THE Artist Welfare Protection and Information Act of 2015, which I tend to call the Artist Welfare Act for the more apt acronym AWA, has become the grand project of obviously-presidential-candidate-but-still-denying-it Senator Grace Poe.
I’ve written about AWA before in this space, when it made the rounds of Facebook in early May. But in the past two weeks or so, it has been used as part of the burgeoning political propaganda and electoral campaign of not-yet-running-for-president-senator-Poe.
The Artists Welfare Project, Inc. and its members, who have been promoting and pushing for this Act in the Senate, would do well, however, to flesh it out for the rest of us who are not members of AWPI: what does accreditation mean, and who has the right to accredit who? What is art? And who is an artist? Why are we treating artists differently from the rest of the workers who struggle and die without their rights being respected, and with nary a cent from State-subsidized social and health services?
The crisis of artist organizations
I respect many of the artists behind AWPI. But I have questions galore about this law, one that purportedly speaks for all artists, and is about their kabutihan, kagalingan, at kasaganahan.
The latter is part of the AWPI slogan, and yes, I’m mixing it up with AWA. Because one can really only see this bill and the organization as one and the same, given that it was obviously the AWPI that was primary consultant for it, the one that brought it to Senator Poe and who got her sponsorship.
But the problems with AWA are multiple and complex, and exist from premise to vision. One only needs to start with the AWPI as organization. A look at its membership already makes one wonder: was there ageism in the task of choosing members? Where are the young writers and dancers, actors and production designers, historians and educators, illustrators and komikeros, designers and musicians?
If this is a representation of artistry and creativity, then the question really is: where have all the artists gone?
Well, they’re not part of AWPI. In the same way that the Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit (OPM) long ago lost its credible membership because its leadership for the past five years has been so blatantly pro-PNoy, shamelessly campaigning for him and appearing as a part of his “official family.” And then there’s the Unyon ng Manunulat ng Pilipinas (UMPIL), which also long ago lost its relevance – don’t let the word “union” in its name fool you. It is far far from functioning as such.
The problem with AWA
Because a union would be about representation and professionalization, it would be about fighting for members’ rights and providing members with every form of assistance they might need.
No, wait, that’s what AWA says it will do.
In the Introductory Note Senator Poe says that: “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.”
AWA then goes on to say that it seeks to: (a) Improve the social security, labor, medical, and legal conditions of the artist, whether employed or self-employed, taking into account their contributions to cultural development, through a system of accreditation. (b) 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. (c) Recognize artists as professionals, granting them the corresponding rights and privileges, to enable them to collectively defend their common interests. (d) 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. (e) Provide second/alternative career opportunities to artists who wish to retire from their respective art. (f) Develop means of providing welfare and legal information to artists.
Each one above deserves to be unpacked and discussed, because as AWA gathers support, what it actually reveals is that we do not know what we are talking about when we talk artist and creativity, cultural development and accreditation, professionalization and defending common interests.
In (a), AWA defines the artist as employed or self-employed, which is a problem in itself. This also reveals how ungrounded this law is in terms of the situation of artists in this country.
Freelance versus self-employed
No, it’s not about being employed or self-employed; it’s about being employed or working freelance. A freelancer is not self-employed. In the Philippines, she is a contractual employee who has no benefits, no relationship with her employer, no social security, and is paid per contract as per the term contractual.
To call this freelance artist “self-employed” is problematic for all artists because we do not employ ourselves like we own a business. Except for a wealthy privileged few, creative work is not something that we can turn into a business.
Many of us don’t have the money to do this precisely because we are freelancers, working on a contractual basis, and in the process earning less than full-time employees. We are freelancers without health benefits and social security. The ones who are self-employed—who have businesses—would be able to afford a hospital confinement to begin with. Freelancers cannot.
But are the freelancers in this Artist Welfare Protection and Information Act of Senator Poe?
Not at all. It might be getting her some ganda points, but in reality, AWA? Zero points.
To be continued.