• Heartbreaks over culture

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    KATRINA STUART SANTIAGO

    KATRINA STUART SANTIAGO

    I had hoped for a President who cared about culture. Now given how President Duterte seems to care for it by appointing people based on their political loyalties (not credentials, nor credibility, not experience, nor learnedness), I wish he’d just stop caring.

    As I write this, I am getting information that the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Board and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Chairman are being pressured to resign. I hope they do not bow to this political pressure that dictates upon the cultural sector, instead of respecting its independence. Especially since it’s obvious that this President cares little for culture as a sector.

    CGA at CCP?

    The unofficial news that Cecile Guidote-Alvarez was planning a return to cultural leadership woke me up Friday.

    This, after she left the NCCA as Executive Director (ED) in disgrace, with that highly irregular conferment of the National Artist Award (NAA) in 2009, which she shamelessly accepted even when she was disqualified from even being nominated. Yes, Guidote-Alvarez was one of four names President Arroyo added to the list from the NAA committee; and no, she isn’t National Artist anymore after the Supreme Court found that Arroyo had exercised “grave abuse of discretion,” and declared the four Arroyo National Artists “invalid” and “set aside.” (Supreme Court Decision, G.R.No.189028)
    In her statement after the SC Decision, Guidote-Alvarez said: “The decision does not marginalize, negate or denigrate my lifelong service to the nation” (GMANews, 21 July 2013).

    Maybe. But it sure puts into question her character as a cultural leader. That as ED of NCCA Guidote-Alvarez did not defend Ramon Santos, who Arroyo refused to declare a National Artist, was one thing. That she accepted that award, despite knowing the rules that disqualified her from even being nominated, was another. Both were a test of character and leadership that she failed.

    President Duterte stands strongly on his character and ability to lead. Those two things are just as important to the cultural sector, Mr. President, and Guidote-Alvarez cannot stand on either.

    If the grapevine is correct, then certainly the CCP, its workers, and its public, deserve better.

    FDCP deserves better, too

    When Briccio Santos was appointed by President Aquino as head of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) he was entering an office that had mostly been irrelevant. Now, Santos can take pride in having built the FDCP into a functional cultural institution that has put local cinema back on the map, has done more archival work than any State institution, has recovered lost films and remastered these, too.

    Santos had taken on this post with 33 years of experience as a cultural worker in film, with years spent learning about film archives, forging relationships and building networks with filmmakers and cultural offices across the world, working with a sense of film history and heritage, and a groundedness in the state of cinema in the country. This is what the FDCP position requires.

    The removal of Santos from his post with a year left to his appointment breaks my heart.

    The decision to appoint Liza Diño into the position, with no real consultation from the sector, and with nothing (other than her support for the President) to show for it, is like salt to the wound.

    Cecile Guidote-Alvarez PHOTO FROM UNFCCC.INT

    Cecile Guidote-Alvarez PHOTO FROM UNFCCC.INT

    To one congratulatory comment on Facebook, Diño replied: “The FDCP is for all of us. Will make sure that we will be more inclusive sa pagbibigay ng suporta sa community. Time to decentralize and give a fair chance to all para magkaroon ng access sa suporta kayang ibigay ng gobyerno.” (Facebook post, Aug 12)

    But there is no other cultural institution – other than the NCCA – that has so been decentralized as the FDCP. It focused on building and generating interest in Cinematheques in Zamboanga, Iloilo, Davao and Baguio, before focusing on the Cinematheque in Manila (with the hope for Leyte and Bicol Cinematheques later on); it established and maintains Sineng Pambansa, a film festival of local films of different regions; it holds free workshops for filmmakers across the country. This is the most decentralization that can be done, given the mandate and functions of this office.

    “Time to decentralize” tells me Diño has no idea what the mandate is of this office.

    The FDCP is primarily about policy creation towards establishing the country as a hub of quality filmmaking, while creating the conditions that will encourage film workers’ creativity and productivity. Its functions are clear and Santos’s history of cultural work allowed him to fulfill those functions with much success. The film archive, the recovery of lost films, and public access to these, are to me the most important work Santos’s FDCP has done, for cultural and national history.

    This also makes FDCP for everyone by default, as with any cultural institution that does its work well.

    Right heart, wrong place

    Liza Diño (right) and Aiza Seguerra (left) are staunch supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte  PHOTO FROM LIZA DIÑO’S INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT

    Liza Diño (right) and Aiza Seguerra (left) are staunch supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte PHOTO FROM LIZA DIÑO’S INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT

    Diño’s assertion that she will “provide access to government support” is also ambiguous at best, because FDCP is not a grant-giving body. If decentralizing funds is her goal, then the mandate and functions of the FDCP does not allow her to do that, focused as it is on highly specific and detailed tasks under the law.

    Which makes me wonder if Diño is even being put in the right office at this point. If she wants to decentralize government funds for culture, then she should be looking at which government offices have grant-giving programs and where that goes. That would be a better way to begin her career in cultural work.

    Because to begin as head of a highly specialized office like FDCP, which requires credentials and credibility, locally and globally, from the ASEAN to the major film hubs across the world, is too much, too soon. It also does nothing for morale, when someone with no experience in cultural work, and no expertise in archiving or film history, is appointed to such an important position that requires a highly specialized skill set.

    RA 9167, which created FDCP actually acknowledges the importance of this leadership position, saying that the President shall appoint its Chairperson, “Provided, That the Chairperson shall be a person of proven administrative proficiency, independence, knowledgeable of the technical and artistic aspects of the film production and fully committed to the promotion and development of Philippine Cinema as art.

    There are many in the film industry who have these qualities, have put in the years of hard work, and who deserve a shot at this position at this point in time – other than Santos who deserves to finish his final year.

    One hopes Diño has the humility to admit that she is not this person yet.

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