culture

The myth of Filipinos being “matulungin”

Hand Reaching

I was in Megamall earlier when I stopped by Chris Sports to look at their exercise bikes. After canvasing the prices, I began walking out of the store but then suddenly fell from an approximately 3-inch platform. I was on all fours wincing in pain for about a minute then stood up shakily. I have week knees and I’m prone to such accidents. This particular accident however disgusted me. There were quite a number of people in the store and not one single person offered any help nor asked if I was okay when I stood up. Even the salesperson who earlier assisted me just stood silently as I told him that they should put warning signs about the platform lest it cause more accidents. After telling him that, I left the store sorely and procedeed to do my errands.

As I was walking, I began thinking why nobody offered any help or showed even the remotest sign of concern. Are Filipinos so cold now that they only help others when it affects them personally or there’s a major disaster. I’ve heard of mugging cases when there were witnesses but they were just that, witnesses. Filipinos are known for being “matulungin,” right? Or is that just a myth? Guiltily, when I help other people, it’s usually coursed through charity work but when there are signs of danger, I freeze up and become one of those mute witnesses. Why is this? What happened to us? Is our sense of self preservation hindering us from helping our fellowmen?

When I tripped and fell in Europe, so many strangers were concerned about me. They even wanted to call an ambulance. Here I’m lucky if someone offers a hand so I can stand up. I hope I am wrong about how I see our helpfulness. I don’t want to think badly about our race but my experiences say otherwise.

Ressa’s reckless ‘rappling’

“Rappler”, a portmanteau word coined from “rap” and “ripple”, is the name of a fledgling web site that describes itself as a “a social news network where stories inspire community engagement and digitally fuelled actions for social change”, and whose team promises “uncompromised journalism that—hopefully—inspires smart conversations and ignites a thirst for change”. Such statements betoken the hand of its CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa, a veteran journalist and the former chief of the News and Current Affairs Division of ABS-CBN, where her significant contributions included the citizen journalism campaign “Boto Mo iPatrol Mo”. If Ressa’s recent behavior is any indication, however, Rappler may not so much stimulate dialogue as stifle it. Although silence, in all fairness, is certainly an example of change in our generally disorderly democracy, is this the kind of change that is warranted?

Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Blogger Katrina Stuart Santiago had earlier published “Going to the dogs“, in which she stated her opinion on the discussion generated by a heated dispute between Rappler and the University of Santo Tomas (UST)—a dispute that was caused by a controversial story written by Rappler editor-at-large Marites Dañguilan-Vitug. Over the course of the post, Santiago raised what I believe to be important questions regarding the brave new world of online media and the directions that public discourse on such media needs—and has yet—to take. When said post was brought to Ressa’s attention via a Twitter update, however, Ressa did not only take exception to Santiago’s view that Rappler revealed a pro-administration bias by featuring the recently launched, meme-friendly tourism campaign, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” without investigating its costs, among others. In addition, Ressa pulled rank as a professional journalist and proceeded to imply that Santiago was guilty of libel: reckless moves that are utterly injurious to the digital citizenship that Ressa purports to be a passionate advocate of.

Surely someone of Ressa’s stature needs no reminding that, in these islands, libel has all too often been used as a weapon with which to harass media workers—a notorious wielder is former First Gentleman Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, who, according to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), filed more than 50 cases against 46 journalists starting in 2003, before electing to drop all charges in 2007 as a putative gesture of peace toward the press—including her own Rappler colleague Vitug.  More to the point, surely someone of Ressa’s stature needs no reminding that it behooves one to fully comprehend a text before rapping out statements rippling with ire: Ressa was offended—misguidedly so—by Santiago’s supposed suggestion that Rappler had been paid to do a story on “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”, when in fact Santiago’s statement was, “Rappler has quietly revealed itself to be about helping out government instead of being a critical voice that at the very least asks: how much was paid [to BBDO Guerrero, the advertising agency behind] the campaign and is it worth it? I guess no questions like that for ‘uncompromised journalism’ now tagging itself as ‘citizen journalism’.”

