Cultural Center of the Philippines

Awards and Abuses

Promised dinner at a nearby fast food restaurant, around a dozen male street children from the Vito Cruz area let themselves be whisked off to the Multi-Purpose Hall of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) by two young men one April afternoon.

The boys were going to play a game, and the instructions were simple: at the appointed time, the kids would enter a makeshift enclosure in pairs and the objective of each, in emulation of professional wrestlers, was to eject his opponent from the ring. As the children began fighting, the men acted as commentators, egging the combatants on.

Awards and Abuses (Contemporary Art Philippines Magazine Issue 24)

Although the wrestling appeared to be no more than rough-housing at the outset, it quickly escalated: the blows became more forceful; the contenders were suddenly all inside the arena; and one of the boys, twelve-year-old Marco Ramirez (a pseudonym) , found himself trapped in a corner, attacked by several assailants.

Rather than attempt to bring the situation to order, however, the men continued to yell their lungs out.

Alarmed, an audience member jumped into the fray, trying to distract the kids by offering his own body as a target for their aggression. Another hit the lights, plunging the hall into darkness. A third shouted at the commentators, denouncing the proceedings as exploitative.

As the frenzy subsided, someone cried out for a first-aid kit: while all the children were sore, if not bruised, from the experience, Ramirez had sustained a wound on his foot.

Precisely what had the boys gotten themselves into? They have said that it was never really explained to them, but they had participated in Criticism Is Hard Work, a performance piece staged by poet Angelo Suarez and visual artist Costantino Zicarelli for the opening day of Tupada Xing: Social Contract. Organized by the Tupada art collective, it was also known as the Tupada Action and Media Art Fourth International Action Art Event 2007 (TAMA ’07).

Five years later, artist Alwin Reamillo, the viewer who had loudly decried the piece as exploitation, is still outraged. “You don’t do that in a performance,” he said in an interview, believing that Criticism, which he compared to a cockfight or a dogfight, was a case of child abuse. Republic Act No. 7610, the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act, defines “child abuse” as the maltreatment of a child, habitual or otherwise, including “any act by deeds or words which debases, degrades or demeans the intrinsic worth and dignity of a child as a human being”.

[Read the rest of the article in Issue 24 of Contemporary Art Philippines magazine or here.]

NCCA cites ‘technicalities’ behind Jacob’s removal as Exec. Director

Former Executive Director of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Malou Jacob is said to have known that her removal from her post was imminent, in view of the decision of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) to disapprove the renewal of her temporary appointment. Jacob, who lacks civil service eligibility, was notified by the NCCA that she had to clear out at once while she was out of the country, representing the Philippines at the 5th World Summit on Arts and Culture.

Adelina M. Suemith, OIC-Executive Director and Chief of the Program Monitoring and Evaluation Division of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). Courtesy of ConnectCP.org.
Adelina M. Suemith, OIC-Executive Director and Chief of the Program Monitoring and Evaluation Division of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). Courtesy of ConnectCP.org.

In an e-mail interview, Adelina Suemith, whom the agency designated as Officer-in-Charge (OIC) for the position of Executive Director, said, “[Jacob was aware] of the disapproval [of the CSC] and was verbally cautioned that her trip abroad might no longer be ‘official’. She herself said before she left for Australia that she will abide by the Board’s decision.”

Regarding the timing of Jacob’s removal, Suemith said, “It may appear that there was not enough time given to her since she was abroad, but she was aware of what could possibly happen after the CSC letter.” Based on her understanding, the disapproval of Jacob’s renewed appointment, as well as Jacob’s removal, would take effect 15 days after September 22, the date on which the NCCA received the letter. According to Suemith, “This [meant] the position and its responsibilities should be assumed  by a qualified officer by October 5. On October 6, [Jacob] was officially cut off.” The Commissioners then had to fill the vacuum so that the agency could continue its operations.

