Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Marika Constantino and her works

Vim Nadera: What is the rationale behind ReCollection 1081: Clear and Present Danger (Visual Dissent on Martial Rule) at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Main Gallery and Guillermo Tolentino Hallway? 
Marika Constantino: ReCollection 1081 was the brainchild of CANVAS’ Executive Director Gigo Alampay. September 2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the declaration of martial law and he thought of mounting a show. According to him this was to be able to “generate some long overdue discussion on what those times were really all about.”

He further shared that “As a teacher (part-time) in UP, as well as a father to three children, I am sometimes bothered that the memory of martial law is not being passed to the next generation. Or worse, that some of the young actually are beginning to believe an alternative version of history that says that that we might have been better off with Marcos, and that what we may need now is a return to some form of “benevolent dictatorship.” Essentially, this project is about remembering; not solely or merely to denounce or be critical of the Marcos years, but to recall what those moments were in the eyes of the artists during that time.

VN: What was the first thing that you did as its curator? And then?
MC: I read and re-read a number of books and articles to refresh my memory on certain things. Most useful was my interview with Randy and Karina David. They gave me a personal account of how it was like then. They contextualized the events and how certain personalities did what they did. They gave me a vivid picture of the political, social and economic milieu of the country during that time. The content of that three hour discussion was very significant for me. In addition, Ruel Caasi, co-curator of the exhibit, and I conducted some studio visits. It was a chance for us to talk to the artists and get their views about the show, the times and their practice. We also included excerpts from our email interviews with some of the other participating artists. This also helped in humanizing the whole project and making the situation back then more understandable for the younger generation. Their inputs were very valuable and are part and parcel of the concept of ReCollection 1081, which is to trigger reminiscences.

VN: How did you succeed in collecting all those iconic artworks from the 70s? Please tell us your most memorable experiences, say, in locating the artists.
MC: CANVAS was instrumental in organizing a number of tasks and logistical requirements. Credit also goes to our partners in the project, namely, Norma Liongoren of Liongoren Gallery and Boots Herrera of the Cultural center of the Philippines (CCP) in helping us borrow the art pieces. We are also thankful to Alice Guillermo; her books served as frameworks in selecting the art pieces. Various institutions (Ateneo Art Gallery, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, Bantayog ng mga Bayani, The Museum of the De La Salle University, National Museum of the Philippines and the University of the Philippines, Main Library), galleries (Galleria Duemila, Inc. and Tin-Aw Gallery) and private collectors believed in what we wanted to accomplish and readily lent us the works we requested from their respective collections for the exhibit. We are also immensely grateful to the artists who shared their works, time, experiences and inputs. 

Their participation and support were vital to the outcome of ReCollection 1081.

Regarding the second question, what comes to mind are three specific experiences. 

First, would probably be my face to face encounters with the actual works like: Antipas Delotavo’s Itak sa Puso ni Mang Juan, Al Manrique’s Bunong Balikat and Jaime De Guzman’s Sabbath of the Witches. I have only seen these as tiny black and white reproductions in Alice Guillermo’s book. Seeing these up close created a very strong impact. Both the imagery and content have a lingering effect. Second, would be when
we visited Jose Tence Ruiz’ studio. We selected some editorial cartoons to be part of the show. Interestingly, the pieces we selected reflect the very same issues that continue to hound us today: mis-education, nuclear power, cronyism, coco-levy fund, etc. Sadly, after forty years we have not resolved anything. Through Ruiz’ personal collection, we were also able to see how things were published before; when computers were non-existent. Marks and notations with regard to the instructions, pasting and magnification can still be seen at the sides or at the back. Lastly, my meeting with Edicio dela Torre was also quite memorable. He explained to me how it was like creating art when he was incarcerated. He relayed his art process, context and experiences.

VN: During the mounting of such major exhibition, what were the problems that you encountered? How did you solve them?
MC: In hindsight, the main problem could have been the time frame. We really did not have enough time to locate and secure more works. But as I wrote in our curatorial notes, “The collection is by no means a complete or thorough representation of the times. But it is a both an inception and a challenge to bring forth a more exhaustive effort of remembrance. We owe this not only to ourselves or to those who sacrificed but also for the discernment of future Filipinos.” We do hope that something more concrete and permanent would result from this effort. 

VN: What are your plans with ReCollection 1081 now that it ended yesterday? Will you make a book out of it?
MC: Definitely CANVAS and its co-organizers Liongoren Gallery and CCP will be coming out with a catalogue of ReCollection 1081: Clear and Present Danger (Visual Dissent on Martial Rule). I am hopeful that other endeavors will arise from this.

MARIKA CONSTANTINO: MORE THAN JUST A MARTIAL LAW BABY (First of two parts) (September 24, 2012)

Last 21 September was 40th of Martial Law in the country.

But, as early as 14 July, we were already being reminded of our past mistakes. The Center for Art, New Ventures, and Sustainable Development (CANVAS) and

Liongoren Gallery did it via visual arts. Called Recollection 1081: Clear and Present Danger (Visual Dissent on Martial Rule), this grand exhibit of artworks from the Martial Law days opened, ironically, at one of the proofs of former First Lady Imelda Marcos’ edifice complex -- Cultural Center of the Philippines!

Its curator – Marika -- happens to be a Constantino. Her lolo, Renato, was in the arrest order list when the Presidential Decree1081 was declared. However, her father RC was picked up by the military because they had the same name, being a junior. Fondly she recalled: “When the officials realized their mistake, they remedied it by releasing my father days after and by putting my grandfather in house arrest for a number of years. This was an anecdote that was narrated by my mother and grandmother to us. From another perspective, the exhibit was also a way to gain a better understanding of what transpired, to find a connection with that era through the artworks and the artists and more importantly, to somehow pay tribute to those who unselfishly fought for liberation and espoused nationalism.”

As always, she views her curatorial projects are additional avenues for learning: “To be quite candid, my familiarity with the topic is culled from second-hand information. These were from the books and articles I have read and the stories, atrocities, violations, circumstances and situations that were relayed to me by family, friends, friend of friends, etc.”

And, we can sum up the whole point of ReCollection 1081 in one word: review. Or re-view?

As her curatorial notes put it: “We must recall with clarity so that it will not happen again. We must reminisce with pride from being part of something bigger than ourselves. We must retain the lessons from our history in order to learn from it.”

Fortunately, you still have until Sunday, 30 September, to catch it.

Vim Nadera: What is Martial Law to you – being a Constantino -- personally and professionally?
Marika Constantino: As a Filipino, it is imperative that I value our history. Its lessons should be part of our critical understanding of our present which should then be of use in laying the groundwork for our nation’s future. This should be carried on in our personal and professional lives, with no distinction or disconnect. 

VN: You finished architecture from the University of the Philippines. Why did you take up Fine Arts afterwards?
MC: I was inspired by previous trips where I got exposed to various works of art. When I came back I wanted to learn more about it. My initial goal was to become a teacher that was why I pursued a second degree in UPCFA majoring in Art History. I felt that my architectural studies will not go to waste if I grounded myself in that field. Interestingly, despite the course being part of the Theory Department, the first two years was mostly studio work. Here, I was exposed to different materials, processes and techniques. This eventually led me to my artistic practice.