Whether one agrees with Santiago’s attribution of bias—my own (perhaps potentially libelous) guess would be that Rappler was motivated primarily, if not exclusively, by a desire to drive up site traffic—this unfortunate episode bodes ill not only for the state of literacy in the country, but also for the future of the local mediascape. Can intelligent conversations and positive social changes possibly take place in an environment populated by denizens who, cleaving to Ressa’s inglorious example, refuse to read well, bristle at the slightest expression of disapproval, reject calls to become self-reflexive and accountable, and betray no qualms about ascribing malice to parties with whom they disagree?

The situation at hand becomes particularly interesting when one considers it vis-à-vis a recent piece by Ressa, in which she serves up the high “power-distance index” (PDI) of the Philippines as the reason that members of the intelligence community did not object to President Aquino’s initiation of countermeasures against a terrorist threat of questionable credibility. The PDI is a measure of the extent to which the less powerful in a given society accept and expect the unequal distribution of power. (It may be worth remarking that Ressa fails to contextualize the PDI within the larger theory of the dimensions of national culture formulated by Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede, or to acknowledge that said theory, in spite of its usefulness and influence, is hardly the last word in the study of culture.) Ressa asserts that the PDI of the country “helps explain why Filipinos have such respect for authority; why people ‘know their place;’ why true debate in an organization rarely happens if it includes the boss”.

While Ressa’s conclusion to her article seems to show that she frowns on the character of the relationships that a high PDI tends to produce—she warns those in authority that they need to “gather information and guard even more against [their] knee-jerk reactions and biases” because their subordinates “will rarely contradict [them]—even if [they’re] wrong”—Ressa herself appears to be the best illustration of the Philippine PDI, or, more accurately, what happens when heretofore unchallenged PDI assumptions are suddenly breached.

*

Note: Angela Stuart Santiago believes that a “public apology via social media is in order” but doesn’t know if Ressa is up to it. Read her take in “Calling out Ressa“.

[This post was earlier published in my blog, Random Salt.]

CSC bares seemingly contradictory views on NCCA Exec. Dir. post

Former National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Executive Director Malou Jacob was removed from her post and replaced by an Officer-in-Charge while she was out of the country on official business, following a Civil Service Commission (CSC) notice that it was disapproving the renewal of her temporary appointment.

Upon being queried via e-mail about this decision, Director Azucena Perez-Esleta of the CSC Personnel Policies and Standards Office explained that the post of NCCA Executive Director is a career service, or tenured, position that requires, among others, a bachelor’s degree, three years of supervisory experience, and eligibility as a career service professional, the last of which Jacob did not have. Her lack of eligibility was the main reason for the disapproval.

When asked why the Executive Director did not have a fixed term, per Section 10 of Republic Act No. 7356, the NCCA charter, which states that “non-ex-officio members of the Commission shall serve for a term of three (3) years, and shall not serve for more than two (2) successive terms”, Perez-Esleta said that “the NCCA Executive Director is an ex-officio member of the Commission” and therefore “does not have a fixed term”.

These responses would seem to indicate contradictory views about the nature of the Executive Director position.

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.”

Given, however, that the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the NCCA provide that the Executive Director is “appointed  by the Commission based on open nominations”, and that any interested party does not appear to be required to hold a different, principal office in order to become Executive Director in the first place, it is not clear how the position has come to be classified as ex-officio.

Civil Service Commission (CSC) Strategy Map. Courtesy of the CSC web site.
Civil Service Commission (CSC) Strategy Map. Courtesy of the CSC web site.

The NCCA 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. It received notice of the CSC disapproval on September 22, 2011.

Perez-Esleta stated that, as a general rule, “the services of appointees with the disapproved appointment shall be terminated upon disapproval by the [CSC]”, but the appointing authority has a period of 15 days within which to file an appeal. The records of the CSC show that the the NCCA did not submit any appeal regarding Jacob’s case.

Based on materials obtained by The Pro Pinoy Project, the NCCA does not appear to have acted until a special meeting of the Board of Commissioners on October 4, during which the Board dismissed Jacob and designated Adelina Suemith as Officer-in-Charge for the Executive Director post.

