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A Weekend Dive Into the Abyss: Art Fair Philippines 2020

This year, the exhibit showcased a wide range of local and international contemporary art that were more than just eye candy.

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Onib Olmedo's “Triumph of Everyman” on display at Art Fair PH 2020

With the Philippines being a cultural hotspot, Art Fair Philippines returned on its 8th year to gather local and international artists, curators, and enthusiasts to celebrate appreciation for the arts. This year, the exhibit showcased a wide range of local and international contemporary art that were more than just eye candy.

I, for one, am not the best critic nor an enthusiast of art. As an art novice, I generally enjoy it for the aesthetics and calming ambience it exudes when hung on a wall or placed on a coffee table. Other than that, I had no idea how a Picasso differed from a Monet, or how oil differed from acrylic.

Since it was my first time attending an art exhibit, navigating myself through the maze was quite the ordeal. But then I noticed that each piece was set up without a definite path to follow and, at some point, I even found myself getting lost in a simple painting of a beach. Maybe that feeling of getting lost is also part of the beauty that art brings. With every artwork giving me a unique cultural narrative and experience, I left the exhibit with the insatiable curiosity on what other stories and emotions can the growing local art scene continue to unfold.

From February 21 to 23, Art Fair Philippines once again opened its doors to thousands of local art-goers that share the same passion and interest for art. As part of this year’s special project, each floor welcomed its visitors to Sol LeWitt’s texted-based art, “Wall Drawing #1217”, that was loaned out by his estate. The text, “These words are written on the wall”, was inscribed in four different languages: English, Filipino, M’ranaw, and Baybayin. New York-based curator Carina Evangelista says that these four iterations were meant to “illustrate the Philippines as a culture that’s polyglot ”. But most of all, this served a commitment to the late artist’s artistic principle whose craft was built on “the democratic hand” that gives people the liberty to draft his works on any wall in the world.

The amount of talent showcased in this year’s exhibit was overflowing, to say the least. But here are some of the many pieces that I believe have left a powerful impression on everyone that visited.

“Triumph of Everyman” by Onib Olmedo

“Triumph of Everyman” by Onib Olmedo

This year’s run continued the tradition of featuring projects made by established contemporary Filipino artists. Though all the pieces displayed in this space were evocatively abstract, it was Onib Olmedo’s “Triumph of Everyman” that caught my attention. Spread out on the green walls of the room was a compendium of his sketches that depicted the Filipino everyman’s inner reality and turmoil. The same way each face is different, Olmedo’s portraits reveal different facets of the human self. Rather than appearing symmetrical, the inner self and its realities were depicted in its purest and most vulnerable form: faces that were obscured with eyes giving out a penetrating gaze to show a state of distress, instability, and crisis. It was a haunting yet cathartic experience that gave me an in-depth understanding of the human psyche through strokes and shades on paper.

“Tuko” by Salvador Joel Alonday

“Tuko” by Salvador Joel Alonday (Photo by Marcianne Gaab)

Another noteworthy piece from the exhibit’s projects was this part human, part animal terra cotta and kaolin clay sculpture. Rather than merely sculpting a larger-than-life reptile, Salvador Joel Alonday’s molded his visual idiom through a human seemingly morphing into its animagus—the house gecko. Though small in size, house geckos assert their dominance in household as they tower over everyone from the ceilings and walls that they stick to. Similarly, “Tuko” portrays man’s tendency to succumb to this reptilian nature of being territorial and aggressive.  At this time of societal pandemonium, Alonday’s creation greatly mirrors how a number of politicians and religious leaders are lazily sat on their comfortable seats at the top of the food chain while their constituents are struggling for a democratic and just life under their mandate. While we grapple for coexistence, our society’s “tukos” will continue to prey on our fears and weaknesses.

“Opera – Screaming Faces” by Gabriel Barredo (Silverlens)

“Opera – Screaming Faces” by Gabriel Barredo (Silverlens) | Photo by Marcianne Gaab

This art piece was a visual feast difficult not to miss because I had to admit, it was relatable. The large-scale theatrical art piece that featured rows of 39,000 miniature screaming faces was a small fraction of the late Gabriel Barredo’s massive installation. The UST alumnus & sculptor, who was known for amalgamations of the macabre and the beautiful, wanted to each screaming face to portray the endless scream we constantly go through in life. True to the ethos of his craft, it was a very immersive experience. It was as though I could hear the faces actually screaming. And it felt like for every step I took to look closer, the screaming grew louder.

