Wednesday, September 23, 2015

*388. Our Lady of the Opera: FIDES CUYUGAN ASENSIO

KAPAMPANGAN DIVINE DIVA. Fides Cuyugan Asensio, the leading voice of Philippine Opera, traces her roots to the capital city of San Fernando, from where her father, Dr. Gervacio Santos-Cuyugan hails from.

In the field of musical opera, one Kapampangan who has done most for its appreciation and advancement is the acclaimed diva from San Fernando, Fides Cuyugan-Asensio (b. 1 August 1931). Asencio is considered as an institution in Philippine Opera for the last 5 decades, ranking as one of the most versatile performers in the country.

 Asencio was born to Dr. Gervacio Santos-Cuyugan of San Juan, San Fernando and Jacinta Belza. She took her elementary education at Philippine Women’s University in 1938, where she revealed her love for singing. When it was time to go to college, she stayed on at the Philippine Women’s University which had a good curriculum in Music.

With a diploma tucked under her belt, Fides applied and was accepted at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia U.S.A. in 1947—the first Filipina to be admitted to the prestigious music school—where she earned an Artist’s Diploma in Voice.

 When she returned to the Philippines, she took time to get married to Manuel “Jimmy” Asensio Jr. in 1954 with whom she had two children, Dennis (a doctor) and Manuel III. Then, she plunged headlong into musical opera, which had long had the reputation as an entertainment form reserved for the elite. Her rich, coloratura soprano voice was fitted to great classical roles, like Adele in “Die Fledermaus”and Lucia in “Lucia di Lammermoor”.

But in addition to that, Fides took on roles in Philippine-created operas that were adapted from historical works. Critics raved when she played the crazed woman “Sisa” in the opera, “Noli Me Tangere” based on Rizal’s opus. She left an indelible impression as Dña. Luisa vda. De Bustamante in “La Loba Negra” and Juana la Loca in the ethno-opera, “Lapu-Lapu”.

 To expand the portfolio of local operatic materials, Asencio, who was also a talented librettist-lyricist, took Nick Joaquin’s popular “May Day Eve”and transformed it into the opera “Mayo-Bisperas ng Liwanag”. One other noteworthy work was “Larawan at Kababaihan, Maskara ng Mukha”.

 She took her advocacy to television, by appearing in the well-received “Sunday Sweet Sunday (aired from 1969-74) where she sang arias, musical theater pieces and opera excerpts, together with husband Jimmy, himself, a known opera perfomer. As if TV and stage were not enough, she also appeared in such acclaimed movies as “Oro, Plata, Mata” (1982), directed by Peque Gallaga, "Aparisyon”(2012) and more recently, “Mana”(2014).

 Her great efforts and achievements were not lost on leading award-giving bodies of the Philippines. These singular distinctions include: 1989 Best of the Philippine Profile of Achievement as Performing Artist; 1990 and 1993 Asia Opera Award, and 1999 Aliw Awards Foundation’s Gawad Siglo ng Aliw Honorees. In 2005, she was the National People’s Choice for “Grand Achievement in Theater Arts”. She was honored by her proud city by naming her as one of the Outstanding Fernandinos in the field of Arts. This was capped by a Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed by Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on 7 July 2005.

 Fides Cuyugan Asensio has not rested on her laurels and continues to be a leading voice in local opera. After founding The Music Theater Foundation of the Philippines in 1986, she moved on to music education and is currently a Professior Emeritus of the U.P. Voice and Music, Theater/Dance Dept. and the Fides Cuyugan Asensio Institute of Music and Arts. Her rich, crystalline voice can be heard on the seminal CD of Kapampangan songs, “Pamalsinta Keng Milabas”, singing the classic favorite “Atin Cu Pung Singsing”, a tribute to her roots that she has not forgotten even after years of performing on the world stage.

Thursday, September 3, 2015


AT EASE! Members of the 7th Co. San Fernando Training Center, Philippine Army. ca. 1920s.

