EMILIO AGUILAR CRUZ
(1951 – 1991)
Journalist, Art Critic, Painter and Diplomat
Artist, writer, editor, art critic, diplomat, and nationalist, Emilio Aguilar Cruz was born on June 5, 1915 in Magalang, a town at the foot of Mount Arayat, the majestic mountain on the plains of Pampanga which became his inspiration for many of his essays and paintings. He had been drawing and painting constantly since he was seven, prompting his parents to hire a private tutor to teach him how to draw. As a young boy, he also took up music lessons, but he had to give this up because it was presumed that he would be a painter in the family.
Aguilar Cruz entered the College of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines during the prewar years but quit after a year because, according to him, he “was confined to paint stuffed animals and ketchup bottles.” Impatient to paint figures and landscapes of Mt. Arayat and Manila Bay, instead, he regarded his format art instruction as a course on “how not to paint.” He also wanted to learn modern painting, but there was no school teaching it since the dominant style of that prewar American period was realism. Thus, he tried to develop his talent as an artist largely through self – study and observation. It was also through this method that he learned the French language.
Moving to Manila during the late 1930’s, he got employed, oddly, as an attendant at the National Psychopathic Hospital. In 1932, he started writing short stories for Graphic Magazine. As one of the country’s prewar fictionist , Aguilar Cruz merited at least 20 citations in Jose Garcia Villa’s annual selections, and made it twice to the famous poet’s honor roll. He became Graphic’s feature writer in 1938.
Aguilar Cruz served with the guerillas that fought the Japanese during the Second World War. His first oil painting was that of an airdrop of supplies by American planes to his guerilla unit. After the war, he became the editor of Sunday Times Magazine. This was from 1946 to 1949. in 1949, he became chief editor of the Daily Mirror, a post he held up to the declaration of martial law on September 21, 1972.
Aside from editorials for the Daily Mirror and the Manila Times, Aguilar Cruz also wrote columns and essays for several other publications. His topics were wide – ranging – from art and literature, to history and politics. He wrote with deep and brilliant insights. A nationalist who hailed from a hotbed of social unrest, he became one of the severest critics of the parity rights agreement between the United States and the Philippines and the continued presence of the US bases in the country. According to him, however, imitating some of the ways and values of other countries did not necessarily mean a lack of nationalism as long as these would improve the country’s social conditions. Nevertheless, he stressed the need for Filipinos to develop a strong cultural and political identity.
As a social critic, Aguilar Cruz satirized the Filipinos’ penchant for extravagance, their blind adoption of “modernization”, and their vanity, as expressed, for instance, in the habit of some of them placing their academic degrees after their names. At the same time, he praised the unlettered who had accomplished more despite their lack if education.
The city of Manila figured prominently in his commentaries on history. He argued that the city should really be called “Maynila” since its name was derived from that of the plant “nilad”. He also wrote about the manila Chinese.
In the arts, Aguilar Cruz wrote about the rather obscure side of Juan Luna. His early essay, “ The Autochthonous Tradition” (1944), a revolt against the realist tradition, which had dominated the art scene in the country for so long, helped usher in a new era in modern Philippine art.
As an art critic, Aguilar Cruz disliked the pompous and was contemptuous of the mediocre. He exhibited strong opinions but without the bile of the professional cynic.
For his contributions to the Arts, Aguilar Cruz was given Pro Patria Award by President Diosdado Macapagal in 1961.
Aguilar Cruz never forgot his love for painting, nor relegated it to a mere hobby. He continued to paint whenever he had the time, using oil or watercolor. Although exuding a “French” air, his works were distinctly Filipino in their depiction of the Philippine sceneries and figures, mostly in the neo – impressionist style bordering on the expressionist. To some art critics, he was the country’s answer to such French masters as Gauguin and Andre Malroux.
Aguilar Cruz was a member of the association of poets and painters called “The Primitives”. He was one of the mentor – founders of the Dimasalang Group, which used to specialize in painting nudes.
As a painter, Aguilar Cruz never changed his style just to please a client, nor did he join painting sessions to gain potential customers. He was known for his generosity, giving away his paintings even to complete strangers.
In 1973, Aguilar Cruz started a column on the socio – cultural scene in the Times Journal. In 1978, he published an anthology of his essays, entitled Maynila (Raya Books, Hongkong).
From 1978 to 1981, he served as the country’s permanent representative to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), based in Paris, France.
While in Europe, he encountered some publications about the Philippines written in French which he translated to English. These translations provide valuable insights into the conditions of the country during the 19th century. These were Journey to Majayjay and Twenty Years in the Philippines, by Paul P. de Gironiere; Luzon and Palawan , by Alfred Marche; Luzon and Mindanao, by Duke of Alencon; Recollections of a Voyage to the Philippines, by J. de Man, and One Week in the Philippines, by Andre Bellesort, which was an account of the author’s encounter with Aguinaldo and his party while in exile in Hongkong in 1897.
Aguilar Cruz was a board member of the National Historical Commission from July 5, 1967 to June 6, 1972, and the National Historical Institute from July 1, 1972 up to the time of his death.
Aguilar Cruz taught journalism and humanities at he University of the Philippines, Centro Escolar University, and the Manuel L. Quezon University.
He was married to Felicidad de Jesus, herself a poetess. They had a son, Lorenzo, who served as director of the Bureau of Foreign Information under the government of President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
Aguilar Cruz – “Abe” to his friends and colleagues (the word means “friend” of “comrade” in Pampango, his native tongue) – died on December 19, 1991. His remains were cremated, and his ashes were scattered in an orchard near the place where he was born at the foot of Mt. Arayat.
On August 7, 1992, the National historical Institute honored him with a marker in his name, placed at the town plaza of Magalang, Pampanga.
Jesse C. Sanchez
Cell #: 09165788216