Should local arts and culture languish?
With Cabanatuan in the news for shameless violence, it is reassuring to be reminded of what the city offers. What a boost to the cultural life of Cabanatuan to have the Museong Lazaro Francisco. It’s always a rare privilege to enter the private world of a writer, especially one as distinguished as a National Artist like Lazaro Francisco (LF), as one vainly attempts to trace where the genius comes from.
What does LF’s world reveal to the visitor? The unpretentious modest home now turned into a museum, a structure the novelist himself built using his retirement fund from years of long service in the local government, is tangible evidence of a life simply lived, with his 10 children’s education as a priority. A visual history of his life and achievements is provided by bookcases that store his most precious material possessions: his published novels, a signed copy of fellow National Artist Amado V. Hernandez’s “Isang Dipang Langit,” and more bookcases with bound copies of LF’s original typed manuscripts.
Also on display are his favorite Panama hats, a scarf, pipes and a Parker pen. His workspace has his escritorio—today a coveted piece of vintage furniture—as well as a chessboard and a treasured, much used Remington typewriter with colored keys.
Credit goes to the heirs of Francisco for continuing to maintain the museum with their own resources, despite the challenges of such an undertaking. If the local or even the provincial government were committed to the support of culture and the arts, they could have manifested such for this museum project by now.
The usual refrain that we have heard is that the local government unit (LGU) is beset with other priorities. That can’t be denied, but must intangible needs always be at the lowest rung of concerns? Why isn’t the development of arts and culture viewed as an important component in the development of a nation? Are sustenance for the body and the human spirit not equally important?
It would be unfair to say that LF has been ignored by the city of Cabanatuan and the province of Nueva Ecija. The school around the corner from his house has been renamed the Lazaro Francisco Integrated School. His birthday, Feb. 22, was declared Lazaro Francisco Day two years ago by the city council, acting on the petition of the Cabanatuan Masonic Lodge No. 53 which counted him as one of its pioneering members.
On his 100th birth anniversary, the Philippine Post Office issued a commemorative stamp in a Five Great Filipinos series—never mind that the image used did not look like him, and, perhaps to dramatize the novelist’s concern for the farmers, made him wear a farmer’s hat. LF also has a bust in the Caalibambangan Park in the city outskirts, along with other outstanding Novo Ecijanos.
In 2016, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) launched the noteworthy project Probinsiyudad, the goal of which was to foster a “strong sense of nationhood and pride… through the promotion of arts and culture” in the provinces.
LF became the official cultural icon for Region 3 nominated by the local Department of Education, which received a P500,000 grant from NCCA. The grant required it to put up a museum and erect an LF statue as soon as a counterpart amount was provided by the LGU, which is Cabanatuan. And thereby hangs a tale.
In 2017, the local city council approved the amount, but the motion was supposedly archived in the mayor’s office. It was finally signed early this year, again at the urging of the local Masonic Lodge that has pledged assistance. But, to date, the project remains in hiatus.
This is yet another test of an LGU’s genuine commitment to arts and culture. Erect that statue, support the museum, include it in school trips. The city government of Cabanatuan should not waste this opportunity to give its citizens and its students the chance to get to know and honor a Lazaro Francisco who was nurtured in their own locality.
Teachers and students will benefit greatly from knowing the man, appreciating the beauty and possibilities of our national language, drawing inspiration from him that they themselves can richly contribute to society as writers and artists, and, in the process, appreciating their Filipino identity.
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz (email@example.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.
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