“Look at Her” by Nikki Luna

“Look at Her” by Nikki Luna | Photo by Marcianne Gaab

This piece by artist and activist Nikki Luna was a head turner for anyone who went to the fair. At first glance, it looked like an ordinary mirror to take that obligatory mirror selfie with. But embossed in bold font were the words, “As long as there are many beautiful women, there will be more rape cases”. Sound familiar? Well, it’s just one of the many misogynistic remarks pulled out from the incumbent president. In contrast to bright colors and thick strokes, this was a simple and minimalistic piece that carried a powerful message. Standing in front of the mirror with these words written on gave not only a reflection but an emphasis on how rape and sexual violence continue to be normalized in this hedonistic culture. Perhaps, Luna used a mirror to purposely invite its viewers for a photo not as an addition to your feed aesthetic but as a call of action to not tolerate this utterly abhorrent and toxic culture.

 “Karnebal” by Max Balatbat

“Karnebal” by Max Balatbat | Photo by Marcianne Gaab

Stepping into the room with black wall and small statues felt like I was in a trance. At the corners and the center, stood 3 sculptures of young girls selling sampaguita with their underwear pulled down almost at their feet. These creations of Max Balatbat accentuate the toxic and alarming reality of rape culture that even the most helpless and vulnerable young girls, who struggle to get by with a decent livelihood, get raped and murdered.  It was also striking how the top half of their faces were carved into a merry-go-round rather than eyes. Perhaps, this was a way of the artist telling how these inhumane acts that are repeatedly done go unnoticed.

 

My first time at an art exhibit was quite overwhelming, but every turn and every corner still had its own provoking surprise. Every visual channel in the exhibit carried their own impression of life that deeply resonated with me. When words fell short, art and all its complexities spoke. It is astounding what visual art can do and how it transcends beyond skill and technique. The artworks and the artists led me to have a momentous experience that at the end of the day, I forgot that I was in a multi-story car park.

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Pride Month Playlist: The Welcome Party

You’re invited to The Welcome Party.

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Playlist artwork by Patricia Jardin

This 2020, we won’t be able to attend the iconic Metro Manila Pride March because of the pandemic. Soon, we’ll be able to step out of the door to see and hug the people that makes us who we are. We’ll celebrate our identity and our triumphs and I’m sure, it’ll be a wild party. In the meantime, let’s celebrate the party in our homes as we welcome the newest members of the community and to commemorate the month of Pride.

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#DefendPressFreedom: A War Cry Against Impunity and Disinformation

From ineffective COVID-19 cures, to conspiracy theories, to deliberate propagation of fake news and propaganda, the wave of misinformation and disinformation can claim lives. Without press freedom, we would succumb to this second pandemic.

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Patricia Jardin

May 3 is the celebration of the World Press Freedom Day, a day that serves as a reminder for people, especially governments to respect press freedom. This year, the theme for this celebration is “Journalism without Fear or Favor,” highlighting journalists’ need to freely do their jobs, especially during a global pandemic.

May 5, two days after World Press Freedom Day, is the day that ABS-CBN went off-air due to. National Telecommunications Commision’s (NTC) cease and desist order a day after its franchise ends. It is also the day when a radio broadcaster was slain in Dumaguete City, making him the 1616th journalist killed under the Duterte Administration.

#DefendPressFreedom has been trending on social media due to the shutdown of ABS-CBN and the killing of radio broadcaster Rex Cornelio. The hashtag was used to support the free press, and decry the attacks against the media and media practitioners aiming to silence them. While many people support #DefendPressFreedom, many still do not understand the concept of press freedom, even going as far as saying that the law is above the freedom of the press. 

However, #DefendPressFreedom goes beyond being just a hashtag or a trend.

Iron grip on media

Martial Law is a time of countless cases of corruption and human rights violations, and the press is not excluded in the abuses of power of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos, who held the Philippine media in his iron grip.

After the declaration of Martial Law through Proclamation 1081,  Ferdinand Marcos released Letter of Instruction 1, or the military  “take over and control”  of “newspapers, magazines, radio and television facilities and all other media of communications.” The reason behind the media takeover is to prevent involvement of media outlets with the Communists. Media outlets affected include ABS-CBN, Channel 5 (now TV5), Manila Daily Bulletin (now Manila Bulletin) Manila Times, and others.

With most of the media outlets closed or under strict government monitoring and censorship, critics of the Marcos administration were arrested. Several journalists like Joaquin ‘Chino’ Roces, Teodoro Locsin Sr., and others were detained. Media was also heavily censored and needs to be approved by the Department of Public Information.

Several laws such as  the Presidential Decrees 33, 36, and 90 were passed, placing the Philippine media into further chokehold.

Loosening chokehold?

After the People Power Revolution, the iron chokehold on the media began to loosen.

Press freedom has been written in the Bill of Rights, specifically in the Article III Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution. According to it,  “no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” 

While the situation of the Philippine media became better, there are still attacks to the press coming from the government in the form of criticisms and  lawsuits from previous Presidents. There are also cases of media killings. As of 2018, 185 journalists. were killed since 1986 according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

In March 1999, former president Joseph Ejercito Estrada sued The Manila Times over a story about government corruption on public works contracts. The Manila Times issued a front-page apology, prompting some of the  editors and writers to resign in protest.

