Art Capital of the Philippines

Rizal Province, Culture Capital

LAST August 24, I received from Bohol Gov. Edgardo Chatto the flag of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) symbolizing the transfer to Rizal province of the honor of being the country’s “Culture Capital.”

The event was held in the historic town of Angono which, in turn, has the distinction of being Rizal province’s center of arts and culture.

Angono may be a small town but the event which took place in its plaza was of international significance. The event was part of the many activities lined up by the national government after the Philippines was declared as the First ASEAN culture capital. The events are supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Rizal province is the fifth to display the ASEAN banner as the country’s Culture Capital. We are honored to enjoy this distinction we now share with Bohol, Batangas, Pampanga, and Capiz.

That the event took place in Angono must have been part of its destiny.

I have always said that there is perhaps no other place in the country, or in the world, that has more artists-per-square-meter than Angono. In fact, the entire town can and should be considered a natural community of artists.

The beloved Indian leader Mohandas Ghandi said “that a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.” That classic statement is easy to prove – just look into the hearts and soul of the people of Angono and there one will find culture.

In Angono is enshrined the hearts and soul of many Filipino artists, including what we love to dub the ancestors of muralist and national artist Francisco “Botong” Francisco.

We refer to the pre-historic Filipinos who lived in the caves in the hills of Angono and made a canvass of the cave walls, thus giving us the petroglyphs as part of our cultural heritage.

The Angono town mayor underscored the important place of the petroglyph artists by depicting their paintings in the polished stones that served as memento of the August 24 event.

In a way, the mayor appears to have wanted to tell us that millennia before there was a Botong Francisco, art was already in vogue in Angono. He is correct.

The remarkable feat of Angono is not only that the town has preserved the works of its artist – it is also seen in the town’s active, conscious, and aggressive efforts to pass on its cultural heritage to future generations. No, Angono does not talk about art and culture in the past tense – this heritage is referred to in the present and future tenses.

Our elders from Angono would always remind me that there were already outstanding visual artists before Botong Francisco. There were the early greats who took over the canvass and palette of the petroglyph artists: Juancho Senson and Pedro Piñon of the Spanish colonial period; Moises Villaluz and Felicisimo Fuentes of the more recent era.

The roster is made even more distinguished by the presence of other prominent names in the visual arts: Jose Blanco is joined in the roster of outstanding Angono artists by the likes of Nemi Miranda and Orville Tiamson.

But the looks of it, that roster will continue to grow. Already, there is a third generation of Blancos who are enriching the cultural landscape of Angono. Botong Francisco has a descendant who is also starting to make waves in the visual arts scene – Totong Francisco.

And then there are the celebrated Neo-artists group, the group of young traditional painters in the lakeshore areas and other Angono artists who express their creativity through the everyday arts.

There is one other artist who was born and raised in Angono. His name, Maestro Lucio San Pedro, national artist and known to the present generator as the composer of the melody of the immortal “Sa Ugoy ng Duyan.”

Maestro Lucio is proof that the artistry of the people of Angono and the rest of Rizal is multi-faceted and not merely one-dimensional.

Maestro Lucio is the “muralist” of music. His compositions were grand. When one listens to them, one is awed by the magnificence in the combination of notes. Lilting lullabies or marches, a San Pedro opus always evokes grandeur. His works are proof that Angono wallows in its vast wealth of artistry and culture.

The expressions of such artistry may vary from one artist to the other. Yet, all the Angono maestros share something in common: The view and the breeze of Laguna de Bay.

In my many previous pieces, I expressed amazement at what the towns around the shore of this body of water have produced. I noted that these so-called lakeshore towns have given birth and raised national heroes, noted political and religious leaders, singers, poets, painters, composers.

What is it in Laguna de Bay that aroused their artistic and leadership potentials; that made them dreamers who saw the Philippines in a different light? Is there a muse who inhabits the lake and who visit these artists in their dreams?

Even our elders in Rizal can only share in the amazement and wonder.

And we all share in the view that no matter what that power within the lake that creates Rizals, Manalos, Tolentinos, San Pedros, Franciscos, and Blancos, Laguna de Bay is worth all our efforts to save and preserve.

Who knows, there really is magic in that lake that stokes the imagination of young budding artists?

Maybe, that should be enough reason for all of us to get together and look at all the options available to make sure the lake survives, regains its former beauty and luster, and continues to inspire the artistic genius of Filipinos.

Credits to:

September 11, 2010, 9:26pm
Manila Bulletin