12 Days of Reconnection, Day 3: Heart for Art’s Sake

Not many people know this, but we actually have a Juilliard type of school here in the Philippines, and it can be found within the thick forests of Mt. Makiling in Los Baños, Laguna. On the third day of my 12 days of reconnection, I was fortunate enough to have seen the place myself. This is the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA).

The PHSA was established in the early 70s by the Marcoses as a way of promoting culture and the arts among Filipinos. It was producing talented high school students in various art forms, until 1990 when the school was relegated to just be a regular government institution. Today, it operates under the supervision of Department of Education (DepEd) with the guidance of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) for programs on the arts.

The school offers basic education subjects, with a special curriculum on creative writing, dance, music, theater arts and visual arts. Students do not pay tuition fee, and get about P1,000 allowance. There are currently around 180 students enrolled in the school, with less than 10 teachers for basic education and fewer teachers for the art forms.

The school director, Vim Nadera (award-winning poet, essayist, fictionist and playwright), is almost done with his term but he still has big dreams for the nearly forgotten school. My friend’s dreams are simple yet bleeding for support for anyone who cares about Filipino culture and heritage arts. He dreams of having more high school students to enroll so they can hone their artistic passion and hopefully become our cultural leaders in the future, reinvigorating our nationalistic fervor through the Filipino’s inborn talents.

I don’t know if it’s the mountain’s mystical powers, the young students’ free spirit and innocence, or the cool breeze playfully sneaking through the trees — but I found myself wanting to stay in this school longer than I can. It’s a perfect place to reconnect with one’s self. Heck, I could die here! But the school itself deserves to be given more attention both from the government and the private sector.

Not that the school is all broken down and decaying. On the contrary, the place is fairly maintained and clean despite getting devastated by Typhoon Glenda (Rammasun) in 2014. I’m not saying this because he’s my friend, but Vim has been doing a heck of a job. But he can’t do it alone.

It’s not my place to call out names on who should go up there to see for themselves what needs to be done. I can, however, drop some important names who came from this school: award-winning filmmaker Raymond Red, contemporary artist and designer Leeroy New, singer and cultural activist Grace Nono, Bb. Pilipinas Universe 2000 Nina Ricci Alagao, composer and musician Diwa de Leon (who happen to be the composer behind Ballet Manila’s Ibong Adarna that I just saw last night), to name a few true creative Filipino talents. If these names do not mean anything to you, then we might as well let the school die a natural death.

Let’s not let this institution rot away. The vision is noble, and all they ask for us to spread the word that we have a school especially for talented young people whose artistic inclinations must be nurtured as they prepare themselves for higher education.

School Director Vim Nadera gives a speech in front of the students’ families during a ballet recital.
The line of concrete benches outside the National Arts Center, with a portion of Makiling in the background.
The National Arts Center, as conceived by Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, is meant to pay tribute to Filipino artists.
The high school students of PHSA during a ballet recital.
Her swan song, as she will soon join a US art school for another scholarship.
The wooden porch is a comforting sight.
Bring me coffee or hot tea and I could just sit here to read, write or just stare at the protected forest outside.
The Imelda Room can accommodate up to eight visitors, or more if you don’t mind lying on the sofa or on the floor.
Meetings can be held here. Just don’t get distracted by the magnificent view of Laguna Lake.
I discovered a new type of fruit today: bariba, shown here with the proud rambutan.
So sweet! Thank you for these, Vim!


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