What does it mean to be a Filipino?
There are moments when it is difficult to answer this question, primarily because Filipino culture and heritage are often buried under foreign influences that the country has adapted through time.
To begin with, history has brought the Philippines under the rule of different colonial powers—from the Spanish, to the Americans, to the Japanese—exposing the country to different cultures, which together, shape the nation that it is today.
And now more than ever, with the advent of globalization and the Internet, it can be more and more difficult to instill in the youth the values, traditions and practices that are essentially Filipino.
Thus, on its 25th anniversary, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) is taking on the challenge to preserve what fundamentally sets the Filipino apart from other cultures, and promote national pride in this very modern world.
Guided by the theme “Mga Kulturang Filipino . . . Buhay na Buhay,” the NCCA took the first step in this renewed mission, in partnership with the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), as it marked its silver jubilee on June 26 at the Nicanor Abelardo Theater of the CCP Complex.
Honors for lawmakers and artists
The two-part “Grand Concert” anniversary celebration featured well-known personalities who pioneered the establishment of the NCCA, as well as performing artists who showcased their talents, while depicting different Filipino cultures that are still alive today.
The Free the Artist Movement, represented by Filipino writer Jose “Pete” Lacaba; and the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), represented by National Artist for Literature Dr. Bienvenido Lumbrera, were two organizations honored with the Punla Award for their efforts in promoting the Filipino artist, and for helping the NCCA in its advocacies.
Authors of the Republic Act 7356, or the law that created the NCCA, was also given the same award. The honorees included Sen. Edgardo Angara, Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla, and former senators Leticia Ramos-Shahani and Heherson Alvarez.
“This particular law contains such a ringing declaration of principles, which recognizes culture as a manifestation of the freedom of expression, as well as a basic human right for us Filipinos,” Ramos-Shahani said as she accepted the award.
The first female president of the Philippines, the late President Corazon “Cory” Aquino, was posthumously honored with the Tanim Award in recognition for her efforts to create a government agency that would nourish Filipino artistry, culture and traditions. It was 25 years ago when the late president created a Presidential Commission for Culture and the Arts (PCCA), which later became the NCCA.
“Mom always believed that culture and the arts are means to express uniqueness and individuality. She also believed in its capacity to bring people together towards the attainment of their shared aspirations. Thus, they are also means in which our people can fulfill the promises of a genuine democracy,” Viel Aquino-Dee, the daughter of the late president recalled as she accepted the award on behalf of the Aquino family.
NCCA Arts Ambassador Boy Abunda and Dayaw Ambassador Venus Raj, the ambassador Dayaw hosted the ceremony.
Eight living cultures
A greater sense of national pride filled the large Nicanor Abelardo Theater as the second part of NCCA’s grand anniversary concert unfolded.
In a show directed by Palanca awardee Floy Quintos, renowned Filipino artists came together to showcase their talents in colorful performances that were conceptualized by the NCCA chairman himself, Felipe de Leon Jr.
The show effectively highlighted eight “living cultures” that have long served as sources of inspiration for the cultural community.
“However different our object of devotion, and sense of values from one another, we can still unite as one people. The culture of nationhood is the capstone, [of a pyramid]and the base is our indigenous Southeast Asian culture,” de Leon said, as he welcomed the audience to a cultural adventure.
Since ancient times, the country was inhabited by various indigenous or first peoples, locally known as lumad or katutubo (natives). Their interaction with different kinds of “nature spirits,” was presented as the first living culture, which is the “Kultura ng Pagdidiwata” (Harmony with the Deities. Creative Forces of Nature and Ancestral Spirits).
The Ramon Ubusan Folkloric (RUF) Dance Group together with the NCCA Rondalla performed two rituals from the Manobo and Kalinga tribes. Gongs, lutes, bamboo flutes and zithers, metal and bamboo mouth harps, drums of different shapes and sizes amplified the symbolic dance numbers that depicted activities of the everyday life.
The outstanding performers were dressed in rich indigenous costumes like the bahag in colorful weaved patterns, providing an accurate picture of how these Filipino ancestors carried out worship and thanksgiving rites.
The second living culture was the “Kultura ng pag-uukir at pag-uuma” (Poetic Mysticism and Devotion to Islam), that dates back to the 13th century. This featured the culture that resulted from the steady spread of Islam (which means “surrender” in Arabic) in Mindanao, forming the 11 ethnic groups in the far south, namely: The Maranao, Maguindanao, Iranun, Tausug, Yakan, Sama, Sangir, Kaagan, Kolibugan, Jama Mapun and Molbog.
