A native Marikena who used her passion for dance to help preserve indigenous cultures is one of this year’s recipients of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Awards.
Seventy-one-year-old Ligaya Fernando-Amilbangsa grew up in a prominent Catholic family in Marikina City but found her life-defining work in the Muslim South. The turning point came in 1964 when she married Datu Punjungan Amilbangsa of Sulu, her schoolmate at Far Eastern University, and moved to his home province where she immersed herself in the region’s rich cultural life.
With a formal training in ballet, Amilbangsa spent the next three decades on the study, conservation, practice and promotion of the dance style called pangalay, a pre-Islamic dance tradition among the Samal, Badjao, Jama Mapun, and Tausug peoples of the provinces of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, according to the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF).
She inspired the formation of performing arts groups, networked with dance scholars and practitioners in Asia, and presented both traditional and innovative pangalay choreographies in and outside the country.
‘A validation of my work’
Moving back to Marikina in 1999, she formed the AlunAlun Dance Circle and later put up a dance studio next to her Antipolo City residence. The folk dance troupe has since done hundreds of performances and workshops across the country as well as in the United States and Europe. She has also opened a library and art center in Barangay (village) Calumpang, Marikina, offering a venue for local artists and musicians.
An English major, Amilbangsa has also written award-winning books on pangalay and ukkil, the visual art of the Sulu people.
I consider the award a validation of my work in the South that brings to fore the cultural communities of the Sulu archipelago, Amilbangsa said in an interview Thursday. Western na western na tayo (we have become so westernized). But in the pangalay, for example, we have a living tradition that connects us to our brothers and sisters in Asia.
Regarded as the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize, the Ramon Magsaysay Awards will be conferred on Amilbangsa and four other honorees in ceremonies to be held Aug. 31 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
The RMAF is recognizing Amilbangsa for her single-minded crusade in preserving the endangered artistic heritage of southern Philippines, and in creatively propagating a dance form that celebrates and deepens the sense of shared cultural identity among Asians.
The other awardees are Kommaly Chanthavong (Laos), Anshu Gupta (India), Kyaw Thu (Myanmar) and Sanjiv Chaturvedi (for Emergent Leadership, India).
The awardees will each receive a certificate, a medallion bearing the likeness of the late President Ramon Magsaysay, and a cash prize.
Since 1958, the Ramon Magsaysay Awards has been giving honors to individuals whose lives are characterized by selfless service which impacts the lives of the greater many-the same ideals and achievements for which the late President Ramon Magsaysay is renowned.
Marikina Mayor Del de Guzman on Thursday extended the city’s congratulations to Amilbangsa. We are indeed proud that of the five Magsaysay awardees this year, one came from the Philippines and she is a Marikena.
What other honors could we give to our nation than by giving selfless service and creating an impact in the lives of many people. This distinct recognition is indeed an honor for all of us Filipinos. Tunay na kapuri-puri siya (She truly deserves praise), De Guzman said in a statement.
Amilbangsa is a sister of former Marikina Mayor and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority chair Bayani Fernando.