Angono’s endemic artistry

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ANGONO translates to art in the same manner that artistry spontaneously drags Angono. In fact, mention of Angono instantly makes one crave for a taste of what this once lousy lakeshore municipality in Rizal Province has to offer.

The truth is Angono breeds arts – and artists — from all age brackets.

It’s not surprising though since Angono is where the likes of national artists Carlos “Botong” Francisco for visual arts and Maestro Lucio San Pedro for music come from. The artistry in these two fine men was later on passed from one generation to another — significantly contributing to what Angono is today, the “Art Capital of the Philippines.”

The penchant for art seemed running in the blood of local folks, regardless of what art discipline it is. Angono is not limited to Ka Botong’s visual arts and Maestro Lucio’s music. Angono has become a cradle for a wider artistry — painting, sculpture, music, literature, theater, multimedia, papier-mâché and other disciplines.

Combining Arts and Nature

Located 15 minutes away east of Metro Manila, Angono is one of the few remaining localities where heritage, culture, tradition and arts have been preserved.

In an interview with homegrown visionary Gerardo Calderon, the man who tediously worked for his town to earn its title of being Art Capital of the Philippines, Angono has so far been doing good in maintaining its economic position even without the destructive industries in their locality as the town embarks on an economic policy anchored on calibrated tourism through their arts and sustainable development in its natural wonders from where artists draw inspirations.

Calderon, who served as mayor of the locality for quite some time, said that Angono has been reaping much from its two major assets – the artists and nature, for which tourists visit their town. He added that Angono maintains an equilibrium embarking on calibrated tourism and preservation of the environment.

We would not gamble our environment for a few more bucks coming in the form of taxes to be paid by investors behind environmentally-destructive industries. Our artistry alone will take us to the global map, and it’s in progress,” said Calderon in an interview, adding that the talent of thousands of homegrown artists alone is more than enough to make Angono popular and progressive.

Angono’s Patriarchs

Angono is where national visual artist Botong Francisco was born. This is where he honed his talent that was passed on from one generation to another.

Botong (November 4, 1912 – March 31, 1969) was a most distinguished practitioner of mural painting for many decades and best known for his historical pieces. He was one of the first Filipino modernists along with Galo Ocampo and Victorio Edades who broke away from Fernando Amorsolo’s romanticism of Philippine scenes. According to restorer Helmuth Josef Zotter, Francisco’s art “is a prime example of linear painting where lines and contours appear like cutouts.”

Interestingly, it was also Botong who discovered the Angono Petroglyphs at the border of Angono and Binangonan sometime in 1965. The Angono Petroglyphs embarks on 127 human and animal figures engraved on the rock wall probably carved during the late Neolithic period, or before 2000 BC. They are the oldest known work of art in the Philippines. The engravings are mostly symbolic representations and are associated with healing and sympathetic magic. The site is sacred for indigenous Tagalog folk religion and is believed to be a home for “anitos.” The site was declared by the National Museum of the Philippines as a National Cultural Treasure in 1973.

Aside from Botong is Maestro Lucio San Pedro (February 11, 1913 – March 31, 2002), a Filipino composer and teacher who was proclaimed a National Artist of the Philippines for Music in 1991.

Maestro Lucio came from a family with musical roots from where he got his talent at an early age. When he was still in his late teens, he took over as the church’s organist following the death of his grandfather. By then, he had already composed songs, hymns and two complete masses for voices and orchestra. After studying with several prominent musicians in the Philippines, he took advanced composition training with Bernard Wagenaar of the Netherlands. He also studied harmony and orchestration under Vittorio Giannini and took classes at Juilliard in 1947.

Taking cue from his title – maestro – Ka Lucio was a teacher. He has taught at the Ateneo de Manila University, virtually all the major music conservatories in Manila, and at the College of Music of the University of the Philippines, Diliman, where he retired as a full professor in 1978. He later received the title Professor Emeritus from the University in 1979. He also became a faculty member of the Centro Escolar University Conservatory of Music in Manila. San Pedro was also known for composing the official march of Makati.

Another pillar is Jose “Ka Pitok” Blanco. He is known for his exuberant paintings that capture what it is to be a Filipino. He was a leading painter in his town and the Philippines, with paintings that celebrate the culture, history and traditions of his beloved country.

He made sure that art will thrive in Angono by transforming his immediate family members to become artists, too. His seven children, thus, became artists in their own rights — Glenn, Noel, Michael, Joy, Jan, Gay, and Peter Paul. Through the years, Ka Pitok developed his well-defined insight not just in Angono but outside of his comfort zone. He made his daily routine remarkably captured in the most brilliant of colors, with clarity, authenticity on the Filipino experience.