Grand colors of gold, purple and other varieties gave a sense of grandeur of the Muslim culture. The women were entrancing with their long, golden nails as they danced and depicted a strong and fierce community solely devoted to the Islam religion.
Sarongs and the “sarimanok” were also featured in the dance number, while men dressed like Muslim warriors were engaged in a battle on stage. The kulintang, kutyapi and gabang, which comprise the Bangsamoro music, was truly distinct and proud.
The “Kultura ng Pamamanata” (Devotion to the Patron Saint and Village Community) highlighted Lucban, Quezon’s Pahiyas Festival, which is held annually on May 15. A colorful song and dance number by the RUF Dance Group together with the Philippine Opera Company depicted the practice of honoring Lucban’s patron saint, San Isidro Labrador through festivities, beauty pageants, and food offerings similar to fiestas celebrated in different towns.
The “Kultura ng Pananahan” (Devotion to Home and Family), meanwhile, showed a culture that is “not quite rural yet not quite urban.” This is said to be the source of ongoing problems such as political dynasty, and is also a depiction of what lures Filipinos to the teleserye.
Courtships and love songs showcased this romantic Filipino living culture, as performers wearing Maria Clara-inspired costumes and barongs graced the stage with another song and dance number.
The worship of intellect or the “Kultura ng Pangangatwiran” (Culture of Reflection and Reasoning) of Filipinos was depicted through the characters of the “Ilustrados (enlightened ones) from the Spanish era.
Filipinos became more “reasonable, rational, enlightened and refined” through these years, creating a culture that now gives importance to education, knowledge and individualism.
Meso-Soprano Clarissa Ocampo sung “Mutya ng Pasig” with piano accompaniment, as the background screen highlighted the works of National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal, Filipino general Antonio Luna, and La Solidaridad editors Graciano Lopez-Jaena and Marcelo del Pilar.
Moving into modern times, the “Kultura ng Pang-aaliw” (Culture of Entertainment or Sensation) gave way to pop culture icons such as Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and The Beatles, to name a few.
The American culture that influenced Filipinos in the 20th century were tagged as the “3M-culture” (Mickey Mouse, McDonald’s and Madonna), that patronized Western products and music. Entertainment, comfort, wealth, gadgets, instant gratification and pleasure became more important to the youth as they adapted American lifestyle and taste.
OPM (Original Pilipino Music) also came alive, giving way to the genius of such homegrown artists as Freddie Aguilar, Gary Granada, Eraserheads and the late Francis Magalona.
Hip-hop sensation Kenjhons and Next to Innocence performed a song and dance number that featured Francis M. songs, “Kaleidescope,” “Mga Kababayan Ko” and “Ito Ang Gusto Ko,” followed by ballad numbers from the Philippine Opera Company sextet featuring modern love songs including, “Walang Hanggan,” “Bakit Labis Kitang Mahal” and “Hiram,’” among many others.
The “Kultura ng Pamumuna at Pagtutol” Culture of Social Criticism, Concern and Protest) that has always been present in Philippine society was ratified during the EDSA revolution in 1986. This is a culture of unified commitment to social causes that upholds human rights and equality.
In the arts and culture, the clamor of Filipino artists for social change has been communicated through songs and images that mirror the ills of society. Artists such as Jose Ruiz, Gary Granada, Inang Laya, Noel Cabangon, Grace Nono and the group Asin at the forefront of this reformist-type of artistry in the country.
It was the ethnic voice of Bayang Barrios together with the somber tunes of Joey Ayala that presented the continuing clamor for social change in the country through music.
Bayang Barrios performed singles from her latest album, Malaya, while Joey Ayala sang “Haring Ibon.” For a duet, they performed “Ipagbunyi sa Buong Mundo,” another Barrios single that calls for Filipinos to revive local music and spread it to the world.
The show ended with the “Kultura ng Pagka-Pilipino at Pagkabansa” (Devotion to the Nation and Being Filipino), as all the performers gathered on the single stage, in a touching rendition of Freddie Aguilar’s “Bayan Ko.” As they sang, it was the moment of the Philippine Flag, as it stood proudly on center stage.
Almost in tears and filled with renewed Filipino pride, the audience left the CCP with heads held high, and truly inspired by the NCCA’s striking call for help—a plea to educators, musicologists, community leaders, media practitioners, members of cultural organizations, and concerned citizens to advocate, expose and develop Filipino culture and heritage through artistic and creative means.
At the end of such a wondrous night, the question was no longer about what it means to be a Filipino today, but a resounding conviction that, “We are proud to be Filipino.”