‘Elsa’ draws huge crowd anew, brings Ilocos Norte to national limelight


AUNOR: Still making waves 32 years after "Himala"
AUNOR: Still making waves 32 years after “Himala”

Around 3,000 extras took part in the filming of Himala, the 1982 Ishmael Bernal masterpiece shot in Paoay. Considering its limited budget, it was a miracle of sorts putting together what is now largely considered, both by critics and the viewing public, as the best film ever produced in the Asia Pacific. Last Saturday, May 10, the miracle happened anew, with a crowd ten times bigger witnessing the immortalization of the film’s iconic character, Elsa.

The unveiling of a fiberglass statue depicting Elsa was the highlight of this year’s Himala sa Buhangin, an offbeat outdoor arts and music festival staged in the Paoay Sand Dunes. Actress Nora Aunor, who played the lead role, graced the event to the delight of an estimated 25,000 revelers, including hundreds of die-hard Noranians from other parts of the country.

Created by visual artist Gerry Leonardo, the fiberglass sculpture depicts Elsa deep in prayer and kneeling in front of a withered tree. Erected atop one of the highest peaks in the sand dunes, the statue was unveiled with cinematic effect at around 9:00 p.m. There were bolts of lightning as music from the movie was played along with the classic line: “Walang himala! Ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao, nasa puso nating lahat! Tayo ang gumagawa ng mga himala!” As if it were a movie shooting, fans chanted, “Elsa! Elsa!”

Continue reading “‘Elsa’ draws huge crowd anew, brings Ilocos Norte to national limelight”

Tan-ok ni who?

The Tan-ok ni Ilocano (mini version) Dance Showdown was held tonight at a half-full Ilocos Norte Centennial Arena. ‘Mini’ because, unlike the full version held last December, the number of dancers are limited (only 12-16), performance time is shorter (3-4 minutes), and props are simpler and smaller. The show is also less budgeted.

The idea is to form groups that can be feasibly booked for events, including national and international gatherings held here in Ilocos Norte. All the 21 municipalities and 2 cities were expected to showcase their rich culture through dance. “Tan-ok” means great, so the contingents were tasked to highlight what their respective peoples and places are proud of and known for. All the contingents accomplished that, except one: the champion.

Laoag City’s routine, no doubt, was most entertaining. Thanks to top-caliber choreographer Christian Espiritu—whose talent I personally admire; and who we in The Ilocos Times chose as one of the Top 10 Ilocanos for 2013—the dance was well-executed, lively, and colorful. It portrayed “pallot” (cockfighting), and presented the vivid scenarios inside a cockpit. It was fun to watch.

But beyond fun and entertainment, many viewers—including Prof. Arsenio Gallego, vice president of the Dance Education Association of the Philippines—have raised the following questions: Is cockfighting the pride of Laoag City? And, is there verifiable evidence that Laoageños, or Ilocanos in general, are drawn to cockfighting more than other ethnic groups in the Philippines?

I am not, dear karikna, opposed to cockfighting and neither am I moralizing here. But is this really the story we want to creatively tell people who want to know us more? Is this really our story?

San Nicolas celebrated their pottery; Batac told their folk history; Pinili took garlic to the stage; and Vintar let out their Siwawer bird.

Cockfighting. Tan-ok ni who?

Continue reading “Tan-ok ni who?”


Dear Mesdames and Messieurs:

Thank you for accepting the noble task of sitting as judges in the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals. You were, of course, chosen on account of your sterling credentials and unquestioned integrity.

I argue that no singular activity has raised awareness of and pride in Ilocano greatness more than the two-year old Tan-ok. With tens of thousands of people watching it live and many more witnessing it on television and online, it is no doubt the most witnessed event in Ilocos Norte history.

It is a wonderful activity worth every centavo (or million) spent for it, and Governor Imee Marcos is right to push for this showdown of the respective festivals of every Ilocos Norte town and city. Its return of investment cannot be quantified; in fact, it is priceless. The greatness of the performances on stage permeates the consciousness of our people, who in turn reflect and multiply greatness in their respective spheres of influence.

