top of page

Bikol creatives pay tribute to Nat’l Artists


By Dr. Jaya Jacobo

THE ENTANGLEMENT BETWEEN BIKOL, the region, and Nora Aunor, the artist, habitually summons a disquisition on the origin of genius, the trajectory of its mediatization, and the genealogy of art-making itself. While rehearsing aspects of these temptations, this special issue of Bikol Studies categorically refuses to perpetuate a nostalgia of Nora, especially from Bikol itself. We decide against the predictability. Another project may have the ambition to invest in Aunor an ethnolinguistic essence she may or may not even possess, but our sympathies are more inclined to imagine the relation between site and figure hinged upon how each one makes possible conceptual arrangements where place and person enable a mutual resonance. This is how this anthology would like to theorize the affect between its subjects.

We look at Nora with Bikol in mind. We consider the zonality of Bikol as Nora traverses it through paths both blunt and askew to our senses. We hear Nora and Bikol at the same time. And yet, we also forget Nora, and Forego Bikol, no matter how we assume the coupling to be self-evident. We’re not quite sure whether at the end of this attempt, what awaits us is a dissolution of the binary itself, but our intuition tells us the insight just can’t be on indigeneity. Not that we should always be suspicious whenever our data leads us to becoming transfixed upon an epic past (we admit this vision has always had its allure), but the prospect of returning to noble savage and their so-called native intelligence does sound retrogressive in a time where we are constantly reminded that our lives are indeed entangled with so much more of the planet; we must evolve the interpretation of our preliminary intersection, Nora and Bikol, into something rather contemporary.

While the train station has come to conjure a scene of sentiment between superstar and hometown, it cannot conceal the frontier where the migrant dreams of departure and from where she fulfills it. And if it is indeed where the anecdote of labor is systematized as folklore, the narrative of work conjured from it only endures with so much agency when we realize it is a place remembered by the one who had taken her leave. Many a fan would consider it a requisite to prove their devotion by arranging a pilgrimage to Iriga, and to the station itself where Nora once sold frozen water. When I myself did it together with a few colleagues from Manila, I could not believe how decrepit a place could remain vibrant with the prose of the figure only recognizable as its trace. We were just sitting down in a corner imagining how the little brown girl had seen herself also moving every time a train would leave her hometown when a middle-aged woman came up to us and asked why we were there. When she heard the name, recollections of glee and lament were shared: how she had lost everything, how they had failed her, how she could never be home again.

The pieces gathered in this anthology offer us a set of possibilities by which we may apprehend the Noranian nexus once more, but this time, with a consciousness of how all of the journey has never been about what could remain from the transit itself. We intuit, then, how the loss, despite the trauma that energizes its haunting, can instruct us on what may be learned from what supplements it: a longing that, at this point of our awareness, can no longer promise one’s arrival into destiny.

Patrick Flores theorizes on Nora as method, through her reception as a figure of sufferance.The question here is not how to suffer, but how one proceeds from an identificatory practice with a body that seems to wield a different kind of power, even in suffering. In many ways, Flores’s article may be read as reflection on disability, and the resistance that can only be instructive for, let’s say, queer and trans subjects violated on a daily basis. One can only admire the decolonial impetus inscribed all over Patrick’s prose. The narrative on Nora as symbolic of a certain collective, a nation, so to speak, is revisited in Michael Obenieta’s piece, written from a perspective both cosmopolitan and vernacular; the idiolect, if one can hear it, can be compelling. Adrian Remodo mediates a couple of phenomenological questions drawn from continental philosophy through the cinema of Aunor, and initiates a critique of a particularly Philippine articulation of memory; there should be a lesson on how to do situated knowledges here. Tito Valiente’s vignettes around his figure of enamoration seduces the reader, scene after scene; repetitions of her visage and birdsong, in alternating intensities, only tell us what Nora has become for the essayist: the cinematic apparatus itself. Surely Valiente’s procedure into this insight is irreproducible, and yet the tactic is transparent ... in the end, most instructive for anyone who aspires to master reverie from the idiom of the lyric.