Cradle for Artists

According to Calderon, there is actually more beyond these three pillars, but what seemed striking is the big community of artists that they have developed during their prime. Artistry has become a passion of local folks from all walks of life and ages.

In fact, renowned modern-day artist Nemesio Miranda, who uses the moniker Nemiranda, remains an active conduit in promoting art among the younger generation. He has even transformed his own home into a gallery and art school in one. He personally shares his crafts to young turks.

Aside from Nemiranda’s art school, aspiring artists paint on canvas under the shade of trees, playgrounds, open parks, church patio, barangay halls and basically anywhere they could find a subject worth the color and their canvass.

As it is, artists now come in abundance in Angono, pre-occupied doing one masterpiece after another, in basically all places in the town, compelling the local government to provide a sanctuary just for them — Angono Arts Center, located at the town’s Lakeside Eco Park.  

Another form of artistry that thrives in Angono is the art of papier-mâché, says Calderon, who attributed the art of making paper dolls as the very reason why they have the world-renowned Higantes Festival.

Festivity of the Giants

The Higantes Festival is an annual local festival, where hundreds of giant papier-mâché puppets are paraded, representing the common people’s mockery of the bad hacienderos dating back to the time of the Spanish colonial rule. It was during this time when the wealthy ruling class in control of Hacienda Angono restricts local folks from taking part in any celebration — except for one single festival in the entire year.

The hacienda workers used the higantes puppets in their once-a-year festival, rendering the papier-mâché giants to look like the hacienderos, mocking the owners throughout the festivity. The art of papier-mâché was said to have been learned by the common folk from Spanish friars through unstated means. The giant puppets depict a man or woman in multiple costumes, with their faces making commands, while their hands are on their waist.

It has evolved into an annual festivity held every November in honor of their patron saint, San Clemente. Today, local folks continue to build higantes to represent each barangay for the festival’s parade. Many forms of the puppets have been made, usually giant paper dolls which closely speak well of the barangay they represent. For barangays into duck-raising, they would create a higante with a duck-shaped head.

In time, the giant paper dolls evolved as recent festivities, some famous celebrities like former world boxing champ Senator Manny Pacquiao and President Rodrigo Duterte resembling the paper-made giant puppets.

The Angono Heritage

Calderon said that they are still in the process of validating research data seen to support what they believe would show Higantes as the earliest form of puppetry in the Philippines.

Interestingly, the local government has been supporting higante-making as local livelihood, while maintaining related traditions alive.

Web sources had a three-meter-tall puppet usually taking an entire month to make. Accordingly, the most difficult part to create is the head, which is made of paper strips. The body of a higante puppet is made up of bamboo or rattan strips, to make it easier for a puppeteer to carry for the duration of the long procession, which normally takes hours to finish.

A related tradition with the higante puppets is the “basaan,” where people are sprinkled with water during the parade to gain good fortune and blessings. Among Christians, the water is said to symbolize San Clemente, patron of fisherfolk. Shouting for water is an aspect of the tradition. Another tradition is the parehadores, a marching band and a group of young girls in colorful costumes with wooden slippers. They are responsible for holding the sagwan, wooden boat paddle, a symbol of the devotees of San Clemente. While marching, the band and the group of girls shout, “Viva San Clemente!” The girls are always in front of the band as they parade. Other traditions are also known during the festival and its preparations.

Traversing local roads of Angono, one would actually know why Angono has been named as the Art Capital of the Philippines.

Cradle for Nature

Other than the Petroglyphs, paintings and Higantes, Calderon finds a well-preserved natural wonder as the best work of art that they could offer.

Angono does not have white sand beach but it boasts of its Angono Lakeside Eco-Park. Angono also does not have a rapid bend similar to that of Pagsanjan but they do have the cleanest river where boating remains a fun adventure. We may not have a vast tract of forest cover but we do have a small forest park where you’ll appreciate nature. Whatever you see in Angono is a tourist attraction in itself — including that of Higantes which we’d see almost anywhere in Angono,” Calderon said in a Zoom interview.

When asked on Angono’s chances making it big using their art, Calderon said:

Angono does not have grand structures where artworks of the likes of Leonardo Da Vinci and Michael Angelo are billeted but Angono has an abundant pool of talents who paint as they please anywhere in the locality — making the town the biggest art gallery and art school in one,” he ended.

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