That night of Dec. 8

/ 05:12 AM December 23, 2018

Not even the actual crime scenes projected the horror of President Duterte’s drug war quite like the artists tearing off its veil together just before International Human Rights Day.

Something strange was in the air. Without prior agreement, three different art events from end to end of Manila spontaneously converged in visions of a better world.


Social realism, the norm in the Marcos years, had turned into supernatural realism with images both wilder and more transcendent, closer to the mythic power that can, indeed, create a new world.

Cubao’s urban jungle was blooming with flowers crawling from inside Boston Gallery onto its walls as the CCP began its “Memory Project” beside the sea.


In dialogue with older Thirteen Artist awardees, whose art survived Marcos, the year’s awardees were defining a challenge for the whole nation.

Commission on Human Rights chair Chito Gascon gave the evening its large historical frame — the struggle for freedom since the babaylans, on to revolution led by artists and writers. Today, their heirs are resisting President Duterte as they did Marcos.

No better proof than those eight screens recording death by EJK by painter-turned-documentarist Carlo Gabuco in Bulwagang Juan Luna, in silent concert with Janos Delacruz’s life-sized paintings of humans morphing into new creatures with unknown powers in the Main Gallery.

It was a fitting climax to two weeks of rising for human rights and dignity with Artists for Human Rights, a network of government institutions and 40 NGOs nationwide. “The whole political spectrum united for this,” said organizer Edna Aquino.

Time for theater master Rody Vera to take the stage. With Archie Oclos’ mural of a giant EJK victim in 20,000 painstaking strokes behind him, Vera said in exquisite Tagalog of babaylanic precision, “All this is about extinguishing human rights with lies.

“First you claim there’s no difference between truth and lie. Then you invent a drug crisis demanding war. Then you sow fear and confusion, dehumanize all addicts, and kill with impunity. Then you kill journalists, lawyers, priests and all who oppose you.”

Meanwhile, in Art Informal, Greenhills, two artists were tackling the whys and wherefores. Bogie Tence Ruiz had humans sensuously morphing into a single reality with trees and vines as DengCoy Miel time-traveled with our ancestors, inner beasts and demons.


By evening, a White Lady was silently swinging from a sacred balete tree in Cubao as the Peta Chorale sang a hymn to victory in that mysterious strength only artists know.

* * *

Sylvia L. Mayuga is an essayist, sometime columnist, poet, documentary filmmaker and environmentalist. She has three National Book Awards to her name.

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TAGS: Chito Gascon, CHR, Inquirer Commentary, International Human Rights Day, Rodrigo Duterte, Sylvia L. Mayuga, Thirteen Artist Awardees, war on drugs
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