Our commentary section features three young critics revisiting the Noranian body of work. Timothy Ong proposes a novel take on folklore by theorizing the tropics that emerges from Aunor’s voice, while NiccoloVitug approaches the Noranian musical predicament through silence. Like Flores, Maria Karaan is concerned with Nora as metonymic of a kind of methodology, and she intuits such a possibility on movement, navigation, and transversality through the gender of Aunor’s littoral poetics.

We punctuate our anthology with two modes of intimacy that may be derived from the Noranian engagement. With Kristian Cordero, the zone of contact persuades one to embrace the noblest form of creativity any artist can forge from the earth; the encounter with the kind of person immanent in Nora Aunor, most divine but also deeply human, cannot materialize in any other cast of beauty other than the poem. And in Francisco Rico Raquitico, poetry conquers all the elements to become life itself, and one emblazoned, from one moment till the next, and perhaps even after immolation, with what can only be a longing does not thirst–what breathless, breathtaking devotion!

(Ed’s Note: This is the introduction of Dr. Jaya Jacobo who edited the second volume of the Bikol Studies Journal published by Ateneo de Naga University, dedicated to the life and works of Nora Aunor.)

Fides and Her Art

By Ena Maria R. Aldecoa

To contain a life of an exemplary artist in words is like attempting to describe something ethereal. An opera star, a pedagogue, a dramatic actress, a librettist, a music director, a television and radio host, a mother, and still, these words are not enough to contain the essence, contributions, accomplishments, and dedication of one rare treasure in the field of Philippine Music and the Arts that is Fides Cuyugan Asensio.

A Grand Dame

Described by Amadís Ma. Guerrero as the “grand dame of the Philippine stage”, Prof. Emeritus Fides Cuyugan Asensio is a living testimony of the capacity of Music and the Arts to transform horrifying circumstances like World War II as experienced by a young child into a human experience that embraces optimism, hope, joy and zest for life.

The rich fantasies Fides Cuyugan Asensio nurtured in her childhood enabled her to adapt fairy tales and transform them into musicals and plays. She was the librettist, composer, director, actress-singer, accompanist and costume designer. “I gathered the neighborhood kids as my cast (we were all out of school in the early part of WWII),” she narrates. “And with the war raging around us, we performed for parents and household help.”

A life destined for the stage Opera resonated well in her being.

Music and theater became the artistic space where her gifts in singing, acting and writing flourished. “A star is born”, as The Manila Times rightly coined it after a well-received graduation recital in Voice at the Philippine Women’s University in 1951, affirmed her calling: a life on stage.

The Philippine diva Jovita Fuentes, enthralled by her graduation recital in Voice in 1951, expressed that Fides Cuyugan would “inherit my mantle someday”. It was meant to be. Fides Cuyugan was the first Filipino artist who received a scholarship from the Curtis Institute of Music in Pennsylvania and finished Artist Diploma in 1955. Her performance of Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Telephone was unforgettable. It was as if the role was composed for her. Menotti himself raved about it!

She chose to come home and give back to the country what she learned at the Curtis Institute of Music. She could have pursued a career abroad but the love of country occupied a higher place in her heart.

The Six Decades of Life and Art

For six decades Fides Cuyugan Asensio blazed a trail in the country and abroad in her performances, creative works and pedagogy. She shaped the future of Philippine opera and musicals through her vision, her voice, her librettos and her musical direction. The child who wrote, directed, performed, and designed short musicals and plays during World War II continued the vocation of bringing opera and musicals to Filipinos. Decades of serving as host, performer, script writer, and artistic director of television shows “Sunday, Sweet Sunday” and “A Little Night of Music” brought all sectors of Philippine society closer to Philippine music and Western music traditions. Transforming power of her pedagogy From 1967 until the present, Prof. Emeritus Fides Cuyugan Asensio continues to pass on her expertise in singing and musical theater to countless number of students at the UP College of Music.