Jacob has stated that while she respects the decision of the Commissioners, she has “no idea” why they acted the way they did. She said she was informed of her removal on October 4. A document obtained by The Pro Pinoy Project shows that Suemith was made OIC on the same date, after a special meeting of the Board.

‘Caught in technicalities’

The Commission had appointed Jacob, a multi-awarded writer and director and veteran administrator, as Executive Director on March 12, 2010 for the period of one year, and had initially sought the renewal of her appointment for another year in spite of her ineligibility.

“[Jacob] is a very kind and peaceful person. I don’t think there is anyone who cannot work with her. The fact that the Board endorsed her second appointment and was even willing to extend her [term] until her retirement in 2012, is clear indication that she was acceptable to the NCCA,” Suemith said. The issue, she added, was not so much Jacob’s performance as it was accountability over government resources, and the NCCA was just “caught in technicalities”.

Suemith cited some of the consequences of Jacob’s lack of civil service eligibility: “The resident auditor would no longer honor or recognize her authority to disburse agency funds. She could not be bonded (a requirement for disbursement purposes), since the bond requires a CSC-approved appointment.  She could not also appoint another officer to do this function since her authority [was] in question.  Because of [these], the Board had to decide immediately on the matter.”

Suemith, who is identified in the NCCA web site as the Chief of the Program Monitoring and Evaluation Division, said she did not apply to be OIC, and does not receive additional remuneration from acting in this capacity. A Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and a holder of a master’s degree in sociology, Suemith is eligible for civil service and has served the cultural agency for 16 years.

Fraught process

The process of choosing an Executive Director would seem to be deeply fraught one for the NCCA, as revealed in the minutes of the regular commission meeting held on March 30 this year.

Even if it is the Board of Commissioners that appoints the Executive Director, it has apparently become customary for the President to send the Board a desire letter indicating his or her favored candidate. During the March 30 meeting, Deputy Executive Director Marlene Ruth Sanchez recalled that this has been the practice from 1992 to 2010, implying that the Board tended to accede to this expression of presidential desire. This goes against the grain of Republic Act No. 7356, the law that established the NCCA, which provides, in part, that Filipino national culture should be “independent, free of political and economic structures which inhibit cultural sovereignty”.

Chart showing the composition of the NCCA Board of Commissioners. Courtesy of the NCCA web site.
Chart showing the composition of the NCCA Board of Commissioners. Courtesy of the NCCA web site.

Moreover, two unresolved issues surfaced at that meeting: first, whether the position of Executive Director is classified as part of the Career Executive Service (CES); and second, whether the Executive Director has a fixed term of office or serves at the pleasure of the Board of Commissioners.

The term of office was not discussed in detail, but with regard to the classification of the position, Suemith at the time stated that the CES Board (CESB) had declared the position of Executive Director as falling under the CES.  The CSC, on the other hand, did not give a response specific to the NCCA as an institution, and instead provided copies of circulars and resolutions of court cases related to eligibility.

The CESB later adopted Resolution No. 945 on June 14. Hewing to the Supreme Court decision in the case of Civil Service Commission v. Court of Appeals and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, the resolution stated that CES coverage would be limited to positions requiring presidential appointments. This means that the NCCA Executive Director is not covered by the CESB.

In the case of Jacob, Suemith asserted that “the normal selection process was not followed”, as the NCCA had received a desire letter from former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Precisely what this normal selection process entails is now under review, Suemith acknowledged.

“The criteria and process are being finalized,” she said. “Hopefully, the new [Executive Director] will be announced in January or February of  2012.”

When asked if the NCCA was considering proposing a set of equivalency criteria, a move suggested by Jacob in a statement that she circulated online, Suemith said the CSC had told the NCCA to submit its position for study. “Perhaps in the near future, when the new [Executive Director] is in place, we can begin to attend to [this]. Certainly, this is not something that can be resolved in a short period considering the huge bureaucracy. But Ms. Jacob’s case can be used to convince the CSC  to review its policies.”

