Peque Gallaga’s most significant achievement in film is “Oro, Plata, Mata,” which he directed after winning a scriptwriting contest sponsored by the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines. For this film, he received the Urian Award for Best Direction in 1982; an Award for Best Direction from the International Film Festival of Flanders-Ghent, Belgium in 1983; and a Special Jury Award from the Manila International Film Festival also in 1983.
Consummate filmmaker that he is, he has similarly won awards for Best Production Design (Gaano Kami Noon, Paano Kami Ngayon), Best Story and Best Screenplay (Magic Temple), the 2004 Gawad CCP Para sa Sining, and the Natatanging Urian Lifetime Achievement Award for Film in 2009 Most recently with the restoration by ABS-CBN, Corporation of “Oro…” into digital format from the original film form and, subsequently, its revival since its first release in 1982, Peque was given the Lifetime Achievement Award as Philippine Cinema’s Most Celebrated Filmmaker during the just concluded Cinema One Originals Festival 2012.
Lesser known of Peque is the fact that he is a much revered educator as well as, I venture to say, a beloved son of De La Salle University-Manila where he spent his elementary and high school years and La Salle-Bacolod, now known as University of St. La Salle, where he finished with a commerce and liberal arts degree. From 1967 to 1972, he was a drama teacher at DLSU and St. Scholastica’s College. He then moved to Bacolod where he became a Mass Communication teacher at USLS – and, in the process, launched a steady theater culture in the academe in this part of the Philippines that thrives up to the present day. Products of these endeavors culled from my own memories included Joel Torre, Dwight Gaston, and Ronnie Lazaro.
His earliest start in La Salle’s theater history was through his involvement with a community-style theater collective founded by Bro. Alexis, a La Salle Brother. In the early 1970’s, he proceeded to put up plays that were performed at a theater that is now named after him, the Gallaga Theater. During that time, it was simply called the Speech Lab of the University of St. La Salle. End-of-the-year productions were grander and would so necessitate a bigger venue that they were held at the La Salle Gymnasium. This is where I recall many a production of Broadway musicals were shown—not the least, and the most unforgettable personally, of which was “The King and I” where Peque’s own sister, Chita wonderfully played the role of Tuptim to great acclaim.
Upon moving back to Manila, Peque got involved in television musicals and eventually co-directed the film Binhi with Butch Perez. He also directed the movies Virgin Forest, Scorpio Nights, Unfaithful Wife, and the “Manananggal” episode of Shake, Rattle and Roll I. In 1986 he started co-directing films with Lore Reyes, with whom he shared directing credits for Shake Rattle & Roll 2, Shake Rattle & Roll 3, Shake Rattle & Roll 4, Baby Love, Magic Temple, and more than twenty other films to date.
Many awards have since followed suit. Despite this, Peque never broke off from the symbiotic relationship that he had, early on, forged with the University of St. La Salle in Bacolod. Even as he reached the pinnacle of Philippine cinema in terms of success and popularity, he continued to generously spend his summers teaching and nurturing the students of La Salle. Thus, for four decades now, he has been serving his Alma Mater as Artist-in-Residence and Teacher. This has provided him with an endless resource of young minds and talent which can only have fed his work. One of his protégés believes that La Salle has been to him what the Factory would be to Warhol — a laboratory of wonder and delight that has produced for all concerned a constant dialogue and a delicious dish of ideas and original work. This generosity has not been lost on the University of St. La Salle who, in 1979, accorded him the St. La Salle Award as an Outstanding Alumnae. Meanwhile, De La Salle University in Manila has also given him the De La Salle Outstanding Alumnae for the Arts in 1979 and another one with special Citation as a Filmmaker in 1983.
Eight pages more of awards and achievements beg to be covered but time is short. So let me, instead, end with words from one grateful protégé, Jorge Vargas Ledesma, who worked with Peque as Art Director in Oro, Plata, Mata and as his assistant director in Scorpio Nights before he moved o the U.S. where he is now based. This is what Ledesma has to say:
“When I conjure Peque in my mind’s eye, I see a maverick who has successfully straddled the many levels of Art as Performance. With deft hands and inscrutable instincts, he is able to bridge the exquisite with the raw, the high brow with the bakya, the literary with the quotidian; creating images and drama that is compelling and impossible to ignore. Like all great practitioners of the genre he reveals facets of the Filipino soul that is insightful as it is layered. In the mirror that he painstakingly constructs, one recognizes oneself, sometimes humorously, sometimes painfully, sometimes violently. But always, the journey is well worth the price.”
Three decades since “Oro..”, Peque has become the much revered icon in the film industry whose life and work have skillfully moved, disturbed, titillated, stirred, shaken, and compelled us to confront what is true about ourselves as persons and as Filipinos.*