WHILE President Rodrigo Duterte is clamping down on the travel abroad of Filipino public officials, we think he should also direct his attention to the wasteful use of public funds on costly foreign projects and junkets whose benefits to national life are dubious, and which receive government attention far ahead of more urgent and meritorious endeavors.
Take as one example the glaring distortion of priorities in government spending today in the field of art and culture. While the Philippine creative industries, aka the creative economy, are neglected by the main cultural agencies of the government, our government officials are lavishing attention on a Philippine pavilion at the Venice Biennale, whose chief achievement is to put on display the work of Filipino artists whose work is largely unknown to the Filipino public, and who live and have spent most of their years in foreign countries.
The National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and the office of Sen. Loren Legarda are the joint partners and collaborators behind the pavilion in Venice.
Senator Legarda righteously justifies the pavilion as a major achievement by Philippine art and culture.
Major achievement? In announcing in 2016 the selection of the work of Lani Maestro and Manuel Ocampo as the country’s representative to the 57th Venice Biennale, the sponsoring agencies announced that “The exhibition will bring together two artists, Lani Maestro and Manuel Ocampo, and proposes a reading of both the Philippines and the West through their works.”
Yet curiously, neither Maestro nor Ocampo is familiar to the Filipino public and arts community. Maestro is a Filipino-Canadian who specializes in installation art. Ocampo has spent his years studying and working in the United States and Spain.
The pavilion project began in 2013, and it was Senator Legarda who spearheaded the effort to renew Philippine participation in the Venice Biennale. She proudly says: “And here we are now—we’ve just concluded our third consecutive participation and we are preparing for our fourth Philippine Pavilion. And who would have thought that only after two years, the Philippines, which may be a developing country but is rich with artistic talent, would be in the Arsenale, one of the main exhibition spaces of the Venice Biennale?”
Legarda now plans to make Philippine participation in the Venice Biennale permanent. She says: “Funding for the Philippine participation in the Venice Biennale is part of the NCCA’s budget, but until when can we guarantee that there will always be funding for this endeavor? This is the reason I filed in the Senate a proposed measure that seeks to institutionalize the Philippine participation in the international exhibitions of the Venice Biennale.”
We could get excited about this idea, if we were not aware that our government has not moved an inch to promote and develop the creative economy and creative industries in the country. It does not figure in the plans of the NCCA and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Some people had the idea of hosting on the side an ASEAN creative industries forum during the recent Philippine hosting of the Asean summit. But the plan did not take off.
Meantime, the country has a veritable wealth of live and kicking creative industries. They have thousands of artists and cultural workers across the archipelago. And their work is largely unsung. And we have a fast-growing national economy and 106-million population that these industries can eminently serve.
The creative economy has been a major program of the United Nations for almost a decade now. Some of our ASEAN partners have already turned their attention to creative industries development. So have many developed countries.
We submit that this deserves greater priority than strutting at the Venice Biennale.