Philippines Art and Culture ; Reinventing the Vintage art of Balagtasan

Philippines art and culture accentuates the seven art forms such as music, dance, visual arts, literature, theater, architecture and cinema. All of these, when fused into a tableau, will kindle a psychedelic blaze breathing life into a mishmash of emotions and sentiments.

Art is indeed all-encompassing. Yet where does antiquated poetry reading fit in? In literature?

Most probably, although it could fit in the shoes of theater and even be incorporated in music and theater. Sure struggling to tower over the tall ferns of modernism is time-honored poetry reading along with its famous persona in Philippines art and culture—the Balagtasan.

“It is like a play. The characters are throwing arguments and what they say are high faluting,” replied Mecca Alejandro in Filipino, an Information Technology student in Bulacan State University, when asked on what she thinks of a Balagtasan.

Balagtasan is a de facto debate of two sides over a topic using rhymed dialogues and is mediated by a ‘lakandiwa.’ It is said to have started on Apr. 6, 1924 when a group of poets made a script to commemorate the famous Bulakenyo lyricist, Francisco Balagtas, who the art form was named after.

Particularly without the aid of a script, the shrewdness in argument and reasoning of the participants are palpable in Balagtasan which can delve into mocking the opponent in a theatric and dramatic, rhymed interchange.

Music, Dance or Poetry?

“Music calms the feeling. When you know how to play an instrument, you can drain your emotions there. You can feel it deep inside,” said Czarina Sanchez, classmate of Alejandro.

In interviews conducted at Bulacan State University, most of the students preferred to sing rather than say a poem which is fundamental in Balagtasan. According to Alejandro, saying poetry is boring, let alone its “needed” high-flown vocabulary.

“Music is soothing in the ears. I could not feel that much in a poem. It is difficult to construct one,” said Alejandro.

To third year Civil Engineering classmates Edralyn Velasco and Nikko Francisco, the feeling is mutual.

“I will choose music. It describes our life. In poem, it is too profound,” said Francisco. For Velasco, if given the chance to pick one of the seven art forms within Philippines art and culture, he said he would choose visual arts because it represents his emotions and it could be an avenue to portray what he feels.

On the other note, Czarina Sanchez and Mecca Alejandro said they will compose poems on environment and love, respectively, should they be given the opportunity. For Edralyn Velasco, his poem will speak of government issues while the garbage problem is Nikko Francisco’s choice of topic.

Alive yet Ailing

“The tradition of Balagtasan is so alive but is not given support,” said Maria Nene Ocampo in Filipino, a poet and publisher of Pulso ng Madla, a weekly newspaper in Bulacan.

Ocampo said writers craft and say poems nowadays but not in a formal gathering. Poetry, she said, is still visible in this time of computer-has-it-all epoch, even in text messaging, although broadcast programs on poetry have been defunct. Nonetheless, the art manages to wrangle its way into schools and barrio fiestas.

Amid the plethora of the Internet, social media, iPhone, tablet, among other 21st century gadgets, how could the underdog Balagtasan survive? Not so hard. If you can’t beat them, join them.

“First, the topics. New topics could be argued in Balagtasan. The theme must be conformed to current affairs. The profundity of the words could be lessened and conversational Filipino may be used,” said Ocampo.

Topics on revolution, justice, government, conflicts and other subterranean subjects may now exit and welcome aboard arguments such as, “Should you go out on a date with or without a chaperon? Should elementary students bring money in school or food? Abortion, to do or not?” Imperative topics will involve serious arguments but as what Ocampo had said, “simple issues” could do.

“Second, venues for debate must be established. Third, the funds for contests is very important. Instead of paying for shows in fiestas which display the partially nude dancers, provide funds for Balagtasan.”

Also, Filipinos should not think of Balagtasan as so old that its approach from 1924 is still the execution in 2012. The wall on Filipinos’ perception, Ocampo furthered, viewing Balagtasan as a fossilized art form must be demolished.

In Philippines art and culture, whether it is music, dance, theater or literature, let’s make sure we approach a different art attack. (CLJD/Jose Mari Garcia-PIA 3)


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