Rescuing the arts
THE CURRENT requirement for the Department of Social Welfare and Development to vet all civil service organizations (CSOs) is yet another proof that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions.
Conceived as a way to prevent the diversion of government funds to nonexistent NGOs, as had been the modus behind the pork barrel scandal, Section 66 of the 2014 General Appropriations Act has unintended consequences, mostly adverse, for the Philippine arts community.
The provision has made it difficult for CSOs and artist groups to obtain grants for cultural projects because without DSWD approval, they would be unable to get any funding from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.
For Virgin Labfest, a theater group that showcases “unpublished, unstaged, untested and untried” plays by budding and veteran playwrights, and the Integrated Performing Arts Guild (Ipag), a resident performing arts company of Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology, these voluminous documentary requirements could mean projects being delayed, downscaled—or scrapped outright.
Included in these requirements are certificates attesting to a CSO’s legitimacy from the local mayor’s office and the barangay chair, a business permit issued to a “nonprofit” organization, a sanitation permit, a list of employees, registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission, a valid business license from the local government, certified true copies of audited financial reports, certified true copies of annual income tax returns, and a list of projects and programs previously and/or currently implemented by the CSO with the government.
Rody Vera of Writer’s Bloc Inc. was reported as saying that Virgin Labfest spent six months and nearly P13,000 to meet the documentary requirements, only to see the DSWD changing its forms.
The requirements not only add another layer of bureaucracy to a government process already burdened by red tape, but also begs the question: Does the DSWD have the expertise to check out the CSOs applying for grants, not to mention the time, resources, and personnel given its heavy load of looking after juvenile criminals and street vagrants, implementing the conditional cash transfer program, and overseeing the relief and rescue of people caught in natural disasters (to which the Philippines is hardly a stranger)?
To its credit, the DSWD was reported to be reviewing the “too stringent” list of documentary requirements to fast-track the process and prevent unnecessary red tape and duplication. Hopefully, the review and subsequent positive changes would prove award-winning filmmaker Lav Diaz’s lament wrong: “From the start, art has always been pushed aside.”
One would think Diaz would easily get government support after his eight-hour “Hele sa Hiwagang Hapis” won the Alfred Bauer Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year. But no. The promised grant for Diaz’s “Ang Babaeng Humayo” from the Film Development Council of the Philippines was reduced to half and must follow the reimbursement process.
“Ang Babaeng Humayo” went on to win the Golden Lion, the top prize in the 73rd Venice International Film Festival in Italy. Diaz sought support from the Senate and the Quezon City government so his group could attend the awarding ceremony, but received no response. It was a travel agency that eventually allowed members of his group to fly on credit.
“We were in the main competition of Venice,” Diaz was reported as saying. “It was like the Olympics of cinema. In sports, medalists receive millions [in] incentives… But why do filmmakers have to beg for support?” And when it comes to beauty pageant winners, he said wryly, officialdom goes wild. “Nababaliw ang Palasyo at Kongreso!”
The film’s lead star, Charo Santos-Concio, pointed out the reality: “Cinema—the arts, actually—seems to be the last priority of government. [Yet] cinema shapes culture. It mirrors society, it mirrors us as a people.”
Ipag artistic director Steven Fernandez said the government must draw a clear distinction between CSOs and art and culture groups: “The arts direct themselves to the nurturing of intangibles like heritage and the communal identity. Creative expressions and the imagination are conduits that shape culture for our national good.”
Indeed, nurturing the arts and giving them presence and voice are what are needed to rescue our communal identity that has, of late, been tied to summary killings and foul language.
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