I take back all instances in which I said I believed in the creation of a cultural department.
Because I disagree. I disagree with Freddie Aguilar, self-proclaimed, unconfirmed political appointee, who says that a culture ministry is what we need to address the needs of the cultural sector.
No. Having been a cultural worker all my adult life, studying the laws that govern our cultural institutions, and now specifically in light of the unilateral decision of President Duterte to appoint Liza Diño into an office that she has no business leading, all calls for a cultural department will only mean State control over our cultural institutions and our freedoms.
The moment that happens, there will be no fighting any decision to turn cultural institutions into state-propaganda machines, all controlled by the Office of the President – or whoever else is pulling the strings on these appointments, real and rumored.
At least within existing laws, we can fight this political imposition on our cultural institutions. Right now, we have the law on our side, with very specific qualifications for cultural leadership positions, and very precise requirements for institutional independence.
The names so far
Diño’s appointment last week to the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) is the first instance in which President Duterte has disregarded what is required and specified in the law for a cultural position.
The President used to take pride in all his appointees being experts. Not anymore. That Diño appointment was a sad day for Philippine film and culture. It only got sadder.
The day wore on and more names came in from various disconnected, but all credible sources. Unconfirmed names, but have since been repeated over and over almost a week since: Cecile Guidote Alvarez, Nick Lizaso, Irene Marcos.
Guidote and Lizaso are far from being credible as cultural leaders if the President cared to ask the sector, and have already done their time in leadership positions. I’d like to think Irene Marcos classy enough to say no, because really, she does not need a cultural leadership post to prove anything – and to be in the company of these names, how embarrassing for her, too.
Unconfirmed news also reached me that not only was the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) chairperson being pressured to resign from his post, the same kind of pressure was being put on the leadership of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).
Self-interest vs sectoral unity
The Diño appointment might have been a way to test the cultural sector: would we raise our fists against the irregular, highly arguable, and absolutely unacceptable appointment of someone who has neither credentials nor credibility, neither experience nor expertise, for an FDCP leadership post?
But as expected, the sector has been divided among those who know Diño and attest to her good heart and her battery of consultants, those who don’t care, and those who realize that regardless of who Diño appoints to key positions, she does not have the capacity or capability to stand as FDCP chairperson.
Maintenance of archives, recovery of lost films, building and keeping the trust of international filmmakers and archivist organizations, heading the Film ASEAN after being at the forefront of establishing it with a vision for the region, international and regional film festivals, free skills development workshops, Cinematheques built in collaboration with institutions who willingly help based solely on the credibility of the FDCP leadership. The head of the FDCP is not a mere figurehead. It is about representing nation based on a body of work and decades of experience. This is a position that can only be functional if one has the respect and esteem of the regional and global film institutions, embassies and international cultural organizations. You only get that respect if you’ve built it for years – decades! – in cultural work within the sector.
This is what this FDCP post is about. It says so in the law. It is so in reality.
That few raise a fuss is telling of the kind of personal interests at stake here – look at who is behind this Diño appointment, and who has fallen silent on this affront to cultural independence, and ask: what do they stand to gain from this appointment?
The more important question, of course, is what it is that we are sacrificing when we fall silent on this issue.
The word “independent” is in the law that created the FDCP – a requirement for any leader who might be appointed, something that Diño cannot claim to even exercise given the patronage politics that dictated her appointment.
Section 8 of the law that created the NCCA meanwhile clearly states that: “The Commission shall be an independent agency,” after defining in Section 4 the Culture of the People to be “Independent, free of political and economic structures which inhibit cultural sovereignty.” Under the NCCA falls the CCP, the National Museum (NM), the National Archives (NA), the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), the National Library (NL), and the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF).
Now, of course, those of us in the sector might not care since we don’t gain anything from these institutions, anyway. But that would be to fail to look at the bigger picture and the part we play in it. Because I might be able to write with no institutional support, but I know that I gain even if tangentially from the good these institutions do. When they give grants to writers in the various languages across the country, or when they decide to prioritize cultural mapping projects, or when they engage in the task of recovering and remastering our old films – this work, if I cared enough to know these, is what I end up standing on, as a cultural worker, in constant search for identity and history, justice and equality, telling the stories of the nation.
Right now I also stand squarely on the side of our cultural institutions, and their right to operate independently of the State. I question the political appointment of Diño into the FDCP, which disregards requirements set in law. I stand against any pressure that is being put on our cultural leaders to resign, and any meddling from government in the affairs of culture.
I stand with the institutions of culture that I have critiqued and questioned, but which at this critical juncture is being attacked by the State, an affront to the independence of these institutions.
Here’s hoping more cultural workers can get over themselves, and beyond their personal interests, and take a stand for this independence. History tells us we have everything to lose.
Previously published in The Manila Times, op-ed section, 17 Aug 2016.