The last column discussed the travesty of the Artists Welfare Protection and Information Act, as sponsored by Senator Grace Poe in the Senate, and as pushed by the Artist Welfare Project Inc. (AWPI). We began with letter (a) of its Declaration of Policy that mistakenly views artists to either be employed or self-employed, which fails to consider how a majority of artists in this country are in fact freelancers, not earning enough to call themselves self-employed in their own businesses, but mere contractual service providers, with no relationship with employers, no health benefits, no social security.
The freelance artist in this country is in fact left on her own, with no one to turn to or depend on in times of need, and rarely with additional cash to spend on health emergencies.
On funding artistic expression
What I lovingly call the Artist Welfare Act (for the hilariously apt acronym AWA) also seeks to “Help create and sustain a culture encouraging freedom of artistic expression and communication, and to facilitate the release of necessary resources in developing the artists’ creative talents.”
But one wonders: isn’t this what the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) is for? Isn’t this the function of the NCCA as a national cultural government institution?
This is the thing with AWA. Most of the things it seeks to do are in laws already in existence, and one wonders why there was even a need to draft another law. Shouldn’t we be looking first at what laws already exist, and figure out how it might work in favor of more artists? Shouldn’t we be looking at what truly happens on the ground, the real state of the arts in the country, so that we might understand better what it is that our artists still need?
For example, if the AWPI and Senator Poe truly wanted to make sure that artist projects get funded, then they should be looking at what it is that the NCCA has funded all these years, as it would be instructive to find out how many unknown young artists have gotten support, how many creative, critical, new projects have been funded, or just how long it takes for travel assistance to be processed.
That might also reveal how in fact what ails the culture industry, what is at the heart of the seeming lack of funding for the local artist, is patronage politics, the kind that dictates who gets funding and for which projects. Artistry and creativity be damned.
On professionalizing the industry
AWA seeks to “Recognize artists as professionals, granting them the corresponding rights and privileges, to enable them to collectively defend their common interests.”
Granting artists the corresponding rights and privileges of … being professionals? What does that mean exactly? AWA talks about rights and privileges to be about getting SSS/GSIS, PhilHealth and Pag-ibig Fund coverage. Which begs yet another question: do we not all have the right to these “privileges” because we are, uh, citizens? Isn’t that the promise of universal healthcare? And really, aren’t these basic rights?
Worse, this law speaks of recognizing artists as professionals in relation to a process of accreditation. That is, one needs to be an accredited artist in order to qualify for any of these “privileges.”
But how will an artist be accredited, and by whom? The revised version of AWA states that the NCCA will “issue guidelines in consultation with the relevant organizations engaged in Literary Arts, Dance, Music, Theater, Film, Architecture, Visual and Design Arts, Arts Management and Production Design, and all other equivalent art forms/disciplines.”
This proves yet again how ungrounded AWA is in the state of the arts in the country when it falls back not just on the NCCA for guidelines, but on “relevant organizations” as well.
Because any self-respecting artist has questioned these “relevant” cultural organizations and institutions. It is precisely these organizations and institutions that have failed at supporting artists and which propagate patronage politics in cultural work. To tell artists that they need to pass through these organizations and institutions in order to be called “professionals” is not only problematic, it also reveals how AWA does not understand the problems of artists at all.
Enjoyment of regular workers
One of the quotes from Senator Poe’s Explanatory Note that has done the rounds of social media: “Despite <…> constitutional provisions, our artists – whether engaged in visual or performing arts – have not acquired a professional working status and standardized benefits as those enjoyed by regular workers. They are not afforded medical, disability, retirement, death insurance and housing benefits despite their contributions to the country’s cultural development.”
So Senator Poe actually equates the “professional working status” of an artist with becoming like regular workers? But like regular workers under whose employment? Because rare is the artist who is not contractually employed; rare is the artist who is not a freelancer. And these are the artists who do not have access to any of the benefits the senator mentions.
Or is this law saying that once accredited, the local artist will be granted professional working status, which would give her all the benefits she should be granted to begin with as citizen?
AWA also asserts that this is about “enabling <artists> to collectively defend their common interests,” which sounds well and good but is not discussed at all in this law. Because everyone knows – and this is proven across the world – that the only way for any sector to stand strong and defend itself is to form a union. It is also through the union that true professionalization is possible.
Anything less than that makes AWA a pointless exercise.
To be continued.