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A love letter to the city of Sagay, Negros Occidental

Sagay is a city some 90 kilometers from Bacolod City. To us Filipinos, basically innumerate - or not fond of thinking of places, objects, or persons in terms of numbers - the place is about 2 hours by car or bus. Or during the early morning, one could navigate the distance between the small city and the nearest airport, which is called Bacolod-Silay Airport, in an hour.

The first time I was invited to Sagay, it was to give a film education workshop through the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP). Wilma Isleta, who was working with the said government organization, was our official companion. Then I had no idea where Sagay was and I had to check the map for its location.

We arrived at the Sagay National High School (SNHS), the acronym of which I refrained from using because I was also active in giving workshops with another SNHS - Sorsogon National High School.

In the city, the first persons I would meet were Rene Renmarhys Encabo, who was the school principal then, with a teacher who was also a filmmaker, Jun Marl Alconga.

During that first meeting, I would meet Helen Javier- Arguelles, tourism officer of Sagay, who would become the festival director of its first film festival, the Margaha Film fest. Mark Garcia, a writer and filmmaker, would serve as her assistant. The said festival would become Sine Margaha, its name derived from the beach famous for its expanse of black sand. There was another name linked to the festival and this was Nunelucio Alvarado, the social realist who came back to retire at the said area, building a cluster of homes made basically of bamboo and light materials and igniting a movement for the arts. This movement included being the inspiration for the festival and the project called “Pinta Balay,” which encouraged the population of a barangay to paint their fences and facade of their homes in the bright colors celebrated in the paintings of Nune Alvarado, as the artist is fondly known locally.

As was to happen, I became one of the permanent jurors in the festival, which counted among others, the multi-awarded actor, Ronnie Lazaro, Arden Rod Condez, a prize-winning producer and filmmaker, counting among his works the popular John Denver Trending, and Chai Fonacier of the foreign film Nocebo. We were always joined by two outstanding Sagaynons local writer Kenneth Rivera and cultural historian Rod Florentino.

It was during one of the festivals where I served as juror that I volunteered to conduct a film education workshop. Out of the blue. There was only one clear reason for this: I found free time to do that. But there was another factor that encouraged me to pursue that wild dream (then) and it was Helen who was just ready to call the teachers and organize. I believed she went through our old contacts, Rene (Encabo) who had then been promoted to other places of assignment and Jun Marl (Alconga), who had moved to the Department of Education in Sagay. After this, and listening to the needs of the filmmaking community, we had a full-blown workshop, focused on Sound and Music Design, conducted by Gerard Paul Jalandoni Elviña, Acting for Film by Tanya Lopez, and myself on Film Criticism.

In the succeeding year, I, with the help of Helen, once more offered a film education workshop, this time holding it in Sagay National High School.

By the time, the invitation for me to be once more a juror for the Sine Singko, a reference to the fifth year of the Sine Margaha, it was clear that I would be conducting a film education workshop again. To Helen I mentioned how we would want to make it a tradition. That was all there is in this project.

When that day came, which was the 28th of March, the other members of the team had already planned to go sightseeing, to Carbin Reef, which could be seen from Margaha Beach. Before that we already had a wonderful full day at Suyac Mangrove Park, one of the tourist attractions in Sagay, unique for its ecological lessons rather than the merely leisure and fun destination.

I didn’t see them being present in my annual workshop. When the surprise - it was more of a shock - happened, they were spared of how embarrassed and tongue-tied I became. For that day, in the presence of Rene, who has become now the Special Program for the Arts Specialist Officer, Freddie Digno, the current Principal of SNHS, Ginboy Alsado Bataclit, MAPEH (Music, Arts, Physical Education, and Health) Department Head, and Florenil S. Bornales, Special Program in the Arts Adviser, the Sagay National High School has designated SPA (Special Program of the Arts) Section 10 with my name.

Here should be my story: In Sagay City, some 90 kilometers away from Bacolod, a beautiful school with gentle people, has a Section 10 Valiente for the Special Program of the Arts. No words can describe my gratitude because any word will diminish the value of that act. All I can say is I am proud to be part of Sagay National High School…truly proud.


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