Career or non-career?

At present, it seems that the NCCA considers the Executive Director position as falling under the career service, which in Executive Order No. 292, also known as the Administrative Code of 1987, is characterized by the following: “(1) entrance based on merit and fitness to be determined as far as practicable by competitive examination, or based on highly technical qualifications; (2) opportunity for advancement to higher career positions; and (3) security of tenure.” This means, among others, that the holder of the position can stay until retirement, unless removed for just cause.

Why this is so cannot be determined at the moment, especially given that the NCCA charter 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.

The headquarters of the NCCA in Intramuros, Manila. Courtesy of wn.com.
The headquarters of the NCCA in Intramuros, Manila. Courtesy of wn.com.

The Supreme Court has defined the meaning of “ex-officio” in the 1991 case Civil Liberties Union v. Executive Secretary: “The term ex-officio means ‘from office; by virtue of office.’ It refers to an ‘authority derived from official character merely, not expressly conferred upon the individual character, but rather annexed to the official position.’ Ex-officio likewise denotes an ‘act done in an official character, or as a consequence of office, and without any other appointment or authority than that conferred by the office.’ An ex-officio member of a board is one who is a member by virtue of his title to a certain office, and without further warrant or appointment.”

The confusion may stem from two possibly conflicting sections of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. 7356. Per Section 38, the position of Executive Director seems to be a career service position, as qualifications are supposed to be set in conjunction with existing civil service regulations. Section 36, however, provides that the Executive Director is appointed by the Board of Commissioners based on open nominations, which would make it a non-career service position, because it has a fixed term.

The position would also be non-career if considered a primarily confidential one, in light of the proximity rule applied by the Supreme Court in Civil Service Commission v. Nita P. Javier.

Legislative solution

A bill now pending in the Senate could prove useful to the NCCA and other national cultural institutions in the event that it is passed into law.

Authored by Sen. Manny Villar, Senate Bill No. 1265 seeks to encourage artists to pursue civil service careers by recognizing, in law, that their talents should be the principal bases for their selection, appointment, and promotion, and by establishing an Artists Career Service (ACS), a closed career system tailored to the special characteristics of the artistic profession. Records indicate that Villar has been filing this bill at least as far back as the 13th Congress, when he first became Senator.

The ACS would cover personnel who have been recognized as having talent in at least one cultural or artistic field, and who occupy government positions directly involved with the creation, performance, presentation, and development of work in music, literature, visual arts, film and media arts, theater, and dance. Among the employees that would be brought into its embrace are those belonging to the NCCA and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

Incidentally, Presidential Decree No. 15, which created the CCP, specifically exempts officials and employees of the institution from coverage of civil service rules. Inquiries sent to the CCP and to the CSC regarding how this provision is observed in the current regulatory climate, if at all, have so far met with no response.

Jacob had served in government with the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) for nine years, starting in 1987, as the head of its Visual, Literary, and Media Arts Department, before she joined the NCCA as Deputy Executive Director in 2008.

Information from the Senate web site shows that Villar’s bill was read and referred to the Committee on Civil Service and Government Reorganization, the Committee on Finance, and the Committee on Education, Arts, and Culture on August 31, 2010. The last Committee is headed by Sen. Edgardo J. Angara, one of the authors of the NCCA charter and a member of the NCCA Board of Commissioners.

Neither Villar nor Angara could be reached for comment for this article.

*Editor’s note (December 9, 2011; 9:12 AM GMT +8): This article has been slightly modified to reflect the fact that Adelina Suemith did not apply to be OIC Executive Director.

NCCA Exec. Director replaced while abroad on official business

Multi-awarded playwright, veteran cultural worker, and former National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Executive Director Malou Jacob. Courtesy of Jacob's Facebook account.
Multi-awarded playwright, veteran cultural worker, and former National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Executive Director Malou Jacob. Courtesy of Jacob's Facebook account.

