GROUPS of writers and performing artists are voicing their opposition to the new guidelines of this year’s grants program of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), saying they are “anti-private sector” and “anti-artists.”
They add they were not consulted.
They say they have asked Chair Felipe de Leon Jr. to suspend the new guidelines and defer the deadline for submission of proposals on Sept. 30.
They have noted the new guidelines consist of 50-90 pages on the NCCA website, depending on the browser, and were officially released only on Sept. 1, and seem calculated to discourage artists and cultural workers especially from the private sector from applying.
In a press release dated Sept. 1 from the NCCA information office, titled “NCCA to Grant Millions of Pesos Worth to Arts and Culture Projects,” it was announced the grants program would now concentrate on “regional concerns” and would have two categories—Category A and Category B, with the former focusing on priorities identified by the national committees of the NCCA and the latter basically standing for the old competitive grants program.
Those qualified to apply are “Filipino individuals as well as civil society organizations, indigenous people’s organizations/groups, local government units, government agencies and institutions, state universities/colleges and public schools.”
Critics note that the emphasis on national and local governments, including state and local government schools and even noncultural government agencies, opens the National Endowment for Culture and the Arts (Nefca), from where the NCCA grants budget is sourced, to just about any government entity, and effectively arrogates the fund, which is meant to benefit artists and cultural workers, to the state, enabling it to play patronage politics and even curtail creative expression and freedom of dissent.
And since the new rules favor local government units, artists groups warn the Nefca might be used as “pork barrel” to buy favor from local political bosses on an election year.
Critics say the new grants rules water down the interest of the private sector, to which most artists and cultural workers belong. They say the private sector is already underrepresented on the NCCA board.
Worse, the new rules treat private groups of artists and cultural workers as “nongovernment organizations” that should be accredited by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Even respected professional and cultural organizations such as writers groups and private universities and colleges that have received grants before and have been partners of the NCCA in cultural advocacy and production, according to the rules, would have to undergo “social investigation” by the DSWD, which released the emergency assistance for victims of “Yolanda” only this year, nearly two years after the typhoon.
“Our sectors have been active components of national committees, specifically [the National Committee on] Dramatic Arts, Literary Arts, Dance, Cultural Education, among others, yet we have never been contacted by our representatives [in the NCCA] if only to solicit for significant outputs,” said Steven Patrick Fernandez, artistic director of the Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology Integrated Performing Arts Guild, in a letter to De Leon.
Fernandez, who is also the president of the Mindanao Creative Writers Group, a private foundation, says he had been told by NCCA national committees they were not consulted about the new rules.
He also notes flaws in this year’s grants program which he says “pinpoints the central position of local government as hub in most of the proposals.”
“LGUs and their minions have a mostly deviant concept of culture and art studies opposing ours—we can expect a deluge of street-dancing festivals and beauty contests, all in the name of ‘culture’ and ‘tourism,’” Fernandez says.
Fernandez warns the guidelines would marginalize artists and cultural groups.
“Not all LGUs share the same conditions and manners of engaging with local artists,” he explains. “In many cases, there is no partnership. Besides, in their own turfs, culture-and-arts sectors of LGUs are the domains of the elite, usually headed by the wives of the mayors and their circles.”
“The guidelines assume most regions will have networks of artists. There are sectoral organizations and NGOs working for advocacies, but I still have to encounter a formally organized group of artists and cultural workers on a sub-regional level in our parts. In effect, the proponent that manages the resources granted by the NCCA establishes itself as the de facto hegemonic ‘network.’”
Katig Writers Network Inc. Tacloban, a literary writers organization in Eastern Visayas, also appeals in a letter to De Leon to stop the new grants program “and give a second look at how writers and various artists and agencies in the country could best be served by the NCCA by means of mutually and cohesively integrating its priorities and authentic needs.”
“By losing sight of a needs-based and bottom-up grant system, we fear that the current move of the NCCA could hamper the growth and development of artists and their community-beneficiaries across the country which have been earlier studied, planned and nurtured for years by the committees across the Sub- Commission,” reads part of the letter signed by Phil Harold Mercurio, Katig head.
Meanwhile, Shirley Lua, director of the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center of the De la Salle University in Manila, says in a letter to De Leon that their group is dismayed at the changes.
“We note the guidelines seem to favor cultural-development projects that are culturally and even ethnically specific, and do not seem to cover national-scale workshops on creative and critical writing,” Lua says, further asking what would happen now to writers and scholars who were previously supported by the program.