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.
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 façade 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.