Former National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Executive Director Malou Jacob was officially representing the country at the 5th World Summit on Arts and Culture in Melbourne, Australia, when she learned that the NCCA Commissioners, at a special meeting, had resolved that she be removed from her post immediately. She was told of the decision via e-mail on October 4, the same date that she delivered a paper on Philippine cultural policy before an international audience.

The agency designated Adelina Suemith, head of the Program Monitoring and Evaluation Division, as Officer-in-Charge, and advised Jacob to hand over all pending matters to Suemith at once, although Jacob would be away until October 8. She was also asked to take away her personal belongings and return all government property in her custody as soon as possible.

The replacement of Jacob, a multi-awarded writer and director, as well as a veteran administrator, occurred about a month after the Civil Service Commission (CSC) informed the NCCA that it was disapproving the renewal of her temporary appointment. The CSC pointed out that her lack of civil service eligibility disqualified her from holding the position of Executive Director.

Taken aback

The reason that Jacob was given such short notice to clear out, and while she was abroad at that, is not presently apparent. “Why was the Board’s decision immediate? I have no idea,” she said.

Questions on the matter sent to the Public Affairs and Information Office of the NCCA have so far gone unanswered.

The Commission had appointed Jacob to Executive Director on March 12, 2010 for the period of one year, and had initially approved the renewal of her term for another year in spite of her ineligibility. Jacob succeeded controversial theater stalwart Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, one of four individuals upon whom President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in an unprecedented exercise of presidential prerogative, conferred membership into the Order of National Artists in 2009, setting off a furor that raged all the way to the Supreme Court, where it smolders to this day, awaiting resolution.

While she assured the Commission that she would respect the move, Jacob acknowledged that she was taken aback at its “submission” to the CSC ruling, which was issued in September.

Reacting to the ruling in a letter to the Board that she later disseminated online, including her Facebook account, Jacob said she believed that she was Executive Director because of her vast experience as an artist and as an administrator.  She urged the Commission “to enlighten the CSC” and propose a set of equivalency criteria for the post of Executive Director, asserting that the qualifications for Executive Director should not be based on civil service eligibility, but rather on whether one was a seasoned artist and cultural worker respected by one’s peers and rooted in the artistic community.

In a statement addressed to her fellow artists and cultural workers, which she circulated together with her letter, Jacob said, “This is not about me. This is about the right of the artist to lead the highest culture and arts office of the land.”

[Click through to read Jacob’s statement to her fellow artists and her letter to the NCCA.]

Jacob has been widely recognized for her work, and has numerous honors to her name, including the Gawad CCP Para sa Sining in 2008 and the S.E.A. Write (South East Asian Writers) Award in 2005. Her play Juan Tamban, which was staged in 1978 by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) Kalinangan Ensemble, and won several awards in the years after, was hailed by critic Doreen Fernandez as a “landmark in Philippine modern theater“.

Prior to joining the NCCA as Deputy Executive Director in 2008, Jacob had served in government with the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) for nine years, starting in 1987, as the head of its Visual, Literary, and Media Arts Department.

Jacob at a protest rally staged on behalf of artist Ericson Acosta, who was arrested without a warrant and has been detained since February this year. Courtesy of Jacob's Facebook account.
Jacob at a protest rally staged on behalf of artist Ericson Acosta, who was arrested without a warrant and has been detained since February this year. Courtesy of Jacob's Facebook account.

Legal issue

Barring the formulation of equivalency criteria by the NCCA and the acceptance of such criteria by the CSC, the case of Jacob points up a legal issue that may have to be resolved in court.

According to Section 38 of the latest Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. 7356, the law that established the NCCA, “The qualification of the Executive Director shall be set by the Commission in conjunction with existing Civil Service Rules and Regulations”. This would seem to classify the position of Executive Director as a career service position, as well as explain the involvement of the CSC in approving or disapproving appointees.

