August 17
, 2004  (STAR) By Raymond Maribojoc - According to legend, the spirit of the mountain, Maria Makiling, fell in love with a young man from a nearby village. She showered him with gifts from her mountain, but the villager only took and took, eventually taking all her gifts before leaving her for another, less enchanted woman. To this day, Maria Makiling is said to walk along the trails of her forested mountain in grief, mourning her lost and callous love.

The legend of Maria Makiling is not only a native allegory of ecological preservation, it also provides a mystical backdrop for a haven for gifted young artists, the Philippine High School for the Arts. Nestled in the heavily-forested bosom of the mountain, the government-run secondary school for artists is a small, serene cluster of cottages which serve as dormitories, libraries, computer rooms, classrooms, and studios. In it, some 120 students are guided by the faculty in their endeavors in music, creative writing, visual arts, dance, and theater.

Tuition, room and board are free. The school was established in 1977, and the education of the students is paid for by the government in recognition of the importance of art for the country.

The artist-scholars devote their four years to their chosen art with almost monastic zeal: at five in the morning the students begin to wake, and have breakfast before walking from their cottages to their classes by seven. Until lunch, they will have their basic subjects: English, Mathematics, Filipino, Science, and Social Studies.

After lunch till about six in the evening, they are tutored by 16 full-time instructors and some 25 visiting masters in their chosen focus, in classes like Musical History, Technical Theater Theory, Visual Art Materials and Techniques, and Playwriting. Unlike most secondary schools, in phsa the curriculum is specialized. Students apply to phsa for a specific field–voice, sculpture, piano, ballet, or acting–and receive training in their field with an emphasis on Filipino art. These are what the students work on after dinner, till about ten or eleven in the evening–rehearsing, writing and sketching–because exhibits, performances and recitals are regular occurrences in the school.

This is their routine five days a week.

"It’s a lifestyle that takes a while to adjust to for new students, and is even harder to grow out of," says Kendra Samson, a recent graduate. Kendra, who took up ballet in phsa, will be leaving this week to study in Julliard, the New York-based international school for the arts where she has been accepted into the dance program on a full scholarship. She was chosen after rigorous auditions from a group of 50 applicants from all over the United States and the world.

She feels slightly nervous about her next four years, but remembers Makiling with fondness: "Everyone on campus is Ate or Kuya. Everyone knows everyone else. When you’re up there, in that isolation, and you’re in that kind of place, with the forest and the waterfalls and the wildlife, you really cling together, and you really get inspired. Since you’re living away from home, you get to appreciate things like independence, or getting close to schoolmates and friends. You start to say po and opo a lot, and not even notice it right away. When I get back to Manila on weekends, I’m so respectful my friends and family don’t recognize me," she laughs.

"The place itself inspires you. Every day we walk to class, pass through this forest. There’s a waterfall somewhere nearby. At the end of the year, I remember that the leaves fall from the trees and it’s beautiful, it’s amazing."

Kendra, like all the students, has also taken part in the school’s many outreach programs. She has performed and given workshops all over the country, dancing in fiestas, functions, school visits, exhibitions. It is in this manner that the government gets its money’s worth. Honrado Fernandez, director of the school, says, "We’re all about nation-building. We are developing a cadre of talented young artists, and part of the school’s curriculum is to have them regularly go out and share their talents with the rest of the country, or other countries. Upon invitation, we perform in other schools, or in exhibitions, and we hold regular workshops."

The students’ rigorous training may be almost monastic, but they are hardly cloistered in their beautiful mountain. The doors of phsa regularly swing open to send more students and teachers out into the rest of the world.

Director Fernandez says that it only takes a few students to conduct a workshop, which spreads the education about our art a little more, each time.

We can also show the rest of the world the proud Filipino heritage. "We go to arts and cultural festivals often. We regularly represent the Philippines in international festivals and competitions, and there the students get exposed to different cultures, traditions, different heritages. We’ve performed in Japan, for example. There, I wanted to show the students Japanese ballet. The Japanese have taken ballet, a Western tradition of dance, and turned it wholly into their own, putting so much of their culture into it so that it’s new, and it’s theirs. It’s the same as what we want to do for Filipino art."

Fourteen dance students of the Maquiling Ballet and two visual arists from the school returned last Friday from Hanoi and Halong Bay, Vietnam after receiving critical and audience raves for their participation in the 2nd ASEAN Visual and Performing Arts Festival. On Wednesday, they will show off their festival repertoire to the Los Baños community in "Pagbabalik", a homecoming concert at the PHSA auditorium.

And so the Philippine High School for the Arts over the years has nurtured and produced Filipino talent, sending forth people like singer Grace Nono, film director Raymond Red, Juan de Leon of the Makiling Ensemble, and Linda Florentino (who took over Lea Salonga’s role in the Broadway run of Miss Saigon), among many others.

It is in this way that the school brings the artist out of his or her studio or gallery and into the country’s consciousness. And, by producing people who enrich the tapestry of Philippine art and heritage, the Philippine High School for the Arts ensures that Maria Makiling still bestows her gifts upon the Filipino today, and all the way into the future.

The Philippine High School for the Arts is conducting the 2005 Nationwide Search for Young Art Scholars. Interested young artists and their parents can get more information about applying for PHSA by contacting Reynaldo Wong of the school through telefax (049) 536 5971 or (049) 536 2862 or email

Applications are also available at the Department of Education regional and division offices, and various art organizations, associations, and councils all over the country. 

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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