Imagination as shaper of nation

NCCA building at 633 General Luna Street, Intramuros
Mervin Concepcion Vergara

Imagination as shaper of nation
By Marne Kilates

At the rotunda of the central intersection in Caloocan City, one might get off the chaotic traffic or out of the surrounding buildings of businesses and shopping malls and stand before the Monumento, the noble and epic monument to the Philippine Revolution.

At the Cultural Center of the Philippines main theater, one might watch the regal singkil of the Bayanihan Dance Troupe, witness the drama of Miss Saigon, listen to the cascade of notes as Cecile Licad plays Rachmaninoff.

Elsewhere, at the PETA Theater on a side street off E. Rodriguez, Quezon City, one might tear up watching the hybrid rock opera Rock of Aegis; in Bohol, one might sail down a river while being serenaded by the Loboc Children’s Choir; in the Cordilleras, during harvest among the payyo or rice terraces, one might hear the Hudhud epic being chanted.

On the shores of Lake Lanao, the recitation of the Maranao epic Darangen adds to the sparkle of a wedding. In Batanes, in the small town of Savidug on Sabtang Island, one might hear Lola Filomena Hubalde, 87, singing her laji. And on Visayas Avenue at the Conspiracy Café, one might chance upon a modern balagtasan in a gathering of young poets.

Managing culture

We might simply end this enumeration of varied examples and instances of the Filipino imagination and remark on the complexity of what we would call culture, and with the knowledge that we have barely touched the core of the notion. Still, as a component of government structure now being overseen by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the management of culture as part of the national development agenda must be made even more functional and systematized.

As NCCA Chairman Virgilio S. Almario, who is also National Artist for Literature and one time executive director of the same agency, observes, “The NCCA is a 30-year old ‘experiment’ which has served its purpose.” He was alluding to the rather prolonged ad hoc nature of the agency since its formation post-EDSA. Its huge, even monumental, task of orchestrating contemporary and traditional arts, and heritage preservation and conservation has been accomplished with the mostly selfless work of its commissions and sub-commissions of volunteers.

Its coordinative function among six independent cultural agencies whose heads compose the NCCA Board together with representatives from the arts commissions, has been similarly enormous and fraught with the usual bureaucratic hurdles. All six agencies, including the NCCA itself, are under the Office the President.

One can only imagine the burden it places on the office of the national executive together with other agencies and entities placed under its aegis. A rationalized institution of culture, through the creation of a full-fledged department, has long been deemed necessary by the country’s arts and culture community and heads of cultural agencies.

With the full support of culture advocate Sen. Loren Legarda, Almario and his technical staff have continually refined concepts, aligned structures, consulted with various parties and smoothened edges, and are working with the country’s legislators to create a Department of Culture.

In one of the concluding statements of Legarda’s sponsorship speech for the bill creating the department, she said, “It is time that we change the mindset that culture is merely for entertainment, tourism or leisure.”

That she speaks of changing a mindset reveals how government has regarded culture. For much of recent history, or even dating back to the colonial era, it would seem that not much serious thought has been given by government to culture as a component of overall national development.

Legarda said, “Our culture is our soul, our identity. It is what binds us Filipinos no matter how diverse we are. We can no longer allow it to be merely on the hindquarters of nation building.”

The global experience

One reason for an unenlightened policy may be history or more than three centuries of colonization, one world war in the mid-20th century, and how such a process has undermined the development and functioning of the national imagination. Government policy might only be seen as a sign of what colonization and war had wrought on this invisible aspect of a nation and its people.

Globalization, both economic and cultural, has been happening ever since people and countries needed to trade, interact, and integrate in ever-increasing interdependence. The processes of conquest and colonization, the struggles for independence of colonized nations, as well as the advances and innovations in this process of interchange—from transport to communications, from the railroad to container ships and from the telegraph to the Internet and the cell phone—all pose a threat as well as open pathways of growth to the culture of nations.

Again, these are the contexts wherein culture is a pivotal part of the development process, but which governments have been either too speedy or too slow to adopt or carry out to their advantage.  America is one of the “slow” ones, although it has its National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities. The Philippines is another slow one.

In contrast, some 50 countries from other parts of the globe have ministries or departments of culture with their heads occupying Cabinet positions. Notable among them are Albania, Brazil, Britain, Cambodia, Ethiopia, France, Greece, Haiti, Ireland, Italy, and Spain. These nations put a premium on culture, or invest in its sector, whatever the stage of their economic development.

