The Importance Of Being Elmer Borlongan

It all began four years ago.

During the launch of the Government Service Insurance System's "Pitik-Bulag: Letra at Liwanag" - both as a book edited by National Artist Virgilio Almario and Marne Kilates and, as an art show curated by Susan de Guzman and Gizelle Kasilag -- at the GSIS Museo ng Sining on 25 August 2009, we with Elmer Borlongan planned to collaborate again.

Our dream to work with a world-renowned artist from the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts seemed impossible until he was asked by a UP Law professor, Atty. Jose Gerardo Alampay, or Gigo of Looking For Juan fame, to pay tribute to Jose Rizal's sesquicentennial birth anniversary in 2011 for the Center for Art, New Ventures, and Sustainable Development (CANVAS).

Right then and there, Elmer remembered our unfinished business.

We suggested to write poems for our National Hero as a man of letters, literally and literarily, from A to Z.

In honoring Rizal, Elmer was able to pay homage to his namesake, Jose Honorato Lozano, for using Letras Y Figuras and to Steve Jobs for utilizing iPad as an end as well as a means to his experiment with social commitment. Or, social Rizalism?

And that gave birth to "Rizalpabeto".

From our end, after dividing our labor, excitedly and excitingly, we wrote our very first poem Ñyora which we read the night we finished it at the Black Soup Café + Artspace for a gig called From New York, New York to New York, Cubao on 4 January 2011.

But, that opening salvo was salvaged, positively and negatively.

Last year, saw us so preoccupied, defending our dissertation Malay sa Palay bilang Talinghagang Bayan as well as our poetry anthology Kayumanggi -- with composer Fer Edilo, designer Lorina Javier, artist Mannet Villariba, and photographers Dominique James, Ronald Ruiz, Danny Sillada, to name a few - just to be published by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House under its new director, Dr. Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, who nominated our collection to the National Book Awards after it was turned down by the National Book Store!

On the other hand, Elmer was busy with the 3rd ManilArt at NBC Tent where his "Batang Edsa" was that year's banner piece.

There, we were expected to talk about Visuals on Rizal Today but the untimely death of our Other Mother -- Zenaida Mendiola a.k.a. Tita Nida - got in the way after our panganay Psalma turned 14 the previous day. It was on 24 August, when this much-awaited Philippine International Art Fair was opened with "Rizalpabeto Prelude Part 1" with curators Marika Constantino and J. Pacena who, amidst the Mideo Cruz's controversy, managed to direct our youtube videos.

Then, it took a backseat once more when Elmer had to do such solo and group shows as "Kariyanan" and "Ciento Cincuenta", both at the Pinto Art Gallery; "Mukha" at Glorietta Art Space; "Monumental" at Manila Contemporary, among others.

Fortunately, we met Elmer, with his equally talented wife Plet Bolipata, at the "Rizalpabeto Prelude Part 2," coinciding with "Through The Looking Glass: Jose Rizal" featuring such "Rizalist" artists as Zeus Bascon, Francis Commeyne, Fernan Escora, Francisco Guerrero, Jacob Lindo, Lee Paje, Don Salubayba, Carina Santos, Luis Santos, Erik Sausa, Shireen Seno, Louie Talents and Clairelynn Uy with Prof. Michael Charleston Chua lecturing The First Emo: Simple Life Lessons from The Extraordinary Story of José Rizal.

That day, or that night, last 26 May, at the Manila Contemporary too, we proposed to him the idea we had been toying with as another kid-friendly take on Philippine studies, tentatively entitled "Bilang Bonifacio" (or, Katon Katipunan) to celebrate Andres Bonifacio's150th birthday on 30 November 2013.

Politely, he begged off, owing to the fact that he was one of the most important Filipino artists alive who has been invited everywhere to, say, the National Artist Benedicto Cabrera's Bencab Museum and others, while waiting for Annette Ferrer and Daniel Tayona to do finishing touches on Rizalpabeto before it gets published as a children's book before we could commemorate Rizal's 116th death anniversary in December.

Thank God, at 45, he could still find time to, well, be still like his legacy at the public collections here at the Metrobank Foundation (or at the private galleries of celebrities like Julius Babao) and abroad at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Queensland Art Gallery, Singapore Art Museum, and Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art.

Vim Nadera: Are Borlongans a family of artists?

Elmer Borlongan: I am the only professional artist in the family. My father, who is a retired chemist dabbles in sculpture as a hobby. He spends more time in it since he retired from San Miguel Corporation. My father's first cousin was a kontrabida actor in Fernando Poe Jr. movies many years ago. His name is Hector Borlongan a.k.a. Vic Varrion.