Section 36 of the same IRR, however, authorizes the Commissioners to appoint the Executive Director, who then becomes part of the Board, by virtue of the provisions of Republic Act No. 7356. The Executive Director, being a non-ex-officio member of the Commission, has a three-year term of office, and may not serve more than two consecutive terms.

Per Executive Order No. 292, also known as the Administrative Code of 1987, a career service position is characterized by the following: “(1) entrance based on merit and fitness to be determined as far as practicable by competitive examination, or based on highly technical qualifications; (2) opportunity for advancement to higher career positions; and (3) security of tenure.”

A non-career service position, on the other hand, is described in this manner: “(1) entrance on bases other than those of the usual tests of merit and fitness utilized for the career service; and (2) tenure which is limited to a period specified by law, or which is coterminous with that of the appointing authority or subject to his pleasure, or which is limited to the duration of a particular project for which purpose employment was made.”

Given the power of the Commission to appoint the Executive Director, the intimacy of the Executive Director to the Commission—the Executive Director, in fact, is himself or herself a Commissioner—and the fixed term of office that the Executive Director has, the nature of the position could allow for the so-called proximity rule to be invoked.

Proximity rule

Derived and developed from De los Santos v. Mallare, the proximity rule is used to determine if a position may be classified as primarily confidential. Because a primarily confidential position is a non-career service position, passing the civil service exam or similar tests need not be required for a person to assume that position.

A recent case that applied of the rule is Civil Service Commission v. Nita P. Javier, which was decided by the Supreme Court en banc on February 22, 2008. In the decision penned by Associate Justice Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, a position is considered primarily confidential when “there is a primarily close intimacy between the appointing authority and the appointee”, and when said position is not separated from the appointing authority “by an intervening public officer, or series of public officers, in the bureaucratic hierarchy”.

Meanwhile, the NCCA is still in need of an Executive Director. Interested applicants may visit the NCCA web site for details.

Playwright Jacob on the NCCA, the CSC, and arts and culture in the Philippines

Multi-awarded playwright and veteran cultural worker Malou Jacob was the Executive Director of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) until October 4, 2011, when the Commission decided to remove her from her post while she was officially representing the country at an international summit. Following below are texts that she published via her Facebook account, among other online venues. Slight editing has been undertaken for the sake of clarity.

See the related story on The Pro Pinoy Project, “NCCA Exec. Director replaced while abroad on official business” for more information.

Partial screen shot of Malou Jacob's public statements on the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Civil Service Commission (CSC), and arts and culture in the Philippines.
Partial screen shot of Malou Jacob's public statements on the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Civil Service Commission (CSC), and arts and culture in the Philippines.

I did not take the Civil Service Exams in the 1970s and will not take it now in the 21st Century. I refuse to join the league of civil servants that have made my country the most corrupt, the most politically and economically challenged in the world.

After 9 years in CCP and 3 years in the [National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA)], I make the following observations and recommendations:

1. Leave the management of Culture and Arts free of politics.

Let it be managed by the artists and cultural workers themselves. HOW? The Chair and [Executive Director] should always come from their ranks (spirit of the [Presidential Commission for Culture and the Arts]/NCCA Law).

2. There is always a squabble, a tug of war every 6 years when there is a change of political leadership. Culture and Arts should stay far away from political power. Artists get tainted by them. Politicians should not be allowed to aggrandise themselves thru Arts and Culture. Artists should not kowtow to politicians. Politicians think quid pro quo. Artists are spontaneous, open, and intuitive. Unfortunately, there are artists who have become politicians and have ceased to be artists.

3. There should be an Academy of Peers/seasoned artists/cultural workers that chooses the National Artists; not the politically appointed members of the NCCA and CCP Boards; and certainly not the Honors Committee that comes in after the process of selection.

4.The Culture and Arts Industry is the next industry. The country is rich because of multiculturalism. Allow the traditional and contemporary artists to uplift themselves economically by eliminating the loan sharks; and by training marketing people who are sensitive; and will not take advantage of the artists.

