Jacob disputes NCCA claims on her removal as Exec. Director

Former National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Executive Director Malou Jacob disputed the explanation of the cultural agency regarding her removal from her post, of which she was informed via e-mail while she was representing the Philippines in Australia for the 5th World Summit on Arts and Culture.

Logo of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), representing the "alab ng haraya" (flame of the imagination).
Logo of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), representing the "alab ng haraya" (flame of the imagination).

Adelina Suemith, whom the NCCA designated as Officer-in-Charge (OIC) for the Executive Director position, had previously claimed in an e-mail interview that Jacob had been “verbally cautioned that her trip abroad might no longer be ‘official'”, as the Civil Service Commission (CSC), citing Jacob’s lack of civil service eligibility, had issued a letter to the NCCA Chairman disapproving the renewal of her temporary appointment. Suemith also stated that the NCCA had received the letter on September 22, and it was her understanding that Jacob’s removal would take effect 15 days later.

Whether this period is supposed to have covered calendar days, which includes weekends, or working days only is not clear. Nevertheless, Jacob was told that she was being removed on October 4, 12 calendar days or 8 working days following the CSC notification. Suemith’s own written account reveals confusion in the dates, as she said, “[The Executive Director] position and its responsibilities should be assumed  by a qualified officer by October 5. On October 6, [Jacob] was officially cut off.”

A medieval practice

An examination of the CSC letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Pro Pinoy Project, shows that Assistant Commissioner Rogelio C. Limare, the signatory, did not mention any deadline for Jacob’s replacement, or indeed explicitly call for her replacement at all.

Inquiries sent to the Public Assistance and Information Office (PAIO) of the CSC have so far met with no substantial response, though PAIO Director Ma. Luisa Salonga-Agamata said she had forwarded these to Director Azucena Esleta of the Personnel Policies and Standards Office (PPSO) for “preferential attention”.

Jacob, in reaction to Suemith’s statements, said that she did not recall anyone in the NCCA “cautioning me that [my] representing the Philippines […] would no longer be official”. She was in Australia from October 1 to 8, and had received her travel kit, which included official travel authority documents signed by Malacañang and NCCA Chairman Felipe de Leon, Jr., on September 30.

“Having clarified these,” she said, “[…] let us focus on the  crux of the matter: that the seasoned artist-cum-cultural manager should be given the chance to lead the NCCA.” Jacob, a prize-winning playwright and veteran administrator, had earlier urged the NCCA Commissioners in a letter to “enlighten the CSC”. She opined that the qualifications for Executive Director should not be based on civil service eligibility, but rather on whether one was a experienced artist and cultural worker who was respected by one’s peers and rooted in the artistic community. She later circulated this letter and a statement addressed to her fellow artists online.

The NCCA Board of Commissioners had given Jacob a temporary appointment as Executive Director for one year beginning March 12, 2010, and had initially approved the renewal of her appointment in spite of her being disqualified for civil service.That civil service eligibility is a requirement at all for Executive Director does not seem to square with the provisions of Republic Act No. 7356, the law that established the NCCA, as it provides that each non-ex-officio member of the Commission has a three-year term of office, and may not serve more than two consecutive terms.

From left to right: Former NCCA Executive Director Malou Jacob, television host Boy Abunda, and Sen. Edgardo J. Angara at the 2011 Ani ng Dangal awards night held last February. Courtesy of the NCCA web site.
From left to right: Former NCCA Executive Director Malou Jacob, television host Boy Abunda, and Sen. Edgardo J. Angara at the 2011 Ani ng Dangal awards night held last February. Courtesy of the NCCA web site.

Suemith asserted that “the normal selection process [for the Executive Director] was not followed” in Jacob’s case, as the NCCA had received a desire letter from former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo endorsing Jacob. In a meeting of the Commission held on March 30 this year, Deputy Executive Director Marlene Ruth Sanchez remarked that the practice of sending desire letters for posts in the agency has been undertaken since 1992, the year that the NCCA was first established. Jacob herself described this practice as “medieval”.