Senate Bill 1528

Culture—the embodiment of a people’s manners and ways of life, expression, creativity, and imagination—is a universal concept and value shared by all peoples of the world. Much of the sentiments and perceptions on culture coming from other countries with various histories are reflected in the Filipinos’ desire and aspiration to carve a place of the arts and the national imagination in nation building.

On August 16, 2017, Legarda sponsored the proposed law creating the Department of Culture. She premised her sponsorship speech with quotes from a 2011 study titled “Culture for National Unity: A Proposal for the Establishment of a Department of Culture,” prepared by three of the country’s leading artists: National Artist for Music Ramon P. Santos, National Artist for Literature Virgilio S. Almario, and Dr. Jose Y. Dalisay,

The study stated in part: “Filipinos direly need a sense of national identity. This is crucial to the nation’s future… the sense of a common heritage and a shared past, and therefore a shared stake in the outcome of the country’s present strivings and struggles.

“If Filipinos are to respect themselves and if they seek to gain the respect and recognition of the world at large, they must first find their soul and cherish it. That is the mission of culture, and of the Department of Culture we envisage and propose.”

About the department’s import and consequence, little more can be said. Here are the main features of “Senate Bill No. 1528 under Committee Report 137, an Act Establishing the Department of Culture, Appropriating Funds Therefore, and for Other Purposes.”

Legarda pointed that “The creation of the said Department is essential to having a legitimate government body that would coordinate all activities of promoting ‘national identity and culture’. As such, there would be a seat in the Cabinet. It means that the Department will have a head that will be treated as an equal by the heads of other government departments and bureaus… and that the concern of culture would be mainstreamed in institutional development.”

She continued, “There will now be a national body that will develop, manage and be responsible for the implementation of policy, legislation and strategic direction for the protection, safeguarding, regulation, preservation, development, management, dissemination and promotion of Philippine culture and the arts.”

Bureaus and attached agencies

The proposed Department will have six bureaus:  Bureau of Cultural Communities and Traditional Arts Development, Bureau of Cultural Properties Protection and Regulation, Bureau of Cultural Properties Preservation, Bureau of Artistic Resources Development, Bureau of Cultural Research, Education and Dissemination, Bureau of Cultural and Creative Industries.

The creation of the department will rationalize all existing duplications of functions from among the current concerned cultural agencies or government offices. Activities will be coordinated which will require full cooperation of other departments such as in the cases involving the conservation, preservation and safeguarding of our national heritage and patrimony. There will be adequate mandate and police power in continuing the preservation and conservation efforts.

The existing agencies coordinated by the NCCA—the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), National Museum (NMP), National Historical Commission (NHCP), National Library (NLP), National Archives (NAP), and Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF)—will become attached agencies of the department:

Other agencies presently attached to government departments other than NCCA will also become attached agencies of the proposed department. These are Intramuros Administration (IA), National Parks Development Committee (NPDC), Nayong Pilipino Foundation (NPF), Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), National Book Development Board (NBDB), and Design Center of the Philippines. There will be a total of 12 attached agencies in the department.

National institutes

The following National Institutes, with their respective networks throughout the country, will be established under the department:

National Institute of Living Traditions, which will be responsible for programs related to the safeguarding, sustainability, propagation and intergenerational transmission of intangible cultural heritage, particularly that which pertains to indigenous cultural communities. The existing Schools of Living Traditions (SLTs) will be under this Institute.

National Institute of Cultural Heritage Preservation, which will be responsible for programs related to national capacity building in the area of conservation arts, sciences and trades with respect to the preservation of immovable and movable cultural property and with a particular focus on vocational training for the youth. Eskuwela Talyer or Workshop Schools will be established under this Institute.

National Institute of Culture and Arts Management, which will be responsible for programs related to the education, training and certification of cultural officers and personnel as a necessary qualification for employment and promotion in the National Government and in local governments.

National Academy of Culture and Arts, which will be an association of the nation’s foremost leaders and exponents of culture and the arts, the primary purpose of which is to support the mandate of the department as an independent body of eminent persons.

Budget and  culture

The amount needed for the initial implementation of the measure will be taken from the current appropriation for the NCCA. Moreover, all other existing cultural agencies that will be under the department also have their respective budgets under the General Appropriations Act. The year after the establishment of the department, a budget of not less than two billion pesos will be set aside for the operations and maintenance of the Department of Culture.

Legarda said this measure is among the priority legislation of this administration as espoused in the Culture Chapter of the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022. Likewise, this was endorsed to Malacañang as one of the priority legislative agenda of the Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cabinet Cluster.

