By Florangel Rosario Braid
The nation mourns the passing of the much admired and respected Napoleon (Billy) Abueva who passed on at 88. Billy, who is known as the “Father of Contemporary Philippine Sculpture” became a National Artist at 46, the youngest among the members of this revered group.
At noon today, he will be interred at the Libingan ng mga Bayani following the traditional necrological rites for National Artists at the Cultural Center. This is the final celebration of his exemplary life, after a week-long wake at the Delaney Hall at the UP Parish of the Holy Spirit.
Among his works, several of which are displayed in museums abroad and at the United Nations in New York, are the “Blood Compact” monument in his home province, Bohol, the “Transfiguration” sculpture at the Eternal Gardens, the “Sunburst above the Manila Peninsula lobby, Nine Muses of the Arts, a tribute to the nine arts at UP Diliman, and tens of hundreds of trophies and door handles which he had designed for all the National museum galleries.
The Blood Compact sculpture has been placed in an open and raised dais portraying five life-sized images of men gathered around a table with Sikatuna and Legaspi supposedly making a toast. The blood compact or “Sandugo” was the First Treaty of Friendship between different races, religions, and cultures.
Abueva utilized wood, bronze, stone, and a variety of indigenous materials. His themes are varied, but those that stand out are the themes of motherhood and childbirth with his well-appreciated “Mother and Child.” Likewise, did done “death masks” – of well known heroes like Ninoy, and not too long ago, our mutual friend, my former mentor, Dr. Fred Lagmay. His works are known for their “sense of realism, lifelike forms, evocative gestures. The works are also described as “inspiring respect for previous generations and remind viewers of the past, the heroism of the moment that made history, while keeping a watchful eye on the present.”
Billy’s legacy is not only found in his priceless sculptures and works of art. He stands tall – among his peers as well as contemporary patriots and artists for his extraordinary generosity and unselfish contribution to several cultural and media groups where he contributed his time and talent. Inside the homes of several hundreds of awardees for excellence in various endeavors, one would find trophies that Billy had designed. He had been doing this over the years for noted national awards groups such as the Jaycees Ten Outstanding Young Men (and Women) or TOYM awards, The Outstanding Filipino or TOFIL Award, the Titus Brandsma Award, the Aurora Aragon Quezon Peace Awards, and several other awards-granting groups I too am proud to have an Abueva and so do dozens of media awardees of the Titus Brandsma Foundation, a group I chaired for many years. In fact, a large sculpture of Titus Brandsma, the Dutch mystic, journalist, and educator who died a martyr for his convictions, sits at the lobby of the TBM hall. He was most kind to artists, and even took time to exchange experiences with visiting artists like my sculptor stepson from Canada, who like Billy, continues to experiment with indigenous materials.
For several years, and in several necrological rites of his National Artist colleagues at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, I had seen Billy being wheeled in for the floral offering. At several awards ceremonies, he would honor the organizers with his presence, this time,with his wife, Dra. Cherry, who would accompany him during every occasion. Just by his presence, Billy inspired and honored various cultural and cause-oriented groups.
This is also an appropriate occasion to pay tribute to Socorro “Coring” Abueva, the wife of Jose (Pepe) Abueva, former UP president, who passed away several months ago. Coring was one of the kindest, gentlest, women I have known. Fully devoted to her husband and family, Coring left a void that cannot be filled in Pepe’s life. The latter would share that what keeps him going is that his “Chika” (Coring) in heaven has been a vigilant “guardian angel.”
During Billy’s wake, I had a brief chat with Pepe, who will be turning 90 in May. He keeps his mind sharp by writing a weekly column for the Bohol Chronicle. Pepe and Coring were good friends of both myself and Andrew, and we certainly cherished their friendship. Like Billy, Pepe’s contribution to the country as a political scientist and governance specialist, educator, and author, is immeasurable, to say the least. They come from a political family in Bohol. But tragedy struck the family during the Japanese occupation when their parents and several siblings were killed. This is why my respect for Pepe and Billy grew several notches when I learned that Pepe had accepted a high-level executive position at the United Nations University in Tokyo where he and Coring spent several years.
Their children are doing very well themselves. Lanelle, Pepe’s daughter, is a well known, ceramics sculptor/artist. Amihan, Billy’s daughter, a long-time development advocate, is regional executive director of Child Rights Coalition Asia. This coalition aims to influence decisions to ensure that rights of children are protected and fulfilled.
Farewell Billy, may you look over us so that we can fulfill our obligations as citizens of this country, the spirit of which you have captured so well. You have brought pride and honor to your country.
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