developed society, after all, makes good use of all the knowledge it can get or generate for its citizens who will become the entrepreneurs, architects, engineers, manufacturers, shoppers, who will drive the economy. An ignorant society languishes in needful poverty.

What can every Filipino do to promote Philippine art and culture?

Actually quite simple. Have a specific bias for all kinds of art, books, plays, movies, and performances produced or created by Filipinos. Read as many books as are published by Filipino publishers, especially in the Filipino language. Go to all the galleries exhibiting art made by Filipinos. Buy art if you can. Watch all the plays and movies. In other words, be literate, patronize Filipino art. And tell all your friends about it. Discuss how and why you appreciate it, or what it means to you and to all of us. Make culture and arts a habit, a vital part of being Filipino.

FELIPE DE LEON, JR.

Chair - National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA)

The Philippines has always been regarded as an amalgam of different cultures with no real identity of its own. What can you say about this stereotype?

No country can escape the influence of another's culture, but that is not what is important. What matters is what we do with those influences. How we make them our own. Dr. Florentino Hornedo, a cultural historian, once said this: The stranger of today will be the native of tomorrow. Culture is not a tabula rasa that just takes in every influence. We have our own culture, our own way of thinking and doing things, and we process whatever we get from others using our own ways. We remove what we don't like and we retain what we like. We change them to suit our needs, values, and way of living. Look at the war vehicle of the Americans, it could only seat four people but we transformed it into the jeepney. Tango was invented in the whore houses of Argentina, very sensual and sexy. When it came to the Philippines, we made it into a love song called dansa, an example of which is the song "Maalaala Mo Kaya." No one even noticed that because we did not copy. We made our own.

What makes Filipino arts and culture unique and different? What can it offer the world?

Philippine culture, for me, is a culture of "pakikipagkapwa" and "pagpapakatao." That's what makes us unique. So yung family dynasties, where only 40 families control 70 percent of our nation's wealth, that's not us. That's what we got sa mga Kastila, the culture of power and the culture of wealth. We are not "hard" people. We are romantic, and expressive, and emotional. The Japanese is known for their precision and they used it in robotics, and nanotechnology. The Chinese is in the arts of everyday living. Filipinos, they are into human connections. We are into people. That's why we have strong family ties. That's why we don't like eating alone. Our hospital rooms always have an extra bed because there is always someone there with us. That's why we are number one in social media and texting. We are people who love to connect, to communicate and we reach out through our movies, our paintings, our dramas, our songs, our dances--our artworks. Our culture, our art, is so beautiful and people who see it, taste it, experience it, will fall in love with it.

Three cultural and artistic works that best represent the Philippines and the Filipino spirit.

The Kaloob Dance Troupe, the works of Botong Francisco, and the T'Boli weaving or B'laan weaving

Are we experiencing, right now, a cultural and artistic renaissance?

People, today, are more exposed. It's easier to travel. The Internet and social media allow us to see things in other countries. And seeing those, Filipinos, I think, are realizing we have something to offer. Kaya pala natin. So we join more competitions now. We're not afraid to try anymore. And for me, that's what we need here, too--exposure--so people would better appreciate our culture. The NCCA has been organizing events that showcase Filipino arts--Dayaw, Cinemarehiyon, Arts Month, Tanghal, Dance Festival, etc.

I think this is the year when so many choral groups won first place. Filipinos are starting to discover how talented they are. Look at Asia's Got Talent. Out of nine finalists, we had four. We are not behind when it comes to creativity. We just need to own it and to believe. And we're starting to. If only for that, I'd say there's a renaissance.

Our Asian neighbors, Korea and Japan, have successfully exported their cultures to surrounding countries. Can P(hilippine)-pop, in the tradition of K-pop and J-pop, come to fruition?

We are doing that in a different way. The NCCA has launched Sentro Rizal where we are trying to promote Philippine culture, especially Filipino language. We participate in cultural exchanges. We are exporting our photography, film, books. In fact, we are joining the bookfest in Frankfurt, where we are preparing to exhibit around 2,000 Filipino books. Just recently, we participated in the Venice Biennale, the biggest art exhibit in the whole world, after an absence of 51 years. There, we were cited by almost all the critics as a one of the must-see exhibits. If we can get more public support and support from the government like K-pop and J-pop did, we can easily be at the top and, in many ways, be even more productive than Korea and Japan.

How important is the development of arts and culture in a country's growth and progress?

UNDP released a study that says that development of the arts leads to all kinds of development. An example is the Renaissance. The arts developed first, followed by the government, then the economy. Why? Because when you develop the arts, you stimulate imagination and creativity. In any kind of development, creativity is the single, basic factor. Citizens become more mature, more creative, and healthier, both psychologically and spiritually.

What can every Filipino do to promote Philippine arts and culture?

In psychology, there's what we call the self-fulfilling prophecy. You become what you see yourself to be or what you think you are. It's the same principle with our country. Pag sinabi mong bulok ang Pilipinas, nagkakatotoo. Yan ang pinakamalaking problema ng bansa natin. We have always looked at ourselves negatively and that is the reason why we have never progressed. I call it Donya Victorina syndrome, because in Noli Me Tangere, Donya Victorina was a character who never believed in what Filipinos coud offer. Gusto niya maging Kastila. Puro pulbos araw-araw para maging maputi. Ganun pa rin tayo hanggang ngayon. So love our own. Patronize Filipino books, stage productions, movies. Be proud to be a Filipino.

