Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Congratulations, Marko Angelo

Marko Angelo is my eldest son. And he just graduated high school. He was born 17 years ago, I was barely a grown up myself then. At 19, everything was happening so fast that the only thing I clearly remember about November 29, 1992 was that it was a blur. But one thing I will never forget is that first time I held him in my lanky arms and realization that hit me like a rock – I am a father.

A proud father. Nothing else in this world matters as much as my family. My proudest moments do not involve being onstage or in a movie or having a piece published or a photograph exhibited. I was proudest when my youngest, Aeneas, and younger daughter, Sofia, played their first memorized piano piece, or when my younger son, Leon, came up to me to give his opinion on my directorial concept for a play. Or everytime their Ate Sofia sits down with me to discuss the last book she read.

I had to hold back the tears when Leon won a literary contest and lost my voice cheering everytime he scored a goal (a total of 6!) in a soccer tournament. I was speechless when Marko told me that he’s starring in a school musical, and I could stay put in my seat watching Sofia in a play at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. In one of our theatre group’s performance last year, I could hardly believe my eyes watching Aeneas and Gabriela performing a song live onstage with so much gusto and sincerity.

I was late for the graduation, the travel from Manila to Alabang took longer than expected. I stopped by my father’s house a few blocks from the school to change – Marko would never forgive me if I showed up in my usual jeans and sandals. Something with a collar and footwear that cover the whole feet, that’s all he’s asking for. When I got to the auditorium, they were about to call the graduates onstage already – just in time. Being late, I was seated at the balcony, so I had to change camera lenses to get a decent photo of him walking up that stage and standing proud on that podium. Just as I was locking in that lens, I heard it: “Marko Angelo Altomonte.” I looked up and there he was – looking so smart and proud in his toga. The ceremony was pretty sober, quiet, sedate, and as he bowed to the crowd, his hat fell and he fumbled with it for a moment before finally putting it back on. I had on this really big stupid smile that I was trying to hide behind my camera, and as I clicked away, I thought to myself – that’s my son.

They’re my children, all five of them. And I am proud of each one and of all of them. I am a lot of things, but the one thing I know that I really am is a father to five beautiful children.

Driving him back home after the ceremony, I asked him what his plans were for the evening. I didn’t really plan for anything as I didn’t want to get in the way of whatever plan he had, this was his evening. And though I wanted so much for him to say that he had nothing special planned so I could take him out to dinner and just sit down with him all night and congratulate him over and over again, I wasn’t really surprised and just smiled when he said that he and his classmates were going to a party. This was evening.

After a quick change of clothes, he was back in the car, and we were back on the road, and too soon he was getting off already at some café where him and his friends would be meeting up. Ahh, too soon.

What I didn’t get to tell him was that I was so proud of him and that I love him very much. That I wish him well as he now enters college to chart his own destiny; that whatever happens to always remember that I love him very much and I would always be there for him and would do all I can to make him happy.

Congratulations, Marko Angelo.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Why

1:30am, a couple of hours ago the editor sent me a text message saying he needs all articles in first thing tomorrow morning. He wants to go to press earlier tomorrow. I just had a long week… no, I’m still having, struggling through, it - it’s not over yet. Anyway, back to the slowly filling up page on my computer screen.

This is usually how I come up with my pieces here, at the last minute. I have tried writing my piece much earlier, sometimes I get hit by an idea a full five days before the deadline. But somehow no matter how hard I try to my thoughts down that far away from the deadline, I just can’t – I just always end up writing this weekly article a couple of hours before I really have to submit it (which means I am actually writing this down way too early).

I am stalling, I’m stumped. So I ask myself now, why do I do this? Never mind that my articles here are gratis, for like most of the things I do, I don’t do primarily for money anyway. Just like whenever I go onstage, or fiddle with the piano or guitar, or frame life in a still or moving camera, I just want to tell stories. And express how I feel about those stories.

I tell like it is, the way I see it, the way I feel it. Sometimes, in the process, I step on some toes, some sensitive toes. But then, though I do at times take a moment before clicking “send” to email my article in, and think whether a particular story really needs to be told. If it saw print, then I felt that it did. I do like writing about happy, positive stuff, too. But sometimes to show how bright something is, one has to illustrate what darkness is like.

You probably know how it feels to, say, see a really well-made movie, and you just can’t wait to tell your friends about it. Well, for me it doesn’t have to be something as grand as a Hollywood blockbuster. I am easily amazed by, and I wonder about almost everything around me. I can write about the number one festival in the whole country, or about an obscure talent competition tucked away in a corner at the park. I can write about who I believe is the best candidate for the presidency, or about the best vendor to get your boneless bangus from at the city market.

And, while I do listen to suggestions, advices, I’m sorry but, no, nobody can tell me what to write. Neither would I allow anybody to tell me what not to write. In one article I wrote where I apparently stepped on some conceited toes, those toes’ friend called me to ask me to retract what I said, even reminding me that those toes were connected to a fat ass that I’ll do better kissing. I’m sorry, ma’am, sir, but I do not live my life that way.

