Roselle Pineda is a teacher, independent researcher, cultural and community worker, performance maker and activist. She is educated in Theater Arts, Performing Arts, Art History and Art Theory and Criticism.
As a part of the Department of Art Studies in University of the Philippines in Diliman, roster of faculty, she teaches Popular Culture, Critical Cultural Pedagogy, Performing Arts, Art Theory, Art Criticism, Perspective in Art History, and Art Community Organizing. She holds a masters degree in Art Theory and Criticism from the same department, and her thesis entitled “Eloquent Crevices: Lesbian Interventions in (Art) Theory, History and Production” was awarded for Best Thesis in the year 2003. As a researcher, she has delivered papers and published essays on women, the body and performance, queer art, critical/cultural pedagogy, art community organizing, indigenous peoples art and culture, LGBT art, LGBT movement in the Philippines, Marxism and art and Pinoy Hip-hop. Her works on Philippine lesbian art history and criticism is a pioneering work in the field. Currently she is working on numerous research projects on Performance Curation and Communities, Community Art Organizing, Contemporary Performance, and Filipino Hip-hop Culture.
As an artist she has directed several dance-dramas and operas, including The Philippine production of Otto Nicolai’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, the Philippine Premiere of Domenico Chimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto which she adapted as Ang Lihim na Kasal in Filipino, and the World Premiere of Ramon Santos’ Ang Mahiwagang Hardin. She is also regarded as one of the most provocative Performance Artists in the country. Her creative collaborations with various contemporary artists such as Movement Without Moving, Sound-Mapping-Notation Performance, and The Time Capsule Project, have been exhibited in Contemporary Dance Festivals such as the WIFI Body and the Bakawan Project. Aside from this she produces, performs and arranges music, and she is a constant presence in the current Pinoy hip-hop and Poetry Jam scene in the Philippines. She also produces and directs short video projects such as Kilos Iskolar for the Typhoon Haian Victims and a recent collaboration with Salugpongan International and renowned Filipino director Carlos Siguion-Reyna, entitled Salupongan for the Lumad indigenous peoples of Mindanao.
As a social activist, she has organized and did field work in various communities in the Philippines, including the Cordillera Autonomous Region (Northern Indigenous People’s of Cordillera), and Hacienda Luisita, Pampanga, numerous urban poor communities in Metro Manila, especially amongst the hip-hop youth communities, and the Lumad communities in Mindanao, among others. She has also organizes and gives art workshops in theater, music, and shadowplay in depressed communities. She is proud member of the Congress of Teachers for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND-UP), Save Our Schools Network in UP Diliman, and Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), and is affiliated with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).
Below, Roselle, tells her story
NARRATIVES OF ACTIVISM/S
My life revolves around my country, art/cultural work, and research and teaching; most of the time, if not, all the time, these three terrains are inseparable – for, my researches and teaching are always informed by my activist work, my cultural work is embedded and in my activist work, and my activist work are always cultural, pedagogical, creative and research-based.
I do what I do because of a great love for the people and a firm believer that social justice for all is achievable. And so, I, along with my comrades, and with the people, the community, work hard to achieve it, even if the road is paved with many challenges, and even if, I am not able to witness the result in my lifetime. For I understand that true social change takes time to be realized. There are costly setbacks along the way, there are so many twists and turn, but you take solace in the thought that the vision is far-reaching, way beyond what you can see, for a better society for everybody.
The Beginnings, or How I Came to Do what I do?
Our narratives are made up of so many factors, and we are who we are because of these factors, no more, no less. When it comes to my activism though, there are several incidents and/or factors in life that I consider as stimuli that germinated it.
First, my parents who were civil servants, and although, I was not born into poverty, we are not exactly rich, and they had to work hard as government rank and file employees– my Dad finally retired as a City Treasurer and my Mom as a District Supervisor of a public school. I consider them as influences in how I came to commit myself to service and community work, because they had always been my role models for living life in dignity, hard work, and out of service for other people.
Second, every thing about my high school — Philippine High School for the Arts — which is a special art school that inculcated in us, at a very young age, that since the country is paying for our schooling, we should give our service back to our country by being its future cultural and artistic leaders. It was also during this time that I started reading Marxism, feminisms and all other –isms along with progressive literatures like F.Sionil Jose’s Mass, Philippine Collegian Literary Folio and Jun Cruz Reyes’ Utos ng Hari and Tutubi, Tutubi, ‘Wag Kang Magpahuli sa Mamang Salbahe, and started looking at the works of social realist and feminist visual artists, such as Leonilo Doloricon and Brenda Fajardo.
