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Gemma Suguitan: A gem in the piles of garbage

I am writing this in a van terminal here in Lopez, Quezon—the birthplace of Maria Gemma Arella Suguitan—in the heat of a summer noon. I am bound for Manila after casting my precious votes in the midterm elections. It’s like coming home after a week of sorting out and distributing items from a balikbayan sister. It’s like representing Gemma to the town she hasn’t seen for weeks. The last time she was here was when she attended a graduation rite of her school, the Lopez National Comprehensive High School (LNCHS) and presided over a meeting of alumni of the same alma mater.

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Maria Gemma or Gemma was a class valedictorian in her senior year many moons ago. She was already an artist early on in her life when she was a writer in her high school paper. When she entered college, she pursued journalism and enrolled in Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications major in Journalism at the Centro Escolar University in Manila.

I thought I have already tracked down Gemma’s professional direction but it seemed there’s still other vital info I missed out on her.

I have always been parochial and homegrown. I want to go back to basics so I prioritize my sense of commitment to the development of my roots so I always think of Lopez and its potentials for growth slaying even narrow-mindedness.

I was doing the “Star News” of “TV Patrol,” the ABS-CBN primetime newscast and after a long time gathering and reporting entertainment news I wanted to produce shows of any genre. I wanted something more than showbiz soft and hard news but a true-to-life sort or creative documentary. An equivalent to visual production, I formed in Lopez a community-based theater group, the DUMALO (Dulaang Don Mateo Lopez) which encouraged performing arts and which lasted for a couple of years but I had no marketing arm and it didn’t prosper.

Later on, to give recognition and inspire the town folks about the achievements of their fellow Lopenze, I initiated an award giving activity of many achievers of Lopez in various fields. I started with the media practitioners in my hometown. By being media workers meant practitioners in print, broadcast, live production and other multimedia pros including advertising.

Big and small, I gave awards to them which included Suguitan-San Jose who I learned was working as a media liaison in a museum in Pila, Laguna. There was Gemma who came all the way from Pila straight to the Lopez Town Plaza.

After all these years, Gemma has made a difference.

One thing, though, that made her typical was when she ran as a councilor in Lopez which she lost. She should have been more judicious in her political game and decision. It mustn’t have been her good intentions but the strategy and style that should have flaunted. She should have risen above the pettiness and parochialism of the community instead she joined the prey which was lamentable.

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Her arts were and still are political and that would make the difference. Just look and ponder on her paintings and her poetry. They speak of social order but the social landscape she has been creating must be altered however abstract and expressionistic.

Lopez is a proletarian state and perceived to be lumpen in its residency. This matrix is a good subject for discussion in canvass and on stage. In other words, in multimedia because the milieu is a representation of the whole universe of the Philippines—it reeks with decadence and social inequity that should be addressed in aesthetics. It is vibrant on the outside but dull inside. It is hypocritical. To be able to dissect it is a triumph in itself. To be able to suggest solutions to the problems is another victory in the offing. To be able to apply panacea to the wounds of the bleeding is more than winning in lottery. 

Remember that every community in the country is feudal and colonial and that needs to be dissolved even in the creative imagination of an artist which can be pulled off in her own town.

Anyway, the artist in Gemma is still pulsating and cognizant at the same time.

It is seen in her personal advocacy like initiating the creation of a museum in Lopez no matter very alienating, peripheral and personal because the center of the municipal administration is snobbish, selfish and pretentious of the arts and even the significance of history. The Arella Museum located in Dolores Street is a self-inflicted defiance of the existing pastoral order that needs to be assisted by massive education of the masses in highly disjointed priorities of the fake local political and social elite.

The Lopez Heritage Conservation and Historical Society (LHCHS) is a conduit to Gemma’s dream of preserving the socio-cultural traditions of Lopez no matter how independent this is from the rest of the bureaucratic human agencies.

Arella Museum is just a start but it should be sustained by the able and understanding capacity of the cultural leadership confined and being held hostage mostly by pop art and popular media not delineated and explained properly and clearly. In other words, the historical table is broken from the start it has to be fixed in the most well-contextualized manner and dimension.

There are many supporters of Gemma in initializing a museum in a rural setting but they aren’t tapped and explored in the first place because of her quotidian distrust, grandstanding, selfishness and envy. 

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Another exceptional contribution of Suguitan-San Jose in the local history and even in national map is her research, listing and eventual glossary of Tagalog-Lopez language which is very rare, unique, outstanding and eclectic. Her linguistics should be given priority by the local communications specialists, if there are any.

I hope National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario, also known as Rio Alma, the Chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), can realize the Tagalog-Lopez dictionary in no time at all. Almario has already seen Gemma’s compilation.

Lopez-Tagalog as a unique tradition, a home-base of education as well.

What really Lopez is for if it is University Town detaching itself from the flourishing sources of a blossoming language to enrich the nation’s vocabulary and articulation to progress? It is a defeated purpose regrettable if it is not supported. Any discipline can be more exciting and successful if the common language is spoken on its behalf.

Suguitan-San Jose has just started her journey to detour the seeming wandering footsteps of each Lopenze. She has many aces up her sleeves, among them, people who believe in her like the Lopenze Artists, one of her associations, a group of young artists who splashed their vision and idealism of a Lopez citizen in search of improvement in relation to the whole nation on canvass. 




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