Surely the political lines blur when discussing so-called culture in the time of martial law, roughly from the early ‘70s to mid ‘80s coinciding with the strongman years of the first Marcos, because it’s not always easy separating chaff from grain when both bare vestiges of genius.
Lately in the news is forthcoming closure for renovations of the Cultural Center, the big baby of the former first lady that in its best days transcended ideological persuasion, before or after the EDSA people power revolt. Thus the history of CCP can be divided into three: the fledgling years under Imelda, the post-EDSA cultural ferment, then back to the future of the old guard true, good but not necessarily beautiful. The scheduled retrofitting of that edifice by the sea merely marks another chapter in its storied franchise.
An unsung hero of the early days was the designer of posters of CCP productions, once upon a time museum director Ray Albano, whose work can still be gleaned in the cafeteria and hallways (if not yet taken down for safekeeping before the renovation) through these posters, a distinct art form. It was Albano, dubbed the Quasimodo of the building for his preternatural stoop, who designed the cover of issue #7 of the counterculture magazine Ermita in 1976, a duotone image of a shin and heel in shoe as if foreshadowing hidden fetishes.
A ward of the first lady at the time who would later become world beater was Cecille Licad, whose piano playing made any listener forget that there was Muslim secession in the south and communists were taking to the hills faster than you could eat nutribun. When Licad played in the CCP again in a sort of homecoming after the EDSA revolt, there were few dry eyes in the house, the welled-up emotion stronger than any unity slogan. Yet the evident restraint was key in her run of scales.
Any narrative of that decade of ferment is incomplete without mentioning Nick Joaquin’s setting the condition of his receiving the national artist award from the regime: release his friend the poet and journalist Pete Lacaba from military stockade. The national artist’s wish was granted, and shortly after Lacaba’s release came the news that younger brother and guerrilla poet Eman Lacaba was killed in the Mindanao hinterlands.
Which reminds one of a favorite joke of Nick’s: Nabaril daw si Pete. Sinong Pete? Hindi sinumpit, binaril.
It was Pete of course who, writing under a pseudonym surnamed Cuevas, submitted a poem titled Prometheus Unbound to one of the literary magazines, Focus, an acrostic whose first letter of each line spelled out Marcos Hitler Diktador Tuta. The poor proofreader in the office based just off Delpan bridge was given a good dressing down by the redoubtable editor in chief Kerima Polotan, whose prose still shines to this day, and if rumors were true even given his or her walking papers and put on surveillance.
Focus and Ermita weren’t the only ones publishing fiction and poetry under martial law, as there was also Expressweek magazine that featured on its cover assorted starlets with mammary glands about to spill out as well basketball players in action, with a staffbox that included what would become the brain trust of Philippine Star’s arts and entertainment section: Millet Martinez, Ching Alano, Ricky Lo.
(Considered the odd man out in that posse was sportswriter Recah Trinidad, whose gin and beer swigging band outside the Rizal Coliseum included the painter Danilo Dalena, who put out a series of shows dealing with jai-alai and the Alibangbang beer garden, the ago-go joint along EDSA in Cubao some kilometers north of Luz Gallery, another flashpoint of art and extracurricular culture.)
There was also Manila Review, a state-funded literary quarterly edited by Greg Brillantes that first came out with Ermita editor Krip Yuson’s “Romance and Faith on Mount Banahaw,” Erwin Castillo’s “The Watch for La Diane” later expanded into a novella, and a sheaf of poems by the poet Diana Gamalinda singing paeans to Uriel among other angels. It also had art work and illustrations by the likes of Juanito Sy and Red Mansueto.
There was too Manila Paper edited by Quezon-based Louie Stuart, on subpar newsprint but powered by lambanog and the wildest imagination.
Across the barricades the seeds of resistance planted by Eman Lacaba and Lorena Barros had sprouted and grown, because in Los Baños an itinerant band called Tulisanes was singing revolutionary songs, and dispatched from the outskirts or some unidentified foothill were poems by Kris Montañez later revealed to be the Diliman university teacher Gelacio Guillermo, and in detention the soon to be ex-priest Edicio dela Torre was churning out watercolors with impunity.
Not to forget either the birth of Pinoy rock and of Jingle chordbook magazine, Pepe Smith improvising the chords and lyrics to Himig Natin in a comfort room at the Luneta before a concert in 1973, and Jingle itself teaching many a disgruntled youth how to play guitar, an altogether different weapon against oppression. In Mabalacat, Pampanga, recently departed folksinger Ysagani Ybarra of Biyaheng Langit and Bilog na naman ang Buwan fame set up the Mahalikha artists’ commune, while in South Cotabato Saro Bañares lamented the lost promised land.
In another edifice by the sea, the seemingly doomed Film Center was rushed in time to host the Manila International Film Festival, to the consternation of the construction workers who fell to their deaths from a collapsed scaffolding, their protruding limbs sawed off and cement poured over. The site would become headquarters of the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, that premiered amid imagined howls and things that go bump in the night masterworks like Virgin Forest and Himala as well the early short film collaborations of Raymond Red and Ian Victoriano from the High School for the Arts, before the Makiling school was embroiled in sex harassment scandals.
Later the Film Center would transform into a passport hub of the Department of Foreign Affairs, in case you wanted to search for greener pastures in the land of Van Cliburn and George Hamilton, the excellent piano player and B-movie actor, respectively, who were also dear friends of the former first lady once criticized for having an “edifice complex.”