Monday, November 9, 2009

*170. His High School Yearbook: VICENTE ALVAREZ DIZON

PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST AS A HIGH SCHOOLER. Vicente Alvarez Dizon, th future art professor and world-class painter, as he appeared on his 1924 National University Yearbook, aged 19 years old.

On the last day of the annual antique and collectibles fair of Greenhills, I had expected to find only “crumbs” left by collectors and dealers, with the best pieces already picked and sold. Indeed, that was what I felt when I got into the section of the mall where the dealers had their stalls. I initially saw only old bottles, records, vintage newspapers, old coins and paper bills—which were not exactly my interest. In one stall that specialized in old books and paper items, I picked up a thin 1924 National University yearbook with a new red binding. The cover identified the previous owner as Dr. Gaudencio de los Reyes. I scanned a few pages and I thought I might find use for this yearbook one day; besides, at one hundred pesos, it was a steal. I paid for the yearbook-- my one and only purchase—and took a taxi home.

1924 NATIONAL UNIVERSITY HIGH SCHOOL YEARBOOK. Designed and illustrated by Vicente Alvarez Dizon, Class of 1924.

Inside the cab, I flipped through the pages again, this time, more carefully—and there, on page 35, I found the picture of 19 year old Vicente Alvarez Dizon (b. 5 April 1905), a noted Kapampangan painter, the artist that history almost forgot. Born in Malate of Kapampangan parents, this 1928 U.P. fine arts graduate went on to become a professor of drawing and art appreciation (a course he pioneered) at the National Teachers’ College, a position he held till 1941. He later earned a study grant at the Yale University.

A year after his college graduation, he married Maria Ines Lutgarda Henson of Angeles, whom he met while she was studying at St. Scholastica in Manila. The couple had 7 children, and two of them—Daniel and Josefina—went on to follow their father’s footsteps by becoming respected artists in their own right.

As an artist, Vicente maintained an art studio in Manila and in his Angeles residence where his customers, many American soldiers from Clark Field, would ask him to draw portraits and cards to be sent to their loved ones back in the U.S. mainland. His biggest claim to fame however winning an important art contest held at the Gallery of Science and Art at the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco, California. He placed first in the International Competition on Contemporary Art participated in by painters from 79 countries with his opus, “After A Day’s Toil”. What made his triumph more significant was that he bested the entries of surrealist Salvador Dali and impressionist Maurice Utrillo. Dali’s piece entitled “Enigmatic Elements in Landscape” was relegated to second place.

Vicente’s winning painting showed a Filipino family homeward bound from the fields, including a woman, two men and a boy, a dog and chickens passing by a lake fringed with lush tropical foliage and with mountains rising from the distance. The painting was exhibited worldwide and went on display at the IBM Gallery of Fine Arts.

However, his most dramatic works were done during the Japanese Occupation, secretly recording the difficult life under a repressive regime. He painted such emotional-filled works like “Strafed Civilians”, “Evacuees on the Move” and “The Fall of Intramuros”, painted in 1945, that depicted the destruction of this hallowed part of Manila. Because of his talent, he was invited to work as an artist and historical assistant at Clark Field in August 1945. The war years took a toll on his health and Vicente died on 19 October 1947. He was just 42.

The precious find that I now hold in my hands speak volumes of the young Vicente’s artistic skills as well as his life, interests and character as a teen-ager. He singlehandedly designed, laid out and illustrated the pages which he neatly signed with “V.A.Dizon ‘24”. The book listed his place of residence as “Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija”, as his father, Jose Dizon, was assigned there at that time as an agricultural inspector. His whole entry in the 1924 yearbook reads:

“A promising gentleman of Cabanatuan, the favorite ‘hijo’ of Mrs. Ylagan. The ‘Liwayway’ and the class artist, once the Vice President of the Alpha-Beta Club and the piccoloist of the National Jazz Band. Tall, handsome, graceful ‘feller’ is he of fresh nineteen. He is studious, clever, proud but not a parasite. He reads like a lightning flash and talks like a thunderbolt. He is silent but beware of his silence for he is a breaker of feminine hearts”.

