Thursday, August 06, 2009

NCCA commissioners speak out

And really, on a more serious note, even the commissioners of the NCCA have seen fit to speak out.

Of Truth, Honor and Delicadeza or How to Bake Your Cake and Eat It, Too
By Elmar Beltran Ingles,
NCCA Commissioner for Cultural Dissemination

“The leak did it. Whoever leaked the results of the deliberations is a criminal.“

This was the observation of a government agency official who sits as ex-officio member of the NCCA Board. His statement was concurred to by another cultural agency ex-officio Board member who was attending the meeting for the first time.

The occasion was the July 31 regular meeting of the NCCA Board of Commissioners. The statements were made in response to the expression of anger and disappointment aired by Commissioner Ricardo De Ungria, of the Subcommission on the Arts, on the manner by which Malacanang decided, confirmed and announced the results of the 2009 National Artist Awards. Commissioner de Ungria was merely conveying the initial reactions of artists and cultural workers to the presidential proclamation.
Now, in honor of Cory, I've resolved to be more temperate in my comments about this administration, but I can't help but think: it's so like GMA's henchmen to confront an issue by reacting first and only to the leakage of the news. But there you go.
As an elected sitting NCCA Commissioner and Board Member, I would have just let the remarks pass as the confidentiality of the results was really agreed upon by the joint panel of CCP and NCCA after the May 6 deliberations. I was not guilty of the insinuations because I never spoke about the results until my own Subcommission on Cultural Dissemination met in mid-June, way past the expected date of announcement on June
12. But the next statement from Department of Education Undersecretary and NCCA Chairman Vilma Labrador was something I could not let pass. She said that we should respect the President as she was within her legal bounds to do whatever she pleases with the Awards – or words to that effect.

While the Chair was extolling the virtues of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the wise words of a truly extra-ordinary woman leader – President Corazon Aquino, she of unquestionable integrity – kept bugging me. “We do everything not only according to the law but we do what is right and honest.” True enough, it was only during the Cory presidency when the awards process was truly respected without intervention from Malacanang, To my mind, if GMA is really that virtuous, respectable and legal as her appointed minions want us to believe, why did the Hello Garci, Jocjoc Bolante, and NBN-ZTE scandals came about? Why should we be bothered by the breach of silence and confidentiality pact when the final result was the exact reversal of truth despite the leak? Nasaan ang lohika, katotohanan at hustisya sa pangangatuwirang mas mahalaga ang tiwala (trust) kaysa pagiging lantad (transparency)?

I felt I was being taken for a ride destined to bring me away from the truth and integrity of my sworn duties. And I was being led away by the very leaders entrusted – make that forced upon us – to protect the sanctity of the Filipino soul and creative expressions.

So I took the floor and minced no words. I related to everyone present how my mobile phone died twice on me because it could no longer manage the 516 angry text messages I received the day before the meeting. I questioned the need for the Malacanang Honors Committee which was said to have advised the President on this matter. I pressed to know who they are, what their qualifications are, and if they are, indeed, honorable. The last question was premised on the simple fact that they omitted the eminent musicologist and composer Dr. Ramon Santos from the list who, I said, I personally consider as the most qualified and brilliant in the list of final nominees and even after it was manipulated. I went on to state that we are not here to be compelled to respect GMA. That while most of us – particularly the presidential appointees to the Board – serve at the pleasure of the President, our loyalty and service should be dedicated to the Filipino people and the arts and culture sector, and that we should disabuse ourselves of the notion of political patronage.

I also personally appealed on record to the NCCA Executive Director, being concurrently the Presidential Adviser for Culture, to do her job of advising the president on the divisiveness of the presidential decision to alter the decision of the real experts in the arts and culture sector.

I concluded that the president is NOT an expert on arts and culture and that she should stick to matters where she is supposed to excel i.e., the national economy etc.

I said all that with voice quivering and butterflies in my stomach – but in no uncertain terms. All I got from the Chair and her co-factotums from government were icy stares.
I could almost hear their thoughts: “the nerve of this boy to lecture us on public service!” And, boy, that was exactly how she referred to me at NCCA!

