Thursday, October 20, 2005

Philippine High School for the Arts: The Arts Haven in Mystic Mount Makiling

Reynaldo Wong shares the reasons why he found a second home at the Philippine High School for the Arts campus in the fringes of Mount Makiling in Los Baños, Laguna. “Yung mga taun-taong mga produksyon, mga showcase, mga sayaw-sayaw, they never fail to disappoint me. Para akong na-rerecharge. Kapiling mo yung mga bata na in a way ay parang mga anak mo na rin. Parang ang saya-saya ko.”

In 1991, Wong answered an anonymous ad for Science and Computer teachers which called on applicants to show up at the Folk Arts Theater. He received a letter after a month congratulating him for getting the job and instructing him to pack up for an in-service training. “Mag-impake ka ng damit for one week kasi mayroong in-service training for new faculty.” He thought all along that the training would be held in a resort or a hotel. He never knew where the school was until they were on the bus going to Mount Makiling. “Susmaryosep! Ano ba itong napuntahan ko,” was all he could say to himself. That was his first time to leave home for an extended period of time. Since then, he has only left PHSA to visit his family and do official business for the school. He has been working there for15 years. He is now PHSA’s Assistant Director I.

His was the face of a satisfied man. And I could tell why from the moment I stepped out of the PHSA shuttle that fetches employees to and from the UPLB main campus.

Located in the middle of the greens in one of the Philippines’ most mysterious and often mystical Mount Makiling, the campus of the Philippine High School for the Arts is a take-off from the usual hustle-and-bustle school campuses in Metro Manila. Before I took the trip, I studied the vicinity map and sort of got the impression that walking from UPLB to the National Arts Center compound in Mount Makiling where PHSA is located would be manageable. Regardless of the drizzle that morning, walking my way up the campus proved to be a bad idea. As one of my co-passengers in the PHSA employee shuttle described to me, going there was more like a mountain hike than a promenade in the park. Although the route was scenic, the road was well-paved, and the air was crisp-clean, the upward incline would be such a struggle for people not used to trekking. The campus is quite a distance from the UPLB main campus where most of the transportation is. The effort of getting there is well worth it though. When you’re there, you might have to think hard of coming back.


The Philippine High School for the Arts is a public, secular, and non-profit government agency attached to the Department of Education (DepEd). It was established in 11 June 1977 as a special school for the arts through the efforts of then First Lady Imelda Marcos. In 1990, it was converted to a regular government agency under the DepEd. Its programs are implemented in consultation with the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

The school aims to be a “center for excellence and leadership in arts, research, training, education, and support programs.” It provides an arts-based special secondary curriculum in view of developing the capabilities of artistically-inclined youth and consequently to preserve and promote Philippine arts and culture.


According to Cleofe Cabauatan, Administrative Assistant and has been with PHSA for 25 years, the campus can accommodate up to a maximum of 150 students, from first year to fourth year. As of school year 2005-2006, their total student population is 119. PHSA is boarding-school type; 30 cottages serve as residence for students, instructors, and administrative and support staff.

There are also cottages that are used as classrooms, laboratories, the library, computer room, audio-visual room, and practice rooms. The school also has its own theatre where most of the students’ performances are held.

Admissions and Scholarship

Any Filipino student with an outstanding ability in any of the arts, is eligible for graduation from elementary, not older than 13 years, proficient in both English and Filipino, has no communicable disease, and is willing to live in the campus is welcome to apply for scholarship.

Tuition at PHSA is totally free. “Wala silang bayad. Apat na taon. Free board and lodging, walang tuition, libre ang paghahatid at pagsundo sa Maynila. Tapos kung meron pa silang out of town performances or out of the country, libre din yun. May allowance silang 500,” says Cabauatan. She says the school spends P 200 000 a year for each student.

The school launches a nationwide search for incoming freshmen students every year which they call the Annual Nationwide Search for Young Scholars (ANSYAS) program. It is virtually a talent search which they conduct in different audition centers all over the Philippines. They start announcing the ANSYAS around April or May through the DepEd division superintendents and city schools, CCP art councils, and NGOs. When the application forms come in, the screenings start. “Auditions muna. Lahat ng makapapasa sa auditions, pinakukuha ng written exam. Pinasusulat namin ng essay at (pinakukuha ng) dalawang aptitude test. Isang nonverbal at isang academic aptitude,” Cabauatan reveals.