These five decades of teaching produced luminaries that brought honor to our country and the UP College of Music through prizes won in international and national competitions. Her excellent pedagogy elevated the level of performance and transformed singing into a truthful and higher form of art in the country. Fruits of her singular pedagogy can be seen in the three generations of singers that continue to captivate audiences worldwide and voice pedagogues, who continue to pass on the excellent pedagogy that could only come from a master like her. “She has mentored more than three generations of music artists who have carried on the Asensio legacy to different opera and music theater companies here and abroad” (Henry Tejero)

Above all her stellar achievements, she is an artist and a mother who is attuned to the higher dimensions of being. At 90, she confesses “That no matter what each day hands out to you—joy or sorrow, triumph or failure, comfort or pain—‘it, too, shall pass.’” A rare and exemplary artist like Fides Cuyugan Asensio, whose life, essence, contributions, accomplishments, and dedication in the field of Philippine Music and the Arts rightfully deserves the Order of National Artist which now this grateful nation has bestowed upon her.

Dear Nora,

You are the greatest actor this country has produced in the last hundred years of our cinematic journeys. You are a league of your own. In HIMALA, you lifted every scene to evangelical proportions by your sheer genius --- you, like a true visionary made me feel that I am with you in listening to your Sermon on the Mountain— I am with you in your Via Dolorosa when you buried your childhood friend; you are the La Pieta and the Santo Entierro, rolled into one as you gasp for the last breath, the last moment while someone is holding his camera towards your face—once here and there, eternity in those eyes! I go watch and watch this film like a wellspring of art and reflections.

In Thy Womb, in that lovemaking scene with another equally gifted actor, Bembol Roco, towards the last four frames of the film, I saw in your quietly grieving eyes, the Christ of the Crucifixion! How you channel the painful agony and the glorious ecstasy, streaming out like nuggets of gold in that final act of self-sacrificing love, remains a source of comfort for me and your legions of supporters and admirers.

You embody us in our struggles and defeats, in our sickness and in health. We are married to you as you are the only one who can incarnate the three islands of this archipelago— Banaue in BANAUE (Luzon), as Pinailog in TUOS (Visayas) and as Shaleha in THY WOMB (Mindanao) making us understand our indigenous culture better. To me, you easily become our LUZVIMINDA. Thank you for your gift of voice. Thank you for your gift of cinema. You took on our struggles as a people by doing films gripping with social significance – I memorize these lines from MINSA’Y ISANG GAMU-GAMO; ANDREA PAANO BA ANG MAGING ISANG INA; THE FLOR CONTEMPLACION STORY; BAKIT MAY KAHAPON PA like these are mantras for moral and struggled living. I took your films as my life lessons. In them I mirror my own purpose in life. You chose to represent the marginalized and the disenfranchised in ATSAY, BONA, BULAKLAK SA CITY JAIL, CONDEMNED, ANG TOTOONG BUHAY NI PACITA M, WHISTLEBLOWER, the list is endless for you alone has that redemptive genius that can elevate a melodrama into a work-of-art—your presence is your best performance.

As you receive the National Artist Award, we celebrate with you and we affirm our support and love. Mabuhay ka asin padangaton mi ika, Ate Guy!

Danay saimo,

Eric Basmayor Valeriano

Salvacion Lims-Higgins: Slim

By Tito Genova Valiente

Salvacion Lim-Higgins was born to Luis Samson Lim Katiam and Margarita Navera Diaz in Legazpi City, Albay, on January 28, 1920. She went to Manila to study fine arts at the University of Santo Tomas, a career path that spoke more about her upbringing than her passion.

Salvacion’s father worked in the shipping industry, but it appeared he did not force his daughter to be another Chinoy businesswoman. In the said university, Salvacion studied under Botong Francisco, who would later be declared as National Artist for Visual Arts.

The war could put a stop to Salvacion’s schooling. At the end of the war, she set up a shop with her sister, Purificacion. She, after that, then opted to continue her studies, this time abroad. In New York, she enrolled at the Traphagen School of Design. She returned to the Philippines in 1952.

Described as flamboyant and cool, hip, and haute couture, Salvacion dressed up in much the same way as she created those startlingly original dressers for her friends and models. Her works have been shown in a retrospective in museums.

The photos of her creations show a fashion artist who was not afraid to experiment. She would use the traditional shawl, expand its size, and make it cover not only the shoulders of the wearer but the entire back of a gown. We see long dresses where the embellishments seem part of the original textile design.

