In the last few months, we have been quietly but regularly meeting with a few Bacolod artists to discuss the nomination of Maurice “Peque” Gallaga for the Order of National Artist award. We all came from different backgrounds and persuasions, bound only by our common belief that Pq — this was how he signed his emails to me— richly deserved this highest award that can be bestowed to a Filipino artist.
Sitting in these meetings was like watching a movie of his body of work —from his Genesius Guild days to Oro, to Scorpio Nights to Magic Temple to Sonata. For lack of a better word it was simply overwhelming. The man’s work was so diverse and sweeping encompassing such a wide scope. By our third meeting, one question arose: in what field are we going to nominate him? So respectable were his works that he can very well be nominated not only for film but also for theatre, for the visual arts, for broadcasting and even for art development, considering how he has inspired a generation of new artists many of whom have already made names for themselves.
It was amazing to realize how one artist broke ground in so many fields.
Trivia: One of Pq’s earliest work was as director of the TV coverage of the Philippine Basketball Association.
But what was extraordinary with Pq aside from his works was the way he worked with people. He was the only teacher in La Salle whom students waited even when he was 30 minutes or more late. He was extremely good at inspiring and making people believe in themselves and do the best at what they do.
Which was probably why when we started connecting with people whom we thought had something to contribute to our data on Pq, the response was also just as overwhelming. There were just too many people who wanted to help even as there were still many more who volunteered to contact the others.
We also got verbal assurances that several national organizations were ready to join as co-nominators or endorsers. Such was the scale of how people admire or even revere him.
He was also generous with his talents. In 2004, when we first did the MassKara festival, he did not think twice when I asked him for help. As it turned out, his inputs on the festival helped lit it up. We continue to follow his inputs. To me, personally, he had defined what a festival is and this made my work a lot easier. He did workshops with choreographers on production design and stage management helping us elevate the streetdance to the level of theatre. He was also especially concerned with the performers and other artists. Once, he sat on the board of judges to personally see how the performances went. His first concern was the heat under which the dancers performed. He also called the attention of one group whose dancers had no shoes!
When I learned that he had been taken off the respirator the other night, i felt weak to my bones. Suddenly the reality many of us, his fans, had evaded all this time was coming to pass. It was inevitable. It was irreversibly approaching. Bacolod lost Bob Aves, another towering artist from this city two years ago. That felt like the city died a little. Now we lost Pq. And no one had grappled with its impact yet. What happens now to his unfinished movie? What happens now to our own work on his nomination?
I still have to meet the group working for the ONA for Pq. Somehow, it tugs at the heartstrings to talk or meet with them, knowing the bond that brought us together is gone. But then I know we will meet again and my heart now tells we will continue with what we have started.*