So I hear from the grapevine that there is an impending crisis in the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). That is of course if we imagine that it is not in crisis to begin with, removed as it remains from the larger community of cultural workers who are not part of the artistic establishment. There is also the fact that it remains unclear exactly how the NCCA budget is used, and how its allocation of funds for various other institutions such as the National Museum (NM) and the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) happens with nary accountability.
I’ve written here before about the NHCP’s lack of accounting for its church rehabilitation projects, even when in fact these projects fall under heavy criticism for its lack of real heritage architects. I say, it’s difficult to work with an NHCP head who questions the very Heritage Law which it is supposed to uphold and protect, on grounds that the Heritage Law steps on private ownership of heritage and historical sites.
That sounds like PNoy appointed the worst person to the highest NHCP position. But does he care? Of course not.
A new NCCA head?
According to the grapevine, the President-who-cares- about-culture is set to drop a bomb of an appointment to the NCCA Executive Director position, one that happens on the recommendation of one high member of the Church, and an Undersecretary at the Office of the Executive Secretary in Malacañang. The said appointee is also listed as Director IV under the Office of the President’s roster of officials.
What is unclear to me—and probably to the grapevine—is why exactly this leader of the Church and this Undersecretary have the power to recommend appointments to the largest state cultural institution. One also wonders why exactly it is this Director IV they are backing, considering that there’s nothing to be found, on the Internet anyway, about any credentials in cultural work.
Of course, given the NHCP head, one also realizes that credibility in their respective fields means nothing, as when you are a historian put in the position of overseeing restoration and renovation projects. Because why would a historian be an expert in the restoration and conservation of our heritage churches? Why would a historian respect The Heritage Law from which the NHCP she heads has gained much power?
In the same vein, the President-who-cares-about-culture must think that all he needs to do is appoint one man—any man!—never mind that no one in the cultural sector might think him qualified, never mind that it is unclear why exactly this man would be credible as Executive Director of the NCCA.
Because this. This is the way this government cares about culture. PNoy appoints people like the historian as NHCP head—and if the grapevine is correct, like the Malacañang official as NCCA Executive Director—who might be qualified in their respective fields, but who are far from being so within the cultural institutions they lead.
The grapevine also has it that this appointment is because the NCCA is being criticized for taking its time in allocating funds for the various projects of the various institutions under it. Apparently NCCA is being criticized for taking its time on project rationales and explanations—because they want some sort of standard at the very least —before they disburse taxpayers’ money for various projects of the other cultural institutions (NM, NHCP, National Library, among otheres). They are, in effect, being told to just disburse the cash, and let the other institutions do what they might with it, never mind that there is no plan submitted to the NCCA, nor is there liquidation.
Apparently the matuwid-na-daan does not apply to State institutions of culture. That’s some tough luck right there.
What of the National Artists?
And really, there’s no discussing culture without reminding the President—yet again!—about the declaration of our National Artists for 2013.
The first time we heard about the NCCA and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) delivering its final list of National Artists to the Office of the President was in November 2013. I wrote about it in this space in January 2014, about how the grapevine had it that Nora Aunor’s inclusion in that list was the reason for the delayed announcement. It is now the end of May, almost halfway through the year. And the President-who-cares-about-culture has yet to put his signature on that list. It’s now seven months and counting.
Why. Why must we take this long? Obviously the President barely cares about culture, but also why is there no outcry and protest from the cultural sector itself? Are we all so enamored by this President-who-cares-about-culture that we would rather stay quiet and pretend all is well in the cultural world?
The delayed announcement of the National Artists is also delayed cultural and collective gratification. The National Artist Award reminds us of aspiration and hard work. It reminds us that some works are better than others, and some artists get into this list, and some don’t, no matter how good they are.
But at least the NAA is still about peers voting for the best in their fields. And it would be great if the President were to sign (now na!) the November 2013 list of National Artists without adding to the list or removing any name from it. It’s called respecting the cultural institutions’ and cultural workers’ ability to decide for culture. It is about truly caring for culture.
Then again, that might be too much to ask of this President.