(1951 – 1991)
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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