Whose governance, whose good? Cultural Policy and Governance in the Philippines

Jason Vitorillo  //  LONGFORM
LASALLE College of the Arts

Jason Vitorillo has been in the academe for over ten years, and was previously the Program Chair of the Arts Management Program of the School of Design and Arts, College of Saint Benilde in Manila. He is currently teaching at and is the Lecturer-in-Charge of the BA(Hons) Arts Management Programme of LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore. His research interests include international cultural policy, models of arts funding, audience development and engagement, arts and cultural management education, and intangible cultural heritage of indigenous communities.



A few months ago, I chanced upon the book on Cultural Democracy: The Arts, Community, and the Public Purpose by James Bau Graves, and was struck by the question he posed in his introduction: “What does your community need to keep its culture vital and meaningful?” This question made me reflect on my interest in intangible cultural heritage management and cultural policy, and the current conditions in the Philippines. In 2001, while I was still studying to be a dancer and thespian, I was intrigued by the cultures and artistic expressions of Indigenous people in the Philippines. I visited a couple of Indigenous communities in the Central and Southern Philippines. I watched their dances, listened to their songs, and noted their stories often asking questions on why and how they came about with what I just experienced. A few years following this immersion, I started on a research project on nurturing Indigenous culture and arts in the Philippines, taking a closer look at how the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in the Philippines formulated policies and created mechanisms to provide Indigenous people with the support they need to keep their cultures alive. This has been a constant inquiry of mine ever since. How have the policies and mechanisms developed in the past decade? Is it responsive to the needs of the communities?

Models of cultural policy, the Philippine model, and the role of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA)

Governments traditional work with a “limited palette” when framing options or designing programs aimed at supporting arts and culture. Four historical models dominate the conversation on cultural policy, irrespective of the predisposition of the government (Craik 2007). These are the facilitator, the patron, the architect, and the engineer models. In the facilitator model, the government aims to create conditions that favor cultural production. In this model, cultural activities are subsidized by appropriating tax expenditures to provide tax relief or other benefits for those who give cultural support. In the patron model, the government directly supports the cultural and artistic forms that it favors. This model involves distributing funds directly, and largely through an “arm’s length” mechanism. In the architect model, the government is directly involved in shaping the development of culture. This enables direct government funding, and relieves artists from dependence on “box office” mechanisms to survive. In the engineer model, the government owns the means of artistic production, and creators are employees whose creations are required to reflect the political agenda of the state in a positive light (Dingstad 2008).

Unlike other Southeast Asian countries where the Cultural Ministry holds sole authority in making decisions for cultural industries, the NCCA follows a hybrid policy model. Like most continental European countries, the NCCA acts as an architect, wherein it provides funding for culture and the arts and tends to support the arts as part of its social welfare objectives. It is through the NCCA that the government creates the framework for the country’s cultural development, following the policy objectives and approaches stated in the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan for Culture and the Arts (MTPDP-CA). In theory, the government makes final decisions about overall cultural policy regardless of the creation of public debates, conversations, consultations, or presentations to the NCCA.

Section five of Republic Act 7356 pushes for people to be actively involved within a climate of freedom and responsibility, in order to evolve and develop their culture and identity, thereby nurturing a Filipino national culture and identity. The NCCA operates from six guiding principles. First, the NCCA defines culture as a human right; thus, is a manifestation of the freedom of belief and expressions that need to be accorded due respect and be allowed to flourish. Second, the national identity of the Filipinos is reflected and shaped by their values, beliefs, and aspirations. Therefore, the Filipino national culture shall be evolved, promoted, and conserved. Third, culture is of the people, meaning that the Filipino national culture shall be independent, equitable, dynamic, progressive, and humanistic. Fourth, culture shall be evolved and developed by the people themselves within a climate of freedom and responsibility. Fifth, the creation of artistic and cultural products shall be promoted and disseminated to the greatest number of people, and shall be raised formally through the educational system and informally through extra-scholastic means, including the use of traditional and modern communications. Lastly, the NCCA must ensure that every citizen does their duty to preserve and conserve the Filipino historical and cultural heritage and resources.

Given this, the NCAA also follows an entity-relationship model, which is a common approach to “mapping” government cultural administrations, wherein entities such as agencies are actors in the cultural policy system and relationships are linkages between them. In effect, this makes the NCCA a patron for the arts. The NCCA determines the kind, type, and extent of support to individuals, groups, or communities and uses an arm’s length mechanism to disburse funding support through national committees and sub-committees and their affiliated national cultural agencies. The NCCA works hand-in-hand with the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Institute of Philippine Languages, the National Historical Institute, the National Library, the National Museum, and the Record Management and Archives Office.