5. Demonstrate the important historical role of the artists and cultural workers in times of natural and [man-made] crises. Art Therapy is at its best in the country.

6. Discover and hone the gifted from among the marginalised majority.

***

My Fellow Artists and Cultural Workers:

[Please see below.] This is not about me. This is about the right of the artist to lead the highest culture and arts office of the land. The CCP has been under an equivalency criteria arrangement with the CSC since the late 198O’s. When NCCA was PCCA, the Executive Director had a fixed term which means one cannot be ED for 10 or 20 years until retirement. Inform your [sub-commission] head if you want to pursue this.

FOR THE NCCA BOARD:

I believe that I am Executive Director of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts because I am a seasoned artist and an experienced administrator. I submitted to the CSC my books of plays, my plaques and medals which include the CCP Gawad para sa Sining and the Seawrite Award; a CV that lists my plays produced by the Philippine Educational Theater Association and Tanghalang Pilipino which include Juan Tamban, Macli-ing Dulag and Anatomiya ng Korupsyon.My CV mentions my almost 9 years in CCP, which included the setting up of the Broadcast Arts Department; the running of the entire Visual, Literary, Film and Broadcast Arts Department; the making of modules for outreach workshops in Radio and Television; and the organizing of the nationwide Gawad CCP para sa Telebisyon at Radyo.

The [Civil Service Commission (CSC)] disapproved my temporary appointment by the NCCA Board because I did not take the civil service exam. I did not take the civil service in 1987 when I joined the CCP; and I did not take it now for me to be Executive Director of NCCA.

On behalf of all the seasoned artists and cultural workers, I urge the NCCA Board to enlighten the CSC and submit now a proposal for an Equivalency Qualification Criteria for the position of the Executive Director.

Meanwhile a method/procedure in NCCA must be put in place by Admin. It should begin by informing the entire arts and cultural community through the committees that the position of the Executive Director is open. The seasoned artists/cultural workers should be encouraged to participate in the search of their Executive Director.

I am 63 years old. I will neither gain nor lose from this move. But the next and the next and the next Executive Director and the entire Arts and Cultural community will.

The position of the Executive Director should not be based on Civil Service Eligibility or the [Career Executive Service Eligibility]. It should be a position for the seasoned artist and cultural worker, who is respected by his/her peers and rooted in the artistic/cultural community.

Journalism as barbarism

Image of World of Warcraft orc by Flickr user Snowball1210. Used under the terms of a Creative Commons License.
Image of World of Warcraft orc by Flickr user Snowball1210. Used under the terms of a Creative Commons License.
The furor that continues to rage around the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) exhibition “Kulô”, and specifically Mideo Cruz’s installation Poleteismo, one of the works featured in said exhibition, has taken the form of a battle between blasphemy and censorship—an unfortunate development, in my view, as both positions seem predicated on a clear-cut, straightforward duality between how the public has responded to the work and how it ought to respond to the work. Whether the situation will shape-shift into something more capable of accommodating a greater, more complex range of possibilities remains to be seen, but that it has been reduced to such crude terms can be attributed in part to the manner that the mass media thoroughly maltreated the relevant issues.

It is highly likely that this ruckus would not have swelled to its current proportions—might never have happened in the first place—had Pinky Webb, host of the ABS-CBN current affairs show “XXX”, refrained from framing Poleteismo, diminished to its details, as a commentary on the contentious RH Bill. (The sense of the verb “frame” as pertaining to false incrimination is useful here.) As someone who has seen Poleteismo for himself, I find that interpretation completely untenable: the only element of the work that could be said to have a connection to the bill would be the condoms, and I saw no compelling reason to draw that connection—not least because the proposed measure is concerned with more than just prophylactics.

But the burden of the blame for the frenzied character of the dispute is not only for Webb, “XXX”, or ABS-CBN to bear. Understanding, no doubt, that anything related to the controversial piece of legislation would serve as a reliable magnet for rapid, even rabid, reactions, which would then translate into increased ratings, several prominent members of the fourth estate wasted no time jumping into the fray in order to whip the public into a state of hysteria.