As a Theater Arts major, some of the plays that I have written and directed during this time were directly affected by my budding activist consciousness. During my first year, I wrote a parody play to critique some of my teachers’ fascistic tendencies in the classroom. In my final year, I wrote a play called Rali about two activist lovers who were on the verge of leaving the Leftist movement in order to create a “normal family,” however on their way to meet with the leaders of the organization to file a formal leave from the movement, they were ambushed by the military, captured, interrogated, tortured and eventually killed. In the same year I also directed one of the most famous anti-American colonialism seditious plays written in the 1950s by Juan Aban called Tanikalang Ginto (Golden Chains). In between, I experimented on gender and sexuality issues in the plays that I staged, including a one-act play that I wrote entitled Tambo which revolves around the lesbian relationship between an elderly butch lesbian, and a girl that used to tease her as a kid; and my version of Romeo and Juliet, in which there was a reversal of roles between Romeo and Juliet–the man as feminine and relegated to the private sphere and the woman as masculine and adventurous, the play caused some ruckus amongst Values Education teachers at that time.
In the University of the Philippines-Diliman, known hub of activists, I decided that I would concentrate on making art and not think about its relationship to social movements, but the call of the people and service to them was greater by the call of being a typical artist led by bourgeois ego, and I ended up being a founding member of Alay Sining, a campus based art organization meant to use art in service of the peoples movement, particularly, the National Democratic Movement.
Currently, I am still an adviser to a number of activist art organizations such as Alay Sining and Sinag Bayan, among others, and I am still a member of various activist organizations such as Congress of Teachers/Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND-UP), Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), and recently, part of the secretariat for the Lumad support group Save Our Schools Network (SOS).
Activisms #1: Hip-hop and Communities
Being one of the first girl popper and locker, in my provincial neighborhood in the 1980s, when hip-hop was just streaming into the consciousness of Filipino Youth through popular media, and even if we did not know what we were doing, I always found an affiliation with street and its potential artistic culture. Aside from this, I was also doing voice sessions for various bands, and so, hip-hop has always been part of my consciousness.
One of my biggest commitments at present is writing a book on Filipino hip-hop culture and aesthetics. This project involves tracing the history of hip-hop in the country, but more than a diachronic view of history, I am concentrating on “fissures” in the narrative/s of Pinoy hip-hop that were pivotal in its development. Thus, more than “cause and effect,” I am focusing on contradictions in the narratives and aesthetics that characterize the culture in relation to its larger socio-historical context.
Although this is largely a research/book project – one offshoot of this project is to establish the first community-based hip-hop theater collective in the country. I am envisioning the collective to concentrate on three programs: education, organizing, and performance (making-presenting). It is meant to empower and develop new breeds of artists, hip-hop and theater practitioners in the communities around the Metro – creative and critical at the same time.
Activisms #2: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Rights
I am also involved in the LGBT rights movement, although recently, not so much, as I have constantly critiqued the current mainstream LGBTQ movement in the Philippines as too urban-centric, commercial, middle class and not grounded on the majority of LGBTQs belonging to the disenfranchised class. But back in the 1990s, I was very active in the scene, even introducing, what was for a time, a very active “Lesbian Art” practice both in the academe, the mainstream art practice, and even, within the lesbian community. I was also one of the first to academically write about the lesbian struggle in the country, and my thesis, Eloquent Crevices: Lesbian Art Production, History, Theory and Criticism, is still the only manuscript on the subject of lesbian art theory and criticism in the Philippines. Aside from this, I was also very active in lesbian organizing with my then group Womyn Supporting Womyn Center or WSWC.
Activisms #3: Art Activism
I did cultural work everywhere and every chance I get in the communities. As part of the ANINO Shadowplay Collective I had the chance to perform and give workshops to various communities and schools all over the Philippines. Much later I would also give theater, dance and shadowplay workshops in the far flung areas of the Philippines, including the Cordilleras, Tallim Island, Southern Tagalog, and Hacienda Luisita, to use the arts as a tool for peoples struggles and advocacies in the area.
Every now and then, I would lend my voice to the cause as well, performing in various occasions and/or producing music for various causes.
I also became an active member and for a time Secretary General of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, organizing artists to come out from their comfort zones and their individualism and take an active role in changing the society. As CAP SecGen, we were able to mobilize a hefty number of artists to take a stand against the National Artist Awards that was muddied by the moribund and patronage politics of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. We were also organizing artists around issues of artists rights and welfare, freedom of expression, and artist social responsibility.
Part of my art activism is also my hip-hop projects.
Activisms #4: Indigenous Peoples’ Rights
One of my current advocacy, although I have been working with IPs for 10 years, especially in the Cordilleran Regions, is the Lumad, particularly of campaign against militarization, plunder and large-scale and destructive mining in Mindanao, #StopLumadKillings and #SaveOurSchools or save Lumad schools campaigns.