The NCCA instituted four subcommissions working in different areas of the arts and culture sector. First is the Subcommission on the Arts (SCA), which has seven national committees representing each of the seven major art fields identified by the NCCA. The main objective of the SCA is to ensure standards of excellence in projects and activities supported by the NCCA. Through implementing policies, publishing funding information, and conducting workshops, seminars, and conferences where conversations happen on how best to achieve excellence and nurture Philippine art, the SCA can articulate its achievement of the core objective.

Second is the Subcommission on Cultural Dissemination (SCD), which is tasked with ensuring the widest dissemination of artistic and cultural works and products among the greatest number of people across the country and overseas for their appreciation and enjoyment (Flores 2010). It is important to highlight that the SCD is responsible for the establishment and development of culture and arts education programs at all levels of the educational system. It is equally important to note that culture and arts education programs can be done formally through the curriculum established by the Department of Education and informally through alternative settings, such as by having a cultural master to teach traditional skills or pass down intangible cultural heritage through the Schools of Living Traditions. Although the Schools of Living Traditions is a flagship initiative under the Subcommission on Cultural Communities and Traditional Arts (SCCTA), through informal or alternative dissemination of cultural information and education, the subcommissions collaborate or assist each other in the fulfillment of the mandate.

Third, the SCCTA is composed of three main cultural communities: The Northern cultural communities (Luzon islands), the Central cultural communities (Visayan islands), and the Southern cultural communities (island of Mindanao). The primary concern of the SCCTA is to address the needs of Indigenous communities all over the country, which is very challenging. Ma. Criselda Magsumbol (2010), the Culture and Arts Officer of the SCCTA, shares that the difficulty lies in the fact that most of these communities are scattered all over the archipelago, some communities belong to two groups, and several communities have been displaced because of natural and man-made calamities.

Fourth, the Subcommission on Cultural Heritage (SCH) is responsible for overseeing libraries and information services, archives, museums, galleries, monuments, and cultural sites. Together with the National Museum, the National Library, and the National Archives, the SCH conducts historical and scholarly research work, anthropological and archaeological studies, and produces publications to promote historical and cultural heritage.

Moreover, the NCCA continues to create local and provincial or regional councils as an additional structure in the implementation of national cultural policies. Rico Pableo Jr., the current Executive Director of the NCCA, shares that in order to further promote, develop, and protect the arts and culture in the Local Government Units, the Commission is working diligently to establish arts and cultural offices in municipalities (NCCA 2019).

In this hybrid model, one can see that there is an attempt to incorporate both “top-down” and “grassroots” approaches to cultural governance. Arguably, although final decisions on where and to whom funding and other support go lies ultimately with the NCCA, the platforms for public debates, conversations, consultations, and presentations to the NCCA and the recognition of various entities as active actors in the cultural policy system create a pluralistic approach to cultural governance; thus, there is a democratic approach because of the recognition of multiple publics. As pointed out in R.A. 7356, the national cultural law of the Philippines mandates equitable and pluralistic funding. Cultural policy, therefore, is designed to serve democratic objectives to guarantee artistic freedom by subsidizing the arts and to promote equal funding for all by funding centralized and decentralized cultural institutions.

I would like to point out that the NCCA did not explicitly articulate the fact that its framework is a hybrid of different public arts funding models. I superimposed different funding models on what I have observed being used by the NCCA for the purpose of discussion and in order to illustrate how this affects its policies and strategies for the funding of arts and culture. In fact, when I asked whether the NCCA had been consulted or was influenced by models of other countries, I received varying opinions. For instance, Corpuz (2010) mentioned that the NCCA consulted existing international conservation laws, such as UNESCO’s and the Bura Charter of Japan. These laws were then adapted to the local setting of the communities in the Philippines. On the other hand, Dr. Peralta stressed that the NCCA framework was based on the context of the Philippines. The NCCA made sure that its approach is broad, flexible, and consultative because what will work for one community might not work for another. Thus, its system must be adaptable. Peralta (2010) said, “We know that our approach has to be specific in accordance with the parameters of society because if it is not, then society will reject it.” Other staff members also believe that NCCA’s model came out as a necessity of the communities, and that this is what they followed because there was no time or resources to consult other countries.

Subcommission Amount in pesos Amount in US dollars Percentage allocation against overall budget
SCA 40 million 1.03 million 46%
SCCTA 6.7 million 173,000 12%

Table 1. Approved Budget Allocation for the SCA and SCCTA for 2007.


However, from 2005 to 2007, projects or initiatives under the SCA dwarfs the percentage share of funding given to the other subcommissions. In 2007 for example, SCA received a 46 percent share of the funding, which amounted to about 40 million pesos ($1.03 million USD). On the other hand, the percentage share of funding received by the SCCTA is only 12 percent or about 6.7 million pesos ($173,000 USD). From 2005 to 2007, there was a steady decline in percentage share of funding for SCCTA projects, from 19 percent in 2005 to 12 percent in 2007, while there was a slight increase in percentage share of funding for SCA projects, from 45 percent in 2005 to 46 percent in 2007 (NCCA 2010).