She looked to Dior and Balenciaga, the ultimate high priests of fashion when the world was recovering from World War II. It was the 50s and the Korean War was not yet in sight and the scars of Vietnam were not yet apparent on the horizon. Salvacion was there in that period when it was almost de rigueur to style one’s persona. She created bows and pleats that challenged the bravest and most daring of debutantes and brides.

Then it was the Terno. Another couturier, Ramon Valera, was tweaking the venerable terno when Salvacion also looked into how she could update the national costume for women. She did and she is credited for that act. Her iconic work on the terno shows an asymmetrical construction of a gown, the pleats on one side softened like slanted curls, with the other half of the lower torso stretched out like the fin of a shark. The butterfly wings, the most crucial element of a terno, stood even more rigid and mean, but ultimately eye-catching. The once feminine form of the terno had become by now an armor, perhaps a tribute to women and their power.

While male couturiers were constantly feeding the female ego and yet influencing them in their hearts to look aways to the male gaze, it was significant to note that it was a female fashion designer who saw through that. She would provide the most beautiful of forms for women, they of her kind.

The terno and ballroom gowns, which provided a form that other artists could emulate, is now part of the collection by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. In these two places, some of the creations of Salvacion Lim-Higgins has found a home.

A website built to honor Salvacion Lim-Higgins is a treasure trove of descriptions and testimonials. On one page, for example, it says: “From 1947 to 1990, Salvacion Lim Higgins - who better known by the acronym of her name, Slim - challenged the parameters of Philippine fashion, giving it some of its earliest and often boldest strokes. Yet perhaps her true legacy lies not in her own work but in that of succeeding generations of designers trained at the Slim’s Fashion & Arts School, which she established in 1960.

With a status as an artist that is never sui generis, Salvacion Lim-Higgins counts as fashionable disciples the likes of Joe Salazar, Cesar Gaupo, Dom Martin “Gang” Gomez, Loretto, Oliver Tolentino and Michael Cinco, to mention just a few. In the minds, hearts, and hands of these artists live as well the legacy of a woman who, stopped by a war and motherhood, returned over and over to the world of fashion, each time bringing this visionary whose sense of beauty was about shapes and lines, a surprise bloom from pleats, or pleats that cascade in patterns.

From the same website, these words affirm the joys in the gifts of talents from Salvacion Lim Higgins: “Slim blurred the divide between the conventional and the contemporary.” Continuing, it says: “Casting off literal interpretations of Filipino and Western fashion, her work helped define modern Philippine couture with three characteristic elements. The first was inventive, often audacious construction. Her trademark draping accented the female form, yet she also often altered it, through whimsical or geometric shapes. Her second signature was a startling palette that was completely out of the ordinary… Finally, there was Slim’s ability to think in three dimensions, whether she was devising the silhouette of lines of a gown or engaged in the smallest detail of the ornamentation.

From a young girl who sat at the foot of Botong Francisco, a powerful colorist, now gazed up this woman who rested only when she was giving birth but stayed on till the 70s and 90s, witnessing the skirts ascend and descend, moralities go low and sad, but her fashion getting more haute than ever.



Ni Niles Jordan Breis

Inabot ko sa amin sa Tabaco, Albay noon ang stand-alone na mga sinehan tulad ng Mayon Theater at Jojo Cinema pero ang huli ang tambayan din namin ng kaklase kong si Maso dahil nasa tapat mismo ito ng bahay nila.Tatawid lamang kami ng kalsada matapos mananghalian at madalas, libre ang panonood dahil kilala namin ang takilyera. Malimit na sa Jojo pinalalabas ang mga pelikulang Pinoy tulad ng mga pinagbibidahan ni Nora at sa Mayon Theater naman pag Hollywood blockbusters tulad ng unang Star Wars.