VN: Could you share your thoughts about your recent exhibits here like reFLEXions, too at the Galerie Astra in Makati and abroad like Balancing Paradoxes and Paradigms at Roma Arts in Bandung?
MC: In general, the central premise of my art is based on self-referential themes. It is reflective of the feminist notion that “the personal is political.” It revolves around the consciousness or awareness with regard to roles and relationships. As such, by laying it out in the open, it tries to provoke dialogues. Hopefully, these could prompt realizations that would lead to a source of empowerment. Hence, my works commonly deal with our maze of experiences. Each part, though unstructured and unidentifiable by itself, is a perfect fit to the other pieces of instances or coincidences that shape one’s life. At any given moment, the conglomeration of the puzzle is the sum of who we are at that definitive moment. In my most recent solo exhibit Drawn Entanglements at the Art Informal, group shows like Curved House at the Blanc Compound and reFLEXions, too at the Galerie Astra and Balancing Paradoxes and Paradigms with Roma Arts in Bandung, Indonesia… I have tried to further explore and examine these patterns. For me, these also serve as metaphors for occurrences and circumstances, actions and non-actions, dreams and challenges. I make use of various textures and materials to represent contemplation, lamentation or jubilation. 

VN: What is keeping you busy these days?
MC: There are a number of things that take up my time. I am primarily a visual artist. However, I also write. I teach at Kalayaan College. I’m a member of TutoK and Filipino Visual Arts and Design Rights Organization (FILVADRO) and currently involved with other curatorial projects. I am also part of 98B Art COLLABORATORY, an artist-run alternative art space located at the Mezzanine Floor of the First United Building in Escolta. It seeks to establish a convergence with artists, designers, curators, writers, musicians, film makers, activists, educators, researchers, cultural workers, performers, architects and students together with the general public. It was established in January 2012 as a response to the need for alternative venues in Manila. Deemed as a site for creative sharing, discussion and collaboration, 98B is a community + network + kitchen + shop. The idea is to have a setting where artists and creative individuals from other disciplines can interact and work together while presenting art in different ways; be it a talk, a bazaar, a publication, a meal or a simple gathering.

IT’S MORE FUN BEING RAMON JIMENEZ JR. (Last part) (September 17, 2012)


VN: Is there a need for a Department of Culture?
RJJ: Quite possibly, yes. Whatever we can do to strengthen and preserve Filipino culture, we must. I think we should study whether a Department of Culture can be made viable.

VN: What comes to your mind when you hear the following:

(a) Jollibee = great food
(b) Selecta = great ice cream
(c) Safeguard = great soap
(d) San Miguel Beer = best beer in the world
(e) Cebu Pacific = great travel
(f) Ivory = purity
(g) Ninoy = a great role model
(h) Cory = just as great role model
(i) PNoy = a great and emerging role model

VN:Could you tell us more about your book Generations: In Search of Family? What is the salient character or characteristic of your clan?
RJJ: Next to liking great food, I think it is the fact that we have a tremendous sense of family and that is meant very deeply. A tremendous sense of the idea that what keeps us connected is our common concern, and we do that by gathering not just for happy occasions, but also sad ones - being together through thick and thin.

VN: What did you learn from your lawyer dad? What did you teach your designer daughter?
RJJ: From my lawyer dad, I’ve always learned to be the best at what you do. That’s the only way you’re going to enjoy your career. What did I teach my designer daughter? Exactly the same thing my dad taught me.

VN: How do you value family?
RJJ: I value it enough to make it central to the whole idea of FUN in the Philippines. That’s what FUN in the Philippines is about. It’s about reconnecting with things that matter, and family is definitely one of the things that matter.

VN: How did your University of the Philippines education help you?
RJJ: For one thing, education is help in itself. Having a stronger sense of how the world works and the possibilities about what it can and what it should be are probably the greatest benefits coming out of the University of the Philippines.

VN: How successful are you in making tourism the people’s business and in selling our country like Chickenjoy?
RJJ: Well not quite as successful as I would hope to be about four years from now. We shall see.

VN: What made you say that “The Philippines is its people. And its people are the Philippines”?
RJJ: When you think about it, it is true. A nation is a nation because of its people, not because of its islands or geography. The Philippines is its people because we are what differentiate us from the rest of the world. We are a distinct and gloriously talented people.

IT’S MORE FUN BEING RAMON JIMENEZ JR. (Second of three parts) (September 10, 2012)


Vim Nadera: How did you come up with the classic line “It’s More Fun In The Philippines”?
Ramon Jimenez Jr.: The Department of Tourism (DOT) set the direction and guidance for all those who are working on the new campaign to provide a simple answer to the basic question of every traveler: Why should I travel to the Philippines? And we found the right campaign because it was the simplest, most direct answer to this fundamental question. Additionally, we told the participating agencies to include the Filipinos in their creative proposals. BBDO Guerrero/ Proximity Philippines was selected as the winning creative agency because their proposal was able to capture the warmth and vitality of the Filipinos which we wanted to highlight, and encapsulate it into one motivating and exciting campaign. It’s more fun in the Philippines is a response and an invitation - a response to the country’s need for a tagline that is competitive, differentiated, and easily understood; it is an invitation for everyone to see what makes the Philippines different.

The new expression is actually not just something we, Filipinos, would say about ourselves. It is what a lot of foreigners who have been here say about us. It is a powerful, compelling idea that draws strength from the fact that it is a fundamental truth about the Philippines—the Philippines is not just a place to see, it is a place to be.

The main challenge to tourism growth for the Philippines is the plain and simple lack of awareness. Through this campaign, the DOT hopes to build enough energy around tourism, boost awareness for the superiority of the Philippines in key markets, and invite more people across the globe to visit the country. With the viral success of the campaign and astounding domestic and international response so far, a new catchphrase or come-on is not necessary. We intend to maximize this campaign and bring FUN to the world for as long as possible.

VN: As a visual communications graduate, how would you assess the state of Philippine arts? How can you promote Filipino artists?
RJJ: I think Filipino art is very dynamic, and in a certain context very highly developed in the Philippines. However, it does need a certain amount of support. For art to flourish, it needs a lot of support from the country for which it springs. We propose at the DOT to promote Filipino artists by helping them gain regional and international recognition. We have very limited funds, but to whatever extent we are able to help artists participate in these regional and international competitions, we will do so. Another way to help is to nurture the culture and the customs that breed indigenous Filipino art in our villages, towns, and cities. A lot of what the DOT does is actually meant to do exactly this.

VN: What about our literature?
RJJ: The same thing with Philippine arts. Just the other day at Palanca Awards, I mentioned to the organizers that I would like very much to carry examples of Philippine literature that we can either give away or even sell at international exhibitions and symposia that the DOT and the government in general are part of – hundreds of these every year in almost all parts of the world. If we are able to share our literature, then people learn not just about our country, more importantly they get a strong feel for the Filipinos’ soul.

VN: Can you share with us your trade secret as a prominent advertising executive?
RJJ: No I can’t. That’s why it’s a secret. 



The Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature welcomed the –ber months with a bang and a pun: “It’s more pen in the Philippines!”

Proving its point, the Carlos Palanca Foundation and the members of the Palanca Family decided to invite the wind beneath the wings of that tourists’ trope!

At the Manila Pen, the Guest of Honor and Speaker is one of the pillars of advertising.

In fact, during the 62nd Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature last 1 September, he witnessed how Filipino writers were honored for over six decades.

And, yes, Sec. Ramon Jimenez Jr. of the Department of Tourism was not excluded.

Being more than just a penpusher, the former Joint Chief Executive Officer and Senior Consultant at WOO Consultants was given the Gawad Dangal ng Lahi.

It is awarded to honor those who have prominently excelled in their field of expertise and have aptly become role models for the Filipino citizenry.

And netizenry!

Well, as a marketing communications expert for 35 years, he has all the reason in the world to live up to everyone’s expectations in the same league as all of the 58 Palanca winners in the poetry, short story, essay, and play categories in such languages as English, Filipino, Cebuano, Iluko, and Hiligaynon.

Aside from his experience as a Journalism and Marketing Communications instructor, he is a lecturer for San Miguel Corporation, the Jollibee Group, among others.

When he formally accepted his role as our Tourism Secretary, on 1 September 2011, he vowed to rally behind the DOT staff, the team, tourism practitioners, the government bureaucracy, and the general public around his philosophy: “Tourism is the people’s business.Ang turismo po ay negosyo ng taongbayan. As such its ultimate goal is not merely to improve statistics on tourist arrivals. Its real goal is to generate fulfilling and profitable income and employment for our people.”

Like the public servant and statesman in the late Sec. Jesse Robredo of the Department of Interior and Local Government, it is promise fulfilled.

Since Sec. Jimenez took his oath “to contribute in terms of bringing strategic discipline to the challenge of promoting and developing the Philippines as one of the world’s most exciting destination brands,” the next thing we learned was his slogan was no slow gun.

In a matter of minutes, It’s more fun in the Philippines went viral.

Why? Because he let us to do it ourselves.

How? By allowing us visit, upload our photo, add our caption, download the Harabara font, edit our meme by using image editors and by making that tagline online.

Reminding us of the 56.17% of this year’s 1,077 Palanca entries were received by email.

Sec. Jimenez empowered us, including the majority of the Palanca winners who fall within the 20-40 age bracket, to take part to be his partners in this dimension called dotcom.

Or, is it DOTcom?

Thus, we felt the need to be needed in telling the world that we are selling the Philippines.

Through fun approach.

Now, does this cabinet member really deserve the said recognition for individuals who share with writers the common thread of manifesting belief in the capabilities of the Filipino and expressing their pride in the heritage of the Philippines?

Ask Eric Garayblas, the game developer who immortalized the It’s more fun in the Philippines via his Streetfood Tycoon!

Vim Nadera: Sir, right after you were appointed by Pres. Benigno Aquino III, you promised to “galvanize the DoT [Department of Tourism] into an honest to goodness selling unit whose “ultimate goal” would be “not only to improve statistics but also ensure that the endeavor would be fulfilling and profitable for Filipinos.” How is it so far?
Ramon Jimenez Jr.: The DOT continues to take “FUN” to a deeper level to mean good governance and competitive offerings that practice good business, proper management, and sustainable development. “FUN” means easy, convenient, and hassle-free which should be evident across the tourism value chain. Our tourism campaign has become a unifying platform for cross-promotion, convergence initiatives, and public-private partnership. At present, government agencies are united to provide the enabling environment for tourism growth and development. Major programs will address key issues in the following areas: infrastructure, transportation, product development, travel & investment facilitation, connectivity, and institutional tourism concerns. As a matter of fact for the year 2011, the tourism industry employed a total of 3.8 million people equivalent to a 10.28% share to national employment – that is 1 job created for every 1 tourist arrival. Tourism also contributed 6% to the country’s total GDP for 2011. With proper management and safeguarding, tourism certainly has the capacity to make a significant contribution to the poverty reduction goals of the Philippine Government.

VN: What is your long-term plan for our tourism industry?
RJJ: Tourism is the people’s business. Our overall vision is for tourism to become a national business - a key driver towards achieving rapid, inclusive, and sustained socio-economic growth for the country. And for us to realize this vision, we want to elicit the continued support of the entire department, tourism stakeholders, government agencies, and the general public. We, Filipinos, have to come and act together as a single unit.



Vim Nadera: What are your most unforgettable experiences in doing the following celebrities:
Willie Nepomuceno: Maybe I should only cite the more memorable ones:

(1) SAMMY DAVIS, JR. - I finally met with my idol when he had a gala show at the Manila Hotel and two more at the Folk Arts Theater. I watched all three. I was formally dressed for the Gala and the audience were observing my reactions since I practically do what he does -- impressions of singers. I had with me one of his earlier albums titled Impressions and half deciding whether I should seek for an autograph of a fellow entertainer, never mind if it's embarrassing considering my stature then. I listened to my heart. He has always been my inspiration so I ran towards him when he got down and had my album signed. That was one gem that stood out in my music room for years... until Ondoy swept it away.

(2) DOLPHY: When it comes to self-deprecating humor, Dolphy is tops and that was what has kept him as the King of Comedy. In one gag, he was supposed to drench my face with a glass of wine but I refused because I still have other gags to shoot and it will ruin my prosthetic make up and wig. He readily volunteered to take my place since we were doing a double mirror gag. I was, of course, reluctant to do it but he insisted. He told me it's been done to him innumerable times and worst because the water had even been gargled before it was spat on his face. Whenever I do impressions of him in my shows, I can feel the overwhelming love of the audience for him, that's why I always savor being the Comedy King... even for a brief moment.

(3) JOSEPH “ERAP” ESTRADA: We started on the wrong foot as early as when he was the Mayor of San Juan. A month or so after I did an FPJ-Erap act, he bumped into me at the rest room of the Manila Hotel and reprimanded me, politely though, that I embarrassed him before his friends in the industry who watched my performance. Since then he would always ignore me even in formal gatherings. At one time, I thought he could no longer ignore me and I was looking forward to the opportunity of reconciling with him anyway, since I was seated with his fellow Senators when he arrived. I couldn't believe he would skip my hand even when I was seated in between the two Senators. Eventually though, we reconciled at the intercession of his PR man when he became Vice President and since then we would hug each other when we cross paths. Now he even sends me lechon on my birthdays. He's such a charismatic man, you simply can't afford to get mad at him.

(4) PANFILO “PING” LACSON: First I got a call from his staff early in the morning telling me they learned I was doing an impression of their boss in my show and they would want me to announce some sort of a disclaimer before the show begins. I said I don't do that and ask if it was a threat. He said no, they just referred the matter to their lawyers and they're requesting for a disclaimer. I asked again, Is this a veiled threat? No, we just want you to read a letter from the Senator. I told them I have high respect for Senator Ping and I was worried their request would boomerang instead. They insisted , so I read the letter. The audience laughed so hard and I haven't started the show yet. It was a disclaimer on the Senator's much rumored gender preference. Personally, I don't think Ping Lacson would go down to that level. May mga eager beaver lang siguro na nagpapalakas. In the first place, there were no such insinuations in the show.

(5) FERDINAND MARCOS: I do him with much passion because I have a cause that goes with it. I was an activist and that time was my baptism of fire in politics even before he declared Martial Law. It was the military though who would come to watch my shows and request me to stop my impressions of their boss "because he's our President." Naturally I would agree because they're high-ranking officials but if I have a gig the next day, I'd still ignore the request.There were other instances where public speculations of me standing in for his absence filled the grapevine especially when he supposedly had a medical operation and made himself scarce even to media people. When the Dovie Beams love tape was played over DZUP, during the Diliman Commune, Malacanang Palace defenders were quick to say it was only me faking the supposed scandalous tape. The last one happened during the tailend of Edsa 1 when only his voice was answering media questions as to his whereabouts. He practically lost his credibility denying it was me instead of him making the pronouncements. And when he was put on live television he had to say “as you can see, I am not Willie Nepomuceno.” That was the funniest punchline I ever heard.

