Evelyn Mandac, New York-based soprano, headlines Alay Kay Bonifacio event at the San Francisco Philippine Center, November 14, 2014

To live an honorable life (kagalangan)and perform good deeds (kawang gawa) was Andres Bonifacio’s message to the fledging Katipunan secret society he and other compatriots founded in 1892 to support, protect and proliferate the idea of freedom from Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines. In celebration of Andres Bonifacio’s birth date, November 30,1863, Evelyn Mandac, soprano, Theresa Calpotura, classic guitarist, and Philippine Studies students from City College of San Francisco treated the Filipino/American community of San Francisco to a night of poetry and songs celebrating the hero at the Philippine Folklife Museum located in the Social Hall of the Philippine Center Building on Sutter Street. For this occasion, the museum had on display a Bonifacio panel featuring his (only) known official portrait, a small version of his iconic, defiant pose to signal the uprising in Pugad Lawin, and the emblems of the Katipunan -the highest, honorable, association of the children of the motherland (Kataas-taasang Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng Mga Anak ng Bayan). On the walls of the museum are 15 wood bas reliefs of the history of the Philippines that visually converge at the center on the portrait of Rizal and his martyrdom at Bagumbayan (Luneta) from a Spanish firing squad. The museum reminds Filipinos there is no shortage of heroism and, in this particular evening, no shortage of artistry in song, music and poetry.

After being introduced by Dan de la Cruz, President of the Philippine Folklife Museum Foundation, the program began with a welcome and invocation from Deputy Consul-General Jaime Ramon T. Ascalon (the Consul General, Henry S. Bensurto, an expert on South China maritime policy was in Manila). He reminded the audience of about fifty strong (SRO) of Filipinos and Americans about Bonifacio’s role in the development of the modern Philippine Republic. The Katipunan revolt sparked the inevitable emergence of a new nation, the first to free itself from colonial rule in Asia, and the first to establish a republic. The next speaker, Lydia S. de la Cruz, Director of Operations for the museum, explained the various pieces displayed along the walls and display cases. The museum, Lydia de la Cruz, impressed on the audience, that it should be a resource for the San Francisco community to discover the rich history of the Philippines, albeit in a small space. In its own way, the spatial setting conveys a certain level of intensity to those who are familiar with the Philippine struggle for self-determination and recognition.

As a prelude to the performances, the next presenter, Dr. Michael Gonzalez, professor of Philippine history and anthropology at City College of San Francisco Philippine Studies department, took a not so typical reflection on Bonifacio’s notion of nationalism. The typical view, propagated in the Philippine public schools and media, is of Bonifacio as a firebrand, passionate and a quick tempered revolutionist. Often he is contrasted against Jose Rizal who is more temperate, reflective and reformist. Professor Gonzalez argues the contrary. Indeed. the times called for passion. That much is expressed in Bonifacio’s poetry –an impassioned exhortation to Filipinos to recognize their oppression. Citing from his poem Pagibig sa Tinubuang Lupa (Love of Motherland), the Katipunan documents Kartilya (Code of Conduct) and the anthem Marangal na Dalit ng Katagalugan (Noble Hymn of the Tagalogs), one can glean Bonifacio’s model of society, embodied in the Katipunan, as model of a post-colonial family that embodied the values of samahan (community), kagalangan (honor), kapatiran (sibling hood), kapwa (selfless commensality)–values strengthened through years of surviving colonial oppression. Fittingly, Bonifacio’s rhetoric focused on the image of motherhood – the Inang Bayan (motherland). Perhaps, this imagery and sense of longing for the mother comes from Bonifacio’s loss of first his parents, then of his first wife, both from illnesses. A close reading of documents of the Katipunan as a secret society that had for its mission to educate its membership with these noble post-colonial values. Only then will a new nation emerge strong and free from the moral ambiguities that colonialism had imbricated upon the native society leaving them confused and aimless (walang katuwiran). Ironically, Bonifacio’s demise and violent death in the hands of a rival faction led by Emilio Aguinaldo, presaged what Bonifacio thought must first be corrected for a new nation to begin. Ina (mother), Inang Bayan, the Motherland, Prof. Gonzalez suggested, highlights  the themes from the following performances: students from City College: Maria Asembrana, Vicente Manuel III, and Ferdinand Monica, rendered a heartwarming rendition of Bonifacio’s aforementioned poem, Love of Motherland, in Tagalog and in English. Theresa Calpotura, a well-known San Francisco favorite and fine classic guitarist, played an instrumental version of the Noble Hymn of the Tagalogs (incidentally, the hymn Bonifacio hoped to be the national anthem) composed by his fellow Katipunero, Julio Nakpil, who later would marry Bonifacio’s widow. Ms. Calpotura’s next piece, composed by the late Bayani de Leon, expresses sentiment of longing for a mother who has been away far too long in a foreign land.

Finally, a grand performance, the heart tugging rendition of sentiment of love and motherhood/motherland in song was given by New York soprano, Evelyn Mandac. The Kundiman written by Jose Rizal, the Philippine National Hero, co-patriot and so admired by Bonifaco, was a skin-tingling experience (in Tagalog, taas balahibo). Such an articulation that comes only from someone whose roots is grounded in that sentiment. Listening from the audience, a student soprano who sang the same piece elsewhere but was not of Filipino ancestry, acknowledged the depth of sentiment she still has to reach, a depth that Ms. Mandac claimed with much ease and feeling. With the song Sa Ugoy ng Duyan (The Cradle is Rocking), by nationalist composer Lucio San Pedro, the child’s longing for a mother, was rendered with such poignancy that it would not be difficult to conflate the sentiment of motherhood with that of motherland. A rousing encore of Lulay, a folk tune rearranged by composer Minda Azarcon, ended a very fine ending and a very noble tribute to a great hero, Andres Bonifacio.

All this was possible through the earnest participants: the City College students; Ms. Judy Lee, provided the piano accompaniment for Evelyn Mandac, facilitated by the City College Music Department; The Philippine American Writers Association Inc., who provided the important funds to cover Ms. Mandac’s trip to San Francisco where she regularly conducts voice workshops for City College; and, to Theresa Calpotura, for her steadfast involvement in numerous cultural events with the museum.  As always during events at the museum, a wonderful and tasty repast of finger foods prepared by Lydia de la Cruz (who is also a chef) sealed the memorable evening. The consulate staff is always to be thanked and appreciated for staying late on a Friday night and by their contribution to a fittingly memorable evening.