Laking-gulat ko kung bakit ang Brutal ay biglang mapapanood sa Mayon Theater. Best Picture daw kasi sa Metro Manila Film Festival at yaon ang una kong pakinig sa salitang “brutal” at malay ko ba noon kung ano ibig sabihin ng Best Picture. Kahit na pang-adults at dahil kilala nga namin ni Maso ang takilyera, nakapasok din kami at nagulat ako sa palabas. Akala ko pag Best Picture, ibig sabihin ay magaganda ang tanawin na parang postcards pero napangiwi kami dahil sa mga bayolenteng eksena ni Amy Austria na pumatay sa kanyang asawa. Kaya pala, Brutal. Ang sabi ni Maso, sana raw natapos na ang pelikula doon lang sa nag-eensayo ng sayaw si Amy Austria na walang bra. Bihira man kami makakita noon ng walang bra.

Imik pa rin nang imik si Maso na wala raw bra si Amy pero kinakabisa ko naman ang pangalang “Ricky Lee”. Ulit-ulit ako ng “Lee” kaya sabi ni Maso, inaabot na naman daw ako. Nasa Mans Cinema raw ang pelikula ni Bruce Lee. Amy Austria raw ang bida, hindi Amy Lee.Tinandaan ko talaga ang “Ricky Lee” dahil kahit nagulantang ako sa Brutal na siya mismo ang nagsulat, gusto kong makagawa ng ganong kuwento at simula noon, pag nalaman kong siya ang nagsulat, siguradong panonoorin ko.Dalawa na silang idolo ko na parehong Lee, kahit na si Bruce Lee ay halos linggo-linggong nasa aming Mans Cinema, luma man o bagong palabas. Sa Albay, ang palabas sa sinehan/sine ay tinatawag na pasale.Uso noon sa Tabaco sa mga alaskahan ng bata na kapag tinanong mo kung ano ang palabas o “Anong pasale?” ang isasagot sa iyo ay “Tule” o “tutuli” sa Filipino.Uso rin noon na ang sinehan ay double run. Ang unang pelikula ay bago o maganda pero yung kadobol o ka-double ay madalas na luma o pangit. Kaya pag tinanong mo ang mga bata noon kung “Anong Kadobol?” ang isasagot nila ay “Tubol” o sa Bikol, matigas na dumi o tae.

Kaya pag niyakag ko na sa si Maso noon sa sinehan at nagtanong siya ng “Anong Pasale?” ang sagot ko ay Ricky Lee. Alam na ni Maso na si Ricky Lee ang screenwriter ng pelikula. “Anong Kadobol? Tubol.” Pangit na pelikulang pilit pa rin naming tatapusin o kapag di kinaya ay lalabas kami at magrereklamo sa takilyera at mumurahin niya kami. Na kesyo ang kakapal ng mukha namin dahil nilibre na nga ay nakapanlait pa raw.Kahit kilala naman kami ay sasabihan pa rin kung kanino ba raw talaga kaming mga anak. Ituturo ko si Maso at kako siya ay anak ng Fiscal na totoo naman at ako naman ay anak ng Brutal. At mula Brutal, nasaksihan namin ang iba pa niyang mga premyadong obra tulad ng Moral, Karnal, Jaguar at ang nakakabighaning Himala na pinagbidahan ni Nora Aunor.

Makalipas ang maraming taon na nalaman kong isa palang kapwa Bicolano si Lee, lalo akong natuwa at agad naisip kong kaya siguro mahusay siya sa Filipino o Tagalog ay dahil taga-Daet, Camarines Norte siya.Lahat halos ng kilala kong taga-Daet ay matatas mag-Tagalog kahit may tonong Bikol o halong-Quezon-Tagalog. Wala pa akong nababasang isang buong akda niya sa Bikol at kung hahanapin ko sa kanyang mga sinulat ang mga aspektong Bikolnon, saan ko kaya ang mga ito makikita?