 In my high school and college years, the subjects that I hated most were our compulsory Philippine Military Training (PMT) and ROTC (Reserved Officer’s Training Corps), conducted every weekend. I really wanted no part of this exercise as I knew the abusive power of the Marcos military, having grown up as a teen during the Martial law years. For a year or so, I took part in those endless drills, where, dressed in our drab olive green uniform and heavy boots, we marched aimlessly with fake guns on our shoulder, through sun and rain, at the Burnham grounds.

 Today, of course, I have a kinder view of the military after becoming witness to the events in our history—from their role in toppling the dictatorship, to their sacrifices on the combat fields as exemplified by the last stand of the valiant SF 44 at the Mamasapano encounter.

 Our Philippine military history is replete with Kapampangan bravehearts who have contributed much to the country’s defense. Recognized early as among the country’s best soldiers are the 100 Macabebe Scouts recruited by the United States Army and organized in September 1899 as pioneer members of the Philippine Scouts. Slammed by many for their duplicitous nature—Macabebe foot soldiers helped capture Aguinaldo for the Americans—they are, on the other hand, praised for their professional soldiering.

 In more contemporary times, the list of illustrious Kapampangans in uniform have come to include the following: Brig. General Basilio Valdes (Floridablanca), Chief of Staff of the Philippine Army and 1934 Chief of the Philippine Constabulary; Gen. Victor H. Dizon (Porac), Chief of Staff the Philippine Armed Forces; and Maj. Porfirio Zablan, the first fighter pilot of the Philippines, who perished while training in the U.S. in June 1935. In his memory, the Zablan Airfield in Quezon City was named after him.

 The hallowed halls of Pampanga High School have given us some of the most notable names in military service: Brig. Gen. Marcos G. Soliman (1929, Candaba), a classmate of Pres. Diosdado Macapagal who became the Director of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency; Col. Emigdio C. Cruz (Arayat), Pres. Manuel L. Quezon’s chief physician and trusted aide during the War years; Lt. Col. Leon Flores Punsalan (1928, San Simon) ,a West Pointer and M.I.T. graduate who saw action with the Philippine Army; Cols. Sergio Sanchez, Gregorio Gamboa (1926), Pacifico Martin (1929), Federico W. Calma ( 1931), Diosdado Garcia (1933); Majors Conrado Flores (1931), Flor Henson (1935), Rufino Dizon (1938); Captain Cresenciano Pineda (1937) and Brig. Gen. Ramsey Ocampo (1963, Candaba), chief of CIS and NARCOM. 

Meanwhile, the Philippine Military Academy—the country’s premier military school founded in 1936 by virtue of the National Defense Act, have produced many Kapampangan top graduates. Of late, the batch of 1998 included class topnotcher Cadet Ephraim Suyom (Apalit) and 4th ranked George de la Cruz (Mabalacat). Also in the list of high-ranking Kapampangans in military service: Gen. Rafael Mañago (Mexico), who served in several regions as military commander; Gen. Luis Villareal, Director of NICA during Cory Aquino’s term; and Avelino Razon Jr., 2007 Philippine National Police Chief.

 Several Kapampangan military men have also served in Clark after the American turnover : Gen Romeo Soliman David (San Fernando) , president of Clark Development Corporation (CDC) and Clark International Airport from 1995-98 ; Gen. Mariano Punzalang, First Military Liaison of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA); and Col. Rodolfo Abad Santos, Chief of Security.

 Those who held non-military positions included Col. Juan Arroyo who became the Manager of the National Steel Corp. and Gen. Virgilio Mañago David (Bacolor), Administrator of the Philippine Coconut Authority from 1992-98.

 The Kapampangan soldier has done it all---he has seen action in the world’s greatest wars, fought against the best armies, and participated in all the major events that determined our nation’s destiny. His dauntless courage harkens back to that oft-quoted boast from olden times—“nung keng leon at keng tigri, eku tatakut, keka pa?”. Today, this trademark courage has been transformed into pride of service in the military branch of the government. When duty calls, expect our own Kapampangan soldier to be there at the forefront—standing tall and smart in his uniform, ready to rally and defend the flag.

 Sources: The Pampangans,