24 June 2006

outside the radar

philippines studies have been consistently outside the radar in australian academia.

not too many people are interested in the philippines these days. in many australian universities, philippine experts are a vanishing breed. with the exception of paul d’ arcy, merlinda bobis, jennifer decolongon, amy lopez-forbes (big winner of who wants to be a millionaire?, philippine edition, in 2001), m. mintz, robert nery, peter sales, jacqueline siapno, mina roces, nicki saroca, eduardo ugarte, jane hutchison and a few others, academics here aren't encouraged to take the path of filomeno aguilar, rey ileto, paul matthews, tom inglis moore, ben kerkvliet, raul pertierra, elizabeth perkins, michael pinches, mark turner and james warren.

certainly, many australian universities have course offerings on southeast asia. but "southeast asia" here means burma, indonesia, laos, malaysia, singapore, thailand, and vietnam. there isn’t any initiative to approve the teaching of any philippine language. and i find this very tragic because filipino-australians are among the fastest-growing migrant communities in australia. lately, filipino chefs and cooks have been in the limelight when they publicly aired their gripes against their employers on television. months earlier, we learned that vivian alvarez solon had been wrongfully deported by immigration authorities. filipinos in australia suffered greatly during the late 1970s and the 1980s as a result of homicide cases involving mail-order brides. even then, these experiences had not convinced academic leaders and federal officials to initiate philippine-related awareness programs in australian schools and universities.

at the sydney and melbourne film festivals, programs are leaning heavily towards european and american cinema. asia is thinly represented by china, japan and korea. occasionally, there are also token representations from thailand and vietnam. after rejecting the exhibition of filipino entries that have won acclaim in europe and north america, i get the impression that even australia’s artistic community is generally apathetic to
cultures of most countries unless they are anglo-celtic, european, rich or potentially, a border security threat (e.g. indonesia). for a major film country, i find it appalling that nobody here remembers lamberto avellana, ishmael bernal, lino brocka, manuel conde, gerry de leon, mike de leon, gregorio fernandez, eddie romero, mario o hara, tikoy aguiluz, marilou diaz abaya, laurice guillen, peque gallaga, mario j. de los reyes, jose javier reyes, jeffrey jeturian or lav diaz. certainly, aureaus solito's the blossoming of maximo oliveros was the opening film at the sydney opera house last month. but the festival was message sticks: fabulously indigenous but not an internationally mainstream one.

so i was elated to hear that la trobe university in melbourne has established a philippine-australia studies centre with ateneo de manila university. dennis altman and filomeno aguilar initiated the center's formation in 2000. the center was formally established at la trobe in 2003. australia's so-called group of 8 research universities should follow suit.
filipinos and filipino-australians should now live up to the challenge by raising their profile across australia and the asia-pacific region.

heaven forbid, filipinos in australia will no longer be essentialized within the next few years as battered domestics, prostitutes, illegals and mail-order brides.
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the new parliament house, canberra
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perth, western australia
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the town hall, melbourne
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the town hall, brisbane
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the harbour bridge, sydney

18 June 2006

meaning and purpose

having attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (adhd) since birth has certain disadvantages. to make up for this deficiency, i realized that i have subconsciously acquired photographic memory. i am capable of remembering many incidents dating back to the time i was about 3 years old. more incredibly, i have this strange way of putting together unrelated people, places, events and pieces of trivia. during the late 1980s college friends from engineering courses would call me “database.” among younger colleagues from u.p. diliman's national institute of physics, my penchant for connecting distant relations was a “theory of relativity.” by the 1990s, this strange condition had turned into “1.5 degrees of separation.” for paolo manalo in more recent times, i have become “…metonymy personified in my book, he who is friendster before there ever was friendster.”

though friends meant well, i felt small and insignificant from everybody else. it took a long time for me to accept that i can’t help it. my brain really works oddly. it takes ages for me to make coherence out of the things i want to do. but instinctively, i always get somewhere.

i was initially reluctant when u.p. arts and letters dean (2000-2003) rosario torres yu appointed me to be her associate dean for administration and development in 2000. i had been designated to raise funds for and supervise the construction of the new arts and letters building. the problem was, i didn't have any marketing or business background. but dean yu trusted my intuitive ways. working on the project, i knew the government had slashed u.p.'s budget by heaps. money for capital outlay was the first to go. engineering, law, medicine, sciences, business and economics have huge endowments from alumni groups and private corporations. meanwhile, arts and social sciences are traditionally poor colleges. i reckoned, all u.p. students take 2 years of general education courses (g.e.) from my college. many u.p. alumni met their friends, acquaintances, boyfriends, girlfriends, crushes, lovers, secret loves and flings out of these classes. given my gazillion e-groups worldwide, i embarked on a campaign to raise funds by way of emails. i emailed everyone i knew in the philippines and elsewhere. i argued that english and literature, foreign languages, humanities, philippine studies, rizal course, theater, speech communication and art studies should have good classrooms too. i complained that u.p. is losing its edge because g.e. classes are being taught in dilapidated rooms. some of us were actually teaching under the shade of trees. not surprisingly, our best students and teachers end up working elsewhere.

