The athletes and officials of the Philippine team march during opening ceremonies of the Southeast Asian Games at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan. Photo from ABS-CBN News
Culture Spotlight

Floy Quintos on using ‘Manila’ for the SEA Games: ‘There’s nothing exclusionist about it’

The creative director of the 30th SEA Games opening ceremonies addressed the criticisms thrown at the presentation he curated last weekend.
ANCX | Dec 04 2019

If the singing and dancing crowd at the Philippine Arena last weekend is the gauge, and maybe add the now 1.3 million views of the ABS-CBN video on YouTube, the opening ceremonies of the 30th Southeast Asian Games is no doubt a smashing success. But not everyone liked it entirely, of course—as Floy Quintos, the spectacle’s creative director, expected. 

The negative comments online did not come as a surprise to the veteran director. An event of that weight and magnitude, seen by millions, will have its share of thumbs down reactions—a few of which the Palanca-winning playwright addressed yesterday morning in the ANC show Early Edition hosted by Christian Esguerra. 

Quintos on showcasing the unique artistry of Filipinos: "I really wanted it to be a reflection of Philippine art and culture. So if you look at the background, all the patterns that were shown came from indigenous textiles, everything.”

More about the SEA Games:

First, Quintos was asked to comment on the social media post from the Presidential Daughter Sara Duterte questioning the use of “Manila,” the iconic Hotdog song from the 1970s, when the SEA Games opening ceremonies was supposed to be, as promised, inclusive.  

Quintos says his JO is to create a spectacle that speaks to the world of the Filipinos—and that was what they delivered.

“There’s nothing political or nothing exclusionist about it,” said Quintos who had earlier expressed his sentiments online before appearing on the cable news show. “We just really needed a song everyone could sing. That was the whole point. In the pre-shows with the audience, we taught them how to sing the song, we flashed the lyrics. The objective was really for the whole arena to be singing as the Filipino team entered. That was really all it was.” 

Quintos also added the fact that Dennis Garcia, half of the duo that created “Manila,” said on social media that he and his brother, the late Rene, did not write it as Ilocanos or Visayans but as Filipinos abroad longing for home (the brothers with their band were playing outside the country at one point in the 70s). Moreover, Quintos said there was no other song his group had in mind to use as background for the parade of the Filipino athletes.

The Philippines' sports champs were honored during the opening number.

When asked if singling out the use of the song was a fair critique, Quintos said: “You know when people watch a show—(according to) my belief, having been in the business for so long—they really just take it as an entirety. They can’t pick out certain things and focus on this. Because really, it's a show. There's a general impression that you leave behind, there is a central message that you want to push, and if Inday Sara wanted to focus on that, Raissa Robles wanted to focus on the ballet, well people will do that. It's something I’m used to.” On Twitter, the journalist Robles likened a section of the performance to a “perya”, saying we have great ballet choreographers—why weren’t they tapped instead? 

The stage veteran Quintos, who “managed” the show and “curated its content”, is well aware a performance is public art: once an act is put out there, it takes on a life of its own, subject to interpretation, praise and shade. “As long as the team is solid, standing behind your choice, as long as you have integrity, and as long as you have tested it, as long as you pre-tested the idea, then you put it out there and you're ready for anything. We welcome everything.”

Pop culture represented the youth of today.

Quintos told Esguerra that as early as November when they started working on the show that he “wanted it to be inclusive of as many Filipino people as possible. So IP, colonial culture, and pop culture, and street culture. I wanted it to be representative of as many Filipino subcultures as possible. Number 2: I wanted the opening number to be an homage to the vitality, the spirit of competitiveness of the Filipino. After all we always think of SEA Games in terms of Western sports. Only sepak takraw and arnis, and I think a few others, are distinctly Asian. Why not open a show with a different way of looking at sports. Where do we get our competitive spirit? Where do we get our agility? Where do we get our physicality?” 

Hence the warrior dances, from the Bagobo and the Kalinga that followed the Philippine National anthem led by singer Lani Misalucha: “Bagobo representing the Lumad people, the Kalinga representing the people of Cordilleras, the arnis is a homage to our ancient Visayan culture, then of course you have the culture of Maguindanao and the Maranao,” explained Quintos. “So you kind of have a spectrum there in which you see the different ways in which we express agility, physicality, strength, competition, warrior culture.” 

"I wanted the opening number to be an homage to the vitality, the spirit of competitiveness of the Filipino," Quintos explains the inclusion of warrior dances in the opening number.

The creative director further explained by going into the sequence. The program began with the pre-colonial (the IPs) segueing into the colonial parade which featured the La Jota Manileña which he says is a dance usually performed to welcome foreigners. “It was an ingenious piece of staging by Michael Peña, the director and the choreographers to use dancers as the pathways,” Quintos said. “If you notice it's quite ingenious, the pathways by which the athletes will be led to their seats. Then all the time you had the Jota. And then it goes to pop culture, which is Manila today, which is the country, the energy of young people.” Quintos said the goal was to show how varied and exciting Philippine culture is. “And at the same time, how welcoming and joyful.”

But while there were criticisms, there were many who enjoyed the presentation, and felt moved by it. “One of the tweets that really resonated with me was sent to me by my friend Emilio. He sent me two tweets—one was from a young Islamic person. He was saying that ‘kasali pala kami in the textiles that were projected.’ I really wanted it to be a reflection of Philippine art and culture. So if you look at the background, all the patterns that were shown came from indigenous textiles, everything.” The presentation also incorporated baybayin, street art, and traditional Filipino crafts like the singkaban which is the bamboo arch craft of Bulacan.

Quintos on picking Hotdog's iconic song "Manila" for the opening ceremonies: “There’s nothing political or nothing exclusionist about it. We just really needed a song everyone could sing. That was the whole point." Photo from ABS-CBN News

Of all the comments that struck Quintos, it was the one that raised the issue of cultural appropriation — that the presentation trivialized the struggle of the IPs— that had the most impact. “How you can show this in a circus-like atmosphere where the land is being grabbed, when they are suffering from marginalization, militarization,” said the director, echoing what has been said of his show. And then speaking his own sentiment, he said: “As a cultural worker who’s been documenting a lot of traditional art forms, I am very much aware of that. I know that there is a very, very thin line when you try to appropriate culture and change it for a spectacle like this.” 

Quintos was aware he was creating a spectacle—which is the nature of the presentation the event demanded. “But if I can put their identities out there for just two minutes each, it’s an homage to the resilience of these people, to the way they have chosen to survive, and maybe (shine the light on) the way they had been marginalized. If you can shine the spotlight on these cultures and make them, as that tweet said, feel included in the national agenda, then we've done more than just entertainment.” 

The 30th SEA Games opening ceremony highlighted the vibrant and diverse cultures of the Philippines.

Quintos is well aware of the nature of his JO: “Create a spectacle that speaks to the world of the Filipinos. And spectacle has always been used by the powerful to project agendas, we know that. [In the comments] There was  a comparison to Hitler and the Olympics of 1936. The powerful will always use spectacle to further their agenda. I think it’s the job of the creator of the spectacles to be able to add some layers of meaning, some cohesion.”

In a way, Quintos seemed appreciative of the fact that people are talking about the opening ceremonies and are reading meanings from it. “As a creative person, because I'm a playwright, it's always wonderful when people look for layers of meaning. It means that it’s not just a spectacle, it means its not just something that entertained them and passed. It challenged some people to think, so well and good.”