The former president also prompted an ad boycott on Philippine Daily Inquirer. Estrada has criticized the newspaper for being biased after covering several government scandals.

The Arroyo administration also had several cases of lawsuits against journalists. According to Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo has filed 50 lawsuits against 46 journalists for writing articles about his alleged crimes.The lawsuits were eventually dropped in 2007.

It is also in the time of the Arroyo administration when the Maguindanao Massacre happened. This event is considered as the world’s single deadliest attack on journalists in history, with 32 journalists killed out of 58 victims. Although a verdict has been passed, there are still around 80 suspects at large according to the Human Rights Watch. 

The Strongman versus the Media

Recently, the 2018 Time Magazine article depicting Pres. Rodrigo Duterte as a strongman. A strongman is described as an authoritarian leader with a heavy reliance on the military. Duterte denounced the strongman label, but he cannot denounce the actions that he had done, especially his  attacks on the press.

In March 2017, Duterte threatened several media outlets, namely ABS-CBN and Philippine Daily Inquirer over “rude” reports against him. Duterte said that “karma” will come someday.

Another media outlet that has been on the receiving end of Duterte’s tirades against the media in the news site Rappler. The news isie is known for its critical reporting on the Duterte administration, and has been plagued by attacks both from pro-Duterte blogs and  Duterte himself. 

In Duterte’s State of the Nation Address in 2017, he accused Rappler of being “fully owned” by Americans, which violates foreign ownership restrictions on the media. In January 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked Rappler’s license to operate over violation of the Constitution and Anti-Dummy Law. Duterte also banned Rappler from covering Malacañang in February 2018. Duterte himself banned Rappler reporter Pia Ranada, as well as Rappler CEO Maria Ressa from entering Malacañang. Maria Ressa was also arrested for cyber libel in February over a 2012 article on Wilfredo Keng. She was arrested again in March 2019 for violation of foreign ownership.

Duterte is said to have a personal vendetta on ABS-CBN due to an ad broadcasted on the network showing Duterte cursing and saying rape jokes. The ad was paid for by Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV. He also accused the network of not showing the campaign ads that he paid for back in 2016. ABS-CBN President and CEO Carlo Katigbak clarified that the campaign ads were shown, but some local ads worth 7 million were not shown due to airtime shortage.

Also in 2019, Duterte’s attacks continued and he once said that he will block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise. 

In February 2020, Solicitor General filed a quo-warranto petition against ABS-CBN on the grounds of foreign ownership, labor conditions, unpaid taxes, and issues on Kapamilya Box Office (KBO) and TV Plus. 

The network responded to the allegations in a hearing on February 24, 2020. In terms of foreign ownership, SEC Commissioner Ephyro Amatong said that the Philippine Depository Receipts, which Calida said is a form of foreign ownership, is not a certificate of ownership. The Bureau of Internal Revenue also said that  ABS-CBN has no unpaid taxes and has complied with the tax requirement of the government. The network also said that the Department of Labor and Employment cleared the network for their compliance on labor laws, and said that the network does not practice contractualization. The network was also cleared on the pay-per-view issue on KBO and TV Plus, and if there are penalties, NTC can just fine the network instead of a shutdown.

The network was allowed to operate until May 4. NTC said that it will give ABS-CBN provisional authority as the network’s franchise renewal is in progress. However on May 3, Calida pressured the NTC by saying that the department could face charges under Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act if NTC gives ABS-CBN provisional authority. Two days later, NTC issued a cease and desist order on ABS-CBN due to its expired franchise. ABS-CBN. went off-air at 7:52 p.m..

More than a hashtag

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said that there is a “second pandemic” spreading as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads: the pandemic of misinformation. From ineffective COVID-19 cures, to conspiracy theories, to deliberate propagation of fake news and propaganda, the wave of misinformation and disinformation can claim lives. Without press freedom, we would succumb to this second pandemic.

Press freedom is necessary, with or without a global crisis. The press is the eyes of the masses. They are the watchdogs of the government, watching for corruption and injustices. They are the lenses that capture the society and its problems, bringing it to light for people to do something about these problems. They are also our frontliners in this global pandemic, reporting correct guidelines and calling out inaction when necessary. In short, taking away press freedom is like stripping a nation of its right to know and to be aware.

#DefendPressFreedom goes beyond a mere trend or a hashtag. It is a war cry against forces trying to silence the press to cover its wrongdoings and inactions, an advocacy promoting the right of every citizen to be aware, a simple message to the people spreading the culture of impunity that we won’t back down in this fight. As a popular protest sign says, “First they came for the journalists. This is a warning that we need to defend the free press”.