Granted that these journalists might have been offended by the installation themselves, and were thus less motivated by profit than by piousness, their personal feelings do not excuse or exempt them from their responsibilities as gatekeepers of information. What could have been a teachable moment—that art can be unbeautiful and demanding; that any work has to be experienced in its entirety before being judged; that approval of a thing is not a necessary prerequisite for engaging or understanding it; that the production of transgressive images has a long (art) history; that the CCP has mounted similarly challenging exhibitions before; that the male genitalia in cultures past and present are emblematic of the divine; or that “Kulô” had 31 other, perhaps richer, offerings—was instead exploited for its explosive potential.

Surely there is a world of difference between calling public attention to alleged offense and sensationalizing said alleged offense to the point of extremism. Yet instead of sounding a call to careful contemplation and sober reflection, broadcasters and columnists, with monstrous insouciance and bestial impunity, presumed to think, speak, and act on behalf of their readers, listeners, and viewers. In the process, they did not only betray—as well as encourage in their audience—a false sense of entitlement to spew opinions, no matter how baseless, but also they fueled and inflamed various fears that served as barriers to dialogue, including, among others, iconophobia, homophobia, and phallophobia. (The last could be an especially interesting area of investigation for sociologists and anthropologists, considering that at least half of the outraged commentators are male and presumably have penises of their own.)

Two particularly appalling examples of the foregoing come to mind. The first is “‘Artist’ daw, binaboy si Kristo” a piece in Abante where entertainment reporter Marc Logan passive-aggressively suggests the different ways that a lynch mob of ostensibly devout Catholics could deal with Cruz—by beating him up, stabbing him, hanging him, throwing him into a creek, forcing him to drink muriatic acid, or shooting him—and warns the artist against seeking assistance from the media. The second is “Art as terrorism” a Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial that, though exponentially more intelligent than Logan’s article, contains a tacit apologia for the vandalism undertaken against Poleteismo—not to mention a nearby, unrelated painting, Love to Move by Lindslee—and, by virtue of its title, performs the callous and insensitive rhetorical maneuver of trivializing the indescribable shock and trauma with which any experience of terrorism is bound up, while at the same time implying that Cruz’s installation requires a radical riposte.

Given that both articles clearly intend to stage a defense of the Catholic faith and faithful, is the appropriate, ethical response to Cruz’s supposed symbolic violence the incitement of further violence? Will Abante, Philippine Daily Inquirer, or any other media outfit hold itself accountable should any of the threats that have been made against the CCP, its officers, and Cruz—threats apparently grave enough to warrant the closure of “Kulô”—be carried out?

The media community should take its cue from the arts and culture sector: this is as good a time as any for its denizens to begin the task of taking stock, of questioning themselves and their practices, and of upholding the emancipatory values on which such practices are founded. “The practice of journalism,” as the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) declares, “involves the use of power: the power to influence the way people look at themselves, their societies, and the world; the power to help shape the attitudes and values of others; and the power to help liberate men and women from the shackles of ignorance so they may exercise their sovereign human right to decide their destinies.” This power should not be used to perpetrate and perpetuate barbarism.

*This article was slightly modified on 15 August 2011, 4:50 AM (GMT +8).

Mulling over “Kulô”

Art, all art, as the British writer Jeanette Winterson would remind us, is a foreign city, which is to say that it is fluent in tongues and steeped in traditions that inevitably require no small degree of adaptation and acclimatization on the part of those who seek a meaningful encounter with it. To behave as though art bore the onus of conforming to and confirming beliefs and expectations long held and cherished is to act like the boorish tourist who assumes, nay, demands that the locals speak his or her language, indicating a fatal combination of arrogance and ignorance that ought to be despaired at and deplored. And yet it is that very combination with which the past several days have been marked when one examines the clangorous—I hesitate to use the word “popular”—discourse that has erupted around the now-closed Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) exhibition “Kulô”, which, in addition to 31 other works of art intended to play off the convergence of the sesquicentennial of national hero Jose Rizal and the quadricentennial of the Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas, features Poleteismo, an installation by Mideo Cruz that is both fulcrum and field for what been not so much a debate than a protracted shouting match, with terms yanked out of context for maximum incendiary effect: “blasphemy” and “terrorism” on the one hand, and “moralist hysteria” and “religious myopia” on the other.

