Whipping up a Culture and Arts storm in Mindanao

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews/2 Jan) – Typhoon Sendong has brought Iligan and Cagayan de Oro Cities to the national consciousness, however in pictures that describe misfortune through the bad-news channels. Any mention of these cities stamp horrific images of flood and destruction imprinted on the nation’s minds after a week of constant multi-media exposures.

Now, with the prominence of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro, we can refocus attention to part of what keeps our communities afloat, uniting us to easily shift to survival-mode whenever tragedies like Sendong strikes – our Culture that we express in our Arts.

News of our creative activities hardly gets to the national papers and this has impressed on the nation that all “art” happens only in Manila.

Mindanao’s Performing Arts

Mindanao nurtures an active community of artists engaging thousands through works that describe the island’s resilience and integrity. Mindanao creates productions that extend beyond engagements of entertainment towards advocacy mirroring sentiments to liberate its peoples.

In recent years, Cagayan de Oro has steadily brought its artists to the fore. Inchoate yet imbibing ethics of the professional, the year-old Xavier Stage (XS), established by theatre artist Hobart Savior, has already produced a string of plays that have drawn full-house audiences to its theatre in its Xavier University base.

In 2011 alone, XS produced two twin-bills of plays by local playwrights, including a full-length Ulilang Tahanan by National Artist Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero. These plays – Luna Sicat’s Dalawa, Edward Perez’s Barracks ni Tenyente Fuego, and this writer’s Isa Pang Kawing have been received so well that the group will have little trouble filling up its 300-seater Little Theatre in the seasons to come.

In nearby Ozamiz and Pagadian Cities, Felimon Blanco has generated local government support and his host La Salle University’s interest to collaborations with Teatro Guindengan. Blanco, who trained in Asian Theatre in Singapore, explored the Noh (classical Japanese movements) using it as medium in his group’s explorations of Sophocles’ Antigone.

Savior and Blanco are products of a previous generation of theatre makers that have institutionalized Mindanao’s performance praxis, the Integrated Performing Arts Guild (IPAG) and Sining Kambayoka (SK), respectively.

In General Santos City, the Kabpapagariyan Ensemble (KE), organized by another SK alumnus, Romeo Narvaez, has focused on using theatre to advocate peace. The group’s flagship production Dula Ta (Let’s Play Together) performed for the International Theatre Institute’s (ITI) festival in Cyprus and Israel.

In music, the MSU-IIT Octava Choral Society continues to impress music aficionados through clean tones and nuanced singing wrought by the discipline of its conductor Frank Englis. This choral group has been featured in many regional events, the latest being the national convention of HRM heads in Cagayan de Oro.


Slicing though the audiences of Manila and Luzon, the IPAG, resident company of the MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology, sustains its share of the national theatre-going publics. IPAG in 2011 produced another well-reviewed epic, Hapoy daw Wahig (Fire and Water), a deconstruction of Bukidnon epics.

Uwahig, which represented the Philippines in two international festivals and foreboded the Sendong tragedy, the flood episode that is etched in most Mindanao folklore, was remounted during the May Heritage Month in Cagayan de Oro.

Large audiences patronize the continuing runs of IPAG’s dance stories, Tales From Mindanao and Tatlo Sa Isa, in Bicol, Manila, Cagayan de Oro, and Iligan. The Guild boasts of being the Philippines’ most travelled repertory company of perhaps the most performed production, Tales.

The Iligan Writers Workshop

In the forefront of the development of region-based Literature is the Iligan National Writers Workshop that in 2013 will celebrate its 20th year. The workshop based in the MSU-IIT has produced writers who now figure prominently in Philippines letters.

This year, the workshop (one of three institutionalized by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts) awarded fellowships to writers in the Waray, Hiligaynon, Sugbuanon, Filipino, and English languages, the only national workshop that keeps these languages alive through the Word.

Cultural Programs

Highlighting the need to consolidate the culture and arts initiatives of the university where the bulk of Iligan’s art activities happen, the MSU-IIT has streamlined a culture-and-arts program that effectively establishes the Institute as a hub in cultural education and development in Mindanao. Part of this proposal is to establish an institute that will manage the cultural assets of the region.

Last May, Mindanao cultural workers were given the exposure and training to enhance their creative engagements through the NCCA-initiated Summer Institute for Cultural Workers. Leading Mindanaon art practitioners conducted this travelling “institute’ that brought the participants to Iligan, Davao, General Santos, Koronadal, and Marawi Cities where art-related engagements were strong.

Given all the efforts that the artists have whipped up for Mindanao, Sendong cannot drown the creative spirits even among the debris.

As of this writing, artists have banded to use their art to lift Sendong’s victims out of their depressions through various means, including a multi-media concert. In these times when death has dampened the Christmas spirit, Mindanao’s artists have come to the rescue to heal and to use their most potent tools, their Art, to raise the collective consciousness and inspire its communities to rise from the tragedy.

Beyond entertainment, art finds its true worth, a principle which Mindanao artists, having gone through episodes of conflicts and natural disasters, only know too well.

(Steven Patrick C. Fernandez is founder and artistic director at the Integrated Performing Arts Guild in Iligan City. He studied Humanities at the University of the Philippines in Diliman and received his Doctor of Fine Arts in Literature • Creative Writing/Playwriting from the De La Salle University.)