Sa Daet siya lumaki at ayon sa mga nakaraang panayam,iniwan niya ang naturang lugar, sumakay ng bus pa-Maynila at limampung piso lamang ang dala, ang napanalunan niya noong hayskul sa isang patimpalak sa kuwento. Ang pinagmulan ng lahat ay sa Bicol pero, malay man o hindi, ang Bicol ni Ricky Lee ay hindi lamang isang partikular na pook kundi isang napakalawak na uniberso ng tinatawag niyang empathy o mapag-unawang pakikiramay sa mundo pagkat naniniwala siya na dapat umano maging mabuting tao rin ang isang gustong maging mahusay na manunulat. Ani Lee, sa isa pang panayam,gusto niya noon na maabot ang mga pangarap niya bago man lang bumalik ng Bicol at muli, pinatunayan niya sa lahat ng kanyang mga akda na ang pagka-Bikolnon ay maaaring ang malalim niyang pagmamasid sa mga simple at masasalimuot na danas ng pagkatao at pagpapakatao. Ito ang isang basehan kung bakit nangingibabaw na estilo ni Lee ang masinop na pagdedetalye ng kahit maliliit na elemento sa eksena–nagsasalaysay pati mga siwang at mga pinto na nakaawang. Bahagi rin ng kanyang galing ang pagkamalikhain sa iba’t ibang taktika ng pagkukuwento; lutang din ang mga inobasyon sa naratibo at pati ang mga mapagbunyag na kumbersasyon/dayalogo ng mga buhay na buhay na tauhan.

Isang matingkad na halimbawa si Lee ng aniya, pinaghalong karanasan at sensibilidad.Parang laging may katubusan sa wakas. Sa mga nagwaging akda niya sa Palanca tulad ng Servando Magdamag ay halos nakahihilo ang may kadilimang daloy pero lagi nang may nagliliwanag sa dulo, hayag man o hindi.

Nasa London na si Maso at wala na raw balak bumalik pa sa Pilipinas. Nabalitaan niya ang pagkakadeklara kay Lee bilang National Artist o Pambansang Alagad ng Sining sa Pelikula. Sa dulang pampelikula bagama’t karapat-dapat din siya Panitikan dahil sa kanyang mga kuwento, nobela, dula at iba pang akda. Hindi na raw maalala ni Maso kung sinong bida sa isa sa pinanood namin noon na Kadobol na hindi Tubol, ang Patayin sa Sindak si Barbara na gawa rin ni Lee. Tanda nga ni Maso na si Ricky Lee ang sumulat pero ang pahabol niya: “Sino nga si Barbara? Siya ba si Barbara Austria na dating si Amy Austria?”

Working with Fides Cuyugan Asensio

By Roland Raymond Roldan

The first time I met Tita Fides was when I auditioned for her at UP Diliman in 1992. I was about to graduate with an AB degree at the Colegio de Santa Isabel in Naga City, and former voice teacher May Palacio thought it was time for me to try out the Manila music scene. So we travelled to Quezon City, attended a music recital at the UP College of Music, and asked Tita Fides to listen to me. I sang an Abelardo kundiman, NASAAN KA IROG; she gave me a look and said, “ Ok, you’ll be my student.”

It was a happy time-- I always wanted to sing in the classical style. My music training started as a choir member of the Naga Parochial School Little Singers, then as part of the Holy Rosary Minor Seminary Schola Puerorum, and then some music subjects in college. Being at the UP College of Music meant working with top-notch music teachers in the country, and getting the right performing experience needed to embark on a music career.

Tita Fides called me “Little Pavarotti” while I was under her wing as her student. Her vocalizations were different, even the arias and lieder she taught me were different from the Mario Lanza repertoire I was accustomed to at that time: Schumann, Purcell and Caldara. The notes were more florid, the jaw movement more vertical, the lips a bit puckered to set a more chiaroscuro tone.

Alas, I studied with her for only a year. My mother’s cancer had gotten worse; I have to return to Naga to take care of her. She died in 1994.

A year after, I decided to try again. Though at that time Tita Fides was on a USA concert tour, I was still lucky to be offered membership by the UP Concert Chorus (under conductor Reynaldo Paguio,) and the chance to perform as its tenor soloist in various cities of USA, Europe and Asia.

It was during that time that Tita Fides completed the libretto of the opera MAYO BISPERAS NG LIWANAG, and Sir Paguio was composing the opera when we were on tour. I would jokingly ask him for a part. He took on the challenge, and I was given the role of Menggoy.

