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Felipe Padilla de Leon

Someone picture for me, please, the ordinary life of this man because nowhere in our information-loaded environment is there a literary “Kodakchrome” of a father playing with his children; or one with his wife and family. Nor are there any portraits of FELIPE PADILLA DE LEON -- hands hesitating on the piano keys, or bent over a guitar, with furrowed brow and searching fingers coaxing a melody to life and humming it. Where are his own words, his insights, comments which he faithfully wrote in his weekly columns? Not to mention his lectures, notes or interviews.

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2012 Global Filipino
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Global Filipino Literary Awards

For those of us in the 21st century the entire life of a man is literally the size of a postage stamp!

Everything out there regurgitate the same paragraphs of awards and accomplishments crystallized into a lifeless citation, a mere blip on a “national artist.”

Jose Rizal, to our great advantage, left behind his handwritten manuscript—with his own scratched-out edits, inserted corrections, and rewritten text. Preserved for posterity, we see his mind at work.

Genius did not spit out a perfect novel! Pages of his letters (all in beautiful penmanship) whine between the lines. We see a martyr without disguise as an ordinary man, evolving into the extraordinary. The poet, Carlos Bulosan lived in hotels for transients. He scribbled verses in scraps of paper. He also distracted himself in alcohol, not unlike Dylan Thomas, the Irish poet. We know that Bulosan spent time in the L.A. Public Library because his library card is studded with dates. P.C. Morantte wrote a memoir of his friend and through his lens we see Bulosan the man.

Who is Felipe Padilla de Leon?

Turn a deaf ear to the accolades. They don’t praise him, these paragraphs bury him. A few salient facts: He was not the ilustrado that Rizal was. (What ordinary street or neighborhood did he live in?) He is said to be from “a poor family” and orphaned of his father at an early age. His grandparents and parents remain nameless! His hometown was Peñaranda, Nueva Ecija. This year on the first day of May was the centennial anniversary of his birth. Was he the youngest? The only child? As a young boy, he could have been in a classroom taught by a Thomasite. He lived through the American commonwealth era, the Japanese occupation, and postwar Philippines when the country became a republic. How did he escape the parental nudge of “Be a doctor, lawyer or politician”?

Only his musical compositions speak on his behalf. He is credited with having composed the first full-length opera based on Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tangere. Where and when was it previously staged, only the music experts know. Common folks, on the other hand, sing de Leon’s Payapang Daigdig year in and year out and they take for granted it is the Filipino Silent Night.

Wiki-Filipinas lists 327 compositions. Interestingly, composing, recording and performing weren’t enough. He had two weekly radio programs from 1952-1985 broadcasting Filipino music. Was he hoping to compete with rock ‘n’ roll and provide a native spin for listeners? We are told that in 1965, he founded the Filipino Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (FILSCAP) to protect the legal rights of composers knowing full well about our freewheeling tendency to appropriate artistic works without permission. In his lifetime, he initiated an organization to unite the many bands in the country to protect the welfare of band musicians and to promote Philippine band music.

How much of home life and time with family did he have to give up? What commonplace sacrifices did Illuminada Bonus Mendoza bear to raise their children, christened: Felipe (his namesake), Bayani (hero), Tagumpay (triumph), Luningning (luminous), Madangal (honorable) and Marilag (noble)?

How expansive, how deep a love of country, how engaged with his people can one man be?

Why hasn’t the world been told about FELIPE PADILLA DE LEON??

Remé-Antonia Grefalda
Arlington, Virginia, Aug-Sept 2012

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Remé-Antonia Grefalda

Aileen Ibardaloza-Cassinetto

Geejay Langlois

Eileen Tabios

Ivy Alvarez

Yolanda Palis

Kathleen Burkhalter

copyright 2012

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