May is the month of summer vacation, when childhood memories are made; it’s also the month of traditional and folk festivals that figure in national consciousness—the Flores de Mayo, Pahiyas in Lucban and Sariaya, Quezon, and Obando in Bulacan, among others.
Because of this, the month of May was designated National Heritage Month by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 439, s. 2003. This is in line with Article XVI, Section 15 of the Constitution that states, “The State shall conserve, promote and popularize the nation’s historical cultural heritage and resources.”
The National Commission for Culture and the Arts spearheads the yearly NHM celebration. This year’s theme is ‘Mga Pinuno Para sa Pamana’ (Leaders for Heritage). It challenges everyone, particularly the youth, to preserve and promote cultural heritage.
As part of the celebration, the NCCA “enjoins all cultural agencies, national government agencies (NGAs), schools, Philippine embassies and consulates, public libraries, and private institutions to participate in the national event by encouraging them to initiate various heritage-related activities including heritage-related tours, lecture demonstrations, conferences, exhibits, online advocacies, clean up drives in declared cultural and historical sites, and more.”
The NCCA website provides template streamers and posters that government agencies can print out and install on their premises. I suppose any citizen so inclined can do so as well.
Aside from attending the government-initiated activities, what can we individuals do to be part of the celebration? Here are some suggestions.
• Fly the flag: We need not wait for June and Independence Day. When putting the flag up on the wall, take care to put the blue field on the right. If flying the flag from a pole, take it down before sunset.
• Visit museums, churches and other heritage sites: On Labor Day, my two daughters and I visited the National Museum for Fine Arts. An entire afternoon was not enough for us to see all three floors of exhibits, and there are some gems that should not be missed, such as the Amorsolo paintings and works by Jose Rizal. Meanwhile, old churches have interesting colonial sacred architecture and art.
• Go on a food trip: If you can, go out of town to sample delicacies on site. If not, visit restaurants that serve regional food—Kapampangan, Ilocano, Ilonggo, whatever’s out there.
• Attend or participate in festivals: The Flores de Mayo, a Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, lasts the whole month. Your barangay or neighborhood church might have a procession scheduled. Or go to Butuan for the Balanghai Festival; Alitagtag, Batangas for the Tapusan; Aparri, Cagayan for the Barangay Boat Festival; Pulilan, Bulacan, for the Carabao Festival. Search online for other May festivals.
• Watch old Filipino movies: films by National Artists for film and broadcast arts will be shown at the Cultural Center of the Philippines Tanghalang Manuel Conde every 2:00 p.m. on May 4, 18, and 25. I’m going to look for the beloved Dolphy flicks of my youth on Youtube.
• Read (or re-read) Nick Joaquin’s ‘May Day Eve’: One of the most beautiful Filipino short stories in English, it is about love, passion, disillusionment, and magic. Old Anastasia tells the young maidens in her charge that on the night of May the first, they can see the person they will marry in the mirror:
“You must take a candle,” she instructed, “and go into a room that is dark and that has a mirror in it and you must be alone in the room. Go up to the mirror and close your eyes and say: ‘Mirror, mirror, show to me, him whose woman I will be.’ If all goes right, just above your left shoulder will appear the face of the man you will marry.”
Also excellent reading in May are Joaquin’s ‘The Mass of St. Sylvestre,’ ‘The Legend of the Dying Wanton’, and ‘The Summer Solstice’ (the latter tells of a fertility rite similar to that celebrated in Obando, Bulacan).
An anonymous foreigner is often quoted as having said that the reason the country is such a mess of corruption, politicking, and other societal ills is because “Filipinos do not love their country.” For many of us, ‘country’ is a nebulous idea; what we live for are family and what we give our loyalty to is clan or tribe. The waters that divide our 7,400 islands also divide us in our hearts as a people.
Observing National Heritage Month by learning more about the Philippines and being Filipino is a small step that will have huge outcomes in the future. The children today who see us loving our country in our own little, individual ways will grow up with the same, or even higher, regard and respect for country and kapwa.
Appreciation of our cultural heritage is tied to love of country.
FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO