ANGELES CITY—On a fine Sunday morning, elementary student Marvin Sevilla and his friends were knocking on a steel gate—the Bale-Balayan museum for the poor and haven for the youth—in Barangay Santa Teresita here.
It was around 8 a.m., and Sevilla and the other young people living in the area used to begin entering the Bale-Balayan earlier, when most residents were busy cleaning their houses.
“I was telling them to start coming by 8 or 9 in the morning, because we still have to clean the house and museum,” said artist and dance choreographer Peter de Vera, who turned his and his late sister’s house, dubbed Bale-Balayan, into a museum and music-and-dance training center catering to less-fortunate members of the society.
“I even asked for a meeting with the children’s parents so that they would know their whereabouts. But they didn’t want to anymore. They keep coming back, and we welcome them,” added de Vera, whose mission is prominently displayed on the tarpaulins at the museum: “Transforming youth through the arts.”
“We have nothing to do on weekends, that’s why we are here. I am enjoying it, and I love to learn to play the instruments,” Sevilla said in the dialect. He was recently featured at a Pampanga-based television network as one of those who frequent the house of de Vera.
Sevilla sells fishballs on the streets after attending classes to help his family. His reward to himself is a regular visit at de Vera’s abode, where he and many young people are taught how to play local and Asian-inspired musical instruments, such as kulintang, dabakan, gabang, agong, gangsa, bambolina, sarunai and movimba.
Christian Jude Soliven and Opalia Jeron Padilla of the Holy Angel University are following the footsteps of their mentor, de Vera.
Soliven and Padilla teach the children how to play the musical instruments for free on a regular basis.
“We will never leave Sir Peter [de Vera] and his mission in life, because he was there when we needed him most,” they collectively said.
Mission in life
DE VERA said he started his mission to help the youth gain college education through the arts in 1992.
He added he had handled 150 people, and “at least 80 of them graduated and are now successfully working.”
De Vera’s formula of helping the youth is simple. He teaches them to do dance and musical numbers. Then they perform at simple and grand events, including at the programs of Pampanga and Angeles City local governments and inaugural flights of local and international airline companies at the Clark Airport.
“We perform to express our gratitude to people and local government units for giving us scholars and other assistance to help poor but deserving students get college education,” said de Vera, who is vice head of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) National Committee on Dance.
“We don’t really go around and ask for scholarship grants. In a few instances, I asked my closest friends to sponsor the tuition of deserving students,” he said.
Appealing to many
DE VERA and his team of talented instructors and young artists are earning not just applauses and praises but invitations to perform in other parts of the country and abroad.
Earlier this year, the Most Rev. Pablo Virgilio “Ambo” David of the Holy Rosary Parish Church here spearheaded a fundraising featuring the Loboc Children’s Choir. In between the program for the benefit of the earthquake victims of Bohol, de Vera and his artists were asked to perform.
The officials from Bohol were so impressed with the performance of de Vera’s group that they asked them to do the same number in the province in the Visayas.
With the assistance of the NCCA, de Vera’s team successfully performed months later in Bohol.
De Vera said they were also asked by the Philippine government to represent the country in a festival honoring Buddha in Cambodia. They also performed in South Korea.
De Vera and his group were sent to a remote island in Albay. The NCCA asked de Vera to teach arts to the young people of San Miguel Island, “because they have lost interest in fishing and farming.”
The Albay folk were worried because the young men and women of the island were preoccupied with computer games and other unproductive activities. They were “cured” and were back to the sea in no time.
God will provide
DE VERA was asked by the BusinessMirror if he was not afraid that they may lack funds for scholarships and other daily expenses of the group. They are renting a huge room in a commercial area in Angeles City used as storage for their props and materials and a venue for the intensive practices of the artists.
“God will provide,” said de Vera with a smile. “But I have to work, as well, so that we will survive.”
For many years, de Vera has been one of the judges of famous festivals in the country, including the Sinulog Festival of Cebu, Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo, Bangus Festival of Pangasinan and the Guling-Guling Festival of Ilocos Norte.
In 2012 de Vera collaborated with then-Pampanga Board Member Olga Frances “Fritzie” David-Dizon for the successful staging of the annual Miss Pampanga beauty pageant. The following year, he was asked to handle the Most Outstanding Kapampangan Award, the highlight of the Pampanga Day founding celebrations.
Asked why he also named his place “a museum for the poor,” de Vera said “there is this impression that museums are only for the rich and are located in prominent areas.”
De Vera’s place showcases arts, cultures and works of Filipinos from Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao, and others from countries in Asia.
De Vera’s Bale-Balayan is a few blocks away from the main public market of the highly urbanized city.
“Why not create a refuge and place to relax for very tired workers of the public market? The less fortunate needs more attention and care,” said de Vera, who represented the NCCA in various international dance and arts conferences and festivals held in Australia, the US, Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Spain, Cambodia, South Korea and Thailand.
“I have reached this point in my life wherein all I want is to share. I want to see happy faces of people who gained education despite being poor,” said the 54-year-old Capampangan dubbed “The Selfless Artist of Angeles City.”
Image credits: Leo Villacarlos