Figure 1. Locally-funded projects under the General Appropriations Act (as of December 2018).


By the end of December 2018, the NCCA disbursed a total of 188.45 million pesos (approximately $3.6 million USD) for funded projects under the General Appropriations Act (GAA) for that year. Fifty-six percent of this (106.2 million pesos or $2 million USD) went to projects under the national cultural agencies. Seventy-two percent of this 56 percent went to “direct” initiated projects of the NCCA. Foremost of these are The Philippine Arts in Venice Biennale, including participation in other contemporary art exhibitions, which had a budget of 45 million pesos; scholarships and grants, which were allocated 10 million pesos; and projects for cultural and heritage mapping and programs that disseminate cultural information and raise awareness within the greater public, such as the Buhay na Buhay TV program, the 2018 Sagisag Kultura TV program, and a book on the National Arts and Crafts Fair, which received 15 million pesos (NCCA 2019).

On the other hand, 44 percent (82.25 million pesos or $1.6 million USD) of the total spending went to local cultural agencies, foundations, and organizations supporting projects such as alternative platforms for cultural preservation and dissemination to younger generations, efforts to safeguard intangible cultural heritage, assistance to Filipino artisans, creation of centers that support Indigenous artists, and scholarships and technical aid to train individuals for arts education in higher education (NCCA 2019).

Subcommision Amount in pesos Amount in US dollars Percentage allocation against overall budget
SCA 83 million 1.58 million 44%
SCCTA 74 million 1.40 million 39%

Table B. Approved Budget Allocation for the SCA and SCCTA for 2018.


Comparing these numbers, more funding was arguably given to projects and initiatives under the SCA compared to projects and initiatives under SCCTA, at least for the years 2005-2007. The disparity in the percentage share of funding is evident and can be attributed to several factors. But quite positively, this disparity had been reduced significantly by the end of 2018. Breaking down the disbursed funding of 188.45 million pesos to the four subcommissions, one can see that approximately 83 million pesos went to SCA, 23 million pesos to SCD, 8 million pesos to SCH, and 74 million pesos to SCCTA. The increase in allocated funds for SCCTA projects and initiatives shows that more funds were disbursed outside of Metro Manila, and other big urban cities across the country. More funding has been shared to regional and rural areas and municipalities including ancestral sites of indigenous communities.

Unfortunately, a closer scrutiny shows that 59.5 percent of the total funding for local cultural agencies, foundations, and organizations went to the Non-Timber Forest Product-Exchange Program Incorporated Philippines (NTFP-EP), a collaborative network of non-government organizations (NGO) and community-based organizations (CBO) that acts as a mechanism that responds to the emerging needs of communities and assist organizations working on strengthening the capacity of forest-based communities towards a sustainable management of natural resources. Based on the 2018 Locally-Funded Projects Under the General Appropriations Act report, the NTFP-EP received a total of 49 million pesos of funding for initiatives such as The Schools of Living Traditions and the Natural Indigo Dye Centre, and projects to safeguard intangible cultural heritage and assist Filipino artisans.

This is not to devalue, belittle, or criticize the contribution of NTFP-EP to the development of rural and highly marginalized communities in the Philippines, nor to question its advocacy and efforts in the conservation and management of resources, and development of enterprises that has an obvious positive impact on the communities it serves. Instead, this is to highlight a potential problem in the mechanism and management of funding programs of the NCCA. Why does it seem that the allocation of support goes to a few? This question bellies the discourse on cultural governance and whether public funding for arts and culture is equally accessed and equitably distributed, arguing for the use of a more democratic means of cultural governance.

In the past decade, there have been several important developments in the cultural policy in the Philippines. In 2010, the NCCA finished implementing the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan for Culture and the Arts (MTPDP-CA) for 2004 to 2010. MTPDP-CA was first shaped by the Philippine Development Plan for Culture and the Arts of 1999 to 2000. This was ratified during the administration of former President Fidel V. Ramos on April 7, 1993. This Plan focused on three programs: Institutional Building, Infrastructure Development, and Program Expansion. An important accomplishment of this Plan was the strengthening of the cultural network, and the building of cultural zones and offices, and the completion of the National Museum.

This Plan was continued in the Estrada Administration where continuous funding for culture and the arts was given by the state through the General Appropriations Act (GAA) and the National Endowment Fund for Culture and the Arts (NEFCA), a fund established exclusively for Philippine arts and culture programs, projects, and activities all over the country. It was also during the Estrada Administration that six other cultural agencies were attached to the NCCA for better policy and program coordination and collaboration through Executive Order 80.