(6) FIDEL V. RAMOS: I've done him previously immediately after the Edsa Revolt but I had to think twice when he became President. He was perceived to be a psy war expert and a "pikon." However the "social commentator in me prevailed that this a job I had to do, so I did. After all, if I survived the much feared Dictator why can't I survive his mild-mannered cousin. That day when I met him face to face like a mirror I said to myself I'd simply shake his hand after my act and no longer sit beside him for the media photo op. Much to my surprise, instead of shaking my hand, he whispered "high five tayo." The following day all front pages of national dailies carried our twin photo. Mas ma-gimmick pa pala sa akin.

VN: What are the chances of an impersonator becoming a National Artist?
WN: That'll be the day. I'm optimistic though that the way things are in the industry, I'll finally get The National Arthritis Award.

WILL THE REAL WILLIE NEPOMUCENO PLEASE STAND UP? (Third of four parts) (August 20, 2012)

VN: And yet, you always wanted to become a singer/actor? How was Aurelio Estanislao as a teacher? Was he the secret weapon of your voice?
WN: Reality check again. It's a given that it's almost impossible to negate the uncreative, stereotyped mindset of the industry players to cast a "comedian" in serious roles as if the efforts of Robin Williams, Peter Sellers, Charlie Chaplin, and our very own Dolphy went unnoticed. I've accepted that and had to content myself by pouring my acting skills instead in the creation of my characters who are known personalities and my singing talent to perfect my impressions of popular singing celebrities. Honestly, I didn't learn any new singing technique from the Maestro in the short sessions I had with him. It was fun nevertheless because each session was filled with "tsismis." The greater learning though were the very basic essentials he shared with me, like the proper pronunciation and syllabic stresses of Tagalog words (which even our broadcasters are miserable failures) and the objective of communicating a thought, an emotion, or the message of the song itself and sometimes going to extra length as far as to the time and events when the song was written. After all, he was a legitimate professor of History.

VN: How and why did you impersonate a person? Who were the first personalities you imitated?
WN: Initially I did impressions to make people happy and their varied reactions to it made me happy too. Later I realized it could be a potent tool to express a message or perhaps trigger an opinion like a devil's advocate. It is still an artform but no longer the old school description of art for art’s sake. The audience's reaction by applause, cheers, and laughter are my barometer of validation that indeed they understood the issues at hand or at the very least an acceptance that I have become their channel to express their anger or frustration over an issue or whoever person in power was responsible for it. Initially I mimicked animal sounds, musical instruments, and sound effects of recognizable objects. Then I moved on to impersonate popular radio and singing personalities. Times changed . Relevance and citizen awakening were the order of the day. Marcos and his cohorts presented themselves. So there.

VN: Is the fire as a tibak still alive in you being the country’s master impersonator?
WN: Yes. I guess that will not go away.

VN: These days when you say the word “impersonator,” they usually equate it with the lip-synching transgenders. What is your opinion?
WN: It's their job. It's their choice. I have mine. This is a free country . Everything's for sale. At whose expense?

VN: In the Phiippines, can a person feed his or her family by just impersonating? Unless you are a Willie Nepomuceno? Are you the highest-paid impersonator?
WN: So far my family lives decently. You don't have to be a Willie Nep to survive. If I were the highest paid I wouldn’t be wondering what my next job will be. Most of my comtemporaries have retired... with pensions to boot.

VN: Do you think you can change our society by impersonating?
WN: I have offered my craft to help serve that purpose in my own little way like a firefly in some dark-lit corner with a continuous buzz and flickering light. 

VN: How do you prepare for each and every show? Please give some tips on how to become a good impersonator?
WN: Like it was always an opening show with recurring butterflies in my stomach. With apprehension whether my act will be acceptable to a discerning audience. That's the only way I know to become a good impressionist. Keeping in mind that your audience is spending hard earned money to buy tickets for your show, that they are paying high electric bills to watch your appearance on television, and using up precious time to be entertained though momentarily to suspend the realities of hard life. They deserve to get a fine performance from the best of my abilities.

VN: Do you have plans to put up the Willie Nepomuceno Impersonation Workshop or the Willie Nepomuceno School of Impersonation? Or it there is already an heir apparent in your daughter Frida?
WN: I don't think there's a demand for that . It sounds self-serving to me. I'd rather put up a school for good governance or public service. Joke!

VN: Any world tour?
WN: Can you find a producer willing to invest on a Famous Unknown for a World Tour? or did you mean a Bike Tour? Hehehe…

WILL THE REAL WILLIE NEPOMUCENO PLEASE STAND UP? (Second of four parts) (August 13, 2012)

Angry young Willy Nepomuceno (middle) with fellow U.P. Beta Sigmans

VN: How did you survive college?
WN: Surviving can be tough but it's not really a big deal as long as you know what you want to get out of college life. University of the Philippines is like a community and it is its own resource. Immediately, after high school, I got a summer job in UP as an illustrator and slowly got to know how it is to be in UP. So that when I got accepted I already knew my way around so I applied as a Student Assistant. Receiving P75 a month, I didn't have to ask my parents for baon. Eventually the office I worked in also served as my "stock room" when I later ventured as an ice cream vendor inside the campus. As early as 5 in the morning, I'd be queuing at the Magnolia Plant along Aurora Blvd. to buy my goods to sell for the day with the accompanying dry ice. And before officework begun, I would have packed the goods into my three vending boxes and distributed them to my boys, who are actually ambulant cigarette vendors. In between my classes, I'd be in the drawing board and the rest of my time attending to extracurricular activities as an officer of the Beta Sigma Fraternity, a councilor of the UP Student Council, an editorial board member of the Philippine Collegian, a managing editor of the College of Fine Arts student publication and my Fraternity's publication, and the President of the Marikina UP Varsitarians and naturally participating in the activities of the nationalist movement and two campus singing groups on the side. In my senior years, I also became a part-time substitute art teacher and, much later, I got immersed into theater and artworks. I guess, it's the passion of my youth and a huge bit of pragmatism that pushed me to survive college life.

VN: Was there life after UP? What happened to you personally and professionally?
WN: The ties with UP never cease. You will always be smitten by the love for the institution that molded you into what you have become. In fact, after graduation I was jobless for the longest time (my choice anyway). My life then was an extension of my college lifestyle. I preferred doing theater work, conducting acting and stage workshops to interested students with my friend Joonee Gamboa and a few others. It's probably similar in nature to what is known today as NGO work. Or maybe that became my outlet to fulfill my desire to pursue an acting career. My very promising entertainment career was however nipped in the bud by Martial Law just exactly when it was about to take off. With my own radio program and my own television show in the pipelines of the ABS CBN executives, I would have begun learning the rudiments of radio work that Monday of September 1972. But the network's gate were taken over by the Marine forces as early as Saturday. I went into hiding and surfaced only when I got a call slip to guest in Nora Aunor's Superstar television show. Surprisingly, I was not arrested so I went legit again on mainstream entertainment on an off and on basis (because I never really liked the industry practices). Until one time in my "off" mode, I got into the Development Academy of the Philippines, doing organization development work with a particular focus on human relations training. I thoroughly enjoyed my job especially when I see people acquiring new knowledge, developing skills and displaying attitudinal changes in behavior. It more than equaled the high of a standing ovation. In the process, I even earned a management scholarship at the prestigious Asian Institute of Management. However, being a government agency, it could only afford a limited salary scale not enough for my growing family so I got back again to my on and off career as an entertainer. I was doing well doing stints around the world, corporate accounts, and headlining several television shows including a daily noontime television program as its mainstay host. For the second time, my career was again interrupted by history. People Power happened and therefore a change in players was inevitable. It felt like the 70s once more. I was back to square one. It was a series of not so funny things that happened on my way to the Forum, but let's leave that to my biographer.