ROSVI GAETOS

Executive Director - Philippine Center for International Trade Expositions and Missions (CITEM)

The Philippines has always been regarded as an amalgam of different cultures with no real identity of its own. What can you say about this stereotype?

When I was in tourism, we always had the challenge of identifying one iconic destination, cultural image, or landmark that will signify or identify what the Philippines is all about. For example, France had its Eiffel Tower, Japan its Mt. Fiji. We ended up, at one time, with the slogan: "The islands have it all" since it was always a great debate among the stakeholders as to whether it is the jeepney, the Rice Terraces, our fiestas, or a Filipina's smile that should be the icon. Now, we just say: It is more fun.

CITEM's branding initiative "Design Philippines" speaks of a collective. It does not attempt to speak of just one style or design direction. It is not because there is none, but rather because there are many. Our history and influences have given us many art forms, many ways of expressing ourselves, with not one more powerful than the others.

A "truly Filipino" culture for me would not be one that is devoid of foreign influences. It would be one that has been shaped and honed by many art forms and cultures, accumulated and aged over a period of time. It is one that is comfortable with varied influences.

What makes Filipino arts and culture unique and different? What can it offer the world?

The Filipino's superior craftsmanship in the home sector (furniture, home, and fashion accessories) is known and recognized the world over as non pareil.

I have been told, time and again, by our foreign buyers that the Filipino's hands work with exceptional ease and expertise. There exists a soul in those hands that create pieces of unparalleled beauty and symmetry. They create products with passion. They forge pieces with a narrative of hope.

Three cultural and artistic works that best represent the Philippines and the Filipino spirit.

Noli Me Tangere... it started a revolution! It is a masterpiece of a Philippine national hero; and credited for creating a unified Filipino national identity. The CCP and PICC, two contemporary landmarks of architectural significance that ensured our place in the global arts, cultural, and MICE scene...way before anyone else in Asia. The T'nalak made by the Dreamweavers of Mindanao... It is both literature and art for the T'bolis.

Are we experiencing, right now, a cultural and artistic renaissance?

What we are experiencing at Manila FAME is not merely a renaissance. I would call it an explosion of unfettered creative talent. Under one roof, you will see the country's top and rising creative talents, who have translated their cultural roots, talents, and inherent skills into tangible products that speak of the Filipino's tradition of excellence and craftsmanship.

Our Asian neighbors, Korea and Japan, have successfully exported their cultures to surrounding countries. Can P(hilippine)-pop, in the tradition of K-pop and J-pop, come to fruition?

CITEM is in the business of exporting design. In that sense, we have been quite successful in exporting our culture through design and craftsmanship.

We don't need P-Pop to make it to the world. I believe that we have already done it through our export products, now at the homes of celebrities, at the hotel lobbies and restaurants worldwide, worn by the best in the world.

How important is the development of arts and culture in a country's growth and progress?

For me, it's as simple as this: A country without arts and culture is one without a face.

RAUL SUNICO

President - Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP)

The Philippines has always been regarded as an amalgam of different cultures with no real identity of its own. What can you say about this stereotype?

The different arts and culture traditions that we had developed, no matter where the influence comes from, can be regarded as truly Filipino, if not purely Filipino. Even in the search for our own identity, the gradual assimilation of our native roots with colonial influence will eventually produce something uniquely Filipino. The terno, adobo, fiesta, Choc-nut, jeepney--all came from foreign ideas but we have managed to make interesting modifications and idiosyncrasies that made them our own. These influences are both good and bad--good in a sense that it provides us with a wider scope of materials to work with and the flexibility to adapt/assimilate different styles; and bad because sometimes, it confuses our sense of culture. But this is who we are and we should accept it.

What makes Filipino arts and culture unique and different? What can it offer the world?

Our degree of creative modifications in the different art genres can be our contribution to the global community. The way we cook, dress, dance, celebrate, worship, or even smile, all contribute a breath of fresh air to some seemingly generic ways of other cultures.

Three cultural and artistic works that best represent the Philippines and the Filipino spirit.

The kundiman (love song), barong Tagalog/terno, and halo-halo

Are we experiencing, right now, a cultural and artistic renaissance?

A number of Filipinos may have been distinguishing themselves in different genres right now (and many more have done so many times in the past) but it is not "a cultural renaissance" when the general public has not supported nor identified with those achievements. We are still overtaken by the popularity of Broadway musicals, foreign pop and rock events, and a highly political preoccupation that whatever achievements our artists may have acquired, both locally and internationally, are not given their proper attention or distinction.

Our Asian neighbors, Korea and Japan, have successfully exported their cultures to surrounding countries. Can P(hilippine)-pop, in the tradition of K-pop and J-pop, come to fruition?

K-pop and J-pop are creations of Korea and Japan. The Filipino is good at imitation, so P-pop is possible. Where is the originality, however, if we are to follow the others? It would be better to search for something more suitable to our culture.

How important is the development of arts and culture in a country's growth and progress?

Arts and culture are the lifeblood of any nation. Without it, the spirit of the country is confined to the material where everybody is just a statistic. Arts and culture soothe the soul, lift the spirits, cure the emotionally and spiritually (and sometimes physically) afflicted, and give a new meaning to life.

What can every Filipino do to promote Philippine arts and culture?

He must exert more effort in exposing himself to Filipino arts and culture, which he can do by listening to Philippine music, going to local museums, reading about the country's history, and most of all, by being proud of his ancestry.

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Title Annotation:Panorama
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Oct 18, 2015
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