Wednesday, June 15, 2005


By Dylan Yap Gozum, Seeing Things Differently

Nowhere has the pursuit of beauty been as obsessive as it is here in the Philippines. Short of being branded as compulsive behavior, the presence of over 20 local magazines covering its many aspects – art, architechture, cosmetics, fashion – plus the ubiquitous annual exercise of the progenitor of all beauty parades, the originally-religious Santacruzan, and the dozens of pageants for both male and female across these islands do not help ease perceptions that indeed, Filipinos adore beauty or are simply crazy about it.

The social aspect of this pursuit cannot be discounted due to the fact that the former First Lady Imelda Marcos (yes, her again) used it as one of the three pillars of her social transformation programs, the other two being the Good (kabutihan) and the Truth (katotohanan). The Cultural Center of the Philippines, as the stage upon which this social movement was to be launched, sports a logo using the ancient script alibata where one of the Ks represented Kagandahan – beauty.

The Madame who started it all

But have we really imbibed this culture of beauty?

Without missing a beat, we may have overlooked the fact that the theme of the 2005’s National Arts Month was Singing Gising: Crafting Identities for Social Transformation, wherein once again, art was presented as a tool for social change. How times change – or not. This seems to reflect the Renaissance period which, without doubt, helped change much of a Europe reeling from the dead air of the Middle Ages.

The Cultural Center of the Philippines: Has it helped in the Filipino's search for its national soul?
However, a Philippine renaissance definitely isn’t in sight yet because apparently, beauty does not inspire in us a pride of place or else we wouldn’t have allowed the destruction of our churches by ignorant priests, the defacing-in-the-name-of-improvement projects like that of the Insular Life Building along Paseo de Roxas (where did they put that lovely tableau?!), or smothered the world-famous EDSA in concrete, railroad tracks and pink fences.

Clean Roxas Boulevard but until when?

Two years after the Liwasang Bonfacio was renovated, vagrants and peddlers are back to reclaim the area. The days of lamps that light Manila’s bridges are numbered, with several already broken. If the 112th IPU wasn’t held in the capital, will PICC and the CCP ever get their much-needed repairs? Is the Filipinos’ concept of beauty twisted? Is our outlook on beauty short term? That we rather prefer to be well dressed, made up, and toting the latest of gears and yet allow squalor, pollution, and destruction to mar our landscape is a head-scratcher situation indeed.

The new Liwasang Bonifacio (Thanks to

The pursuit of beauty should inspire, fire up emotions, and set people into action. It should urge us to make a difference in our world. Could this possibly be the same driving force behind the reinvigoration of the formerly hostile streets of Manila into well-lighted spaces? Or the current move to resurrect the Metropolitan Theatre so it can be a venue for the arts-in-service-of-the-masa, for the common man? The art of creative writing, thank goodness, is being promoted once again, as are theatre and dance.

On the other hand, could this same pursuit also be the same raison d’être behind the fanatical habit of city fathers to cover up shanties with painted billboards, and sprucing streets overnight with palm trees and shrubs whenever foreign delegates are coming?

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Covering the shanties will not make them go away

Our sense of beauty, in this sense, is in a state of perpetual contradiction. Where do we draw the line between beautiful and plain? What is beauty exactly? Spanish houses are “old and scary” to the young, but “magnificent and historical” to their elders. There was even a time when we considered anybody in a Barong Tagalog to be getting ready for a funeral – his own, at that. Who has the definitive authority to judge which is beautiful?

Does beauty inspire a sense of pride in being a Filipino? It used to, yes, or else we wouldn’t have continued to ignore the amazing designs of our tribal fabrics while we drool over generic designer brand patterns. This tragic paradigm shift can best be exemplified by the dumping of the national costume by the national flag carrier in favor of the boring, corporate uniform for its stewardesses. PAL’s best marketing campaign, the SHINING THROUGH series, made truly evident the beauty and detail placed on that uniform which, like what the rest of the Southeast Asian airlines continue to do today, allows passengers the chance to “experience” the Philippines even before they get off the aircraft. What happened to that marketing plan, we will never know.

Major yawn.

As Imelda said, the attainment of beauty need not be expensive. I must agree, to a certain extent. Living in a country obsessed - and gifted - with so much beauty does make the enjoyment of it very easy to do. Although how we were able to surmise that Manila Bay’s sunset (or sunrise, for that matter) is the best in the world remains to be a mystery, maybe we can try watching the sunset in, say Samal Island in the Davao Gulf, and see if it does make a difference. Maybe it’s just a bias, or a perception. At any rate, I have had the chance to watch it from Pangasinan, with the South China Sea lapping at my feet. It was just as serene as it was grand. The best sunrise for me is still the one I saw onboard an early morning flight. Nothing like watching the clouds burst into flames in the morning.

The concept of beauty can indeed cover both ends of the spectrum. What may be beautiful for one may be hideous for the other.

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Pasig River: Manila has a long way to go before achieving the beauty that it once was

This proves that now, more than ever, the pursuit and concept of beauty goes beyond makeup, clothes and what-not. It goes beyond skin deep. Better yet, the pursuit of beauty should be a way of life and a celebration of life itself.
Only then can we be truly transformed.


Blogger chalcone said...

We are a culture of contradictions; we live and speak of beauty and squalor in the same breath. Has parental negligence gotten so widespread and protracted over several generations that it has damaged the young Filipino's aesthetic sensibilities? Why has it become "normal" to be oblivious to dead and decaying stretches of our rivers? Why has it become normal to be tolerant of human trash clogging drainage, blocking our sidewalks, and stinking our neighborhoods? Why has it become normal to inhale polluted air, and suffer the consequences of a daily dose of unwanted toxic particles? Why, to this day, in this age of environmentalism and global awareness, has beauty remained just a personal issue for the ordinary Filipino, and not a community concern? Sometimes, in my moments of helplessness observing the nonchalant attitudes of the ordinary Filipino living in putrid conditions, I yearn for a benevolent dictator who would knock some sense into the national psyche. Extreme alternative? You bet. I do get desperate when I realize that my aspirations for the country might not happen in my lifetime!

8:51 AM  

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