FOR whatever reason the news that Freddie Aguilar was even being considered for the highest position at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) was such a surprise to me.
I mean I knew he had supported President Duterte, and even wrote a song for his campaign. And I understand the President’s predisposition to appoint people he knows and trusts into key positions.
Yet for whatever reason Aguilar’s was not a name I equated with any cultural office appointee. I had thought Joey Ayala, who supported the President, and who has always had a vision for culture that is grounded in the needs of the sector, and has engaged with the more critical issues of our artists. I thought maybe Ricky de Ungria, writer and teacher based at the University of the Philippines Mindanao, already with NCCA experience, respected by young and old writers alike.
I thought of these two based on the President’s stance to decentralize governance. At the same time, I imagined and believed that the President would at least speak to the cultural sector before making any recommendations, or allowing for any of his preferred names to be made public.
Ah, but Aguilar jumped the gun on the President.
Aguilar gets ahead of himself
At the launch of his new commemorative album, it was Aguilar who announced his appointment like it was a foregone conclusion. On July 11 he said: “Tinawagan ako ni Bong Go, at ang sabi niya, ‘Ka Freddie, hangga’t wala pa po ‘yung department na hinihiling po ninyo, puwede po ba ninyo pamunuan muna ang NCCA?’” (Rappler.com, 11 July)
Aguilar took that to mean that the President was in fact going to build a department of arts and culture as per his request.
On July 14, though, Aguilar wasn’t talking about that department, but was talking about an NCCA position. “Ito kasi ang kahilingan ng ating mahal na pangulo natin, habang hinihintay po natin na mabuo ‘yung departamento ay sinabihan po niya ako kung papayag po muna ako kung pamunuan ko ang NCCA. Ako naman po ay kusang-loob na pumayag naman po na pamunuaan muna ito.” (Pep.ph quoting TV5 interview, 15 July)
It seems Aguilar did not first read Republic Act 7356, which clearly states that “The Chairman of the [NCCA] shall be elected by the members [of the Commission]from among themselves.” (Section 9)
And so Aguilar was not only getting ahead of himself, he also revealed that he had not even done preliminary reading of the law that created the NCCA.
Aguilar’s antiquated views on culture
Let’s say the rules of the NCCA on choosing a chairperson were any different, an Aguilar appointment just does not bode well for culture. Listening to him talk about his proposed department of arts and culture, one can’t help but cringe. The man’s talking about waging a cultural revolution, even as he does not seem to know what that means.
“Sabi ko, ito lang po iyong revolution na walang mamamatay. Ang ibig sabihin ko po sa cultural revolution ay pinapangarap ko po na ibalik ‘yung mga talagang Pilipino na pag-uugali natin, pati sining natin, pati panulat natin, ibalik sa atin ‘yun tinanggal sa atin ng mga banyaga.” (ABS-CBNNews.com, 15 July)
What Aguilar seems to refer to is pre-colonial culture (kulturang tinanggal sa atin ng mga banyaga), probably the most reductionist vision for culture there is. For what kind of cultural products would then be valued by Aguilar under this cultural revolution of his? What would that inevitably exclude? One also wonders how he thinks we can go back and recover this specific pre-colonial Pinoy culture.
There is also anxiety in the idea that arts and culture is about Filipino values (pag-uugali)—Aguilar even makes this worse by asserting “real” Filipino values, again the ones we lost to foreigners. This is distressing to hear from anyone who works in culture, where values are ever changing, and certainly a country’s cultural production is about diverse values, perspectives, beliefs. To even assert at this point the notion of “talagang ugaling Pilipino” reeks of a conservatism that we only hear from the Pinoy Catholic Church—artistic and cultural freedom’s biggest enemy in this country.
At least until Aguilar came along.
The Aguilar Dep’t of Culture and Arts
The goal of Aguilar’s cultural revolution is clear: “‘Pag tinanong mo ang mga tao balang araw, hindi na po nila iisipin na taga-Luzon ako, wala akong pakialam sa Visayas. Taga-Visayas ako, wala akong pakialam sa Mindanao. ‘Pag nagkaroon po tayo ng cultural revolution, ‘pag sinabi po nating Ilokano, Kapampangan, Bisaya, lahat po iyan maninindigan na siya ay Pilipino.’” (ABS-CBNNews.com, 15 July)
But this task might not be for arts and culture as it is for education and history, as it is for the various departments of the Duterte government making sure that the decentralization of governance also means building a collective identity of one nation. Ah, but Aguilar is again ahead of us here.
“‘Yun pong hinihingi ko sa President na Department of Culture and Arts ay sumasakop po sa malawak na pag-aari ng gobyerno katulad ng PTV-4, Radyo ng Bayan. Basta magagamit po ito sa pagpo-promote po ng kultura at sining natin, mag-work hand in hand din po ito sa Department of Education.” (Pep.ph, 15 July)
Aguilar’s department sounds like a super-agency that will cut across the responsibilities and mandate not just of the NCCA, but also of the Presidential Communications Office and its vision for an independent state media and a real People’s Television. It also sounds like a department that has as primary goal national values formation, like a guidance office on Pinoy identity and becoming, which would also mean functioning to some extent like a censors’ board.
This is going to be headed by the same man who had called Charice a monkey for singing a Celine Dion song on “Oprah,” and mentioned Arnel Pineda and Gary V. in the same vein. (Pep.ph, 6 July 2009) He of course later on denied this, but ended with this gem: “Kayo ang nagpatawag na unggoy dahil gaya-gaya kayo.” (ABSCBNNews.com, 12 July 2009)
That in itself makes Aguilar unfit to head the NCCA, and any other office, department, agency, desk that is related to arts and culture.