As Edmond Rostand said, through Cyrano de Bergerac, “Scratch the back of any swine / That roots up gold for me? / Tickle the horns / Of Mammon with my left hand, while my right / too proud to know his partners business / takes in the fee? No thank you!”

And, since I cannot possibly express it any better than he did, I quote Rostand further, “in a word, I am too proud to be a parasite… And if my nature wants the germ that grows / Towering to heaven like the mountain pine / Or, like the oak, sheltering multitudes - I stand, not high it may be - But, I stand alone!”

So why do I do this? Now, I click “send.”

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Trash talk



Much has been said about the city’s garbage problem – including those coming from people who have political and personal agendas. I had to mention those because often, their pronouncements are tainted with exaggerations and half truths in order to advance their ulterior motives.

These people hardly mention that the garbage problem is closely related to the rapid population growth that Baguio underwent in the decades that followed the 1990 earthquake, straining the city’s carrying capacity to the limit.







They also don’t mention that a law, Republic Act 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, was enacted in 2001, which gave us five years to put a waste management program in place and stop the usage of open dumpsites such as the one in Irisan. Hardly anything concrete was done in Baguio in the years that followed. Instead of responding to the law and preparing for the impending closure of the Irisan dumpsite, the city government then even spent money for its continued operation. The deadline lapsed, and the Irisan dumpsite, as the law mandated, and also owing to the dangers it posed, had to be closed. And here we are today, caught flatfooted.

While all fingers point to city hall these days, including mine, I’m glad to learn that things are moving and that programs have been put in place in the last three years. But the crafters of RA 9003 did see that these things can’t happen overnight, hence the five-year timetable. If only Baguio sprang into action back in 2001.

But here’s what we know. We know that we don’t have our own garbage disposal facilities in place in Baguio at the moment. We know that we had been hauling our garbage to another city more than a hundred kilometers away. We know that it costs a lot of money to do this. We know that the more garbage we produce, the more expensive it gets for the city to dispose of it.

But no, I don’t have groundbreaking brilliant ideas on how to address the garbage problem, let’s leave that to the experts, so-called and otherwise. But I believe that here in Baguio, while putting so much energy ranting and raving about it in various forums and media may rattle the powers-that-be into some positive action, I believe doing small seemingly small things in our own homes, can bring in more relevant and definite results.



REDUCE, REUSE, SEGREGATE, RECYCLE.




We can reduce the garbage we produce in small way, but if done by many, can make a difference. Try buying the basic ingredients for pinakbet at the market – the vendor will put those eggplants, okras, tomatoes, squash and amplaya in separate plastic bags. 5 plastic bags for the ingredients of an average home-cooked meal. Add two more for your rice (they usually use two for heavy items such as this), one more for the cooking oil, another for your bagoong, plus one or two big ones to put all those small ones in, you get the drift.

For an average of 10 plastic bags for each of, say, just about 5,000 market-goers everyday, that’s 50,000 plastic bags. Can you imagine what a trusty, almost forgotten bayong can do? Imagine what telling the vendor not to put those items in separate plastic bags would do.

And if you had to use plastic bags, reuse them, and all those other disposable items that are thrust upon us in this age of disposables. Bring those plastic bags with you on your next trip to the market, those plastic ice cream containers do well as flower pots.

And whatever just has to be thrown away, segregate. It will then be so much easier for the garbage to be collected. Recylable materials will be easier to gather. And if we are able to reuse, recycle and segregate, then we greatly reduce the garbage we produce. I’m sure there are hundreds, thousands of other ways we, in our own personal capacities, can do to help address the garbage crisis.

For the fact is, we can talk, rant and rave about it all we want, and that can probably help make our government act faster.

Or we can also start addressing the problem at the source – us.


Photos by Ramon David and Lisa Agoot

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dear John

I once wrote a piece for Cordillera Today's Lifestyle page called, “So you wanna be an actor?” In it, I talked about what I believe are the fundamental prerequisites to becoming a performing artist. I had to go back to it recently, if only to remind myself why I chose to be in this unforgiving field that is theater, after receiving a rather emotional and venomous retort online regarding the way local artists have once again been sidelined in what is now touted as the country’s number one festival. A certain John whom I don’t remember having ever met, who also asked not to have his comment deleted in the “interest of free speech,” invaded the rather cryptic conversation between me and a friend on the matter, and called it sourgraping.

I agree with him. But for different reasons.

Theater artists are the epitome of the term “starving artists.” They often start with a production with nothing more than sheer passion for the craft and the burning desire to tell a good story to an audience. That’s probably why theater continues to thrive despite the dismal situation it’s been in, it was never about money, not for most Baguio-based artists anyway.

In the almost 15 years since our first production here in Baguio, things barely changed: very talented local artists still play second fiddle to big name ones from Manila. The small increase in honoraria over the years is due more to inflation rather than improved circumstances. They are still virtually ignored by major local institutions, unless talents are needed and bringing name artists from elsewhere cannot be afforded. But year after year, all over Baguio – in a rehearsal hall in a school, at the basement of the Baguio Convention Center, out in the open in public parks, Baguio’s local theater artists come together come rain or shine, to pool talent, resources and passion for the craft together to come up with a presentation that they believe will not only entertain the audience, but hopefully change the way they look at the world around them forever.