Who would think that in 15 years’ time, this Kapampangan teen-ager would grow to become a world-class artist with his stunning victory in San Francisco? Yet, he was largely unsung, having died young, his repute forgotten through the years. It was only in February 2001 that his legacy was honored by the Committee on Culture with a retrospective exhibit of his works at the UP Library Art Gallery. Of him, kabalen and National Artist Galo Ocampo has this to say: “Mr. Dizon’s place in contemporary Philippine art is already known. He belongs to a field distinctly his own. He is the Filipino Kenyon Cox, preaching the gospel of art among the masses..”

Monday, November 2, 2009

*169. HERE'S TO OUR HEALTH!

RURAL HEALTH PERSONNEL AND OFFICIAL STAFF, at a get-together X'mas party in Arayat, Pampanga. 21 Dec. 1955.

When the Americans came to colonize our country, they were shocked at the state of our public health. There were no sanitary toilets, people tended to defecate everywhere, and the sewage system was non-existent. They actually believed that we were a contaminated race. The there was the tropical climate which American scientists and doctors at first believed was hazardous to the health.

Diseases like dysentery, cholera, beri-beri, malaria and parasitism plagued the country, and Pampanga was not spared. In 1902, a severe cholera hit almost all the municipalities of the province, causing thousands of deaths. Then, in 1918, dengue fever reached Pampanga, part of a global pandemic. That same year, southern Pampanga was hit by smallpox and it was said that the casualties were so great that the tolling of bells was prohibited so as not to cause further alarm.

With such grave threats, Americans went on a vigorous campaign to educate Filipinos, introducing massive public health programs to improve their personal hygiene, sanitation practices and social conduct. Through intensified disciplining of the native’s bodily custom and habit, American physicians believed that Filipinos might eventually become capable of self-rule.

Public health services initially depended on army doctors until civilians—including American teachers—came along. They organized municipal and provincial health boards that initiated such projects as “Clean-Up Week”, setting up of toilets in railroad stations and inspection of boticas and livestock. As if their work is not enough, these personnel also had to supervise vaccinations all over the province.

Americans found willing help in Kapampangan doctors and medical professionals like Dr. Francisco Liongson, a prominent Spanish-trained physician who served as a member of the provincial health board. An artesian well program was also undertaken in 1906. The creation of new sources of fresh and clean water supply resulted in the drastic drop of the incidence of cholera. Leprosy, too, was completely eradicated in the province by 1909.

When the health boards were Filipinized during the Taft years, Kapampangan doctors efficiently ran the public health service programs. In 1912, with the reorganization of the Public Health Services (the future of Department of Health), Pampanga was divided into nine sanitary districts, headed by a physician. These exponents of health finally got themselves organized in 1933 when the Pampanga Medical Association was formed through the leadership of Pampanga’s most famous surgeon, Dr. Gregorio Singian.

In 1931, Pampanga inaugurated its own modern, 2-storey, 50 bed hospital. It was well equipped with an operating room and a laboratory. Another hospital, owned by the Pampanga Sugar Mills at Del Carmen, was established exclusively for its employees. With all these advancements, the health of Kapampangans considerably improved by 1932 with an average of 20.7 deaths reported per 1,000 population—compared to 27 in 1921. Infant mortality was down to 172.5 per 1,000—one of the lowest in the country-- as opposed to 372 in 1920.

Just two years later, in 1934, the Tydings-McDuffie Act was approved, finally promising self-government to Filipinos after a transitional period of 10 years. Could our improved health and revitalized constitution had something to do with it? If that were so, then indeed, health rules!

*168. A SHOOTING IN THE HOUSE

DANTE RIVERO AND A FAMILY OF FANS. So here's the whole starstruck clan with a souvenir photo of the Kapampangan male lead of "Mga Tigre ng Sierra Cruz", shot in my granduncle's house in 1974. My gushing mom sits to the left of Rivero, while my sis Susan is the little girl peeking over his head. I am next to Susan, with glasses. Mike, my younger brother, in white shirt and khaki pants, stands to the left. Some cousins and aunts travelled all the way from Manila to meet and greet the stars--including Vilma Santos.