To the choice of audition centers, she says, “Nag-iiba-iba kami ng lugar taun-taon. As much as possible gusto naming mapuntahan ang pinakamaraming lugar sa Pilipinas kasi naniniwala kami na di pa rin gasinong kilala sa Pilipinas ang eskwelahan.”

Cabauatan says that in the early years of PHSA, they receive between 200 to 300 applicants, from which they choose only 25 to award the scholarship. Recently though, they have shifted gears and decided to accept 50 freshmen because of the high attrition rate of those who qualify for scholarship. “As much as possible, gusto naming malakihan ang aming population. Last year, ang kinuha namin 50. Pero dun sa 50 na iyon, ang nag-enroll lang 38. Kasi may mga apprehension yung mga magulang ng mga taga-malalayo na papuntahin dito yung mga bata. Meron nga kaming nakuha sa Palawan. First time naming pumunta sa Palawan. Apat ang nakapasa dun. Nag-alanganin yung magulang. Di sila tumuloy. Hinayang na hinayang talaga kami.”

Even relative to Metro Manila, the school is not exactly proximate. This explains the apprehension of parents of would-be scholars. Cabauatan says that in the audition centers, they talk to parents and give them assurances just in case their child passes the ANSYAS. “Binibigyan namin ng assurance talaga ang mga magulang na kahit malayo, aalagaan namin ang mga anak nila. Sa orientation, habang nag-eexam, may mga magulang na nakikipag-usap, may mga tumatawag sa telepono rito, (sinasabing) ang layo naman ho ng eskwelahan nyo eh. Ang sagot naman namin, meron ho kami ditong duktor, meron ho kaming nurse, meron ho kaming house parent, aalagaan ho ng husto ang anak nyo dito.”

Director Wong himself is a witness to the great lengths PHSA had to go to convince and assure the parents of successful scholars. “...ako yung kumukuha sa kanila (sholars) sa mga probinsya, dinadala (sila) dito kasi ako yung chairman ng screening for the past ten years. Ako yung nagbibigay ng orientation, ako yung nagkukumbinsi sa mga nanay (para payagan ang kanilang mga anak).”


The PHSA curriculum is a combination of general secondary education level program and a special program geared toward arts education.

“Sinusunod pa rin naman namin ang Revised Basic Education Curriculum (RBEC). Public school kami. Kaya buong umaga, mula alas-7 hanggang 12:40, andyan na yung basic education nila. Kapag 2 to 6, ayan na yung arts nila,” says Cabauatan about the components of their special secondary curriculum. She elaborates more, saying “Pero dun sa kanilang basic education, na-iincorporate pa rin kung ano yung natutunan nila sa arts. Yung natutunan nila sa Science and Math, nagagamit naman nila sa paggawa ng arts production. Halimbawa, yung isang visual artist, ang tema niya sa kanyang exhibit ay tungkol sa light. Ang consultant niya sa paggawa ng kanyang thesis ay yung kanyang Physics teacher. Nag-cocombine (ang arts at Science). Di lang basta artistic expression, scientific pa yung kanyang exhibit. Naiintindihan niya kasi yung prinsipyo ng kanyang exhibit in terms of Science.”

She cites more examples, “Halimbawa naman (sa) dance, na-cocombine niya (ito) sa History. Kagaya last year. Ang thesis performance ng mga folk dancers (ay) Ibong Adarna. Nagawan nila ng dance production yung Ibong Adarna. Napag-aralan nila yung literary piece. Naisalin nila sa sayaw. Ganun din yung ginagawa ng ballet dancers namin. Sa History rin nila binabase yung kanilang ballet performance.”

PHSA students major in five different arts: creative writing, dance, music, visual arts, and theater arts. One of the first things that a PHSA freshman does is to determine what arts he or she wants to major in. “Pagpasok pa lang nila rito, (tinatanong na namin kung) ano ang kanilang (gustong) major. Kaya hiwa-hiwalay rin yung audition. Kung saan ka pinakamagaling dun ka mag-audition.”

