Nov 19, 2018

Efforts are underway in the soon-to-conclude 17th Congress to create a Department of Culture and the Arts.

Its head will be a secretary who enjoys Cabinet rank.  It will have five undersecretaries, each with specific responsibilities related to the arts, cultural heritage, cultural dissemination, traditional arts, and “international linkages” related to cultural diplomacy with other countries.

It will also have two assistant secretaries who will be plucked from among career officials now holding office in government.

At present, we have a National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) as “overall policy-making and coordinating body of all programs and plans related to the conservation, development and promotion of Philippine Arts and culture.”

The Senate version of the measure creating the new department intends to preserve the NCCA but will “reorganize” it to fit into the new office.

The bill noted the need to “ensure the place of arts and culture in the priorities of the government” given the limited resources given to current arts- and culture-related government agencies.

Observers meanwhile, pointed out the seeming lack of public interest and cooperation from other government offices that have arts- or culture-related projects.

Recall the recent sale of a Katipunan flag traced to Andres Bonifacio that sold for nearly P10 million. Also the boceto of Juan Luna’s “Spoliarium” that Salcedo Auctions wanted to show first to the National Museum before private buyers.

In both cases, the lack of public funds that could have at least allowed government agencies to match offers from private individuals stalled efforts to preserve the items as part of the national patrimony.

Creating a culture department that will oversee government agencies with various arts-and-culture agenda will be a mighty effort.  But given the independence (and seeming lack of coordination) of these agencies from one another, the department would be necessary.

The Senate version penned by Sen. Loren Legarda lists the Cultural Center of the Philippines, National Museum, National Archives of the Philippines, National Library, National Historical Commission, Komisyon ng Wikang Pilipino, Film Development Council of the Philippines and the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board among agencies that will be put under the department.

They will continue to operate under their respective charters, the Senate bill provides. Their annual budgets will be included in the culture department’s yearly allocations for approval.

It is obvious that the government pays little attention to the arts and culture.  The bill is an obvious effort to consolidate what little government resources there are given to these sectors and organize government efforts to promote art and culture in the country.

No doubt the intention is noble. Proponents however, must gear themselves for the uphill battle to have the measure approved.

The Senate culture committee headed by Sen. Chiz Escudero has already sponsored the measure.  However, it still must be subject to plenary debate before the bill is approved.

The House of Representatives is also said to be ready with its own version that would also be subject to interpellation.

The hard work is convincing members of both chambers to pay attention to the bill and vote for its approval before everyone’s attention is diverted to the 2019 elections.

This means congressmen and senators would have roughly until February to do so.

Lawmakers are currently busy with scrutinizing the 2019 national budget.  They have until December to approve next year’s government appropriations.  Then comes the holiday break.

Legislators will return in January but plenary work will be brief because the 2019 campaign period begins in February.

If Congress fails to pay attention to the bill creating the culture department, we will have to wait for the next crop of lawmakers to come up with a new version of the measure creating it and wait for the legislative mill to do its slow grind. Again.


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Read more:

Homebound: Take a heritage tour around Binondo and Taal

The government blatantly lacks cultural heritage literacy. Here’s why

Writing a nation: Should we start using Baybayin again?

Read more by Cathy Cañares Yamsuan:

A “major” sponsor’s sense of entitlement puts Miss Earth pageant on the spot

A boceto of Juan Luna’s “Spoliarium” was unearthed in Europe

Bonifacio’s flag was auctioned off for P9.3 million—should we have allowed it?

TAGS: culture department of culture film development council of the philippines government history komisyon ng wikang filipino national commission for culture and the arts national historical commission National Museum