Since 2009, the number of evacuations in these Lumad communities escalated as the number of government approved foreign mining companies increased, as the Lumad ancestral lands and domains sit atop the rich mineral reserves in the country. These evacuations and military occupations in their Lumad schools and communities (which they built despite lack of support from the national government) have caused so much terror in these communities. In September 2015, one of the most brutal attacks on the Lumad communities was recorded when the paramilitary group Magahat strafed the community and the school, roused up the people including women and children, and ended up publicly killing (in front of the community) three community leaders, Emerito Samarca (Executive Director of the Lumad Schools ALCADEV), Dionel Campos and Datu Bello Sinzo. The incident stimulated an international clamor to Stop Lumad Killings and Save Our Schools campaign. Our recent contribution to this campaign is the production of a collaborative artistic project called Salupongan (a music video) that gathered over a hundred artists, film makers, musicians, performers, actors, singers, etc. to work together on the project. We released the music video in March 2016.
Envisioning the Future
From here on, I know there is still so much work to do, but the community deserves so much more than a one-time project. Once you signed up for this kind of job, it is a lifetime commitment. Because as much as you don’t have all the answers in community work, the most impoverished and marginalized communities, deserve to be answered, and it starts with you as an activist, as a community worker, as a teacher, as a cultural worker and as a scholar be part of their struggles, stay with them, through thick and thin.
Experience Unforgotten 30 October 2015
Manlikbayan is the yearly protest-walk that the peoples of Mindanao, mostly composed of Lumad (collective term for the indigenous peoples of Mindanao), to assert their rights to their ancestral lands, stop pIunder and large-scale mining in Mindanao. It was the last day of the Manilakbayan 2016 Camp in the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, and the delegates from Mindanao held a thanksgiving cultural program for those who supported their journey and their cause.
The last part of the program was the pagpuputong, in which, the tribal leaders and elders of the various indigenous peoples’ groups in Mindanao would place a traditional headkerchief on the head of the “leaders” or their counterparts in the university, organization, formation, etc. in the city that helped them along the way.
I was not part of those who were called on stage for the ceremony. I was always behind the scene. But I was a big fan of one of the tribal leaders on-stage, Bai Bibyaon, one, if not the only woman chieftain of the Manobo tribe, who fought against mining and dam invasion in their ancestral lands ever since the 1980s. I was told that being a chieftain means you are chosen or elected by the community because of your fierceness and ability to resolve conflicts, among other qualities. Bai Bibyaon, is one of the fiercest women I have ever encountered, and now, met. At 91, she doesn’t watch from the sidelines and still leads her people in their struggle for life, land, and the right to self-determination.
When I saw her went down the stage to rest, I mustered all my strength to approach her and try to have my picture taken with her. She was with another fierce and strong woman of the Bagobo tribe, Ka Aida Sienza, who was the sole survivor of the Paquibato Massacre, where military men relentlessly strafed her house in accusation that she, along with her organization mates were hiding the renowned New Peoples Army (NPA) leader, Ka Parago, killing most of her family members on the spot.
I had wanted to take a picture with these inspiring women and instead, I got more than an image. Ka Aida along with Bae Bibyaon suddenly lead me to personal ceremony of pagpuputong as a gesture of gratitude and being one with their community.
As they placed the headkerchief on my head, I lost my voice. I lost my mind. I found my tears instead. All I could think of was that I should be the one thankful because I gain so much each and every time I love and fight hard with the community. So overwhelmed by this gesture of exchange, I almost forgot to give something back. I gave both Ka Aida and Bai Bibyaon bracelets.
I was reminded of Bae Bibyaon’s confrontation with Nancy Catamco, a government representation for the indigenous peoples’ who go to the Manobo communities to convince them to leave their land in favor of “national development” (read: development aggression) and then their evacuation centers to convince them to go back to the mountains. Bai Bibyaon called Catamco a traitor; she told her in so many words how dare her accept necklaces and gifts from the community, when she will only betray them in the end. In the midst of these thoughts in my head, Bai Bibyaon, turned to me and said, in her native Manobo language, You help us fight for our land, and I just held her hand and said opo, opo, opo (yes, yes, yes), even though I know how heavy those three short words mean.
I have always known where and for whom I should stand for/with. I am bound by love and principle in this. I am boundlessly thankful for these “random” gestures, for these held hands, for the likes of Ka Aida and Bae Bibyaon and the many others who I don’t know, but know so well in the struggle, for continuing to strengthen this stand every step of the way.