Cabauatan explains, “Lahat ng pare-parehong majors, sila yung magkakaklase. Pinaghahalo lang sila pag-elective na. Tuwing Thursday, binibigyan namin ng pagkakataon ang lahat ng mga estudyante na ma-experience din nila yung ibang arts. Halimbawa ballet dancer, pwede rin siyang mag-enrol ng music. Halimbawa, (pwede siyang mag-enrol sa) Philippine ethnic music. Kasi yung tugtog sa Philippine ethnic music, pwede niyang gamitin sa kanyang sayaw. Meron namang theater arts (major), nag-vivisual arts siya (as elective). Magagamit niya yun for production design sa kanyang palabas. Pitong electives yung kanyang pwedeng lipat-lipatan. Every semester, puwede siyang pumasok sa isang elective.”

A typical class day starts early for PHSA students. “Siyempre gigising ng maaga. Mga 4:30. Siyempre apat sila sa kwarto kaya hali-halili yan sa paliligo,” Cabauatan says. She also adds that they make it a point to assign students with the same majors in the same room. “Ngayon nakikita naming mas epektibo na ang magkakasama sa kwarto ay magkakapareho ng arts para nakakapag-usap sila tungkol sa arts nila.”

The whole morning is dedicated to all the basic education subjects. “Pagdating ng alas-siyete umpisa na ng klase hanggang 12:40. May break sila ng mga 20 minutes para magmeryenda. Ang time allotment per subject ay 40 minutes.” The only difference of the basic education program in PHSA is the presence of a special art education course which the students take every Tuesdays. Cabauatan says that the course is designed to give the students a theoretical background of the arts. And as a consequence of the school’s thrust toward arts, they do not teach the subject Makabayan which is one of the main innovations in the RBEC. “Kasi ang kinukuha sa Makabayan ay kabuuan na ng kinukuha nila dito sa PHSA. Meron naman silang Social Studies, meron naman silang arts, meron silang Art Studies. Yun din naman ang content ng Makabayan.”

In the afternoons, from 2 to 6, the class breaks up into their different arts majors.

The school has in-house basic education teachers and arts instructors. Aside from them, PHSA has a set of high-profile art consultants to enhance their instruction. “Binibisita rin kami ng mga artists para magbigay ng lectures. Nonoy Froilan, Virgilio Almario, Melissa Atienza. (We have) Around 25 art consultants to enhance (our program). Music ang pinakamarami kasi individualized (instruction) yan eh.”

The 10 Year Development Plan

One of the major concerns of PHSA nowadays is its 10-year development plan, anchored on the theme “Muling Pagtanaw, Bagong Pananaw.”

“First and foremost, the 10-year development plan zeroes in on curriculum reform. We would like our curriculum to be research-based. And all our teaching and learning processes documented, published, and disseminated particularly to other art schools,” explains Director Wong. He explains that by research-based, he means the program aims to equip their students with research skills which they would use in their fourth year in school when they are sent back to the communities where they came from. “We would like them to see for themselves culture, and customs, and traditions, and heritages right where they came from. Because we have students from Pagadian, Bukidnon, Laoag, and we would like to equip them through curriculum reforms with research skills and their outputs research-based therefore. And we would like them to engage in actual community research and search and mingling with people documenting ways of living with a view of enriching all the more their artistic excellence.”

Another major facet of their planned curriculum reform is what Wong calls “curriculum differentiation.” “When we say curriculum differentiation, we tailor the curriculum to fit the inclination of a particular student or a group of students with similar abilities or talents.” He says that curriculum differentiation will need a lot of work. “We will have to do a lot of teacher training, module signing and construction, and workshops in order to tailor-fit the things that are supposed to be learned as prescribed by the DepEd for high school students. We are going to decongest (the curriculum) and focus (it) to the real destination and that is to bring the students on their final year here or at least half of their final year to where they came from. Eh saan ba ito? Sa mga probinsya where we got them. Sa Calbayog, from Pagadian, from everywhere. Go back (to your provinces) and come back (here in school) and let us synthesize whatever you have gathered through the research process.” Here, he says, is where the utility of a research-based curriculum lies. “Because only through disciplined research and documentation will we be able to see and pass on to and share with other schools what the Philippine High School for the Arts has been accomplishing and what the actual state of cultural awareness the Filipinos have.”