Jacob had received her travel kit for the 5th World Summit on Arts and Culture in Australia, which included official travel authority documents signed by Malacañang and NCCA Chairman Felipe de Leon, Jr., on September 30.

Regarding the timing of Jacob’s removal, Suemith said that, “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 [and] was verbally cautioned that her trip abroad might no longer be ‘official’.” Jacob later disputed these claims, and stated that while she respects the decision of the Commissioners, she has “no idea” why they acted the way they did.

Jacob also circulated a statement addressed to her fellow artists online, asserting that the qualifications for Executive Director should not be based on civil service eligibility, but rather on a set of equivalency criteria, and on whether one was an artist and cultural worker respected by one’s peers and rooted in the artistic community.

Perez-Esleta said that, so far, the CSC has received no request for approval from the NCCA regarding their list of equivalency criteria. Suemith said that perhaps the NCCA could begin to attend to this “in the near future, when the new [Executive Director] is in place”.

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.

Questioning Heroes

 

Rizal Park. Image care of Wikipedia.

In our milieu it seems that heroes exist on another plane. So hallowed have they become that they are practically unreachable; their actions impossible to duplicate, their mental faculties so far beyond the norm that they exist in the realm of myth and legend. Take the case of Jose Rizal, our National Hero (even as some dispute that position). He has become so mythologized, his mental capabilities so lauded and his achievements so exaggerated, that we have lost track even of who he was, what he was trying to achieve, and why he was so important at the time. Practically every child has to study Rizal A to Z, and yet few Filipinos understand Rizal’s hopes, dreams, politics, and beliefs. That American-era phrasing of Rizal as a reformist, first and foremost, is still extant and dominant. In other words the realities of Rizal are subsumed by a remnant of colonial thought. His enduring legacy, his subversive, satirical, and revolutionarily nationalist qualities novels, are little understood; despite them being mandatory reading. Father John Schumacher once called them paths to nationalism. I wonder how many Filipinos could articulate how and why they are avenues towards independence.

Original cover of Noli Me Tangere. Image from Wikipedia.

While it may seem that I am taking aim at our understanding of Rizal, I am only using him as the first example. The same holds true for the general understanding of Andres Bonifacio. He, in his own way, has become so overly manufactured and packaged that he bears little resemblance to what is historically known about him. His heroic existence has become such that it overshadows the Katipunan, and that groups’ true composition and accomplishments. Much like how our heroic reconstruction of Rizal has practically obliterated the accomplishments and beliefs of members of the Propaganda Movement; a movement that began well before he was born. On the flip side, the method with which we have constructed our ‘heroic’ understanding of Emilio Aguinaldo undermines the importance of the Philippine Republic; though that is also intertwined with how we have created Bonifacio.

Sometimes heroes are built just on the strength of one deed or one statement. This holds true for Senator Ninoy Aquino; everything that came before in his life, his politics, his beliefs, were obscured when he was assassinated. After, he became an unassailable icon of democracy and freedom. What is known of his politics has been forgotten in the shadow of a one moment. In favor of constructing the icon of Aquino even some history has been rewritten and purposefully forgotten. How much is known about LABAN? What do we actually know about Philippine resistance during his years in jail? Or while he was in exile? Or between his assassination and the eventual overthrow of Marcos? Ah yes, but Aquino died for our sins, so that must constitute the entirety of the resistance during Martial Law. He died for the Filipino, and that is enough. But, in truth, maybe it is not. Death, like life, to have meaning has to be consecrated to a greater ideal and hope. Rizal did not just die for the Filipino of his time, he died for the Philippines that he envisioned; that he hoped and fought for. What was that Philippines?

To an extant, all heroes require a certain level of sanitization and myth-building. All history to an extent becomes propaganda, and heroes even more so. What differentiates is the historical evidence that is used as basis for that myth-building and to what it is consecrated. Heroes act as beacons for right action and stalwart defenders of the public national good. They are models to emulate, through their lives and deeds a people understand how a nation is built and what it means to be, in our case, a Filipino. However, at no point should the hero overshadow their time and circumstances. Heroes must be in service of something: An ideal, a vision, a nation. Else heroes exist for just for themselves. And that is the situation that exists in the Philippines today. Our heroes exist on their own; sectioned away from the period in which they lived, the men with whom they fought and died, the politics they espoused, and the vision for which they fought. We have reduced our heroes to the most superficial of meanings, and in the process, excised their national importance.