I have one concern though, and this is on truthfulness. Some groups have won in previous years because the performances were really artistic and entertaining though lacking in authenticity while some authentic festivals lost mainly because they were dull and unexciting.

Ilocos Norte Tourism Officer and Tan-ok organizing committee head Ianree Raquel wrote an article for The Ilocos Times when he was still an arts instructor in a state university. It was aptly titled “Awe inspiring but untruthful.” During a municipal fiesta, he witnessed a festival performance which, he observed, gave primacy to entertainment over truthfulness, artistic license over cultural integrity. His essay, excerpts of which follow, details the same words I wish to convey. Continue reading “AN OPEN LETTER TO THE TAN-OK NI ILOCANO JUDGES”

Going to the SPA and chilling out with young artists: a recital and exhibit at INNHS

Yesterday was toxic for me, having to shuttle from one place to another to speak in an event held in a vast hall teeming with dreamy eyed graduating students, do interviews and gather data for articles I am working on, and struggle to sit down, finally write, and beat deadlines.

And so, I decided to go to the SPA later that night. And no, not to a place of jacuzzi, rose petals, and scented air, but to a place even more refreshing and enlivening.

I have always been intrigued by the Special Program for the Arts (SPA) of the Ilocos Norte National High School. What do they do there? Are they a bunch of the stereotyped artistic weirdos? How artsy do they really get?

The school held its annual exhibit and recital last night, March 14. I was not personally invited, I just responded to a Facebook post informing everyone of the event. And, yes, it was a joy.

There was an indoor exhibit and a musical-theatrical recital at the school grounds.

I spent some time listening …to the inspiring talk of my friend Aian Raquel who I didn’t know was the event’s guest of honor and speaker, to a boy who made passionate love with his violin, choral presentations, a stage act, and then more. Organizers were offering me a good seat with the best view but I chose to stand at the back so I could gallivant at my wish.

Aian said something to this effect, and I am rephrasing here: “You are lucky to be educated formally in the arts… my initiation to the arts I, as a grade schooler, attained by watching beauty contests, concerts, and events held in Laoag and Batac, places away from where I lived: the island of Badoc… I was never really good at one particular art form. I am not a good singer, dancer, or writer… and some of my mentors and friends teased and chided me for being a ‘jack of all trades’, but one woman reassured me that I am on the right path. She referred to what I have been doing and which I should continue to hone, ‘art direction'”

That woman, dear karikna, is Imee Marcos.

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I spent more time inside the exhibit hall, marveling at multimedia arts, visual arts, and creative writing manuscripts. The kids were game enough to do “mini-recitals” inside the exhibit room, and just for me. I asked them about the stories their young, imaginative minds churned out. They seemed nervous at the prospect of storytelling in front of a shining, shimmering, widening forehead, but they carried on.

John Louis de la Cruz shared the plot of his still unproduced short film, “On a Sunday Afternoon”. The story is simple and the conflict may sound trivial, but who wants complications on a Sunday afternoon? It is about a boy who wanted to hang out with his friends.  But the friends were not replying to his text messages, and so he felt sad and was in a bad mood. Later in the evening, his friends paid him a surprise visit, and he was happy… and so is the ending of the story.

John Louis dela Cruz
John Louis dela Cruz

Chryztlerr Nicolas wrote the short story, “Marcus the Superhero,” which is about a man avenging his people from violence. Asked about his inspiration, the diminutive boy spoke of the crimes that befall us in real life.

Chryztlerr Nicolas
Chryztlerr Nicolas
It appealed to me as an art form: Chryztlerr's shoes
It appealed to me as art: Chryztlerr’s shoes

And this gallery brought me back to the BMX days of my happy, carefree childhood:

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Some students approached me for photographs and asked me to sign their book compilations which I would have borrowed and read at home if only I was not too shy to ask. I was glad to meet these young writers, my fellow writers, and, while there, as I was browsing through their works, I closed my eyes for a few seconds and wished that they would not give up on their literary aspirations.

