In 1995, I participated in a workshop attended by artists from group all over Luzon Island, at the National Arts Center in Mount Makiling, Laguna province. The workshop, sponsored by the NCCA (National Commission for Culture and the Arts), was aimed to have artists experiment with indigenous materials such as handmade paper, found objects from nature, weaving with local fibers, and terracotta sculpture with local clays. The participating groups were Kasibulan Foundation, the Sorsogon Arts Council, the Arts Foundation of the Cordillera, the Arts Association of the Philippines (AAP), the Printmakers Association of the Philippines (PAP), the Salingpusa, the Obando Arts Council, the Pampanga Arts Guild, the Baguio Arts Guild, and Sagada; where I was part of the Salingpusa group.
The national Arts Center is part of the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA), where students study any artistic field of their choice (visual arts, theater, dance, or music) while studying their regular high school subjects of math, English, science, etc. Created in 1976, by a decree from President Marcos, the school is a haven for creativity in the middle of the lush forests of Mount Makiling.
In this photograph, representatives of each art group and the workshop facilitators pose with National Artist for Sculpture, Napoleon Abueva.
To get to the PSHA, one first has to pass through the campus of University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB), which also includes part of Mount Makiling as their campus, because of their College of Forestry. Because of this, the UPLB is considered the largest university in the world, when it comes to land area.
Mount Makiling was once venerated as a goddess by the ancient Tagalog people. When Spaniards colonized the Philippines, Makiling the goddess was downgraded to Maria Makiling, a forest enchantress.
During our week-long workshop, a butterfly landed on my head and rested for a while. Junyee, a Makiling based artist, looks at me and says that Maria Makiling has found me favorable, and that she had blessed me with her protection.
Up to now, the locals living around the mountain believe in Maria Makiling, and they warn visitors not to anger her or face her wrath.
The first time I went to Mount Makiling and the PHSA was in the 1979, when my parents took my siblings and I to attend the book launching of National Artists for Literature Nick Joaquin’s “Pop Stories for Groovy Kids”.
Later on, my mother asked me if I wanted to study at the PHSA, but I decided to stick by my old school and be with my childhood friends in Manila.
The family would return many other times for swimming excursions among the many hot water springs found at the foot of Mount Makiling, in the town of District of Pansol, in the historic town of Calamba, Laguna Province.
And during and after college, we would visit our fraternity brothers at the UPLB, and in 1990s my fraternity brothers and I would climb up Mount Makiling.
Now I am looking froward to the day that I will be bringing my daughter up the to Mount Makiling. She is entering high school soon, will she decide to try enrolling at the PHSA, or will she just join me in a short trek? Who knows?