i was uncertain whether i can pull it through. but there’s absolutely no corruption throughout the fund-raising campaign. not a signle cent had gone to anybody's pocket. i sought former students from my 18 years of teaching to vouch for my integrity. i also sent emails to my alumni and writers’ e-groups in the philippines, america, japan and the u.k. the emails were passed on to other friends, acquaintances and their friends. and the friends of their friends. soon, the college was able to raise money for professorial chairs, scholarships, building equipment and the construction of the new college library. while receiving donations from individuals, companies, institutions and groups, encouragement and support had come especially from u.p. president francisco nemenzo and u.p. diliman chancellor (now u.p. president) emerlinda roman. they both allocated millions of pesos from u.p.'s diminishing funds to revitalize the state of arts and letters and general education in the university.

it’s been 3 years since the new u.p. arts and letters building had been inaugurated. the hoopla over the fundraising campaign has been forgotten. hardly anyone remembers it now. but I remain happy and fulfilled. i do not wish to claim any credit for the building's existence. after all, the building’s concept had evolved from deans pablo botor (1986-1988), vivencio jose (1988-1991), rogelio sicat (1991-1994) and josefina agravante (1994-1997; 1997-2000). dean rosario torres-yu and national artist/dean virgilio almario's (2003-2006; 2006-2009) foresight and visual sense directed me ably towards the building’s completion in 2003.

having a.d.h.d. didn't stop me from becoming an instrument to do something worthwhile. i can only hope that people will always persist in finding meaning and purpose in spite of their limitations.


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the new u.p. college of arts and letters building (dec.2001)
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the new u.p. college of arts and letters building (dec. 2003)
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with dean rosario torres-yu, makati city mayor and u.p. alumnus jejomar binay, u.p. diliman chancellor (now u.p. president) emerlinda roman and professor apo chua; mayor binay wanted to donate professorial chairs in philippine studies anonymously but we didn't allow him to do so
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the family and estate of carlos palanca jr. donated creative writing scholarships for u.p. arts and letters students. sylvia palanca-quirino (1st row, 2nd from left) represented her family during the formal ceremonies
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u.p. college of arts and letters building inauguration last december 2003; l-r: dean and national artist virgilio almario, dean vivencio jose, dean josefina agravante, u.p. president francisco nemenzo, college secretary teodoro maranan, quezon city mayor feliciano belmonte jr. and u.p. diliman chancellor (now u.p. president) emerlinda roman
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the university of the philippines (1908) in diliman, quezon city

10 June 2006

pilita corrales

from maestra isang tapales and jovita fuentes to ryan cayabyab and lea salonga, filipino musical artists have been winning worldwide acclaim as soloists, accompanists, composers and arrangers. i grew up being fascinated with filipino pop artists and their achievements in many international music festivals. but my fascination with these artists began with pilita corrales.

i skipped kindergarten and landed immediately in prep school at u.s.t. elementary school when pilita corrales bagged the best singer award during the 1st tokyo music festival (tmf) organized by tokyo’s popular music promotion association in 1972. pilita performed george canseco’s stirring ballad “my daughter.” she bested well-known musical artists like paul williams and olivia newton-john. tmf’s succeeding roster of participants and guest artists have included the likes of paul anka, shirley bassey, kate bush, kim carnes, joe cocker, natalie cole, the commodores, rita coolidge, randy crawford, sammy davis jr., al green, israeli superstar ofra haza, jermaine jackson, jackson five, al jarreau, limahl (lead singer of the 1980s pop band kajagoogoo), barry manilow, gilbert o’ sullivan, the pointer sisters, lionel richie, diana ross, frank sinatra, sister sledge ("we are family"), donna summer, the three degrees ("when will i see you again"), vaya con dios (a top belgian band), dionne warwick, andy williams and stevie wonder. not to be confused with the equally prestigious world popular song festival (organized separately by the tokyo-based yamaha music foundation from 1970 to 1989), pilita’s victory at tmf was clearly no mean feat.


immediately upon arrival in manila, pilita landed in newspapers and on television where the local press began dubbing her as “asia’s queen of songs.” and that’s how i got to know more about her. soon, pilita became a permanent fixture on ibc channel 13's "seeing stars with joe quirino." then japan's matsushita corporation, owners of national (now panasonic) electronic appliances, handpicked pilita to endorse quintrix state-of-the-art color t.v. and jetscycle refrigerators. right before going to bed late at night, i would patiently wait for rpn channel 9 to air pilita's t.v. ad where she sang the first few bars of "kapantay ay langit" at eduardo's along roxas boulevard. pilita was then at the height of her popularity as the country's leading female vocalist.

these days, pilita is well-known to t.v. audiences as a comedy actress. she is “mamita” on gma channel 7’s comedy “lagot ka, isusumbong kita” opposite joey marquez, richard gomez, raymart santiago and benjie paras. soon, she will be even more famous as the female judge a la paula abdul in abc channel 5’s philippine idol. younger generations of filipinos are probably oblivious to pilita’s impressive feat as the first filipino winner of an international music festival. nobody seems to remember pilita's distinguished achievements as a recording, live performance and t.v. artist.