With regard to streamlining, Wong reveals major curriculum changes. “We plan to integrate those that are related, like Art Studies and Social Studies, like Health and Biology.” As to the required CAT training for graduating high school students: “Biro mo kelangan nilang mag CAT. My god dalawampu’t lima yung fourth year namin. Yung isa dun commander, yung dalawa dun MP. Aanim ang mga magmamartsa. So we are negotiating a community outreach and social immersion program to take the place of the military training for high school.”

Wong cannot help but feel sentimental when talking about the 10-year plan. “Bago mamatay ang direktor namin, he was able to imbibe that [the theme] to the community. Three years before he died (he laid the groundwork already). And so, ang iniwan niya sa amin ay yung 10-year development plan na talagang yung 10 years na yun ang battle cry nun is ‘Muling Pagtanaw, Bagong Pananaw.’ ” He says that 2005 is “human and materials resource gathering” for the 10-year plan. “We want to find out our strengths in terms of resources. Kaya ba natin? Do we have human and material back up to do that? So we have to answer that. We have to make an inventory of our resources and that’s what we’re trying to do this year. Of course coupled with defending that in Congress, on the floor di ba para mapondohan ka.”


Aside from the programs in their special secondary curriculum, PHSA lines up several academic support programs and extracurricular activities.

PHSA has a curriculum support program to help students cope with their academics. “Kasi naniniwala kami na merong ibang mga bata na napaka-talented pero nagkukulang siya dun sa basic education. Meron kaming tinatawag na academic support program para tulungan ang mga batang ito na mabigyan sila ng tutorial ng mga lessons on basic education. Para maka-cope. Mayroong mga batang nangangailangan talaga. Accepted namin yun. Malakas sila sa arts pero medyo namumroblema sa basic education,” says Cabauatan. According to her, PHSA believes that “Lahat ng mga bata ay may karapatang na mag-develop, kailangan lang ng tamang pag-aasikaso.”

Artistic productions inside and outside the campus are part of PHSA’s regular activities. “Culminating activity ng lahat ng mga arts na natutunan nila sa loob ng apat na taon. Sa Pebrero yun. Yung tinatatawag naming Ibarrang Arts Festival. Pagkatapos meron kaming mga invitations na mag-perform sa ibang lugar. In fact ngayong Enero, dalawa yung naka-schedule na puntahan ng mga musicians. Isa sa Tacloban, isa sa Laoag. Invitational yan. Binibigyan sila ng performance honorarium. Yung pera na iyun ginagamit nila para makapunta naman sila sa ibang lugar. Ini-roroll-over yung pera.”

Part of PHSA’s agenda as well is to reach out to other schools and to develop an audience for the arts. “Meron kaming tinatawag na ‘Lingap Paaralan, Handog Sining.’ Pumupunta kami sa eskwelahan para magturo. Ang natapos namin yung Los Baños National High School. Siyempre sila yung pinakamalapit. Tapos this year mag-aadopt naman kami ng elementary school. Ang purpose naman namin, para mai-prepare na yung mga bata na makapag-apply for scholarship dito sa Los Baños. Para elementary pa lang, teachers na namin ang magtuturo sa kanila,” says Cabauatan.

Like any other high school, PHSA also mounts interschool competitions, outreach programs, sports fests, and educational trips. PHSA students also get the privilege of interacting with visiting artists, cultural leaders, and government officials.

Contact details

I was there three or four hours and I felt attached to the place. I couldn’t help but feel a little regretful not knowing about the existence of Philippine High School for the Arts back in the day when I was about to enter secondary school. If I did, I would’ve taken my chance and applied for scholarship. Studying Science and Math and being able to harness my artistic inclinations in the middle of nature, far from the honking of horns, the smoke, with only the tweeting of birds and the sweet smell of mountain air, is so enviable.

To get in touch with PHSA, you can visit their Website at, call them at telefax (049) 536.5971 or (049) 536.2862, or send them mail at and this address: Philippine High School for the Arts, National Arts Center, Mount Makiling, College 4031, Los Baños, Laguna.

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