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Text and photos by Dexter R. Matilla
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Date First Posted 22:05:00 07/05/2010

Freeway’s National Artist series goes ‘magical as a seagull’ with a fashion tribute to José Garcia Villa

Cherie Gil reads to the students of LES

THERE WAS NO NEED FOR MODELS that day. Not the types that sashay down the catwalk anyway. For that day belonged to José Garcia Villa, the latest National Artist to be honored by Freeway.

Class had just begun at Legarda Elementary School (LES) and already the place was buzzing, as the students would have the chance to know the poet who fancies himself as “Doveglion,” Villa’s portmanteau from dove, eagle, lion.

The event's hosts Hannah Camille Florendo and Erica Guille Pacia of LES

But how does someone, who for a time was criticized for not being a nationalist, become a role model for today’s youth? The argument was that Villa was a writer who wrote in English.

“In very high English,” Virginia Moreno emphasized.

Moreno was the lone female member of the Ravens, an influential group of first- and second-generation English writers where Villa was a member. She defends Villa, saying that he was merely ahead of his time, even citing Villa’s love for patis as a prime example of his Filipino-ness.

“It was the first thing Villa asked for when I told him I was going to meet him in New York,” Moreno said, as she and Villa’s niece Ruby Villanueva-Precilla shared their fond memories of the poet who invented and made famous the reversed consonance rhyme scheme as well as the inimitable comma poems.

Ruby Villanueva Precilla and Virginia Moreno answer questions about Villa

Some choice readings selected by Inquirer Arts editor Lito Zulueta of Villa’s works were done by actress Cherie Gil and students of LES as part of a tertulia or a literary gathering. As the students sat on the stage, Gil first read “First, a Poem Must be Magical,” then a few more that dealt mostly with Villa’s understanding of God.

The students, in turn, recited and enacted poetry from “The Parliament of Giraffes—Poems for Children-Eight to Eighty” (with Tagalog translation by Hilario Francia). Fifty copies of the book were donated by Elite Garments International CEO Sheree Roxas-Chua Gotuaco and VP Katty Roxas-Chua Cua to LES.

Cherie Gil, Sheree Gotuaco, Ruby Precilla, Katty Cua, and Virginia Moreno

Also making a donation was Tim Yap, who, with Mongol Pencils, gave P100,000 worth of school supplies to the school.

Dr. Franklin Marcelo, LES principal, receives a donation from Tim Yap and Mongol Pencils

Adding musical flavor to the event was Champ Lui Pio, frontman of the band Hale. He sang with the students of LES.

 Hale's Champ Lui Pio sings with the students of LES

Gotuaco thanked Inquirer Learning editor Chelo Banal Formoso, who suggested LES, a heritage landmark site, as a venue for the launch of the Freeway Loves Art: José Garcia Villa collection, which features the poet’s writings and sketches emblazoned on shirts, bags, dresses and accessories. Gotuaco likewise presented a plaque to LES and its principal Dr. Franklin Marcelo for supporting Freeway’s goal of re-energizing the present generation’s interest in the Philippines’ national artists.

To view the entire collection, visit Get updates on Freeway’s Facebook Fan Page (search for “Freeway Online”) and on Twitter (http://

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