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His dedication and love for the arts continues to shine through as he leads the National Commission for
Culture and the Arts.

Art is indeed like love,” National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) President Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso waxes poetic, talking about the role of art in society. “Parang musika at balagtasan, kailangan marinig mo. Parang visual arts, kailangan makita mo. ‘Pag hindi mo naramdaman ang art, hindi ka pwedeng baguhin or bigyan ng pagbabago (Like music and a verbal joust, which you have to hear. Like the visual arts, which you have to see. If you couldn’t feel art, it couldn’t change you or bring about change in the things around you].”

Lizaso, who also chairs the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), says art is not something that’s only taught verbally. “Kapag nakikita mo kasi ang sining, namumuo sa iyong kalooban ang kahulugan. Ang kahulugan ay uusbong, lalago at magiging pag-ibig (Because if you see art, its meaning will grow and flourish inside you, turning into love),” he tells LEAGUE.

After working in theater, film, and television for over 60 years, the man’s fervor and passion for the arts has not diminished.

He has been an actor, director, writer, producer, and cultural advocate. Now in his golden years, he continues to play a crucial role in the preservation, development, and promotion of arts and culture in the Philippines through the programs of NCCA and CCP.


Sining Sigla, CCP’s outreach program, is exactly what the name suggests, says Lizaso. Its goal is “to make the arts come alive, bring these outside the walls of the CCP and closer to the people.”

The program started prior to the pandemic, as an effort of the CCP to bring the productions to different provinces all over the country. But when the pandemic restrictions were implemented, bringing live performances to a halt and closing down entertainment venues, CCP needed to pivot. It shifted gears and went on to digital platforms, it’s battlecry summed up in the line: “Sarado ang gusali, tuloy ang sining (The venue may be closed, but art goes on).”

One of CCP’s online programs included a jazz festival aptly dubbed “Jazz Stay at Home,” featuring Filipino jazz talents. A series of puppet shows directed by Xian Lim also showcased an adaptation of literary classics Ibong Adarna and Florante at Laura.

A special retrospective on the works of renowned Filipino poet Jose Corazon de Jesus, more fondly known as Huseng Batute, was also showcased in an online production Titled “Awit at Tula: Pagbabalik-Tanaw sa Unang Hari ng Balagtasan.” A brainchild of the CCP president, the show featured performances from some of the most respected artists in the industry such as film and TV actors John Arcilla, Michael V., and Epy Quizon.

A Percussion Festival titled “Pintig” also took the virtual stage, gathering over 30 percussionists and drummers. Performances, talks, and workshops were conducted by CCP in partnership with the Percussive Arts Society Philippines. Meanwhile, bridging the generation gap through music was an online musical show titled “Kung Hindi Man.” The show had stars such as SB19, KZ Tandingan, Catriona Gray, Mark Bautista, Cesar Montano, and Orange & Lemons giving their interpretations of the songs under the genre. Some of the classics performed included “Nahan,” “Saan Ka Man Naroroon,” “Magbalik Ka Na, Mahal,” “Mutya ng Pasig,” “Bituing Marikit,” and “Panaginip.”


To ignite and instill in Filipinos an appreciation for and love of arts and culture, Lizaso through the NCCA produced a digital program called “Padayon: The NCCA Hour.” Padayon is a Visayan word which means “to move on or to continue doing something.”

The show is composed of three main segments. Sining Aral discusses educational topics such as Epikong Bayan, Philippine history, Noli Me Tangere, El Filibusterismo, and Philippine languages, among others. Sining Saya features personalities from different fields, recorded dance performances, and cultural presentations. Samo’t Sining gives an update about the current projects and activities of the NCCA.

The third main segment has four special segments namely Bukang Isip, a one-minute capsule interview of various personalities from the cultural sector; Laro Tayo, where hosts give out a question related to the day’s topic to be answered by online viewers/ audience; Sining Inspirasyon, which highlights inspiring stories of artists during the lockdown; and Sining Galaw, which features a compilation of performances, and artworks, among others.

The show, which had its pilot episode in July 2020, airs every Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; while Padayon Presents is every Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. over NCCA’s Facebook page. Select episodes are also being aired over PTV4. “NCCA would love to see more, if possible, all episodes of Padayon to be aired on national television,” he says.


One of the biggest milestones that happened under the leadership of Lizaso was the reopening of the Metropolitan Theater (Met). It has been 90 years since the theater, also referred to as the Grand Dame of Manila, was inaugurated on December 10, 1931.

The man behind its art deco design was Filipino architect Juan Arellano, also known for works such as the Legislative Building (now the National Museum of Fine Arts) in Luneta, the Negros Occidental Provincial Capitol, and the pre-war Jones Bridge. The theater was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1973 and a National Cultural Treasure in 2010.

The Met survived World War II, but it was badly destroyed by the bombings.

There were efforts to restore it in the late 70s, but it closed in the mid-90s due to conflicting claims of ownership between the City of Manila and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). The structure deteriorated due to years of unuse.

Former President Gloria MacapagalArroyo and former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim likewise made an attempt to restore the theater in 2010, but this failed. The years that followed saw several smaller projects to maintain it.

It was only in 2015 when the ownership issue was finally resolved and the NCCA finally bought the building from GSIS. A budget of Php525 million was allotted for the theater’s restoration through the National Endowment Fund for Culture and the Arts (NEFCA). The goal was to restore and conserve existing elements according to the original design of Arellano. Actual construction began in February 2017. However, the discovery of original Arellano-period features in the Main Theater and in the courtyards made it necessary to revise the initial design. Work resumed in 2019 and work on the Main Theater Block was completed by March 2020. The second and third phases of the restoration, which included the building’s exterior and the Grand Ballroom, were finished during the latter part of 2020 until 2021. This was in time for the restaging of the “Lapulapu: Ang Datu ng Mactan” musical last October 2021.

The theater’s official reopening was held last December 10, 2021, commemorated with a virtual and physical program graced by esteemed Filipino artists like pianist Raul Sunico, the Ryan Cayabyan singers, and the Manila Symphony Orchestra.

“This is our cultural link to the glorious past,” says Lizaso of the Met. “And it should open the door to our people’s thriving cultural future.”


The indefatigable purveyor of art and culture says there’s more work to be done. The gameplan, Lizaso says, is to continue what has been started. He tells us about Sentro Rizal, which aims to promote Philippine arts, culture, and language around the world through the establishment of Philippine centers in various countries.

He shares about the inauguration of the newly-constructed Culture and Arts Center building of Lipa City. In the March 18 event, the world-renowned Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) and some of the most respected artists in the country today, staged a night of musical spectacle. This was part of the PPO Outreach Program, one of the flagship programs spearheaded by Lizaso.

Lizaso also takes pride in the inauguration of the Sentro Rizal in New York this year. “We have 35 Sentro Rizal centers all over the world, including Washington D.C., Los Angeles, London, and Berlin. But we don’t have one in Paris yet, so I’m now in talks with the French ambassador,” he says.

As pandemic restrictions are slowly being lifted, Lizaso says there are prospects for Filipino talents performing in different venues around the country and internationally in different parts of the world. He’s thrilled as to what awaits the Philippine art and culture scene in the coming months and years.

“I am deeply grateful to the supporters and enthusiasts of the Philippine culture and arts, in the country and all over the world,” he says. “Because culture is what defines, identifies, and unites us as Filipinos. It bridges the regions of the Philippines. You might say, even [countries] across the world. Only art can do that.”

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