nearly fifty years ago, pilita arrived in australia with a shipwrecked troupe of performers. initially, she was the assistant of magician and actor john calvert. calvert had earlier achieved popularity with his long-running magic show in hollywood with edgar bergen, gary cooper, cary grant and danny kaye during world war II. calvert also appeared in a movie with clark gable. later, pilita and calvert formed a tandem that proved to be very popular at the legendary tivoli theatre ("the tiv") on bourke street. "the tiv" was the center of melbourne's glamour, magic and live entertainment long before t.v., cinema, betamax, vhs, vcds, mobile phones, dvds, mp3s, ipods, blogs and laptops took over. it was also the site of pilita's first international success.

as a leading female vocalist from 1958 to 1962, pilita achieved mainstream acceptance and popularity in australia way ahead of newton-john, pat carroll, helen reddy, patsy anne noble, debbie byrne, renee geyer, the moir sisters, colleen hewitt (who made a hit out of "day by day" from godspell), sister janet mead (who did a popular cover version of "the lord's prayer"), marcia hines, samantha sang (who scored a u.s. #1 hit in 1978 with barry and maurice gibb's "emotion" ), kate ceberano (who is actually filipino-hawaiian-australian), tina arena, kylie minogue and delta goodrem. the australian broadcasting corporation (abc) and melbourne's the age recognize pilita as first woman ever to land on top of the australian pop charts in 1958 with "come closer to me."

pilita also performed with international artists like the beatles, bob hope, julie andrews, pat boone (“you light up my life” singer debbie boone’s father) and sammy davis jr. (at caesar’s palace in las vegas) while hosting prizewinning musical-varieties like “an evening with pilita,” “pilita and jackie, ” “ang bagong kampeon” and "tanghalan ng kampeon.” she popularized songs by filipino composers (“a million thanks to you,” “kapantay ay langit,” “ang pipit”) way ahead of many local artists. her renditions of tagalog classics by tito arevalo, george canseco, levi celerio, constancio de guzman, dominador santiago, leopoldo silos, restituto umali and miguel velarde jr. under plaka pilipino and vicor helped pave the way for the mainstream (and not just token or marginal) acceptance of original pilipino music (opm) during the 1970s and the 1980s.

after pilita, filipino artists realized that they can also win festival honors for the country. celeste legaspi won major prizes in world music festivals held in manila (1976, for philip monseratt’s “pusong nagmamahal”), tokyo (1976, also for “pusong nagmamahal”) and seoul (1981, for willy cruz’s “never ever say goodbye”). didith reyes bagged the gold prize during the 1977 tokyo music festival. leah navarro and the manila music machine bagged the bronze prize at tokyo in 1979. the philippines had been luckiest at the seoul popular music festival (1978-1983). winners of the annual metro manila popular music festival (1978-1985) were sent to compete
at sejong cultural center. with the exception of lerma de la cruz (who did not win in 1983, in spite of her exceptional rendition of vehnee saturno's "ako'y ako"), filipinos won a slew of prizes in seoul: ryan cayabyab and hajji alejandro for “kay ganda ng ating musika” (grand prix, 1978); freddie aguilar for snaffu rigor's “bulag, pipi at bingi" (best performer, 1979); dero pedero and leah navarro for “isang mundo, isang awit” (bronze, 1980); ananias montano and something special for “babae ka” (bronze, 1981); and jun latonio, tillie moreno, eugene villaluz and louie reyes for “nothing i want more” (grand prix, 1982). in later years, jose mari chan, eugene villaluz and louie reyes, leo valdez, dulce, ivy violan, smokey mountain, regine velasquez, jaya, ryan cayabyab, gines tan, danny tan, vehnee saturno and a few other artists would achieve similar honors in festivals held in canada, china, finland, hong kong, japan, malaysia, the philippines and the united states during the 1980s and the early 1990s.

towards the 21st century, shortage of interest and sponsors caused the demise of many music festivals. the few surviving ones today are mostly national or regional in nature as in the case of san remo (italy) and the annual eurovision contest. gma 7 tried to revive metro pop during the 1990s but antonio barreiro passed away. no one could possibly execute the vision and spirit of music festivals locally the way he did.

gerry matias, one of pilita’s musical directors, happens to be the father of my former student gm matias. when i return to manila, i will probably ask gm to get me pilita's autograph. or i'll drop by pilita’s bar in greenhills and tell her how she fascinated me when i was growing up. one of these days, she ought to be proclaimed national artist. even the city of melbourne has named a street after her in forest hill. and yet, she opted to sing more for her kababayans back home. i will never understand why pilita corrales should not be receiving an honor she truly deserves.


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"i'll take romance," pilita's 2nd long playing album in australia (circa 1958)
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"this is pilita," pilita's 3rd long playing album in australia (circa 1962)
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back cover of "this is pilita"
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"speak low," one of pilita's chart-hitting 45" singles under astor records in australia
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along the tram line on melbourne's bourke street with doreen ochea