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People: A tribute to Peque Gallaga, and how a garden is part of his legacy

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — What, exactly, happens when a pillar falls? The house remembers, as in the case of the late Peque Gallaga. Today, on the first year anniversary of his death, the industry continues to honor and celebrate his legacy as one of the Philippines’ most outstanding filmmakers.  

Born Maurice Ruiz de Luzuriaga Gallaga, Peque was a man ahead of his time. With work that spanned decades, he was best known for “Oro, Plata, Mata,” a historical war drama that earned him an award from the International Film Festival of Flanders-Ghent, Belgium in 1983; a Special Jury Award from the Manila International Film Festival; and the 2004 Gawad CCP Para sa Sining.

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Peque Gallaga directs Kuh Ledesma in Oro Plata Mata (source: Peque Gallaga Facebook fanpage)

His other exceptional works include “Shake, Rattle & Roll,” “Magic Temple,” “Tiyanak,” and “Sonata,”  among others. The last film Peque ever worked on was “Magikland“, a fantasy adventure film that he co-produced with Lore Reyes, his long-time friend and co-director of many years. The film performed well and received the Special Jury Prize from the 2020 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF).

Vicente Groyon, a writer who Peque worked with on several films such as Agaton & Mindy, shares, “Peque’s generosity was what set him apart as a teacher and co-worker. He was always rooting for you; even when he was frustrated with your work, you could tell that he was rooting for you. I think he was so eager to share what he knew and see you grow and improve because it meant that you could collaborate with him on his level, which he loved to do.”

Jo Macasa, Peque’s trusted Production Manager, explains, “Peque was an enabler. He would always encourage you to fly and even fall. He would applaud you during your victories, and hold your hand when you fail. The worst thing about this new normal is having to go through life without a Peque Gallaga to enable you. He is irreplaceable.”

Aside from his work in film and TV, Peque also played an influential role in regional theater. After teaching drama at De La Salle University Manila and St. Scholastica’s College Manila, he moved back to his hometown of Bacolod. There, he taught film and theater at the University of St. La Salle where he mentored the likes of Joel Torre, Dwight Gaston, and Ronnie Lazaro.

Under Peque’s helm, the Negros Summer Workshops (NSW) was also born. The program served to educate Negrense artists in the craft of directing, acting, cinematography, film production, and more. The NSW saw industry pioneers and professionals, usually from all over the country, come together to share their expertise and knowledge. Some of the notable graduates of the workshops include Law Fajardo, Vicente Garcia Groyon, Erik Matti, Jay Abello, and Tanya Lopez.

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In a speech delivered at the University of St. La Salle in 2019, Peque reflected on his decision to grow the film and theater community in Negros. Looking back, he said, “I bore the conviction that it is almost impossible to directly and immediately change the world, or a country, or a people. At this point, I was fortunate to come across Voltaire and his proposition: Make your garden grow.  I was transformed… here was somebody who was encouraging you to make a difference starting in your own backyard. That your own backyard can make a difference in the entire world.”

Cindy Ballesteros, a close friend of Peque who spent many years in the workshops, can attest to this. She says, “Long before these community pantries existed, we had the community theater, where lost souls, like mine, found a home in. Direk Peque nurtured me in his garden, but my story is just one in a million lives he inspired.”

Tanya Lopez, a mainstay at the workshops since its conception in 1991, adds, “NSW provided the foundation for my training as actor, director, art manager, and educator. As part of the pioneering batch, I had the opportunity to be part of legendary theatre productions produced by NSW, some of which were done as Works-In-Progress where the actors were co-creators with the creative team in the development of the story. It was a privilege to have been mentored by two of the NSW pillarsPeque Gallaga and Elsie Coscolluela, whose valuable contribution to my growth paved the way to where I am today.”

Through dedication to his craft and sincerity as a mentor, Peque has truly created something that outlives him. Although the industry continues to grieve his loss, there is comfort in knowing that the legacy he created was never for himself, but for all the artists and lovers of Philippine cinema that come after him. 

Reflecting on the year since Peque’s passing, director Lore Reyes shares, “These have been the longest, toughest, and saddest days I’ve ever survived, as Peque was no longer by my side. But having been a mentor and role model for multiple generations of artists, Peque’s legacy will certainly continue to stay with us forever.“ 

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