On stage in a school auditorium or on the sidewalks of Session Road on a foggy afternoon, or on rare occasions when they can afford to pay rent at the Baguio Convention Center, they tell their stories. And it doesn’t matter whether they tell it in a theater filled to the brim with students, or to an intimate audience of 10 people, they will tell that story the same way: with utmost sincerity.

They choose their stories carefully, the intention is not merely to entertain and impress, but to compel, provoke, freeze a moment in time so that the audience can step out of life’s daily struggle for a while and step into the magical world of that art form that allows for real human interaction. In theater, you not only hear or see the actors, you feel what they are feeling for they are sincerely feeling it. You feel their pain because they are in pain. You share their joy because they are truly joyful inside. You fall in love because they have sincerely fallen in love. And all that happens not because they’ve put on great make-up or a fabulous set onstage, that happens because the artists’ passion and pure intentions have broken through the fourth wall of the theater to reach deep inside you right there in your seat, taking you out of the dark and onto the reality happening onstage and that, dear reader, is the wonderful experience, where artist, artwork and audience become one, that they call theater.

Contrary to popular belief, all those elements – the stage, the props and costumes, the make-up, the lights, the music, the poetry, they are not there to deceive, they are there to tell the truth. Or A truth. Every single thing on that space, that performance space, is there for a reason, a real reason – even a mere handkerchief sticking out of an actor’s front pocket is there to tell a story.
And so they never, ever dare to deceive their audience – whether they are Baguio’s or Manila’s 500, or 500 pupils from a public elementary school, or five ambulant vendors – they deserve nothing less than a performance that is a product of the artists’ utmost sincerity, passion and love for the craft.

And that, dear John, is the reason why we’re sourgraping. Not because we weren’t called on to save a production in shambles like they did last year, but because theater is a sacred art form, and since time immemorial, from the time the Greeks went onstage to pay tribute to Dionysus, to the time Macario Sakay staged senakulos to inspire his audience to rise up against the colonizers, legitimate theater artists have preserved the sanctity of the legitimate stage.

And because the Baguio audience deserve nothing less but a legitimate performance by legitimate artists on a legitimate stage.
 Whether the performance cost hundreds of thousands to put together, or nothing at all.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Congratulations, Baguio!

(article published in Cordillera Today last March 1, 2010)

By the time this sees print, the infamous concrete pine tree at the top of Session Road would have been felled already. The reactions we’ve heard so far were mostly praises, although there are still a few who actually continue to defend it and its creator. So what’s the big deal about the damned tree that made that has continually made it the topic of coffee shop and online talks, particularly during election time?

While on one side people are celebrating, on the other side they are trying to wash the hands of the root of that concrete monstrosity, some have even tried to direct the anger toward the current administration, even going as far as saying that it is them who are grandstanding, keeping it there to be used as political leverage in the coming elections. Maybe, maybe not, but while we do wonder why it took this long to finally rid the city of this blight, we must not forget the people who erected this monument to graft and corruption. We must remember that this concrete pine tree was just one, albeit the most prominent one being situated right at the top of the heart of the city, of a string of questionable “concretization” projects in the past. We are not talking about chump change here, the concrete tree alone cost more than a million pesos to build (perhaps enough money to do some substantial rehabilitation work at the Athletic Bowl without the need for foreign investors).

Approve without thinking, spend the people’s money without shame. And why? Who in his right mind would erect a concrete pine tree in the land of pine trees? What were its proponents thinking? Wasn’t there even one person in that circle who could’ve raised the alarm and said, “sir, that’s a stupid idea.” And in a city once famous for its natural beauty, who in his right mind would build something that is fake, a pathetic, ugly, repulsive imitation of a beautiful thing? Really, would anyone put up fake snow in Aspen or Styrofoam pyramids in Giza?
The concrete pine tree was the perfect epitome of a rotten political system – hard-earned taxpayers’ money being spent on something ugly, illogical, totally unnecessary, just so someone can satisfy his megalomaniacal tendencies. What a waste.

One actually cried foul over its demolition saying that getting rid of it is such a huge waste of taxpayers’ money. No sir, keeping it there and not doing anything about it just reminds us of how acquiescent we have become that our elected officials can commit such dastardly acts with impunity knowing that they can get away with it.

The money was already wasted when they built that thing, keeping it there is almost like a declaration that we don’t mind that the people’s money is wasted on useless pieces of (s)crap.
Now, an installation using river stones will be put in its place, the creation of local artist, Gilbert Gano, in collaboration with a group of architects and engineers. An artwork that aims to remind us of the historical significance of Session Road, and perhaps of the city’s entire glorious history. Now, that one makes sense. Knowing where this city came from and how it got to where it is now, perhaps we will be more vigilant in the future and never allow a concrete pine tree to be erected in Baguio ever again.

It’s a small step towards the right direction, a small one, yes, but a step forward nonetheless. And for that, congratulations, Baguio!