Much optimism comes with these developments. But as it is, the Department of Culture, being a legislative proposal, is a work in progress. According to Almario, in body and countenance, it might still change as it undergoes reviews and hearings in either the Senate or House of Representatives.

He said, “We can see quite good support from the Senate, while in Congress twenty representatives are willing to sign our Bill. We have also been industrious and persistent in our meetings with the poverty cluster. While Malacañang still has issued no statement of our bill, we are happy that the presidential legislative agenda now carries the Department of Culture. In the meantime, the NEDA has asked us why just ‘attached’ agencies and not full or integrated bureaus under the proposed department? We are being requested to review our structures and rationale.”

We can imagine with sanguine anticipation how, in the words of Legarda, “our soul, our identity…  what binds us Filipinos no matter how diverse we are”—our national imagination and culture—can no longer be at the “hindquarters of nation building” but integral to shaping the nation.


President Diosdado Macapagal signed into law RA 4165 creating the National Commission on Culture and providing funds therefor. The commission would be headed by a commissioner with 14 members, two representatives from each of the six art forms—music, dance, drama, painting, sculpture, and literature—and two public representatives for their involvement in arts and letters.

President Ferdinand E. Marcos signed Executive Order No. 30 a year after taking his oath as president, creating the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) to promote and preserve Filipino arts and culture. CCP was inaugurated on September 8, 1969.

A group called Alliance of Artists for the Creation of the Ministry of Culture (AACMC) was organized following its first general assembly on March 12. On March 19, AACMC submitted to President Corazon C. Aquino the concept and structure of a Ministry of Culture with three national councils: Heritage (for the conservation and promotion of Filipino national heritage; Arts (for encouraging all forms of creative expression on all sectors and level of Philippine society; and Cultural Dissemination (for dissemination of all forms of cultural expression to the public).

The Presidential Commission on Government Reorganization, for reason of lack of funds, suggested that a presidential commission (instead of a culture ministry) be coordinated with the Secretary of Education, Culture and Sports. This proposal became the basis for the structure later on of the Presidential Commission for Culture and the Arts (PCCA).

The AAMC became an ad hoc group called Samahan sa Kultura at Sining (SAKSI) formally organized in a founding congress held at the Metropolitan Theater of Manila.

President Aquino signed Executive Order No. 118 on January 30 creating the Presidential Commission for Culture and the Arts (PCCA), with the secretary of the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) serving as chairman, and one of its undersecretaries as vice-chairman. Four commissioners complete the body—president of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), the director of the National Historical Institute (NHI), an undersecretary of the Department of Tourism (DOT), and a representative from the Office of the President. The PCCA had three subcommissions on the (1) Arts (composed of the national committees on Dance, Dramatic Arts, Film, Literary Arts, Music, and Visual Arts); (2) Cultural Heritage (composed of the national committees on archives, libraries and information services, museums and galleries, and monuments and sites); and (3) Cultural Dissemination (composed of national committees on traditional arts, cultural education, cultural events, and language and translation).

On April 3, 1992, President Corazon C. Aquino signed Republic Act No 7356 creating the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and establishing a National Endowment Fund for the Arts (NEFCA). The original bill was jointly sponsored by Senators Edgardo Angara, Heherson Alvarez, Leticia Ramos Shahani, and Congressman Carlos Padilla.

On March 15, 1999, Executive Order No. 80 was issued, strengthening the coordination among the government’s six cultural agencies—Cultural Center of the Philippines, the National Historical Institute (now, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines), the National MuseumThe National Library (now, The National Library of the Philippines), and the Records, Management, and Archives Office (now, the National Archives of the Philippines)—and placing them under the NCCA umbrella. By virtue of Republic Act 9155, the six agencies plus the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, were administratively attached to the NCCA.

Senator Loren Legarda delivered on August 16 her sponsorship speech on Senate Bill 1528, Committee Report 137, “An Act Establishing the Department of Culture, Appropriating Funds Therefor, and for Other Purposes”.  Legarda emphasized that “with the establishment of a Department of Culture, we seek to mainstream culture and arts into the government’s development agenda.”

Source: Agung

Marne Kilates assists the Chairman of both NCCA and KWF in the communications and promotions tasks of both agencies as writer, editor, and translator of special articles and in sustaining their communications programs. Kilates is an award-winning poet with six books to his name and numerous translation books of works by the country’s leading writers in Filipino.


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