According to Suemith, the criteria and the selection process for Executive Director are still being finalized. The NCCA may have a new director by January or February next year.

Presidential involvement

The NCCA law envisions a Filipino national culture that is “independent, free of political and economic structures which inhibit cultural sovereignty”, but the hand of the chief executive has apparently always been involved in the policies and programs of the agency, which is attached to the Office of the President.

Such involvement was perhaps most dramatically expressed in 2009, when then NCCA Executive Director and Presidential Adviser on Culture and the Arts Cecile Guidote-Alvarez was named National Artist, even if the very guidelines of the Commission, which administers the honor together with the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), disqualified her from being nominated in the first place. Macapagal-Arroyo, in consultation with the Malacañang Committee on Honors, had included Guidote-Alvarez, Francisco “Bobby” Mañosa, Jose “Pitoy” Moreno, and Magno Jose Carlos J. Caparas in the final roster. She also excluded Ramon Santos, one of the four artists who had actually passed through the screening process of the NCCA and the CCP. The manipulation of the line-up of National Artists caused an uproar that wound up in the Supreme Court, which has yet to resolve the issue.

The year after, Macapagal-Arroyo went on what critics decried as a pre-election “massacre“, making a series of constitutionally prohibited “midnight appointments” to various agencies, including cultural institutions like the CCP, the National Historical Institute (NHI), and the National Museum (NM), without even notifying the incumbents that they were being replaced. This appointing spree came on the heels of De Castro, et al. vs. JBC and PGMA, a highly controversial Supreme Court decision that allowed Macapagal-Arroyo to select the successor of Chief Justice Reynato Puno, who retired on May 17, 2010.

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is currently detained at the Veterans' Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) on charges of electoral sabotage
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is currently detained at the Veterans' Memorial Medical Center (VMMC) on charges of electoral sabotage

Macapagal-Arroyo chose Renato Corona, the circumstances of whose appointment now constitute one of the grounds for an impeachment complaint recently filed against him by 188 members of the House of Representatives. The other midnight appointments were revoked by current President Benigno S. “Noynoy” Aquino III by way of Executive Order No. 2, although some of the affected personnel were retained in a hold-over capacity, such as NM Director Jeremy Barns.

Towards a ‘culture of the people’

In 1986, presidential spokesperson and legal counsel Teodoro “Teddyboy” L. Locsin, Jr. quickly earned ire for himself and for the administration of Corazon C. Aquino for declaring, “Culture is not a priority.” The context of that remark is easy enough to see, however: the previous regime, led by former First Lady Imelda Marcos, had made culture out to be a complex edifice of elitism and excess that was largely irrelevant to the public.

Noted cultural advocate Felice Prudente Sta. Maria has written in A Cultural Worker’s First Manual that while the Marcos administration mobilized culture in shaping its vision for the nation, its greatest failure “was its cultural policy which aimed to ‘bring culture to the masses’, rather than catalyze a ‘culture of the people’. The public and a majority of policy makers became indifferent to culture”.

To Aquino’s credit, it was she who laid the foundation for the NCCA with Executive Order No. 118, which created the Presidential Commission for Culture and the Arts (PCCA), and the NCCA charter was passed into law during the final months of her term of office. It was hailed as a landmark piece of legislation, having been crafted with the active participation of the arts and culture community, and was founded on a concept of culture that was not merely arts and letters, but “a manifestation of the freedom of belief and of expression”, as well as a “human right to be accorded due respect and allowed to flourish”.

In the current climate of contentious codes and perplexing protocols, it remains to be seen if the NCCA can indeed catalyze a ‘culture of the people’.

Jay Salazar

Jaime Oscar M. Salazar has been blogging intermittently since 2002. He lives and works in Metro Manila. His personal blog is Random Salt.