But I stood my ground. I knew I hit sensitive nerves. I was daring them to contradict what I said but all I got were perfunctory words to the effect that the points raised will be considered part of the legislative agenda to review the policies on the National Artist Award. The Chair even assured the Executive Director of the Board’s support to her victory. “You deserve it.” Case closed, at least as far as they were concerned. They got what they wanted. Never mind that ABS-CBN was waiting outside for the Chair’s statement – which was passed off as the NCCA official statement. They must be congratulating themselves on how the joke was on the rest of us. The NCCA Secretariat would later tell us how they were compelled to be present at a meeting a day before the Board Meeting to congratulate the Executive Director. Congratulatory tarpaulin banners were immediately posted at the NCCA building’s fa├žade and lobby to express the greetings to Mrs. Alvarez “from your NCCA Family and Chairman Vilma Labrador.” Commissioner de Ungria has wisely said that the arts sector should desist from participating in future selection processes until a clearer rules of engagement is set. He feels we are just being used to justify and legitimize the selection of the SNAGs, or the Singit National Artists ni Gloria. Bakit ka nga naman mag-aabalang igalang ang proseso kung mas mamamayani ang mga letters of appeals mula raw sa mga ambassadors at iba pang functionaries na nag-endorse kay Cecile Guidote Alvarez at sa tatlo pang SNAGs? Mas pinaniniwalaan pala ng Pangulo ang mga nasa posisyong di naman mga alagad ng sining – at mas ignorante pa keysa sa kanya sa larangan ng sining – kabilang ang mga matrona, pulitiko at iba pang kwestyonable ang kaalaman sa sining. At ang masaklap, ito pa ang ipagtatanggol na desisyon ng pamunuan ng NCCA kaysa mahigit na isang taong proseso ng pagpili na nilahukan ng ;pinagsama-samang henyo ng mahigit isang daang alagad ng sining at manggagawang pangkultura sa buong bansa.

I am blogging on this incident not to humiliate certain personalities. (I believe they can do a better job at it.) I am prompted by my sworn duty as an NCCA Committee Member and elected Commissioner to uphold the sector’s interest and protect the honor and integrity of Filipino artists and cultural workers who were primarily responsible for institutionalizing the concept of people power in the bureaucracy. As the sweetest flower of the 1986 EDSA Revolution, the NCCA must be protected from the withering effect of forces not true to our interests and ideals.

And another letter from my friend and Guild president:

by Ricardo M. De Ungria, NCCA Commissioner for the Arts

Simply put: As long as the power to make the final decision on the choice of supreme exemplars of the arts—in the persons of National Artists—does not lie in the arts community through their own members chosen for such task, but in a President who can exercise it as executive privilege—as it is now—, then the arts community will not always get the heroes of their art that they deserve, and they will always be burdened with the choice of according or withdrawing recognition and respect to those merely imposed on them by presidential prerogative. The Presidential Proclamation on the National Artist simply must be changed.

On a personal note: I was witness to the selection process from beginning to end, observing and studying it, and eventually submitting a list of recommendations to both the NCCA and CCP Boards that should help iron out kinks and improve it. Like everybody else, I was hoping against hope that the integrity of the process will be preserved and that good sense and discretion will prevail in the one who will confirm the recommendation and make the final decision. But it was not to be. When the announcement of new National Artists was made, I knew that my worst fears had come to pass. I was surprised, angry, disappointed, and hurting. I was party to a carefully guarded process that proved eventually futile because scorned and trashed. I felt like a fool, a willing cow led to the slaughter. What made it more bitter was the knowledge that I had it coming. The truth was that good intentions to keep things above board and under control were not enough—someone else who had the power (or someone close to the one who had the power) was in control and had seen it fit to flout the rules mindlessly, disdainfully, and unconscionably. This situation speaks ill of the mode of valuation of artistic achievements in this country.

If most of us feel outraged and disgusted by this show of might, it is because we trusted too much—to fate and to the powers that be—and thought that a modicum of morality was still possible or recoverable in the small corner of the arts. We were proven wrong, dead wrong, again, like many times before. We have never learned our lessons well, it seems, because we have not addressed the root of the problem, which is the deleterious and obnoxious Presidential Proclamation itself that gives the president ownership of and power over the award. There was not much outcry about this same situation the last few times it happened when the President added names to the official list submitted by the two Boards. And so now we were slammed with a caboodle of National Artists, four of whom—the biggest number ever to befall us—were presidential choices. Once again, we are suddenly burdened with four personalities who we did not choose but who shall anyway be conferred the most coveted and prestigious title in our field simply because it was not in our power to prevent their proclamation. Once again, the notorious tribe of National Artists who are only presidential choices has increased. What to do with this ilk in our midst and their unenviable kind of victimage worse than death? For whether they deserve the title or not, the scorn and rejection coming to them from the artistic community simply for being backdoor men will be rightfully earned. In the end, nobody wins—the rightful ones get to stand with the less rightful (and probably more righteous)
ones, the arts community becomes divided, and the integrity of the award becomes all the more doubtful and tarnished.

Unless we work in the next three years to have the offending Presidential Proclamation amended to give the power of final choice to the boards of the CCP and the NCCA, and unless we enjoy (outside of our ordinary lives) going through this knot of frustration and anger and disgust and helplessness every three years over this recurring issue of presidential prerogative and national artists, we might as well stand clear of the selection process and let the President decide his or her own national artist of a kind.

So who's fault is all this? Who decided to drop a nominee of the NCCA and insert two of her own choices? Well, you you know.

Thanks again to Gerry for these letters. And watch Media in Focus tonight on ANC, which tackles this issue.

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