Representation, development, equity: OPM’s dilemma

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The first Pinoy Music Summit’s (PMS) dilemma might be measured by the reactions it has since generated, where social media has become the space for cultural workers/musicians/critics weighing in and engaging with the issues raised – and not raised – by the first-of-its-kind event. Much of it has been about the “State of the Philippine Music Industry” report upon which PMS was based, and which does not only exclude independent artists but also stands on very unstable ground with regard to technology and the internet.

House Bill 4218 or the OPM Development Act of 2014 is also the subject of much discussion on social media, where the promotion of Filipino music is the rationale behind the push to impose equity fees on foreign performers coming to do shows in Manila. Also quite questionable.

A step back – or three
In a public thread on Vin Dancel’s wall, FILSCAP head and PMS convenor Noel Cabangon was responding to Dancel who had engaged with the PMS, and then with the proposed equity program and the OPM Development Act of 2014 as a whole, via a series of Facebook statuses. Cabangon was telling Dancel to go to the committee hearings in Congress for HB4218 so that his concerns could be included in drafting the Bill. He also told Dancel: “Please stop picking on pieces. And if you have questions you may call me or send me a text message.” Sound like a message for all critics, yes?

But we forgive Cabangon. It can’t have been easy to set up PMS and to go to Congress and get an audience there. None of this is easy work and these mainstream organizations should be commended for these first steps toward a roadmap. But a Summit and a Bill in Congress are not really first steps as these are closer to the final ones, no matter what they say.


Now it’s fantastic for any sector of culture to be working towards getting some form of government support. But any program that excludes cultural workers who are not part of mainstream organizations and creation will just end up legislating the imbalance between mainstream and independent.

And saying that one person from Indie Pinoy was representative of independent musicians is not giving a voice to the indie; it’s having the token name or two that one can mention when asked about equal representation. Those names don’t mean a thing when the basis of the whole Summit, and now the discussions about equity and HB4218, so obviously do not include the independent voices of our musicians and music intellectuals.

But they are weighing in now and the music establishment has to engage with their questions without being defensive, and include these voices in the task of creating that road map and in facing Congress. To go to the committee hearings as separate stakeholders defeats the purpose of legislation that is premised on unity and one future for local music and musikeros.

Maybe taking a step back and having discussions that are inclusive of all stakeholder concerns and which listens to dissenting voices is the right thing to do. And then walk together towards Congress. Yes?

Legislating culture
Of course this discussion will be long-drawn and complex, and yes there will be disagreements. That’s to be expected. We are talking about legislating culture, which demands that there be a collective stand about the current state of affairs. As it is, what the PMS came out with has been questioned not just because of the exclusion of the concerns of independent artists, but also its stand on technology, where illegal downloads are seen as the enemy of the Pinoy musician.

It seems backward to think technology the enemy here; it’s also very dark ages to think the Internet can be censored. Impossible. The independent music industry has proven how the Internet is such a viable space for marketing and engagement, and any piece of legislation has to consider that, too.

Also, and ultimately, the creators of music and all of culture just have to change the way they treat their markets, given the kind of freedom the Internet has allowed consumers of culture. It’s really a if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-em kind of enterprise. In truth, if you make worthy cultural products, illegal downloads will not keep consumers from buying your works. This, local independent music has proven, and this is one of many reasons why the creators of HB4218 and the convenors of the PMS must listen to these dissenting voices. Especially since they are not going to take legislation on music culture sitting down.

Equity questions
What is questionable about the proposed legislation of equity fees, or the reciprocal taxes to be imposed on foreign acts coming to perform in the Philippines, is not just the imposition per se. It is the reason behind it: Filipino performers are being displaced by the arrival of foreign acts, and this is “to protect local artists and further promote Filipino music.”

These are the most flimsy of reasons. For one thing, how do they prove that the arrival of someone like Beyonce means less of an audience for Regine Velasquez; or the arrival of Bruno Mars means less of an audience for Gary V. A sense of the market’s divisions and diversity would tell us that the audience for foreign acts is not the same one for local concerts. And yes, it is absolutely valid to fear the possibility of other countries retaliating, and making it more difficult for our own entertainers to stage concerts elsewhere in the world.

The protection and promotion of local music should not happen via legislation that does not consider the larger music community. More importantly, it should not use the word equity and quote other country’s equity programs, without acknowledging one crucial aspect of the equity system.

A Union. In other countries, the cultural workers unions are the ones that impose and collect equity fees from foreigners. These unions are part of culture industry systems, and these work at protecting the cultural worker’s rights in the workplace and beyond. It is a Union that makes the discussion of equity valid, because it is a Union that gathers cultural workers together, makes sure they have jobs, makes sure they are good at these jobs, and makes sure that they are hired by companies that will respect their rights to just wages and fair treatment. It is a Union that will be transparent about where these equity fees truly go, and how these benefit workers. And no, it has nothing to do with promoting or protecting local works. It has only to do with workers’ rights.

We have no such Union for culture in this country. Not the Unyon ng Manunulat ng Pilipinas (UMPIL) despite that name; and certainly not the Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit (OPM). And unless we can actually do justice to the idea of equity, unless this piece of legislation will actually legalize a music workers’ Union, then maybe we stop using big words we cannot live up to.

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