I am not a fan of consistently benchmarking and evaluating ourselves against other nations and cultures. I am, though, in favor of cross-cultural comparative analysis to help understand and clarify our local situation. In the case of heroes, the United States provides excellent examples of heroic myth-building in favor of creating a national sensibility. The United States is exceptionally adept at sanitizing their heroes, while never ignoring that they lived, and survive, in service of a greater secular faith. One example is how the Battle of the Alamo (which was for Texian Independence from Mexico) was adopted into the US national patriotic narrative, on the strength of one letter that was written during the thirteen day long battle.  Or how George Washington, which based on his contemporaries was an insufferable asshole, has become the Father of the Republic. The American Founding Fathers exist as an untouchable pantheon in their public consciousness. But their knowledge of them is built on the strength of deeds, an understanding of their writings and political beliefs, and the context of the period in which they lived. At the risk of being far too simplistic, contextualizing elements that are completely absent in our understanding of our Pantheon of Heroes. Heroes require meaning to remain relevant; meaning requires understanding.

Rizal was the intellectual force behind the Revolution, on that we all seem to basically agree (setting aside the reformist trope for a moment). But, what exactly did that mean? What was it about his ideas that were so compelling? What were his philosophical and humanist beliefs that underpinned his advocacies? Who influenced him and why? The same holds true for Andres Bonifacio. We adulate him, but what do we know about his politics and philosophies? What was he trying to build through the Philippine Revolution? How about Emilio Jacinto? Apolinario Mabini? The Philippine Republic? There are reams of surviving public essays, letters, and articles from the Reformists, Propagandists, and Revolutionaries expounding, arguing, and defining exactly what they were trying to achieve. Instead of offering a deeper understanding of our heroes and their dreams, we are fixated, for example, on the fact that Rizal was (supposedly) fluent in twenty-three languages. That does nothing to further our national understanding, or connect us to Rizal as the hero. What it does is continue to support Rizal the Mythic Hero. Lost is the post-Enlightenment Rizal; the thinker who remains quite revolutionary today. Lost is Jacinto, who argued against any form of racial or ideological bias; who wrote that ‘goodness’ and ‘nobility’ are not found in an aquiline nose, but in the rightness of action and deed.

We are desperate for heroes. At the drop of a hat we are ready to dub any and all, even for the most superficial and simplistic of accomplishments, a national hero worthy of praise and honor. We rush to their defense, we hold them close to our collective heart and proclaim this is who we are and we are proud! Damn any who disagree! And yet I cannot help but feel that rush to adulate any and all flows from our tragically weak understanding of heroism. We barely acknowledge, much less understand, the historical accomplishments and importance of our Great and Glorious Pantheon of Heroes; beyond some grotesquely reductive examples of ‘heroism.’ At the heart of our misunderstanding of our heroes is an almost perverse simplicity in action. Ignored are the intricacies and complexities of what they believed and were trying to achieve. The result, I firmly believe, negatively affects modern day interpretations of ‘Filipino’ and patriotism. Superficiality reigns and we erroneously equate mindless and romantic momentary passionate action with deep-rooted nationalism; for example, as in the case of the August 23rd Cry of Pugad Lawin (an event with little resemblance to history). Our current social and cultural construction of heroes is antithetical to fostering a sense of deep, abiding, and binding nationalism. By reducing heroism to singular moments with little context we irrevocably limit our sense of modern nationalism. Deeper and more significant engagement will be found in reconsidering their philosophies, understanding their historical circumstances, and being aware of their cultural importance. In other words we have to put our heroes to the question. That process, those answers, will uncover the realities of our heroes and inevitably lead to a greater and far more invigorating sense of Filipino nationalism. Our heroes can become what they were meant to be: Guides for the future Philippines.

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