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Davao painter breaks tradition in “Duterte-Dekwatro”

I was at the comfort of my bedroom, watching the ritual procedures from PTV livestreaming, taking pictures from my television screen, and posting it on Twitter with the hashtags DuterteInauguration, PartnerForChange, and Du30June30 among others.

Watching it reminded me of when I had the opportunity to walk and dine inside ancient Malacañang for the first time in 2009 for an awarding ceremony. I remember how one of our cohorts was denied entry for improper decorum. She was wearing her P.E. uniform. Good thing my options were between my barong uniform and my CAT regalia. I opted for the barong because it’s comfortable (although I was close to wearing the regalia just to show-off).


It has made me feel bad, though, that she was not able to get in just because of the uniform. (Besides, coming from a public school, the uniform is government-issued. Years after, I’ve found out that Duterte, who was then serving his first term as Davao mayor, was not allowed entry for the similar reason.) Those who have passed through the security check were escorted to the palace. From the grandiose entrance hall, I remember passing through labyrinth-like corridors on the right of the grand staircase until we’ve reached the venue. What amazed my eyes, aside from the garden, the marble floor, the ornate iron doors, the staircase, the guardia civil, mirrored ceilings, and the carpet, was the set of paintings in the foyer and corridors ushering us towards Heroes Hall. In there was a myriad of faces that has graced the annals of Philippine history, from Kalipulako (Lapu-Lapu) to the contemporary. These faces were not just the faces of people but the parcels of history merged into the names of the ones painted. Perhaps, it was then and there that I started to be fascinated with official portraits.


Portrait by Lulu Coching Rodriguez

I was already looking for Duterte’s portrait online but I was not getting any information. I remember that days prior Noynoy Aquino’s inaugural, his portrait was a news item due to his black suit (but interestingly, the one hanging in the palace shows the Antipas Delotavo work showing PNoy wearing a barong with a yellow ribbon). Aquino’s portrait was painted by Lulu Coching Rodriguez, daughter of Filipino comic genius Francisco Coching, and wife to the Instituto Cervantes Director Dr. Jose Rodriguez. Just by looking at the presidential portraits from Cory to Noy, it is easy to identify that it was Lulu’s touch. So, I was surprised when I saw the Duterte portrait through my friends, couple Atty. Adnan Alonto and wife Jojo Castro-Alonto’s Facebook post.



Mr. and Mrs. Alonto during the Duterte inauguration (Photo Courtesy: Jojo Castro-Alonto)

They took a photo within Malacañang halls where the portrait serves as their background. Not
only was Digong painted with his fingers on his face, he was seated in cross-legs. Truly a maverick even in portraiture. At first, I thought it was still Lulu Coching Rodriguez’ work until I’ve noticed the difference in the sagisag. Lulu has a serif style for it. This painting has a sans serif.

That was when I did further research. Believe it or not, Senyora Santibañez was credible enough. It has pointed me to the Asian Dragon website where a Tomasino artisan’s name emerged.


I was attending the Sunday Tagalog Mass at Saint Patrick’s Church at the Yerba Buena district of San Francisco. I was notified that Daryl De Leon Descallar accepted my Facebook friend request.  Then, I knew I would not be able to hear mass appropriately. I lined up the communion queue with my arms across my chest. It was early Monday morning in the Philippines and I can’t wait to talk to Sir Daryl.

“Good morning, Sir Daryl. Thank you for accepting the request. I’m Julius Fernandez and I’m very keen on getting an interview regarding the presidential portrait po…”

“Hello, Sir Julius! Yes, pwede po.” He replied quickly with a cheerfulness that has gone beyond the limits of space.


Daryl De Leon Descallar

Daryl De Leon Descallar is a proud graduate of the University of Santo Tomas College of Architecture and Fine Arts (UST-CAFA) Batch 1984 with a degree in Advertising Arts. He was born in Manila on November 12, 1963 to parents Cecilio G. Descallar, who had taken Chemical Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology, and Ediltrudes De Leon Descallar, a University of Santo Tomas Journalism graduate.

