• The State of AWA 3

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    THE last column was about how the Artists Welfare Information and Protection Act, which I affectionately call the AWA – Artists Welfare Act – pushes for “professionalization” but stops short of asserting the need for an artists’ union, which is actually what artists in this country need in order to collectively protect their interests.

    Pushed by the Artist Welfare Project Inc. and sponsored by Senator Grace Poe in the Senate, the AWA is nothing but an empty promise really, a law that’s already covered by various other existing laws, and just adds to the already messy mix of laws that purportedly protect and champion artistry and creativity.

    Protecting the artist
    The AWA seeks to “Protect the artists’ sensibilities and material rights over their works or performances, or any other use made of them to confirm their artistic dignity and integrity,” yet does not quite explain how it is any different from the existing Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines.

    In fact, it is only in Section 15 that intellectual property is mentioned, and only in relation to Legal Information/Assistance, where an accredited artist will be “provided with free legal information through the National Committee on Legal Aid (NCLA) of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) for the registration and protection of their intellectual property rights over their literary, artistic works, performances and other works.”

    Note that only artists who are “accredited” will be able to avail of “free legal services in criminal, civil, labor, administrative and other quasi-judicial cases by the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) pursuant to the provisions of RA 9406.”

    This creates, yet again, a gap between “artists” and artists, where accreditation is a highly politicized process in this country, and patronage politics can only come into play when you speak of a process that will deem certain people “artists” just because they applied to be called such.

    One also wonders where artistic sensibilities come into play with regards legal assistance. The only other time that the concept of sensibility is mentioned is in Section 8, which is on the Application/Approval Procedure for accreditation. This section asserts that “Artists shall submit the necessary documents to support their application for Accreditation to the Local Arts Council, or to the Provincial, City, or Municipal Tourism Office or to the duly recognized Arts Guild in which they are members who shall determine the compliance requirements and shall issue a certificate of accreditation based on the accepted/recognized aesthetic sensibility of its artistic community.”

    The section in bold is damning to AWA: if accreditation is based on an “accepted / recognized aesthetic sensibility,” then it is really just giving artists already in positions of power State support that they can afford to avail of as private citizens anyway. You’re also just giving the institutions and creative establishment the power to dictate who can and cannot be called “artist.”

    Second careers for artists
    What is even more painful to read about in AWA is its notion of providing “second / alternative career opportunities to artists who wish to retire from their respective art.”

    It sounds good, until you read Section 17 where we are told that this includes but is not limited to becoming mentor for art classes with DepEd and CHED, or becoming trainee in TESDA. The latter is also tasked with the POEA to find job opportunities in other countries for our artists, while the POEA, DFA and NCCA are tasked to “establish mechanisms to ensure the welfare and employment, social security and health benefits of accredited artists working in foreign countries.” All of this only if you are an accredited artist.

    A second/alternative career is defined in the AWA to be any career “which an artist may engage into <sic> after leaving their main career due to age, incapacity and other reasons, or any career which an artist may engage into <sic> while still active in their major area of specialization due to the latter’s seasonal or contractual nature.”

    But the contractualization of work is not “nature.” Contractualization of work is a system that benefits and therefore is encouraged by capitalists who employ workers, cultural and otherwise. To even speak of contractual work to be something that the artist can handle by taking on another job is not only to fail at solving the problem of contractualization. It is also to fail at even acknowledging that this is an evil that cultural workers are subjected to.

    Contractualization, as the Tanduay workers on strike and the Talents Association of GMA Network (TAG) prove, is an evil that is not to be fixed by providing workers with other options; it is an evil that no worker should have to go through.

    Toothless, pointless
    The last task for AWA is to “Develop means of providing welfare and legal information to artists,” which might be the most superficial of reasons to author this law. Because really, if this is about providing artists with information on their rights to welfare and legal support, then all the AWPI and Senator Poe need to do is to spend some funds on a fantastic information dissemination project.

    Now if the goal is to actually change the way in which artists are treated by employment that is contractual, if the task is to change the ways in which artists are oppressed by government and non-government systems, if the hope is to change the lives of artists and provide them with the funding and support that they deserve, then this Artist Welfare Information and Protection Act really amounts to nothing.

    The first task it seems is to stop with the AWA – this law, and the baseless and superficial self-pity. The artist is far more intelligent, and far more complex, than the way this law paints her. And that is ultimately why this law is toothless and pointless.

    Poe could do so much better than this, and as an independent, she should be able to fearlessly call for an artists union. Not holding my breath for that one.

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