Something landed in my inbox on Thursday, the day the first “Cultural Crises” was published. It was a wonderfully written letter, endorsing one Jose Elmer B. Francisco to the position of Executive Director at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).
Now, I had hesitated to name Mr. Franciso—and anyone else for that matter—in that first column because I had no written proof in my hands. But, oh dear, this letter has his name and the Cardinal’s written all over it.
Looks official to me
Lest you think that I have been duped by some false letter, let me describe how official this letter looks. It’s got the letterhead of the The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Manila, and it is addressed to His Excellency President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III. Under the header, it says “Thru: Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa.”
It is signed “Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila,” with signature. It is dated February 7, 2014. The Office of the President stamped it “Received on February 20, 2014 at 1:00PM.”
What the letter contains is far more interesting, of course. The Cardinal is putting in a good word for Mr. Francisco, who is Director III at the OES (Office of the Executive Secretary), and who has applied for the post of Executive Director at the NCCA. The Cardinal asserts that Mr. Francisco is “known to him personally,” and that his endorsement is based on Mr. Francisco’s “credentials, performance, integrity, and achievements” and “16 years of supervisory experience in the <sic> government.” The Cardinal further says that he “believes he is capable of fulfilling the responsibilities of the post for which he is applying.”
The clincher though, at least to me was how this letter from the Cardinal to the President ended: “His appointment to the position desired will be very much appreciated,” so says the leader of the Church in Manila.
Now it’s easy to go all crazy over a letter like this one, but also one can first ask the question of whether or not Mr. Francisco has the credentials for this position, extraordinary as this endorsement of his application is.
Well, what landed as well in my inbox was a copy of Mr. Francisco’s CV, where what one sees is not a career in any cultural or academic institution, but one that is in . . . government. That is, he’s been Director III at the Office of the President’s Strategic Initiatives and Monitoring Office (SIMO) since 2012. From 2007 to 2010 he was Municipal Administrator, from 1998 to 2007 Municipal Councilor, 1996 to 1998 Executive Assistant to the Mayor, all in Imus, Cavite.
Oh, also Mr. Francisco was the Secretary General of the Liberal Party, Imus Chapter, from 2007 to 2010.
His Masters Degree is in Management, Major in Public Administration (2000, Philippine Christian University). For two months in 2012 he did a Spanish Extensive Program with the Instituto Cervantes, and since January of this year he’s been doing an Online Course on Management with a business school in Madrid.
This CV has government service written all over it really. Not a career and nary a body of work on culture, or the arts. And certainly while his position(s) in local government might have meant doing some work in both these spheres, plus maybe in heritage, given Imus as a historical geographical space, this CV speaks of Mr. Francisco’s life work to be about government service.
Not exactly what NCCA needs, methinks. Another bureaucrat.
The Cardinal and the President
This brings me back to this letter, and more than what it says, what it represents. That last bit about the Cardinal “greatly appreciating” Mr. Francisco’s appointment to the position by the President is most interesting because it speaks of a powerplay between the position of Cardinal and that of President.
That is, it begs the question: why would the Cardinal’s appreciation be so important to the President? It seems like a card is being played, and it’s one that the President will know to respond to accordingly.
Too, there is this: what business does the Cardinal Archbishop of Manila have with getting Presidential appointees into key government positions? More importantly, how credible is a recommendation for a position in a cultural institution, coming from a Church leader?
One might argue that in fact— in fact—one of the more critical problems with local culture has to do with the kind of pseudo-double standard-conservatism that the Pinoy Catholic Church engenders and encourages. In no world would it be okay for this kind of Catholicism, as practiced by this Church, to dip its hands in a national commission for culture and the arts.
Or am I going all conspiracy theory here? But how else to read this grand display of a Church leader throwing his weight around such a thing as presidential appointments?
We’ve always known there is no separation between the Church and the State in this country, but reading this letter still left me quite incredulous.
I was also really embarrassed. For the President, who is being put in his place by this endorsement, who in this letter is being told that the Cardinal’s appreciation is one that he needs. For Mr. Francisco who certainly must deserve the position he is already in (yes?), and who certainly must know that there is nothing better than to get a job because he deserves it, and not because the high and mighty in the Catholic Church endorses his application.
But, oh, dear Cardinal Tagle, this letter also makes me wonder what’s in this for you (and the Pinoy Church you are one of the leaders of). Does this have anything to do at all with Pope Francis coming to visit the post-Haiyan devastated areas next year? What would having a Cardinal-Tagle-recommended Executive Director in the NCCA have to do with that?
The Pope is coming!
Well, I don’t know. But there is the hardly transparent and always questioned business of reconstructing and renovating heritage churches as done by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), which the NCCA puts out money for (that’s what the law forces it to do).
There is also the grapevine burning my ears about how the NCCA, trying to do its job better (because we all know how it really doesn’t do right by the rest of us non-establishment writers and artists, haha!), has demanded of the NHCP proposals for these renovations beforehand, and accounting of expenses after. This should be the right process by which funds are to be disbursed, yes? But apparently the NCCA has to demand it of NHCP, because the latter—under its presidential appointee of a chairperson (who is a sociologist, not a historian—I apologize to all historians)—feels it can ignore that matuwid-na-daan process.
Now connect that to the fact that after eight months, the renovation of the Bohol Heritage Churches is still at the point of “pagkokolekta, pagle-label, ng bato”—to quote an auntie of mine who was there recently. This is what’s called “documentation,” as per March 2014 NHCP press releases. This is eight months since the Bohol earthquake.
Imagine the state of the churches devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in the Visayas. A week ago I traveled to Tacloban in Leyte, Quindaponan, Balangiga and Lawaan in Eastern Samar, and certainly it didn’t seem like any of those churches had gotten any conservation or renovation help. Imagine the number of neglected churches the Pope might see!
Certainly having an Executive Director who owes Cardinal Tagle his presidential appointment will have a way to get those funds from the NCCA and into the hands of whoever’s in charge of Pope Francis’s Visayas itinerary?
Because in a country where a cardinal archbishop of the Catholic Church can write a letter of endorsement for someone who is unqualified for a cultural position, anything is possible.