“My parents did not show much talent in visual arts, but my mother took a semester of Fine Arts in college, at UST, and she shifted to Journalism major.”

Descallar attended Ateneo de Davao and Davao City National High School for elementary and secondary education, respectively. Her sister has taken up Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communication at the University of the Philippines – Diliman.

“As far as I could remember, I already started drawing at around five. I remember drawing a picture of a train on a grade school paper with a piece of chalk in our house at Barrio Obrero, Davao City. I was somehow frustrated because the lines were white. I wanted it dark. That time I wasn’t introduced yet to pencil or ball pen. As a young child, I was very inclined to creating and drawing things from imagination. All through my elementary and high school years I did a lot of drawing and a little of painting. I was inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci and his varied talents and the works of Vincent Van Gogh. My parents and relatives and the important people who surrounded me, including my teachers and classmates were very appreciative of my artistic talent and it encouraged me to develop my skills further. Pursuing Fine Arts course was one of the best things that happened to me. I chose the course because everything  in life, from the things we wear, tools we use, furniture, electronics, prints and so many other things, an artist is involved in the process of creating the form, shape, production and marketing. I thought, ‘this is where I want to be, to be part of creating beautiful product presentations to sell an idea or a tangible product’.”


J: Coming from UST, home to national artists, how has it helped you in developing your talents and breaking into the business?

D: I am proud to be a Tomasino. To be in Fine Arts-UST is like finding gold, as I always have a high regard for the University considering it to be the oldest university in Asia and having one of the country’s best art schools.  The mentoring of my UST professors, surrounded by inspiring classmates and other talented students at CAFA (now CFAD) was the most rewarding four years of my life in the academe. The pressure to create works, meet deadlines through sleepless nights molded my art skills, creativity, and confidence. Wearing the title a Fine Arts UST graduate makes me proud which reminds me to be excellent in everything I do as I always carry the name of the school with its ideals. After graduating, I was able to use my art training from UST even if the nature of my first employment was not as an artist. Photography, logo making, set design, advertising material design and other visual art works were the things I did.


Photo Courtesy: Daryl de Leon Descallar

J: You’re a certified anak ng Dabaw. Did you want Duterte to win?

D: I remember him jokingly saying that he did not want to be a congressman or a senator. Legislative work is boring he says. He is an action man. He’d either be the Mayor of Davao City or the President of the Philippines. You love him and hate him for many reasons but you’ll love him as a leader who wants to change things for the better and I saw that with what happened to Davao City; one of the most feared cities in the country before, but now one of the safest in the world because of his leadership. At first I didn’t want him to be president. I thought he was not serious to run until he announced that he will finally run for office and looking at the lineup of presidentiables and the situation of the country, I sought God for guidance if I will ever vote for this man or not. With much prayer and Bible devotions, I concluded that he was the best person to lead the country. Knowing his thinking style- a strategist and tactical thinker, I knew that he will not go the way others will take in campaigning. To stand out, he will always break the norm and will do it with the least minimum effort and cost at the shortest possible time. Unique and clever thinker, indeed.

J: What was your role in the Duterte campaign?

D: Because of my active Christian work, I wasn’t highly visible in campaigning for Mayor Digong but my wife was. My reason for this was that Filipinos are highly emotional when it comes to elections and they are fully committed to their choice of candidates. Family members who are divided of their choices are in conflict because of this. Churches are divided too. To avoid unnecessary arguments with friends, I decided not to announce my choice of candidate. What I did was throw leading questions about candidates I didn’t like to win just to drive my point of why President Duterte should win. Yet somehow by doing this, I was aware that friends still got a hint of who was my bet. Although in Davao City, it was not difficult because majority liked him and they still do now.

