Without funding from local government nor from such a well-oiled cultural institution as the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, there is one medium-sized hotel in downtown Cebu City that is doing its own cultural heritage initiatives.
Just the other day, on the 146th birth anniversary of Leon Kilat, it hosted a lecture by my good friend Atty. Harve Abella about this now-little-known youthful general who led a ragtag army of Cebuano Katipuneros in the historic revolt against Spanish rule on April 3, 1898.
Three months ago, it single-handedly inaugurated a community-based theater with a series of performances on stage at the University of San Carlos also to honor Leon Kilat and the Cebu Katipunan. That performing arts group is called ‘Bag-ong Teatro Junquera’ and is composed mostly of youngsters from the different barangays along and near Junquera Street, especially Kamagayan.
This magnanimous effort was intended as a tribute to the old Teatro Junquera that was opened in the last decade of Spanish rule to honor the beloved Gen. Inocencio Junquera, the Spanish military governor of Cebu who presided over an era of relative freedom for native Cebuanos during his term in 1893-95.
The presentation in fact caused quite a furor when my good friend Bong Wencesalo wrote in his Sun-Star Cebu column about my comment, upon seeing the performance, that this was something Cebu City and its Cultural and Historical Affairs Committee (CHAC) should be doing.
Nevertheless, even without a single centavo from the previous Cebu City administration, the play entitled, “Abtik Pa’s Kilat” was shown not only at USC but also at the covered court of Barangay Cogon Ramos, with the hotel shelling out money for the lights and sounds.
Now comes the real reason behind all these efforts: a non-government initiative to rebrand Junquera Street. We all know, of course, that until lately, this street has been synonymous as the red-light district of Cebu, a euphemism invented in the 19th century for a section where brothels and prostituted women were found.
Already, Dr. Nestor Ramirez, chair of the journalism department at the University of San Jose-Recoletos (USJR), has been quietly organizing the shoemakers and tee-shirt printers that line the side of USC along that street. These artisans in fact already have a festival each year, highlighted by a contest on the fastest among them to repair a shoe. It was Nestor, joined shortly by Dr. Jezreel Tanilon of the University of the Visayas, who worked to train the volunteer actors and actresses and eventually form Bag-ong Teatro Junquera.
The hotel I am referring to is none other than Palm Grass Cebu Heritage Hotel, which sits along Junquera Street. And the person behind its initiatives is Agripina Guivelondo, who represents the Guivelondo-Blanco family that owns of the hotel. The Guivelondos have a forebear in the 1898 revolt against Spain in Cebu in the person of Don Isidro Guivelondo, a lawyer who supported and fomented the uprising.
Two weeks back, I joined a meeting between Nestor, Jezreel and Agripina together with Fr. Rogelio Bag-ao, USC’s vice-president for mission and head of its Community Extension Service, in a multi-party initiative to rebrand Junquera Street. Among the plans include trainings on greening the barangays beside or within the orbit of the street, an oral history writing project, additional recruitment for the performing arts including perhaps a youth choir, and even mini-exhibitions on the different facets of the barangays’ history, among others. Already the University of the Visayas is offering 30 scholarships to senior high schools students in Kamagayan as part of this initiative.
I hope the program to rebrand Junquera will succeed. Bringing together the barangays and the hotel in close coordination with community extension service offices of UV, USJR, USC and perhaps the University of Cebu, is a pioneering endeavor. Should they prove rebranding a street with an undeserved reputation can succeed, I am pretty sure this project will serve as a model for other local government units or even for other parts of Cebu which need to revitalize and rehabilitate their communities.