MANILA -- In her late 70s, Philippine theater pioneer Cecile Guidote-Alvarez is still determined to pursue her husband’s call for decarbonization to defuse the ecological time bomb for global warming.
“My children want me to live with either of them to make sure they look after me and enjoy my grandchildren. I do love my ‘apos’ and would love to be with them but I still have promises to keep, as Robert Frost poem goes. There’s still a lot of work to be done,” she said, referring to Hexilon and Herxilia, her children with her late husband, environmentalist-former Senator-congressman and first Climate Change Commission secretary Heherson Alvarez.
Heherson, 80, succumbed to complications from COVID-19 on April 20, 2020.
Now 78, Guidote-Alvarez is legally blind and a COVID survivor herself. What makes her get up these days, as she told ABS-CBN News, are those advocacies that Heherson started with her, which she’s now continuing as her mission in her twilight years such as poverty alleviation, the fight against historical amnesia for truth, justice, human rights and environmental protection.
“How do you fight poverty? How do you fight hunger? Hindi lang importation for food security. You have to know the problems, creatively provide the solutions. [Inaction] on climate change is violence against mankind and mother earth,” she said.
Her advocacies have almost overshadowed her work as a cultural caregiver and theater pioneer in the country. Among members of the younger generation, only few may know she founded the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) half a century ago. She has pioneered broadcast theater 55 years ago with “Balintataw” on TV-radio-comics. At the time, it was featured on CNN International, introduced by Jane Fonda as “soap for social change.”
She is producing director of a Sunday-to-Friday radio show and her days are spent on recording each episode with guests from here and abroad, most are friends and colleagues from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
At the spacious unit in an old condo building in Manila that serves as her office, Guidote-Alvarez is still the same dynamo fueled with passion for the causes she and Heherson have been fighting for since the mid-1960s.
On a table near a window overlooking the Pasig River, there’s a printer and a few files of papers, some to be signed, others are scripts for performances of what she calls ‘handi-capable’ artists of the Earthsavers Dreams Ensemble. She’s president of the social change network of the International Theatre Institute.
In her twilight years, Guidote-Alvarez is finishing her autobiography. Even the tentative title she has chosen is dedicated to Heherson, “Memoir of a Freedom Fighter’s Artist Wife.”
But like a signature CGA move, as how those who used to work for her refer to her with her initials, her story isn’t finished. It is not yet over as chapters are being added because her life is an epic battle unfolding in what is touted the Second Golden Age.
Her memoir is on the final editing phase and with photos, it might reach 1,000 pages.
She hopes to see copies of her memoir in bookstores nationwide before the year ends and bring some to New York for the Remake a World Gala. It is the awarding ceremony for outstanding global artists around the world to be given by La Mama Theater, the pioneer of the Off-Off Broadway Theatre Movement in New York.
The significant event is meant to celebrate the global community, its artists and audiences who have long been part of its “One World Vision.”
Guidote-Alvarez is one of the five outstanding individuals being honored for her work as a global citizen artist.
The organization cited her “lifetime commitment to cultural caregiving [that] has had such an impact on her local community and beyond.”
She instituted the Third World Institute for Theater Arts Studies and undertook cultural programs for UN Development Goals.
“Your work speaks to our shared humanity and we are thrilled to recognize you,” said the La Mama Theater letter signed by managing director Mary Fulham, artistic director Mia Yoo and board president Frank Carucci.
She is the only awardee from Southeast Asia. The other four honorees are Richard Lanier from the United States, Alvaro Restrepo from Colombia, Beka Vuco from The Balkans and Duk-Hyong Yoo from South Korea.
Lanier is past president of the Asian Cultural Council and founding trustee of the Trust for Mutual Understanding. Restrepo is founder of Cartagena’s The School of the Body and is being honored for his passions for contemporary dance and social justice.
Vuco is known for her work to support and encourage people to build a better, more just, and open democratic society in the Balkans and South Eastern Europe. Yoo is being honored for his significant contribution to the international understanding of Asian arts.
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Meant to be held in the last week of May in 2020, or during the International Arts Education Week, Guidote-Alvarez has completed the Sustainable Development Goals Resilient Art (SDG-ResiliArt) Earth-saving workshop-exhibits festival-forum in early April this year.
“Through the perseverance of our artistic community in the Philippines and our international partners with the City of Manila as host in liaison with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, we managed to successfully complete the project in series starting December 1-10, 2021, continued this year from March 22 to 23 and from April 3 to 5,” she said.
“Under UNESCO patronage given by UNESCO director-general Audrey Azoulay, we were able to successfully realize distinct honor of the country, in spite of the obstacles cause by COVID. We’ve effectively showcased the unique methodology of dynamically applying all disciplines of the arts synergized with technology with online blended approach to inform and make people understand and actualize the SDGs,” she added.
“We’ve demonstrated the power of motivating and explaining the SDGs in various forms either shown in exhibits through mural paintings, or artworks by persons with disabilities, digital forms by the youth and photographs and comics version. At the same time, also showing how you can empower marginalized groups either in prisons, indigenous communities, PWDs, refugees of armed conflicts and climate catastrophes. The healing powers of arts were given to frontliners suffering mental discombobulation and the impact of the isolation,” she said.
“The Philippine-hosted event is an effective approach in helping fulfill the United Nations’ 2030 agenda for the sustainable development goals, which is the main formula together with the Paris Accord to fight poverty and taking care of people, planet and promote peace and equitable prosperity through partnerships,” Guidote-Alvarez added.
“We have submitted a platform of action drawn from wisdom of all continents through a public global interactive forum hosted by the Philippine Normal University. Ano 'yung some of the actions? The highlight of best practices from different continents together with the Philippine artistic performances, provided a vivid panorama of immense value, art synergized with technology for effective cultural communications of the SDGs.
“Here, we have proposed to DepEd that if there is a Palarong Pambansa, then there can be a parallel SDG, techno-resiliArt earth-saving festival among students,” she said.
There were teachers who didn’t even know about UN’s 17 SDGs.
“About 500 teachers were authorized by DepEd memo through Usec. Tomasito Umali in charge of partnerships to witness the international festival with the integrated use of music, dance, theatre and visual arts exhibits to showcase the SDGs.”
“There is a convention, but how do you make documents alive? How do you get these down to the masses? Paano mo mapapaalam 'yun?”
“There was the wife of Nelson Mandela and the granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi giving their messages and commentaries, together with parliamentarians, cabinet members, distinguished cultural animators and educators,” she said.
“It was a gratifying experience, mga teachers na buksan ang mata. Mga preso nagkaron ng release, therapy. Allow their capacity and confidence building. You have to know, kung paano mo magagawa kung hindi mo alam. How would you reach the worker and policemen? Bureaucrats and diplomats lang ba ang dapat maka-alam? Sa loob lang ng Cabinet? Tapos NEDA gagawa ng statistics? Dapat meron platform for action that must be communicated and people to get motivated to be involved,” she added.
“The Manila Platform of Action for SDGs Communications and inclusive interfaith values education agreed upon by participants collected from all continents online and physically for those who personally attended the events in our country has produced an effective communications agenda,” she said.
Under the second Marcos administration, Guidote-Alvarez the Martial Law survivor and widow of a freedom fighter forges on in her unrelenting quest for a better Philippines.