VN: How did you end up as an impersonator? Who taught you the tricks of the trade? Who influenced you here and abroad?
WN: Doing voices and faces started as a game for me. I always had fun poking make believe sounds at my lolo's househelps, cousins, playmates, and eventually my teachers in school. I was fascinated by a comic book character named Alyas Palos, a Robin Hood-type robber, whose forte is disguising to avoid being caught by the pursuing officers. Later I saw a performer doing impressions of American actors on a television show and I was so amazed by his talent. His name was Frank Gorshin. Then I saw Sammy Davis, Jr. imitating popular singers. Immediately I became a fan and these two artists instantly were my source of inspiration and model in the art of impression.

VN: Who are the famous unknown you have imitated? What is your dream role?
WN: Willie Nep? At this point, I don't have a dream role. I just need a job that will prove my mettle and be recognized for it.

WILL THE REAL WILLIE NEPOMUCENO PLEASE STAND UP? (First of four parts) (August 06, 2012)

Willie Nepomuceno as Dolphy

Being the Master Mimic, mostly of current events, Willie Nepomuceno is the fastest gun alive. In fact, he already had a comic take on Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment right after the trial. Called Trial and Error, it featured last 26 May two of the most exciting legal eagles of late – Senator Judge Juan Ponce Enrile and Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas -- together with his usual suspects in Manny Pacman, three Philippine presidents, and, of course his idol, Pidol, to name a few!

The said show was jampacked, as expected, so it had a hit re-run last 2 June.

When the Dolphy faded away last 10 July, he paid tribute to the late great Rodolfo Vera Quizon via his show SONA: Stars of the Nation Atbp. last 21 July.

Everything took place at his favorite Music Museum.

Just like Willie Nep’s tribute on 25 August. Entitled Idols, it will be focusing on the major influences to his performing career particularly those voices he heard over the radio, seen on television and in movies, and those he played in jukeboxes and turntables during his formative years. So they have been responsible for his greatness.

This time, not from his old reliables like Paul Anka, Pres. Benigno Aquino III, Nat “King” Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., Gringo Honasan, Bruce Lee, Pres. Ferdinand Marcos, German Moreno, Manny Pacquiao, Fernando Poe Jr., Elvis Presley, Pres. Fidel V. Ramos, Freddie Roach, Jaime Cardinal Sin, Frank Sinatra, or Superman.

But from such American singers as Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Lionel Richie, and Stevie Wonder as well as their Filipino counterparts in Erap Presley, The Elderly Brothers (or Sen. Enrile and Justice Cuevas), Talentadong PNoy, and, absolutely, Dolphy in his immortal act with Panchito. Expected, too, are Celine Dion and Frank Sinatra. Even Jennifer Holiday and Jessica Sanchez. 

Willie Nep, mind you, was in Dolphy’s list as one of the best comedians in the country with Bayani Agbayani, Vhong Navarro, Vic Sotto, and Michael V.

In his biography Dolphy: Hindi Ko Ito Narating Mag-Isa, the King of Comedy was quoted by Bibeth Orteza as saying: “Si Willie Nepomuceno, well, isa pa itong antigo, pero ang hirap ng ginagawa niya. Pinag-aaksayahan niya ng time and effort. Bihira ang mga comedian na tulad niya.” Well, he would not be ranked as the #1 Philippine (or Filipino) impersonator by the television show Ang Pinaka… for nothing!

Vim Nadera: You belong to a family of slashers: your father Leonardo was a policeman/ amateur boxer/ dancer while your mother Francisca was a beautician/pianist. How would you describe your very versatile home?
Willie Nepomuceno: Slashers? That's a tough word and our family doesn't even fancy cockfighting.. hehe. I got my toughness and inquisitive mind set from my dad who worked as a detective for the police force. I guess, the love for the arts and music is a trait shared by both of my parents which became a passion for me even at a tender age. That brought harmony and bliss at home.

VN: How are you as a kuya? Are your siblings artists too?
WN:We're probinsiyano by nature and geography so a kuya will always be a protective and caring one though I'm more of the liberal kind. My sisters are not artists, in the strict sense, but they do have fine tastes and could be my "worst critics" when it comes to my performances. And I like it that way to keep me grounded.

VN: After high school, you worked as an illustrator at the Science Education Center in Diliman, that subsidized you as University of the Philippines’ College of Fine Arts major. What was your ambition back then?
WN: I was quite a dreamer then. I wanted to finish school so I can put my creative ideas into fruition when I work perhaps in an advertising agency. It doesn't work that way pala. Reality check was the key word.

VN:You were a student activist, a college councilor in the UP Student Council, a managing editor of the Philippine Collegian and the fraternity paper, The Betan, and a fixture in the campus art and music scene. How did you manage your time as a student?
WN: Looking back, I still have no answer. It simply felt like they were the natural order of things to do. But, of course, I had a few lows. I had at least two semesters of minimal units load on a conditional student status and a few touches of Beethoven's 5th encircled by red ink... not really music to the ears, especially for my parents.

VN:What was your contribution to anti-Marcos rallies?
WN: Initially I formed part of the speaker's bureau of the Movement for a Democratic Philippines which was the umbrella of organized progressive organizations. I also acted as a liaison officer to certain student leaders of other campuses. In the course of several rallies and demonstrations in UP, and atop the Quiapo underpass as makeshift stage, I would notice the impassioned tenor of most speakers. Feeling ko parang galit silang lahat sa mundo. When it was my turn to speak, I experimented by creating make-believe scenarios with Marcos as the main character. The audience lapped it up and henceforth I became a regular fixture in most rallies and that was the beginning of my satirical impressions. Sa UP naman whenever there's a call for a boycott of classes, I would be the first person with the megaphone at the steps of the Arts and Sciences building to work out the initial crowd. Kumbaga parang "jeepney barker" sa sakayan ng mga pasahero.

IN DEFENSE OF DEANNA ONGPIN-RECTO (Last part) (July 30, 2012)

Deanna Ongpin-Recto (right) with artists Charito Bitanga-Peralta, Susan Fetalvero Roces, Lenore R.S. Lim, Imelda Cajipe Endaya, and Mav Rufino who protested against the unfair ouster of Ms. Ongpin-Recto from the Alliance Francaise de Manille's Board 

Vim Nadera: You were awarded the Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur with the rank of Chevalier in 2010. How was it?
Deanna Ongpin-Recto: It was a great honor to receive this award which is the highest award given to civilians by the French Republic. It was an honor for me as well to receive in June 2008 the Order of Arts and Letters (Ordre des arts et des lettres) rank of Officier or Officer. Which is why it was particularly painful for me to have been treated so badly by some French people at Alliance Française de Manille.

VN: Whatever happened to the annual Memorandum of Agreement was signed between the Embassy of France and the Alliance Française de Manille?
DOR: A MOA between the French Embassy and the AFM is signed every year, which governs the relationship between the two institutions.

