A colorful life
A colorful life
Amadís Ma. Guerrero (The Philippine Star) - October 27, 2010 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The life of John Arcilla — singer, actor of the stage, films and TV (Magkaribal), and humanitarian — has been colorful and filled with events, mostly cultural but with a dash of politics. For instance, as a teenager during the dying years of the Marcos regime, he became involved in Lino Brocka’s Concerned Artists of the Philippines and with the activist group known as Kadena.

After People Power I in 1986, however, he went back to school at St. Joseph’s College in Quezon City and finally was able to finish his thesis, and graduate.

John was born in Manila but when martial law was declared in 1972, the family went to the hometown of his mother (Baler, Aurora) to escape the heat in the city (his father was considered “pro-worker”). It was here that the boy developed his talents as an actor, singer, orator and even folk dancer.

The Arcilla family is religious on both sides. The mother Eustacia Peñaranda, a niece of President Manuel L. Quezon, used to be a Carmelite nun while the father Dominador Arcilla comes from a family of bishops and priests. It was perhaps this religious background which made John, much later in life, decline bold roles in movies.

In Baler, John was a consistent honor student from grade school to high school (later a scholar at St. Joseph’s College) and active in extracurricular activities. He sang, acted and danced in school and town presentations, and family gatherings. He headed the school’s cultural committee and resided in the parish convent as a guitarist, head of the choir, altar boy and assistant to the parish priest. He graduated from high school as orator of the year.

When the family returned to Manila, the theater, professional this time, beckoned again and he underwent a workshop at PETA (Philippine Educational Theater Association), later becoming a mainstay of Tanghalang Pilipino, the resident theater group of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Among his memorable roles were the characters of Crisostomo Ibarra and Simoun the jeweler in the musical trilogy, during the mid-‘90s of Tanghalang Pilipino (music by Ryan Cayabyab, libretto by Paul Dumol and direction by Nonon Padilla). These were based on the Rizal novels Noli and Fili. The plays later toured the Philippines and eight cities in Japan, care of the Japan Foundation.

Another unforgettable role for John was as Bonifacio the Supremo, which toured schools in Metro Manila.

“Dito ko naintindihan ang pagkakaiba nila (Rizal the reformist and Bonifacio the revolutionary),” the actor notes.

It was the popular ad “Coffee na lang dear” which, as he puts it, opened the doors for him to the movie industry. He went on to win a slew of nominations (11) and awards for Best Actor. The most recent was for Best Actor in the award-winning Cinemalaya film Halaw: Ways of the Sea, directed by Sheron Dayoc, which is getting good reviews abroad.

Arcilla recently left for Shanghai, China to sing at the Philippine Exposition on the occasion of the United Nations Creative Week, at the invitation of the UN in New York. He was there for six days. This will be followed by a trip to Tokyo for an international filmfest. And then, on Nov. 20 to 27, he will sing in another UN convention in Geneva, Switzerland.

When he performs, the singing actor would like to think that, “I am doing this for the sake of the audience. I’m like a priest, a doctor. I am healing the wounds of the audience’s hearts, the audience’s psyche. Meron akong ginagamot na kaisipan, damdamin sa mga manunuod. Sinasabi ko ito ay para sa Pilipinas. Lagi kong sinsasabi yon, di ko alam kung bakit.”

The humanitarian streak is the most pronounced in his Care & Protect Life Foundation (capablefoundation.com) which helps communities and, among other activities, provides weekly tutorials to children who cannot easily absorb the lessons in congested classrooms.

“The foundation is an invitation to heal the wounded.” says John. “We believe the earth is wounded, because people are wounded. We are all wounded.”

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