J: Did you do previous artworks prior the presidential portrait?

D: I went back to painting 26 years after graduating from college. This was because I became a missionary and I also got more involved in graphic design and advertising arts and painting was totally out of the picture. The project that fully brought me back to painting was a commissioned work for NEH-Philippines, a Davao-based banana export company, to commemorate their 10th year. It was a 5’x15’ oil painting mural. After that, I did more paintings with acrylic and watercolor. The first iconic painting I made was that of Manny Pacquiao. That painting is still with me,” he shares.

J: Have you ever thought that you will be commissioned to paint Digong Dekwatro? Or is there a formal title to it?

D: The thought of being commissioned to paint the portrait of Pres Rodrigo Duterte to be displayed at Malacañang never came to mind.


Photo Courtesy: Daryl De Leon Descallar

Actually, our art group TABULA RASA Art Group Unlimited, Davao-based, was commissioned for the work. Tabula Rasa, in Latin, means empty slate or empty canvass. We got excited but we knew that we were pressed for time. Oil portrait painting requires weeks to make studies, shoot, prepare materials, paint and finish.

President Digong’s portrait by a Davaoeño was an exciting idea. They asked for at least 4 works to choose from. It was offered to us 3 weeks before the inauguration date and Digong didn’t have the time for a photo shoot which I offered to do. They gave us a standing photo of the president which we thought was not ideal for the painting but we had no choice. We got the photo just two weeks before June 30. I and one of the TABULA RASA artists Brando Cedeno made 2 paintings each. One based on the photo that was given to us, and another, seated in dekwatro. We thought they can choose from the 2 standing positions we did and the sitting position can be displayed in other offices.

We only had 3 days to work on each painting and you can just imagine the adrenaline rush and sleepless nights. We felt that the sitting Digong with his signature hand on the side of his cheek was more Digong than the standing formal and smiling pose. Actually, we were more excited with the ‘Digong Dekwatro’ if you may call it. It would be different than the other presidential portraits in Malacañang. I observed that Pnoy crossed his arms, the rest of the presidential portraits were much more formal. The Digong Dekwatro would be different form from the rest. But just like the man himself, he is really different! The index finger is hidden by the middle finger. He does this to press part of his face whenever he feels a sensation on that area which I heard was caused by an accident he had before.

Despite the limitation of source materials as subjects, I would say I was in prayer mode the whole time I painted. I prayed for President Digong and the country. I felt that finally we have a president who is bent on making changes. Every stroke was a prayer for God to free this sick country, so full of corruption and crimes. Only God can heal our land by using a sincere man to address these problems. I believe the past administration did some developments, too.  However, other problems were not addressed fully. I do not enjoy his expletive remarks but that could be addressed by him later. Anyway, the country and its immediate problems have to be addressed first.


Presidential Portraits

J: The previous presidential portraits were works of Lulu Coching Rodriguez. How did her work affect your painting?

D: Miss Lulu is an excellent artist. I had to look at the past presidential portraits and see what patterns they maintained as a standard for a presidential portrait. I wanted to learn certain positions and elements that should be there. But then, of course every artist has his or her own style to keep their own identity, for I believe that every artist is unique. I believe the presidential seal and flag should be in the portrait like what artist Lulu did. I was thinking of elements to make the president’s portrait unique but I was short of time. We took a safe layout with the standing position. The sitting position with hand on cheek and naka-dekwatro was more of a thinking position and not posing. The finish of the painting should be more painterly than photographic, which I preferred. The sitting position reference was well lit- ideal for portrait painting for me.

J: Do you consider this painting your greatest work?

D: I am still rediscovering and developing my painting talent and I feel that each painting I made is special either because of the content, concept or the skill that I was able to present in it. But the mural painting that was commissioned to me by NEH-Philippines stands out as a piece where I encapsulated the express purpose of the subject.