VN: For writers, it will be the literary events. Could you tell us the history of the much-awaited Printemps des Poètes? What will happen to it?
DOR: The Printemps des Poetes (PdP) is celebrated in March every year all over the world where there is an Alliance Francaise. It gathers poets and poetry lovers in celebration of poetry. When I started to organize it in AFM in 2007, it became an instant success, due largely to the help of good friends like Krip Yuson, Gemino Abad, National Artist Virgilio Almario, Marne Kilates, Marivic Rufino, Vim Nadera, the Syjuco family. At its height, it attracted more than 30 poets and an audience of some 200 poetry lovers. I don't know what will happen to PdP, I suppose the new dispensation at AFM will try to continue it, but will the poets come to read, and will poetry lovers come to listen?

VN: You were described as the Alliance Française de Manille’s artistic soul. Why were you fired? How can AFM survive without you?
DOR: I was not "fired" because I was never hired, nor paid to do what I was doing for AFM. I did what I did completely pro bono, gratis et amore. Walang bayad. I was ousted from the AFM Board on June 6 at the Annual General Meeting and Board elections. Two of us: myself and Sevrine Miailhe who had served on the Board for 12 years, were replaced by two French businessmen. For the first time in its 92-year old history, the AFM Board has a French majority. Some 80 new members of AFM were recruited in the week before the June 6 to effect this change. The reason: we asked uncomfortable questions about the escalating costs of the AFM building expansion, and we tried to protect the P9.5 million PARP fund from being usurped for purposes other than what it was meant for, i.e., to augment the building fund. Even the retirement plan for the AFM staff has been deferred for the same reason. Survive? Certainly AFM will survive without me, but it will never be the same again, that's for sure. For one thing, artists like Charito Bitanga-Peralta, Susan Fetalvero Roces, Lenore R.S. Lim, Imelda Cajipe Endaya, and Mav Rufino have started a boycott of AFM, so who will go there now? 

VN: How are you now? Writing your memoirs?
DOR: I was very angry, but now I'm just very sad because I loved AFM like I love France, and that will not change. But I despise the people who were behind this graceless act, and that will not change either.

VN: What are your plans? Do they include legal actions?
DOR: I have other work to do, and I have no time to waste nor any inclination to deal with people I have no respect for.

IN DEFENSE OF DEANNA ONGPIN-RECTO (Third of four parts) (July 23, 2012

Deanna Ongpin Recto (right) receiving the Order of the Legion of Honor from the French Ambassador Thierry Borja de Mozota in 2010

Vim Nadera: How did you become a Counselor for Foreign Affairs to the permanent delegation of the Philippines to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris from 1996 to 2004?
Deanna Ongpin-Recto: Again, quite by accident. I rocked the boat at the Cultural Center of the Philippines by making changes in its artistic program which hadn't evolved in 10 years since the Edsa Revolution, and for asking too many questions about million-peso failed projects like the CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art. So I was "kicked upstairs", sent back to my post in Paris with a nice promotion.

VN: What did you learn as well as teach being an expert in the cultural institutions and policies of France?
DOR: I'm not an expert at all, and what I learned, I learned during the many years I spent working at the Philippine Permanent Delegation to UNESCO in Paris.

VN: What are your most cherished memories in international cultural relations?
DOR: Of the many and varied dossiers I had to handle in my job, I was most interested and involved in the work on the heritage. As one of the Philippine representatives to the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, I participated in conferences on the heritage in world heritage sites like Carthage in Tunisia, Santa Fe, New Mexico in the U.S., Cartagena in Colombia, Kyoto in Japan, etc.

VN: You began in 2005 as vice president of the board of the Alliance Française de Manille and in 2009 you became president. What was your legacy?
DOR: I gave to the AFM Gallery the credibility that it enjoyed until my departure. When I volunteered to manage the Gallery, I designed a successful program of exhibitions that featured both established as well as young, relatively unknown artists. The Gallery earned P9.5 million over six years, and with this fund I established the Philippine Artists Residency Program (PARP), to finance a three-month residency of one Filipino artist in France every year. This fund is now in danger of being used for other purposes. 

VN: Could you share with us your professional secrets? Some say it is your energy. Others speak of your extensive connections. Do you agree?
DOR: Yes. When I take up a cause, I am passionate about it, and that spells time, energy, work. As for extensive connections, yes, especially among the artists. They have been more than generous in accepting to exhibit at the AFM Gallery, even at the time when it was not yet a gallery of any consequence. Perhaps among the collectors as well, who have frequented and patronized the AFM exhibitions I organized in the last six years.

IN DEFENSE OF DEANNA ONGPIN-RECTO (Second of four parts) (July 16, 201)

Deanna Ongpin-Recto (right) and Rod Paras Perez

Vim Nadera: What comes to mind when you hear “University of the Philippines”? Why?
Deanna Ongpin-Recto: U.P. was where I discovered myself, where I bloomed intellectually, became an adult, and where I spent some of the happiest years of my life.

VN: How did you begin as a cultural luminary?
DOR: Quite by accident. As with most developments in my professional life. I was a misfit at the Department of Foreign Affairs, and so when I was offered the post of Vice President/Artistic Director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, I decided to accept it, in spite of everyone's warning that CCP was "a viper's nest."

VN: You took up English in college and in graduate school? Why did you shift to studying French?
DOR: I didn't. I chose to study French in U.P. because as an English major, I had to know another foreign language. Later when I started to live and work in Paris, where I ended up staying for some 18 years, it was absolutely necessary to speak the language.

VN: Please tell us your unforgettable experiences when you attended Art History courses at the Ecole du Louvre and Institut de l’art et d’archeologie at the University of Paris?
DOR: It was dramatically different from my classes in U.P. At the Ecole du Louvre, the classes were of the "cours magistral" type, where some 200 students sit in an auditorium and the professor delivers his lecture on stage. At the Institut de l'art et d'archeologie, the classes were smaller, the professor gave his lecture, and the students took down every word he said. In both institutions, there was no interaction/exchange between professors and students in class.

VN: Was it your dream to end up as vice president and artistic director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines?
DOR: Not at all.

VN: How would you describe the cultural scene during the 90s? Did it change?
DOR: It was much more politicized than it is today, probably due to lingering issues brought on by the events at EDSA and the ouster of Marcos, and the departure of Imelda from the cultural scene.

IN DEFENSE OF DEANNA ONGPIN-RECTO (First of four parts)(July 09, 2012)

Deanna Ongpin-Recto (second from right) being adored by Vim Nadera (kneeling) during the Printemps des Poètes 2012

The last time we saw Ms. Deanna Ongpin Recto was on 26 May during theManagement Intensives for Arts Managers and Board Members seminar at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. She was in a hurry as she bade goodbye that afternoon when she left the Little Theater with Boots Herrera, the new CCP Visual Arts and Museum Division (VAMD) director. Later that evening, we were surprised to see Ms. Ongpin-Recto once more during the joint opening of Elmer Borlongan’s Rizalpabeto show andThrough The Looking Glass: Jose Rizal group exhibit at the Manila Contemporary. Quietly, she was watching Looking For Juan’s time-lapse videos which were featured during last year’s ManilArt 11 exhibit curated by J. Pacena andMarika Constantino at the NBC Tent in Bonifacio Global City.

Again, we were taken by surprise when we found out that Ms. Ongpin-Recto, who was awarded the Ordre de la Légion d’Honneur with the rank of Chevalier in 2010, was ousted as the president of the Board of Directors of Alliance Française de Manille (AFM). It was more of a shock, actually, since we learned about it on 6 June, the day after the opening of the Voyages exhibition of Cesar Caballero, Juvenal Sanso, and Betsy Westendorp’s works that Ms. Ongpin-Recto curated herself at the AFM Total Gallery.

