Message at the 1st National Visual Artists Conference and Inauguration of the Magayon Bikol
San Beda College Alabang
Thank you very much. Kindly take your seats.
Rev. Dom Clement Roque, our Rector and President; Rev. Fr. Aelred Nilo, our Vice President for Finance; Dr. Cecilia Navarro, our Vice President for Academic Affairs; Rev. Fr. Anthony Mendoza, Director for Catholic Benedictine Formation; Prof. Joseph Renta, Administrator and Curator of San Beda Alabang Museum; the representative of Mayor Jimmy Fresnedi; our visual artists who are present here this morning; the San Beda College Alabang faculty, staff, and students; parents; ladies and gentlemen: Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat!
It is such an honor and a privilege to have been invited. Perhaps not many people know that I am a Bedan myself. [applause] After my husband died, and we decided to transfer to Manila to be with my older daughters, I enrolled at the San Beda Graduate School of Law. I did a few subjects there, but then when I became a member of the House of Representatives, it became very difficult for me because classes were held on Saturdays, and Thursdays to Saturdays were my constituency days. We had sessions on Mondays to Wednesdays, and on (Wednesday) evening, I would go home to my district already, so it was very difficult to go back on Saturdays. I was not able to continue, but I was a few units away from doing my thesis, and ultimately, graduation.
I did not expect—I knew I was coming for an opening of an exhibit, but I was not expecting the very warm welcome given to me by the students and the entire community. Bigla kong na-miss iyong mga anak ko. I was looking at the students earlier, and you know, before I entered politics, I was… I was a tiger mom. I was the one who personally brought my children to school—from the eldest to the youngest—picked them up… You know, in Naga, they go home during lunch. So I bring them to school, pick them in the morning, bring them again in the afternoon, pick them up after school. And that was in between my lawyering duties. So noong nakita ko iyong mga bata, bigla kong na-miss. My youngest is also in senior high. She’s graduating in May of this year, so mga kapareho niyo din, Grade 12. Sayang hindi ko naisama. Wala silang pasok ngayon kasi prom nila. [laughter] Kaya busy din iyong Mommy magta-tiger mom ulit.
Nakaka-miss. Pati iyong symphony. We have a large philharmonic orchestra. My second daughter played the violin also for the symphony orchestra of her school back in Naga. So masaya talaga iyong [pag]bisita. Everybody was happy, especially the small kids.
Sabi ko nga, I would like to thank Sir Joseph Renta for inviting me over. It was a long trip to Alabang. I left the house—I live in Quezon City—I left the house at 8 o’clock to give time to… to give allowance to traffic. But traffic was not too bad this morning, so I was here in Alabang at about 9:20. Okay na. Pero kahit two hours, wala pa ding regrets because everyone was happy.
But you know, I know that this is the first-ever National Visual Arts Conference and at the launch of the Magayon Bikol Art and Culture Exhibit. Nakaka-proud naman, ang first niyo Bicol kaagad, and I am very honored—[applause]—I am very honored that, I think part of the exhibit, you decided to feature my husband, Jesse, six years after he passed away. Kapag binibilang ko, six years na pala this year. It feels like yesterday only. Parang kahapon lang siya nawala. But it’s been six years. And it’s such an honor to the family that people continue to remember my husband, even six years after he died.
Stories about my husband have already been told and retold, and this retelling has woven a tapestry of the kind of life he lived. I don’t know if any of you have ever met him in person. He was not an artist, definitely, but he liked to show people, not just tell them, where impossibilities can turn into possibilities. Sa kaniya po walang imposible. Parati niya pong sinasabi, walang imposible. If we set our heart on something, puwedeng maging posible. And that was what Jesse did in Naga. I met some people from Naga earlier. They could attest that the Naga before my husband became mayor is very different from the Naga after his term. My husband Jesse did everything to turn Naga into a “maogmang lugar,” which means “ happy place.” When he was asked to serve at the DILG, he saw it as an opportunity to turn all other cities and municipalities in the country into happy places, just like Naga. But he was only given three years. The plane crash happened two years after he started his term in DILG.
And in the same way, artists like you inspire so many people through your work. You weave a culture of hope for this country. With every stroke and every color, you allow us to look beyond ourselves and see that there is always beauty, there is always purpose, and there is always hope.
But I also understand that your work is never easy. There are challenges that you continue to face: sometimes lack of steady source of income, lack of funding, lack of support from the government and other sectors.
In our visits to the smallest, farthest, and poorest communities in the country, we met so many Filipino artists who are fighting to keep art alive but are limited by circumstances, patiently waiting for the right opportunity.
Just a few weeks ago, I think two Fridays ago, I met with the T‘boli women weavers in Lake Sebu in South Cotabato, and I was so amazed by their strength and their determination. I had a chance to talk to Jenita Eko—hindi ko alam kung mayroong… ayan si Jenita—the leader of the Lake Sebu Indigenous Women Weavers Association, Inc., who was a dreamweaver, ano? Dreamweaver si Jenita—gifted with dreams about every pattern she weaves. Ang sinasabi niya, iyong ginagawa niyang very intricate pattern, parang based iyon sa mga dreams na dumadating sa kaniya.
And she told us that for so many years, people stopped dreaming and weaving. The youth in Lake Sebu would rather pursue teaching in other towns than become weavers, bead crafters, or brass makers. Meanwhile, women were forced to live in abusive homes because they were not allowed to study and they do not have the capability to earn on their own. Iyon iyong nakakalungkot na kuwento sa amin ng mga kababaihan: They wanted to go to school—they were married already—pero noong nag-try sila, nagagalit iyong mga asawa nila. Ayaw ng mga asawa na mag-aral sila. And seeing how women suffered in her community, Jenita strove to empower the women of Lake Sebu by reviving the art of weaving. At the age of 21, she organized the women weavers of Lake Sebu and taught them to dream and weave again. Now, they have enough to make ends meet, their sons and daughters are now able to go to school, and the t’nalak is widely recognized not just locally but also in the foreign market.