When we returned to the Philippines, Tita Fides asked me to sing in two operas she was directing. First was Giacomo Puccini’s TOSCA, where I sang the minor role Spoleta; the other one was Giuseppe Verdi’s LA TRAVIATA, where I sang the lead tenor role Alfredo. Both operas I knew by heart-- I had a tape recording of Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti performing the work, which I would listen to every chance I get.

Then the MAYO BISPERAS started rehearsing. It was a flurry of sessions learning the music, dancing and stage blocking. Sonia Roco was our director, with assistant director Bart Guingona clarifying movement and intention in every scene. It was there that I learned the craft of maintaining a regimen of singing, acting and stage movement to an original Filipino music theatrical work, and for that I am truly grateful. The music still plays on occasionally in my head; the masterful blend of lyrics and music was splendidly done.

It was then that I got the performing bug, which still have to this day. From then on I believe that more original Filipino works should be made and produced-- not just the standard Broadway or opera repertoire, but new works that reflect the Filipino aspiration and spirit.

After the run, Tita Fides signed my souvenir program with the comment, “Thank you Raymond for being consistently great!” She must have given a good word for us to the theatre community-- we were finding more music work, from Dulaang UP to Repertory Philippines and Philippine Opera Company.

For us, approaching the year 2000 was a great season for theatre. It was during that time that we premiered Bien Lumbera’s sarswela HIBIK AT HIMAGSIK NINA VIKTORIA LAKTAW with Dulaang UP, and after that was Lucio San Pedro’s retelling of Aguinaldo and Bonifacio’s conflict in the musical BAYAN ISANG PAA NA LAMANG.

The original opera SPOLARIUM, again penned by Tita Fides, this time composed by Ryan Cayabyab came next. Again I was engrossed by the work; the life of the artist Juan Luna and the tragic end of his marriage to his beloved wife was the central focus of the play. Years later after its premiere, I was chosen to be its music director when it had its SM mall run, with my wife Jeannelle singing the role of Luna’s wife Paz.

Jeannelle and I decided to get married in 2003, Tita Fides was our wedding ninang. A few days later we were on our way to a seven month international tour with the UP Concert Chorus, this time under the directorship of Jai Sabas-Aracama.

After that we became busy with working in the Asian concert circuit as well as teaching voice workshops in ABS-CBN, so we lost touch with Tita Fides—until we started working with her again in 2007, this time with her opera with Lucresia Kasilag, WHY FLOWERS BLOOM IN MAY. Jeannelle was the lead role Maia, sharing the stage with Lisa Macuja who was the Narrator. It was performed at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

It was in 2009 that Tita Fides asked me to compose music to her new libretto: SONG OF JOSEPH. She knew that I was a former seminarian, and that was the deciding factor. We completed 45 songs in three months, with the help of my co-composer Jeannelle and other arrangers Paulo Zarate, Gino Cruz, Jun Latonio and Jungee Marcelo. Produced by the Oblates of St Joseph, it was premiered in Meralco Theatre, and has been toured in various parts of the Philippines, and in Lancaster, Chicago, and Broadway, New York.

Next was the musical MARYA MAKILING AT ANG MGA NUNO SA PUNSO in 2013. Produced by the UP College of Music Alumni Association, the played featured Gerphil Flores (who later won in Asia’s Got Talent) and music luminary Joey Ayala.

Countless stories unfold in the times Tita Fides and I have worked together, from the establishment of the Fides Cuyugan Asensio Institute of Music and Arts (FCAIMA), to the voice competition we founded under her name (2018 and 2019), to the resumption of A LITTLE NIGHT OF MUSIC in Facebook and YouTube during the pandemic, and to being commissioned to write articles and citations honoring her legacy.

I am so truly honored that my 90-year-old mentor and ninang has now been chosen to be among the order of National Artists of our country. She has lived a full life devoted to the performing arts, and her enthusiasm for the creation of new works written for the Filipino audiences seizes us to heights that pushes to their completion as only Tita Fides could.

She sometimes calls herself a “slave of opera”, and I have to concur. Mounting productions like hers are no easy tasks; her contribution to the development of the Filipino performing arts is monumental and unique. It will take another generation to find her kind.