I devoted many hours of conceptual study and layout planning to complete its visual form before final painting. It’s size and content fulfills and encompasses the ideas of- from source to consumers or from the Philippines to the world, everything is connected, respect and honor, passion and commitment, we are divided by oceans but connected by the seas. The painting’s title is ‘Magkaugnay Ang Lahat’ (Everything is Connected or related) inspired by the song of Joey Ayala- a Davao native musician.

My other works tell Filipino life and the beauty of our handiworks which are mostly Mindanao inspired. Others created to convey life principles, godliness and to inspire inner strength.

Because the President Digong painting is in Malacanang, a historical venue and the number 1 address of the country, frequented by the nation’s decision-makers and visited by country leaders from all over the world, with President Digong as the subject, the greatest Filipino icon today, I’d say this is my most important and popular work, done with prayer for President Rody and the Filipino nation and hope for the betterment of every Filipino in the world.

J: What are your principles as an artist? How did it appear on the Duterte portrait?

D: Art is God-given and must be used to glorify God. From painting to making different kinds of design works, I seek God’s help as I design whatever project I am commissioned to work with.

The painting expression, color, execution, and composition matters to draw the mood. Like a story, a portrait has a beginning and end. From the main concept of the painting, viewers make their own conclusions and ideas.

A painting may be a single dimensional plain but the intangible value that it communicates has a lot more to say.

The uniqueness of a painting is that you stare more at it than you would at a photograph. I am a photographer also and respect photography art. It has great value in itself. Paintings handmade by artisans tend to have more emotional depth because of its creator’s skill and physical effort exerted to it. The artist takes an image in photography when the image is at its desired setting. In painting, the artist pours his energies and imaginations on an empty canvass when his heart, mind and soul are ready.

My working process is conceptualization, composition, execution- Conceptualization and Composition takes time. Some even spend months to finalize and is like giving birth to a long awaited baby. Execution is beautifying, carefully perfecting the image.


The Davao-based organization was commissioned for the portrait.

J: How do you see the state of arts in the Duterte-led Philippines?

D: Filipino artists are highly talented and creative. Their passion brings them to the point that they can sacrifice many things to pursue their art dreams.

To practice art as a hobby is fun but to have it as a profession is not easy especially as an artist painter. Artists in the Philippines look up to the art practices in more progressive countries where art and artists are more appreciated and where the art industry is thriving.

In Davao, a good number of artists are growing their talents and enhancing their body of works. Our usual clients are not locals. We in TABULA RASA art group unlimited are educating the locals to appreciate art, to buy works by local artists, for every home to have an original art piece, to strengthen our home base as lovers of our local art, for locals to promote our artists and their works so that the art industry in Davao will grow.

President Digong has included the creative arts in his 10 point economic agenda. The following is the statement: Promoting science and technology and the creative arts to enhance innovation and creative capacity towards self-sustaining and inclusive development. With what he does, culture and art naturally flourishes. A response by a society that is inspired, experiencing progress and peace.


Sir Daryl (Photo Courtesy: Chris Duco)

J: What can you advice Filipino artisans?

D: Filipinos are unquestionably talented, hard-working, resourceful, and their works are well loved by foreigners. Now is the time to showcase our culture and unique art to the world.

Every artist must connect with the people who can support and love his or her unique style. Grow with other artists. Help develop art in your locality. Do not limit yourself because you haven’t gone to art school. Train with other good artists. Build your body of art work. Show your art work. Learn to price your work. Use great subjects. Inspiration is in the air. With technology, communication, art tools and reaching the masses are within our reach. Use them to your advantage.

We must promote positive values and inspiring messages through art. We can also help beautify our community with art works. Our art must be distinct and must promote our culture because this will make us stand out from the rest of the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, mga kababayan, Daryl De Leon Descallar.

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 *Note: The photograph used as reference for the painting was shot by Edwin Tuyay for Asian Dragon Magazine.

(This TGF article was first published at fernandezjrp.)

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