Congratulations to the SPA program director Robert Caluya, INNHS principal Isabel Sison-Sandi and to all the mentors. I remember meeting last night for brief hellos Her Majesty the Beauty Queen Mahjang Pascual, Ms. Egdonna Legaspi, Mr. Sherween Cabrales (sans Sherberk), Mr. Johnstone Orteza Corpuz, NFA’s Marlon Martin, and INCAT’s Marlon Cubangbang, a fellow Y’er (YMCA member) back in high school.

Kudos to the young artists of Laoag City and Ilocos Norte. May our tribe increase in every way, all the way. And with these sexy bottles of beer, I say: Cheers!


Tan-ok ni Edito, Tan-ok ni Vacie: Or why our Festival of Festivals is better off without ‘stage mayors’

Up, Sarrat Mayor Edito Balintona (left); Down, Bangui Mayor Salvacion Cimatu (center)

In her welcome remarks at the phenomenally successful Tan-ok ni Iocano Festival of Festivals, Nov. 17 at the Marcos Stadium in Laoag City, Governor Imee Marcos noted cheerfully that the delegations were well supported by their respective ‘stage mayors’, using the term in the same context as ‘stage mothers.’ Two mayors, however, went several steps further and took the stage, the center stage no less, and literally.

On a night of splendid dancing, heart-stopping stunts, and an overflow of Ilokano Talent, Honorable Edito Balintona, mayor of Sarrat, was no doubt the lousiest performer. Nearing the climax of his town’s Binakol Festival presentation, Balintona came out seated on top of a huge wooden structure, not unlike a parade float, together with a lady who, I would later learn, is his tourism officer, Dona Siazon. The mayor, who seemed at a loss, was seen being given instructions by Siazon as the performance went on, no doubt an insult to the efforts of dancers who attended painstaking practices for long hours so that they can perfect their act. But there was one thing the mayor did so well… wave at the crowd, a sea of humanity so huge it could have been impossible for him to resist the temptation of appearing on stage …to wave.

“What is their mayor doing there?” asked some spectators who also made comments that are too disrespectful to see print. Judges, sources say, gave Sarrat’s performance one of the lowest scores.

Honorable Salvacion “Vacie” Cimatu, mayor of the windmills town of Bangui, can surely dance. And I know she can sing as well. It was the second time she top-billed her town’s number. She performed, too, in last year’s inaugural edition of Tan-ok. Continue reading “Tan-ok ni Edito, Tan-ok ni Vacie: Or why our Festival of Festivals is better off without ‘stage mayors’”

The magic of Robert Caluya

It was one day when I decided to follow the example of Bruno Mars, the Filipino-American who performed “The Lazy Song” which goes, “Today I don’t feel like doing anything I just wanna lay in my bed…”

We spent weeks and months preparing for the September 1 launch of ilocostimes.net, and the days leading to the event had me deprived of sleep and the other pleasures I enjoy. At the La Tabacalera last Saturday, Sept. 1, when Governor Imee Marcos beamed a wide smile after her historic first to the website, and to a thunderous applause of an appreciative crowd composed of leaders from government, business, the academe, the media, and literary circles, I knew we have accomplished something. And I also knew I deserved to be completely lazy the next day.

I was in my bed comfortably doing Facebook yesterday, Sunday, trying to do nothing important, but while looking at pictures taken during the launch, a status update caught my interest and kept my mind working: Robert Caluya is writing a book. The musical genius who has led Ilocano students to international choral championships wants to pen a personal account of his twenty-five years as choral conductor. He has already written the first few pages.

I immediately “liked” his status update, but I felt it was not enough, so I also wrote a comment, “Superlike!” Continue reading “The magic of Robert Caluya”