I will see her again next week, together with fellow colleagues and friends, to honor her as a National Artist. I look forward to working with her again for more years to come.


By Frank V. Peñones Jr.

There’s a ready retort in Iriga when one gets lucky and is noticed by another. As when a tricycle driver chances upon a full load of passengers awaiting a ride by the roadside or when a farmer’s crops survive the onslaught of a typhoon. “Nora Aunor, guy. Timing sana. It’s the sense of timing like Nora, they would tell the other chap who is called like any other, Guy. Nora’s name becoming a part of the local lingo and being appended like a lucky charm of course happened when she became a household name in the country.

For hers is indeed what most critics note about her singing. She hits them right.

In the Iriga sense of timing, however, it means being at the right place at the right moment or time.

The right moment brings us back to 1930 when an Irigueno, Domingo M. Guevara, started a radio repair shop in the corner of Legarda and Azcarraga in Manila. His business was clearly making good that in 1936 he was already included in The Bicol Region Directory, a listing of “leading citizens who are recognized as representatives of the enterprising and progressive elements of the region.”

In 1951, he started importing radio sets, which he later assembled bearing his company brand, Radiowealth. In 1955 he embarked on mass producing television sets with such names as Debussy’s Clair de Lune which then became fixtures (as they were designed like furniture) in the living rooms of Filipino homes. When they were turned on in the evening or at noon, Guevara created a captive audience that is the pure product of a mass medium.

In the 50s till the 60s, Iriga was still backwater. Then, only the horn of the train arriving from Manila and the morning news on the radio were the regular link of the then town to the outside world. The urban-rural divide, between the banwaan and ubaliw, was well dichotomized.

This dismal state of things is well remembered in a column Gemma Cruz Araneta wrote after she spoke before graduates of the University of Nueva Caceres in Naga City in 1968.

“As we approached Iriga, the roads became even more back-breaking. It is too staggering to imagine what they are like during the typhoons. We were told that once some people were tempted to plant corns on the road so that visiting officials would realize how badly they needed repairs. However, some streets are already being cemented.”

A score of years later in another barrio leading to nearby Buhi town, residents instead planted bananas on the muddy road with placards saying “Uda aspalto, uda boto. (No asphalt, no vote),” addressed to the sitting district representative in Congress.

The road leading to Salvacion, the barrio where I grew up, was only paved after oft-repeated promises of four gubernatorial and mayoral candidates that it would be cemented on their terms (pun intended). On moonlit evenings, our neighbours would be gathered at the sari-sari store of Nana Istang who in the 60’s owned the only transistor radio in our barrio. It was good status symbol (as she later got elected as a barrio councillor), and business sense as her clients cracked the tough rogrog (unsold bread that was chopped into bite pieces then baked rock hard) and washed with soda as they listen to Gabi ng Lagim or the amateur singing contests on the transistor radio.

Invented by the same guy who won the Nobel Prize for Physics twice, the transistor, the portable radio receiver which replaced the bulky and heavy vacuum tube radios, was at that time the real mass medium that Guevara popularized. It responded to a voiceless people living in the rural areas. As noted in a 1968 study on the role of radio in our country’s development, “Barrio (small village) folk, traditionally isolated from the outside world, now absorbs fresh ideas and keep abreast of national and international developments through transistors.”

Guevara’s transistor and the emergence of Guy as both the medium and the message for a marginalized masses derisively called “bakya crowd,” is the second revolution in the country after 1896.

Jung calls this synchronicity – the convergence of seemingly acausal relationship.

The transistor was cheap, It needs only two or three Eveready batteries for the farmers or the housewives to listen to Pat Boone or Patsy Kline. One day, they just heard Guy, who comes from their ranks on the radio, singing to them people who needs people, in a voice that draws on a trough of pain yet determined like the peddler on a train offering “Tubig, diyan, tubig.”

The convergence of Guevara’s transistor and Nora Aunor should lead to the latter being declared a National Artist. As a matter of justice for people defaced and erased whom Guy, as in her fairly recent film where she is on board a train, wants to be invisible no more and be given voice as in the radio days.


bottom of page