Long-time Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) trustee Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso has been appointed by President Rodrigo Duterte as the new president of the country’s leading temple of the arts, and was duly given the vote of confidence by the board of directors. The elections were held on June 13 as Lizaso takes over the reins from Raul Sunico, CPP president since 2009.
Lizaso is a grandnephew of Jose Corazon de Jesus, lyricist of the patriotic anthem “Bayan Ko” and esteemed as “Hari ng Balagtasan.”
Born in Sta. Maria, Bulacan, he started his career in theater at the University of the East where he founded the UE Dramatic Guild. Big name movie directors like the late Joey Gosiengfiao and Elwood Perez attended his workshops. He also played major roles in productions by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) and Repertory Philippines, notably cast as Professor Higgins by well-known priest James Reuter in the popular Broadway musical “My Fair Lady.”
Following his appointment and election, the new CCP president said he will continue what he had been doing for decades, and that is to bring the performing arts closer to the Filipino masses.
“As a CCP trustee, I brought the national orchestra to the PGH (Philippine General Hospital) to perform for indigent patients. I have been doing this very personal apostolate for arts and culture for some time. Now that I head the CCP, I think I can do more and will continue to reach out to those who cannot afford to go to the CCP,” he said in a statement.
Culture and the arts had been perceived as elitist with previous leaderships serving the interests of the rich and famous of the society. But for Lizaso, arts must be a means to empower the ordinary Filipino.
“I do believe the arts can save us as a nation, as a people and [as]a part of humanity. True or not, the CCP continues to be reflective of the political power that emanated from Imperial Manila whose perspective of arts and culture made quality global performances accessible only to the elite. On the other hand, we also have to pay attention to the traditional and indigenous forms of arts and culture being passed down to the next generations of Filipinos,” he emphatically added.
Corporate Planning Officer Romy Yan confirmed to The Sunday Times Magazine on Thursday that the appointment and election of Lizaso was well received by the CCP board of directors.
Although the CCP charter states that the head’s term is just good for one year and renewable on a yearly basis, it is the prerogative of the President to appoint a new leader.
“Malacañang requested that Lizaso be elected. Sunico turned in his resignation letter and in the elections held on June 13, no one objected. He is a long-time member of the board,” Yan said in a phone interview.
Lizaso is the first actor-director to assume the leadership of the CCP. Among those who trained under him include Miss Universe 1973 and Ballet Philippines president Margie Moran, Pilar Pilapil, Tetchie Agbayani, the late host-comedian Bert “Tawa” Marcelo, and the late award-winning movie director Marilou Diaz-Abaya.
He appeared in a number of movies as well, and considers the Rudy Fernandez-starrer “Ulo Ng Gapo” as his most memorable film. He directed teleseryes as well and acted in others, most notably in “Be Careful With My Heart” with Jodi Sta. Maria.
Lizaso takes on the reins of CCP following the footsteps of prominent personalities—businessman and Ayala conglomerate head Jaime Zobel de Ayala from 1969 to 1976, National Artist For Music Lucrecia Kasilag, finance technocrats Francisco del Rosario Jr. and Baltazar Endriga during the Ramos administration, Armita Rufino during the short-lived Estrada presidency, Nestor Jardin and Isabel Caro Wilson during the 10-year presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and Sunico.
An octogenarian, Lizaso believes that in his capacity as CCP head, he can also contribute much to the administration’s anti-drug campaign by strengthening the appreciation of culture and the arts by ordinary Filipinos.