If we lose our press freedom, we will never know what happens next.

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TUBAW’s Kalinow: The Soundtrack of a Revolution

No emotion is more intense than the pain that the masses feel amidst the numerous challenges in our country. The TUBAW Music Collective aims to capture the dreams, struggles, and triumphs of the masses through their music. 

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Album artwork grabbed from TUBAW Music Collective's Facebook page

They say that art is at its best when driven by intense emotions. No emotion is more intense than the pain that the masses feel amidst the numerous challenges in our country. The TUBAW Music Collective aims to capture the dreams, struggles, and triumphs of the masses through their music. 

Being a citizen of our country is a challenge in itself. From the persistent traffic, mind-boggling taxes, poor healthcare, and high living costs, the “Filipino Dream” is bleaker than its foreign counterpart. Life has it worse for indigenous communities in our country with capitalism exploiting their non-conformity to the urban lifestyle, taking away homes, education, and livelihood from these communities. The cherry on top of this burdensome cake is the continued dominance of officials who offer scraps in their term after promising the world during their campaign periods.

These struggles are what the TUBAW Music Collective aspires to shed light on with their music. TUBAW or Tubong Mindanaw, Tulong Mindanao Music Collective are a group of musicians who produce and perform songs dedicated to the working class since 2016. In their Artist’s Bio, it states that it is their goal to inspire the younger generation “to take part in achieving just and lasting peace.” They have notably shown support for the causes of saving Lumad schools with their album PARAGAS: Mga Awit ng Pag-ibig, Pakikibaka, at Pagsulong. Their music can be heard on streaming services such as Spotify with their 2nd album Kalinow available on the platform.

Kalinow can also be downloaded for free by visiting their Facebook page here. The album features 12 tracks that communicate their advocacy and ignites the passion to seek for change.

Kapayapaan

Opening the album, this song immediately captures the vibe of its namesake. Using instrumentals that bring you back to the peaceful beaches, it conveys the message of finding the root of war and resolving it to achieve peace. It directly calls out aspects that ails our current society, such as the dependence on foreign aid and disrespect towards human rights. 

Misyonero

Following the first song, this song gets the ball rolling with its introductory lines. It calls for the masses to take part in the lifestyle of the communities in the mountains and stand by them to fight for their land. It takes the energy from the first song and takes it up a notch to get its message across. 

Bayani

Taking a more somber tone, this track is a departure from the rather direct message from the previous two tracks. The song gives thanks to a hero/heroes and proclaims the inspiration that they have provided. Once again, it focuses on one central message: fighting for peace in the entire country.

Tuloy Ang Laban

Picking up the energy once again, this song aims to serve as a battle cry. It places emphasis on the current issues today, particularly with promised changes that have done little to ease the real problems of the country. As the title suggests, there is power behind each lyric that is meant to rile up the listeners.

Paasa

The next track takes humorous instrumentals with melancholic lyrics. Keeping with the central message of the album, the persistence of killings and the absence of actual help. As the title suggests, it pertains mainly to false promises of change and how injustices keep the masses down.

Tala

This song is an ode to the working class in our country. It carries an uplifting tone meant to encourage and brighten their advocacies. This song echoes the same vibe as Bayani where it serves as a tribute more than anything else.

Ngayong Gabi

A departure from the nationalistic themes of the prior tracks, this aims to tell a love story. This could be considered the “pop anthem” track of this album, showcasing simple elements to place emphasis on the lyrics and the vocals of the singers. It’s a beautiful song that brings hope and love in its lyrics.

Alab

Another departure from the usual style of previous tracks, deviating from the instruments and musical theme that the prior songs took on. Nonetheless, this track makes its statement clear: igniting the passion for justice, truth, and peace. 

Paper Tiger

Concluding the album, this song from its introductory instrumentals sends a message of calm defiance. The only song in English in the entire album, this song sends a particular message of defiance towards the killings in broad daylight. It sends a message of defiance towards the robbery of land and the arson of properties such as schools and homes. The closing track for Kalinow is brooding, passionate towards achieving justice and peace for the entire country.

Kalinow does not only send messages through its tracks, but the entire album itself paints a narrative. It calls for defiance against injustices and empowers the voice of those who shed light on these injustices. The strong and powerful message is clear from the first track to the album and reiterates it again on the last. Tubaw remains consistent with the core message of their group while also showcasing their talent as a collective.

The musical styles of this album highlights the strong suit of the group. Vocals were never the sole highlight but rather the entire song as a whole. The arrangements make each song appropriate for a soundtrack of an equally strong revolution-themed film or play. They tell a narrative through their music and whether it serves as an accompaniment to a bigger form of media or standing on its own as an album, it inspires vigilance and deflates conformity.

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