Ito, side kuwento: doon sa ipon ng mga weavers, gumawa sila ng kindergarten school for their children because sabi nila, marami nang marunong mag-weave pero nagwi-weave kasi nag-aalaga ng mga anak. So naglagay sila: nasa taas iyong mga nagwi-weave, sa baba iyong kindergarten classes. But because iyong mga kababaihan gusto talagang mag-aral, nagsi-sit-in sila sa kindergarten classes so they would know how to read and to write—sikreto sa mga asawa nila.
But we also discovered that the Lake Sebu T’boli weavers still struggled—kahit umasenso na—with several problems. For instance, they still lack a steady, direct access to the market. Sobrang layo kasi. Nasa taas sila ng bundok, iyong pinuntahan namin. They are only able to thrive through referrals. Often, instead of bringing their art from the edges to the center, they end up as mere token samplers of exotic and unique tradition-based creative work. But it was not bringing in a lot of money for them.
Last week, hindi ako nakasama because I was in Albay for the… pag-asikaso ng mga evacuees because of the [Mayon Volcano] eruption, but several of my staff went to Basilan to conduct a needs assessment of the municipalities of Sumisip and Lamitan. Because we chose these two municipalities. We adopted them to be part of our Angat Buhay program. In Lamitan, at what they call a “highway barangay“, they met a group of Yakan women weavers—iyong sa Lake Sebu T’nalak, ito naman Yakan… T’boli pala, ito Yakan—from Brgy. Buahan, who are beautifully turning “tennun“ into placemats, malongs, table runners, among others. But they were cramped beside their homes, without any roof or shade to protect them from the rain. Nasa labas lang siya nagwi-weave. Ganiyan, iyong nakikita natin sa mga pictures. Ganiyan iyong kaniyang weaving, kaya kapag umuulan—napakabigat ng weaving machine, pero kapag umuulan, binubuhat nila lahat. While the local government supports the weavers by providing occassional skills training, they hope that they can have a weaving center also, so that they would finally have a space to create more art.
The art of weaving tennun is passed on from generation to generation, but because of poverty, the women now turn to becoming hired laborers of big businessmen in Zamboanga City to earn a living. One day, though, they hope that their craft can also be recognized, not just in Mindanao but across the entire country. Iyon iyong tulong na ginagawa namin sa kanila ngayon: madala iyong kanilang produkto para makilala.
Ambalang Ausalin—ayan, mayroon silang picture—and Uwang Ahadas are national artists. Na-award-an silang national artists. But they are based in Lamitan, in the province of Basilan, in the southernmost part of our country. Ambalang Ausalin is a Yakan weaver who has dedicated her life to safeguarding and promoting the Yakan tennun. Although she came from a poor family, she has been working hard to preserve the art of weaving by teaching younger women to weave. Ambalang told our staff that the only way to promote art is to keep passing it on to others; otherwise, such heritage and culture will die.
On the other hand, Uwang Ahadas is a Yakan musician who plays the kwintangan, the renowned Yakan musical instrument, and many others. Halos bulag na siya. We have a video pero siguro hindi na ipapalabas. Despite being near-blind, he strove to master his music so that many more of his people will discover and study his art. With very limited resources, he is still working hard to teach his children and other members of his community how to play. He is now 73, but he said in Yakan, “wala naman akong ibang alam na gawin kundi tumugtog; kahit hindi ako ganoon kayaman, ito lang ang maiiwan ko sa susunod na henerasyon.“ Iyon iyong sabi niya.
The stories of traditional artists like Ambalang and Uwang echo our passion for art to be seen and sought by Filipinos everywhere. We, as a nation, have neglected art and culture, treated them as mere appendages to the promotion of tourism or entertainment. No wonder perhaps that we lack an appreciation for our national identity. That innate validation of what makes us uniquely Filipino.
Meanwhile, artists everywhere are struggling. Only the privileged few can afford to study in art schools, while the rest are forced to pursue different paths.
We should be aware of the economic utility of artistic talent. We cannot keep looking at art as just an exotic and expensive pet we keep around the house, but rather as an area of significant and profitable investment that will yield both moral and material results.
I am very pleased to know that the San Beda Alabang Museum is making tremendous efforts like this to raise awareness about the beauty and the ingenuity of Filipino art and heritage. I, for one, am very grateful that you are showcasing the history, art, lifestyle, and culture of Bikolanos. Often, our heritage is taken for granted, reducing art into mere commodities, but that should not be the case. Bikolanos have exceptional talent in telling stories about our culture, our provinces, and our people. And it’s about time more people know about our roots.
It is only by understanding our roots and understanding others that we are able to become a unifying force for good. This exhibit brings people together despite their differences, something that we truly need in these extraordinary times.
As artists, you have the ability to weave stories of hope. Art IS the highest form of hope. So I encourage you to never give up on your craft and to never be afraid of dreaming and doing the impossible.
May you never tire of inspiring us through your work because if there is anything that our world truly needs, it is you and your art. Kaya sana po patuloy. And I am glad that in this seminar, tuturuan natin iyong ating mga estudyante.
So again, thank you very much for this wonderful event. Thank you for featuring our region. Thank you for saving a space for my husband. It truly is a great privilege and honor for me and my children.
Maraming, maraming salamat po! Mabuhay po kayong lahat!