[Read the rest in Interlineal.]

Nasa ilalim ang “kulo”: Some thoughts on the state, the artist and society

There are a number of things that strike me as fascinating about the Cultural Center of the Philippines exhibit “Kulo” which was shut down due to the adverse public reaction to the contribution of Mideo Cruz, a mixed media collage entitled “Poleteismo” which controversially featured a crucifix (see above). They are:

1) The role of the state in promoting art.

State sponsored art was Imelda’s thing. But even she has drawn the line here. In saying that the artists crossed a line, the detractors of the exhibit like Pres Aquino were implicitly saying the role of the artist should be circumscribed by existing cultural beliefs, norms and biases. We know this is not the case, but perhaps he could have nuanced his response a bit by saying that while artists are free to challenge social norms of behavior, it wasn’t the role of the state to necessarily support them in that regard.

2) The streak of copy cat-like qualities of this art work.

There are parallels with the crucifix in urine (Piss Christ) that sparked controversy in the US because it was backed by the National Endowment for the Arts. Artists are of course allowed to borrow ideas from each other.

Are they insane for doing it? Yes, I believe all artists have to be insane in some form or fashion. Otherwise why would they do what they do, but that is not the point. They could at least be a little original though, but in the world of art, plagiarism is hard to prove definitively.

3) The Rizal connection.

The exhibit was part of the wider celebration of national hero Jose Rizal’s 150th birth anniversary. In his day, Rizal’s “incendiary” novels tackled cultural taboos by depicting some clergymen in very unflattering, yes phallus-centric, ways (Freud would have said that all forms of organized religion are). Of course, Rizal didn’t have the state supporting his work (how could he?), but it is very fitting that these artists from UST his alma mater and the oldest Catholic educational institution in the country should follow in his footsteps. What are the UP Fine Arts students up to, I wonder.

4) Just like all those banned films and books, this exhibit’s success is fueled by the attempts of some to censor it.

The organizers of the exhibit have already succeeded immensely as a result of the publicity generated by the conservative elements in our society, in my view. Where we must draw the line is when public reaction turns to violence against artists, writers and thinkers. By inadvertently restoring the debate over the role of the state in promoting culture, the CCP has in fact made itself relevant.

5) The role of art in society.

We can argue over whether the state should financially support such controversial forms of expression. What can be agreed on, however, is it should at the very least protect artists from physical intimidation or abuse for their work (that includes vandalism).

Those who were offended by the art work and sought to control the artistic freedom of those who staged it perhaps need to be educated about what art is. The purpose of art sometimes is to challenge our views.

Both the state and the church have tried for centuries to co-opt art to serve their “noble” purposes, to spread their philosophical or ideological belief systems. Art of course cannot be circumscribed in this sense. Society and life are made richer because artists choose to tackle difficult and controversial topics, and to make us confront them head on. We don’t need to change or alter our views in the end, but the very act of being confronted allows us to examine our own views from a different perspective.

6) Empirically based policy view.

Perhaps we need to take a cue from Richard Florida, the author of The Rise of the Creative Class. He directly correlates the wealth of cities to how diverse they are, both in terms of demographics (he formulated the Gay Index of a city) and artistically (the Creative Index). The more tolerant a society is towards disparate views, the more prosperous it becomes.

Perhaps by restricting expression of and access to these works of art, our leaders may have maintained their standing within the community, but they might have in the process impoverished it in the long-run.

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