We live right next to my granduncle’s 1924 mansion, an old, rambling two-storey house with a period look and a photogenic fa├žade, located in Sta. Ines. It was no wonder then that a film outfit, Lea Productions, decided to rent the uninhabited Morales mansion for two days, to serve as a shooting location for the wartime movie, “Mga Tigre ng Sierra Cruz”, in the summer of 1974. This was no ordinary movie as it starred no less than the star for all seasons, Vilma Santos, still a teener at that time, whose Kapampangan roots were in nearby Bamban, Tarlac.

Of course, our whole family was consumed with excitement—and so was the whole Mabalacat town, as word got around that indeed, Ate Vi, was coming to town! Our family was mobilized by the producers to assist in ensuring a smooth, trouble-free shoot on the day of the filming which was to take place late at night. My father was even assigned to fetch Vilma Santos from her lodge in Dau and taken to the shooting venue through our house. But the moment the shooting lights went on, scores of town people appeared from nowhere to gawk at the cinematic goings-on.

Still, being relatives and the unofficial caretaker of the house, we—and a platoon of relatives who came all the way from Manila to stargaze-- had the front seats to the shooting. Director Augusto “Totoy” Buenaventura was in command the whole time, calling take after take. One Mabalacat girl was even lucky enough to be cast as an extra in one critical scene, earning the role of a housemaid. In that dining room scene, Japanese soldiers were supposed to be having a rowdy dinner. Enter, the Pinay househelp with more dishes of food. When the soldiers get fresh on her, she drops the plate-- a signal for the guerrilla fighters to attack the enemy. Some were even directed to spring from the banggerahan for the surprise raid. I felt that scene was simply awesome!

The best part of the shoot was meeting the stars of the movie in person. I became an instant Ate Vi fan when she obliged the townpeople gathered outside the gate with a personal appearance, waving her hands to the crowd below from the balcony. The whole town just went mad. Later, with my portable cassette recorder, I even managed to interview Ate Vi, asking how she could possibly retain her composure despite her stardom. I asked a lot of showbiz questions that would put Ricky Lo to shame. I kept playing our recorded conversations for months after that, until I lost the cassette tape.

Co-starring with Vilma in the movie was another Kapampangan, Dante Rivero (aka, Luisito Mayer Jr., from Floridablanca). Unlike Ate Vi who was always game, Dante was not too accommodating, brushing my request for interview with a terse “Can I talk later?”. But he took a shine to my cousin Beng, who later asked her for a date. I was also luckless with supporting actor Ruel Vernal, who intimidated me with his height. Charito Solis, a co-starrer, was unfortunately not part of any scenes that were for shooting here.

The next shooting day mostly had action scenes and vivid on my mind was the sight of Japanese soldiers rolling down the front stairs of the house, shot at by the fighting ‘tigres’ led by Rivero. I also remember staying up so late to watch the whole proceedings, retiring only after the shooting has packed up.

When it was all over, the house and its garden were a mess, with most of the flowering plants in the garden dead and trampled. Worse, when the movie was finally shown in local theaters after months of anticipation, the house was just seen on screen for a minute or so, I could barely recognize it. Even the part of the Filipina househelp played by a local Mabalacat girl was edited out, her 15 minutes of fame down the drain. I don’t think “Mga Tigre ng Sierra Cruz” made a killing in the box office, either.

Many shootings have been held at the grand Morales mansion since then—the most recent one was undertaken by U.P. film students in March 2009. But old folks who pass by the street still point to the old mansion and refer to it as “the house where they shot the movie ‘Mga Tigre ng Sierra Cruz’ starring Vilma Santos and Dante Rivero”. The magic of that cinematic moment of over 30 years ago still is remembered, enriching the history of the house. Now that’s entertainment!