It was at that exact space too, which she used to manage, when we had Quite memorable was it since during our performance last 15 March, Ms. Ongpin-Recto showed how a good sport she was, when she allowed us to take one of her shoes off to everybody’s amazement, as we recited our poem Legend. 

Now that she’s no longer a part of AFM, we will surely miss our yearly encounters with Filipino and French guests who stayed on, even until midnight sometimes, simply to experience the poetry of National Artist Virgilio Almario, who was always represented on stage by artist Mav Rufino and poet Marne Kilates, jamming with Dr. Gemino Abad, Anne Abad, Yanna Acosta, Alma Anonas-Carpio, Shin Castillo, Anna Gamboa, Pete Lacaba, Marra Lanot, Apolinario Macalintal, Asha Macam, Rosa Magno, Paolo Manalo, André Rioult, Markus Rucksthul, Joel Salud, Cherilyn Sarigumba, Ritchen Sarigumba, Ramon Sunico, Cesare Syjuco, Maxine Syjuco, Trix Syjuco, Jaime Yambao, Krip Yuson, and other usual poetic suspects of the celebrated French Spring in Manila, annually showcasing French art and culture like Fête de la Musique, Cineclub, among others.

Ms. Ongpin-Recto, aside from directing AFM’s art exhibitions program, initiated the Alliance Française de Manille-Philippine Artist Residency Program (AFM-PARP) which was established in 2010, during the 90thanniversary of AFM. Her dream is to send one Filipino artist a year to France on an all-expenses paid three-month residency grant. Last year, the very first PARP grantee was printmaker Ambie Abaño. Supposedly, for 2012, it is the turn of sculptor Riel Hilario, who will begin in October.

Reportedly, last 6 June she was was booted out of the AFM Board at the Annual General Meeting and Board elections with Sevrine Miailhe who was a Board member for 12 years.


Like a mother merely taking care of her baby, she was just asking uncomfortable questions about the escalating costs of the AFM building expansion, and she tried to protect the P9.5 million PARP fund from being usurped for purposes other than what it was meant for.

“To augment the building fund,” she added, “even the retirement plan for the AFM staff has been deferred.” 

Last week, Charito Bitanga, Imelda Cajipe Endaya, Lenore R.S. Lim,

Susan Fetalvero Roces, and Mav Rufino led other artists to withdraw their participation from a group show at the AFM Total Gallery to protest the removal of Ms. Ongpin-Recto from the AFM Board.

Vim Nadera: How would you describe Deanna Ongpin-Recto as a young girl?
Deanna Ongpin-Recto: Shy, mousy, nondescript.

VN: What was your ambition then?
DOR: I had none.



Vim Nadera: You had your first solo exhibit before you had your group?
Elmer Borlongan: I had several group shows before I had my solo exhibit in Boston Gallery. Most of my contemporaries did not want to have a solo show until they have won the major prize in the Metrobank Painting Competition. It is one of the rules of the competition not to have a solo show yet before they could join. 

VN: How special were Aki (1993) and God Bless Our Trip (1994) to you?
EB: Dr. Joven Cuanang, our good friend and art patron, gave me the opportunity to exhibit solo in his Cubao gallery. Aki is my first solo exhibit at the Boston Gallery. The theme is about children. I was a volunteer art teacher to street children in Palanan, Makati during that time. “Aki” is the Bicolano word for child. God Bless Our Trip is my second solo exhibit focusing on my experiences and observations of daily life in my hometown Mandaluyong. Bencab bought one painting from this show titled Sundo which now hangs in his Baguio museum.

VN: What can you say about the other Thirteen Artist Awardees chosen with you by the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 1994?
EB: All of them are cutting edge artists. They are innovators on their chosen media.

VN: How did travel grants and residencies here and abroad help you grow?
EB: Travel grants and residencies are first-hand exposures to contemporary art. You get to meet and make new friends in the international art scene. I became more confident talking about my work in public. This is also good for network and contacts for future projects and exhibition abroad.

VN: Did your life, particularly the romantic, changed when you became an artist-in-residence in Casa San Miguel?
EB: The human figure continues to be the focus of my works. The sound and the fury of Manila street scenes have been the fitting accompaniment to the figures that have graced my works throughout the years. My move to Zambales in 2003 has changed all that, dramatically. 

I paint in a studio in the middle of a mango farm surrounded by the sound of a sometimes wailing sea and the chirping of the birds. My immediate environment within the home and in the outskirts of the farm presents an engaging scenario of various characters that I have mingled with. Not to mention my exposure to all my brother-in-law’s pupils at CASA San Miguel, around the farm on Sundays. And the spots I discovered under the trees to practise their instruments have now figured prominently in my recent works. The grass that my neighbour never fails to burn every summer is a worrisome incident that has unified the barrio people. They converged into my space to protect and empathize with me. There are religious rituals that give pomp and circumstance to the practice of the faith. And of course, there is the sea, a character in itself, that is sometimes disconcerting when my wife worries about "imagined tsunamis in her head" but is a refreshing blue field of delight on hot summer days. 

VN: How are you as a husband? As a father?
EB: I will let my wife Plet answer that question. Mahirap magbuhat ng sariling bangko.

VN: What are the pros and cons being married to another artist?
EB: I am lucky to have a partner who understands my work as a full-time artist. Even if I am not painting, she knows I am conceptualizing my next work. Although, drawing everyday is a habit of mine. We have a policy between ourselves not to make a comment on each others’ work until it is signed. 

VN: What lessons did you get from such “conjugal artistry” as Bolipata and Borlongan: Two-Part Invention, among others?
EB: We support each other in many ways. Art is a big part of our life and we will continue creating until we get old together. 

VN: How do you compare it with our project Rizalpabeto with The Center for Arts, New Ventures, and Sustainable Development (CANVAS)?
EB: I used the iPad to create the artworks. The new technology was a big challenge considering this is my first project in digital painting. CANVAS did a project before on the writings of Apolinario Mabini but this is the first time to produce a letras y figuras on the the life and works of our National Hero. 

VN: What did Jose Rizal teach you before, during, and after your Letras Y Figuras through iPad?
EB: I've learned a lot from Jose Rizal. He is an exceptional man. Inspiring new generation to pursue their dreams. The impact of his works continues up to this day. His quest for knowledge seems to have a purpose to his personal life and to the struggles of the Filipinos. He is the best planner to make things happen. He sacrificed for his country and died believing in the truth.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ELMER BORLONGAN (Second of three parts) (June 25, 2012)

Elmer Borlongan's Banyera (LEFT) as interpreted by Vim Nadera in a poem (right) of the same title in GSIS's Pitikbulag project

Vim Nadera: How did you discover that you are a visual artist?
Elmer Borlongan: When I first started to draw in my early years, I had no concept of what a visual artist is. The thing I remembered is I enjoyed copying the pictures I saw in books, comics, and magazines. It was the painter Fernando Sena who introduced me to the art world. While I was studying under him at the Children's Museum and Library, Inc. (CMLI) in 1978, he would open the pages of the encyclopedia and show in class the works of his favorite Dutch painters Rembrandt and Frans Hals. 

VN: How influential are your first idols aside from Danny Dalena, Onib Olmedo, Nestor Vinluan, to name a few?
EB: Fernando Sena is my only art teacher who taught me the basics of drawing and painting. It was a solid foundation to prepare me to the direction of where I want my art to proceed. All of his students imitated his style to understand the techniques he was teaching. It was up to the individual to find his own identity. 

VN: Why did you pick the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts? Who were your class or batch mates during college?
EB: I was planning to take up architecture in UST. But Mr. Sena convinced me to enroll in fine arts instead. My friends from Sena's CMLI class like Tony Leaňo and Rolly Acuna were already enrolled at the UP College of Fine Arts one year ahead of me. I followed them so it would not be hard for me to adjust to a new school and environment. And of course, most of the great Filipino artists studied in UP. My classmates were Mark Justiniani, Manny Garibay, Anthony Palomo, Karen Flores, Joy Mallari, Tammy Tan, and Norlie Meimban. 

VN: What doors were opened when you became a delegate to the 1984 ASEAN Youth Painting Workshop and Exhibition in Kuala Lumpur?
EB: Being a delegate exposed me to new developments in Southeast Asian art. Our exhibition was at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur. The Filipino delegates held a homecoming exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. I met the CCP Visual Arts Director and conceptual artist Ray Albano who curated our show.

VN: What did you do after graduation in 1987?
EB: My classmate Manny Garibay asked me to help him finish a mural for Lean Alejandro's funeral procession. It was an eye-opener for me on the ills of Philippine society. I eventually joined the activist art collective ABAY or Artista ng Bayan along with another classmate Mark Justiniani. We were prolific in doing street murals, effigy, posters, banners, streamers, illustrations and comics for cause-oriented groups. Giving art workshops and organizing students were also a part of our activities.

VN: How important was your winning in the 1988 Oil Painting Category of the Metrobank Annual National Painting Competition?
EB: The award was a good exposure to enter mainstream galleries. I was able to buy new art materials using the cash prize. Metrobank supports their past winners and give grants for projects and solo exhibitions. It encourages young artists to pursue their career so they can survive through art.

VN: Why were you selected to the 1989 International Conference On Human Rights and Democracy in Paris? Did the experience influence your philosophy?
EB: Artist Egai Fernandez, one of our consultants and senior members of ABAY, invited me to join the Paris group along with musicians Buklod and some members of the theater group PETA. Yes, it influenced me a lot. One of the prominent speakers in the conference were Chinese dissidents and pro-democracy activists of Tiananmen Square in China.

VN: Would you consider yourself a social realist? If not, how would you describe your style? 
EB: I consider myself a figurative expressionist.

VN: Why did you put up Salingpusa? How important are art groups for an artist? 
EB: Salingpusa started as a "barkada". It was a loose group with no officers. We would go up to Antipolo every weekend to hang out in different friends’ houses like "pusang gala". It's easy to mount an exhibition if you are in an art group using the D-I-Y principle. Discussions about art helps a member express his ideas. Each one of us motivates the other.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ELMER BORLONGAN (First of three parts) (June 18, 2012)


It all began four years ago. 

During the launch of the Government Service Insurance System’s Pitik-Bulag: Letra at Liwanag – both as a book edited by National Artist Virgilio Almario and Marne Kilates and, as an art show curated by Susan de Guzman and Gizelle Kasilag -- at the GSIS Museo ng Sining on 25 August 2009, we with Elmer Borlongan planned to collaborate again. 

Our dream to work with a world-renowned artist from the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts seemed impossible until he was asked by a UP Law professor, Atty. Jose Gerardo Alampay, or Gigo of Looking For Juan fame, to pay tribute to Jose Rizal’s sesquicentennial birth anniversary in 2011 for the Center for Art, New Ventures, and Sustainable Development (CANVAS).

Right then and there, Elmer remembered our unfinished business.

We suggested to write poems for our National Hero as a man of letters, literally and literarily, from A to Z.

In honoring Rizal, Elmer was able to pay homage to his namesake, Jose Honorato Lozano, for using Letras Y Figuras and to Steve Jobs for utilizing iPad as an end as well as a means to his experiment with social commitment. Or, social Rizalism?

And that gave birth to Rizalpabeto.

From our end, after dividing our labor, excitedly and excitingly, we wrote our very first poem Ñyora which we read the night we finished it at the Black Soup Café + Artspace for a gig called From New York, New York to New York, Cubao on 4 January 2011. 

But, that opening salvo was salvaged, positively and negatively. 

Last year, saw us so preoccupied, defending our dissertation Malay sa Palay bilang Talinghagang Bayan as well as our poetry anthology Kayumanggi -- with composer Fer Edilo, designer Lorina Javier, artist Mannet Villariba, and photographers Dominique James, Ronald Ruiz, Danny Sillada, to name a few – just to be published by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House under its new director, Dr. Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, who nominated our collection to the National Book Awards after it was turned down by the National Book Store!

On the other hand, Elmer was busy with the 3rd ManilArt at NBC Tent where hisBatang Edsa was that year’s banner piece.

There, we were expected to talk about Visuals on Rizal Today but the untimely death of our Other Mother -- Zenaida Mendiola a.k.a. Tita Nida – got in the way after our panganay Psalma turned 14 the previous day. It was on 24 August, when this much-awaited Philippine International Art Fair was opened with Rizalpabeto “Prelude Part 1” with curators Marika Constantino and J. Pacena who, amidst the Mideo Cruz’s controversy, managed to direct our youtube videos.

Then, it took a backseat once more when Elmer had to do such solo and group shows as Kariyanan and Ciento Cincuenta, both at the Pinto Art Gallery; Mukha at Glorietta Art Space; Monumental at Manila Contemporary, among others.

Fortunately, we met Elmer, with his equally talented wife Plet Bolipata, at theRizalpabeto “Prelude Part 2,” coinciding with Through The Looking Glass: Jose Rizalfeaturing such “Rizalist” artists as Zeus Bascon, Francis Commeyne, Fernan Escora, Francisco Guerrero, Jacob Lindo, Lee Paje, Don Salubayba, Carina Santos, Luis Santos, Erik Sausa, Shireen Seno, Louie Talents and Clairelynn Uy with Prof. Michael Charleston Chua lecturing The First Emo: Simple Life Lessons from The Extraordinary Story of José Rizal. 

That day, or that night, last 26 May, at the Manila Contemporary too, we proposed to him the idea we had been toying with as another kid-friendly take on Philippine studies, tentatively entitled Bilang Bonifacio (or, Katon Katipunan) to celebrate Andres Bonifacio’s150th birthday on 30 November 2013. 

Politely, he begged off, owing to the fact that he was one of the most important Filipino artists alive who has been invited everywhere to, say, the National Artist Benedicto Cabrera’s Bencab Museum and others, while waiting for Annette Ferrer and Daniel Tayona to do finishing touches on Rizalpabeto before it gets published as a children’s book earlier than our commemoration of Rizal’s 116th death anniversary in December.

Thank God, at 45, he could still find time to, well, be still like his legacy at the public collections here at the Metrobank Foundation (or at the private galleries of celebrities like Julius Babao) and abroad at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Queensland Art Gallery, Singapore Art Museum, and Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art.

Vim Nadera: Are Borlongans a family of artists?
Elmer Borlongan: I am the only professional artist in the family. My father, who is a retired chemist dabbles in sculpture as a hobby. He spends more time in it since he retired from San Miguel Corporation. My father’s first cousin was a kontrabida actor in Fernando Poe Jr. movies many years ago. He's name is Hector Borlongan a.k.a. Vic Varrion.