In its second phase, the MTPDP-CA of 2004 to 2010 was approved by the Arroyo Administration. The rationale behind the MTPDP-CA was the recognition of the government of the potentials of culture as a catalyst for the promotion of peace and economic development. Its general strategy was the use of culture as a catalyst for values formation and human rights education, promoting a culture of peace, social justice, and sustainable development.

Two of the seven thrusts of MTPDP-CA were on these priorities: first, efforts directed to “mainstream culture and development in plans, policies, programs, and projects providing cultural services for the poor particularly the marginalized, the minorities and the migrants”; and second, the continued “implementation of programs for the promotions of cultural liberty and excellence in artistic development that forges the identity, memory, vision, and conscience of our nation” (MTPDP-CA 2011).

One of the most recent developments in the cultural policy of the Philippines is the proposed establishment of a Department of Culture sought by the NCCA and its partners in Congress in 2016. In 2017, the proposed establishment of a Department of Culture was filed as a priority bill, and was expected to be passed into law in 2019. With the Department of Culture is the creation of several bureaus: the Bureau of Cultural Communities and Traditional Arts Development, Bureau of Cultural Properties Protection and Regulation, Bureau of Cultural Properties Preservation, Bureau of Artistic Resources Development, Bureau of Cultural Research Education and Dissemination, and the Bureau of Cultural and Creative Industries.

How the creation of these bureaus will work towards a better policy and program coordination and collaboration remains to be seen in the next couple of years. Before investigating the outcomes of the new Department of Culture and the results and impact of the programs under each bureau, it is critical to look closely into the role of the NCCA this past decade. How, in its capacity, has it encouraged and allowed a democratic participation and governance of culture in the Philippines?

The NCCA has five major types of grants: competitive, institutional, outreach, Speakers Bureau Program, and grants that provide automatic financial assistance to affiliated agencies as governmental inter-agency support to promote synergy of efforts. These grants are dependent on the priority of the Office of the President – his/her vision and goals for the country’s culture and the arts, in consultation with the Executive Director of the NCCA. In spite of this dependence, the NCCA follows a core priority or direction that the President rarely changes. The core priorities or directions revolve around the seven needs defined in the MTPDPCA, namely: culture and development, culture and education, promotion of culture and arts, continued support for artistic excellence, conservation of cultural heritage; culture and peace, and culture and diplomacy.

The NCCA identifies the themes, objectives, design, and activities of the institutionalized programs. On the other hand, projects that are proposed to the NCCA for the competitive grants are designed by their proponents who are members of the communities or cultural sectors. Proposed projects must fall under the categories set by the NCCA to ensure that they are anchored on the set goals; and follows bureaucratic rules, regulations, and procedures. Despite this, Savior (2010), a member of NCCA’s National Committee on Dramatic Arts, explains, “The goals or themes of the NCCA are only a backbone. It can be interpreted in different ways. The theme can be fundamentally followed. But it can also be metaphorically linked or interpreted to a specific localization of a specific need of the committee. So it is the committee that will decide what its policy will be at a given time.”

This duality can be very confusing, which can lead to various problems and misinterpretations or misrepresentation. Although ideas from the national agency and from the grassroots level eventually meet in the middle, and mediated by the National Advisory Board (NAB), there still lies the concern about whether what is presented at the discussion table truly represents the needs and concerns of the communities. Savior (2010) shared, “In some of our meetings, we lobby our needs. That is why we can form our programs. But this is tricky because the committee in Manila will push for something which for us in Mindanao is not favorable, or it will put the communities in Mindanao at a disadvantage.”

Another point of concern is precisely this. The committee in Manila or the National Capital Region, which historically has clout on what gets approved or considered, might treat other regions or clusters parochially. The beauty of the NCCA’s framework is that this concern gets to be checked to prevent having an imperialistic Manila. The NCCA’s framework is designed to have equal representation from the National Committees on Northern, Central, and Southern Cultural Communities. But the problem is on who sits in the National Advisory Board (NAB), who ultimately decides on this matter? Are votes on the NAB equally distributed among regions? According to the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the NCCA, the NAB is composed of the heads of the National Committees under the four Subcommissions. Here lies the problem because there is inequity in the number of representatives, which means inequity in the number of votes. The SCH has six national committees, entitling it to six votes. The SCD and SCCTA only have three national committees, thus they only have three votes. But the SCA has seven national committees, thus it has seven votes, which means more voting power. These numbers show us that votes are not equally distributed among regions or specialized areas. In effect, cultural policies that are threshed out by the National Advisory Board leans more towards policies for contemporary arts. Despite their majority number, Savior (2010) shares that a problem still exists on whether the voices of the representatives from the south are accommodated by the traditionally dominant group that comes from the National Capital Region.


Understanding cultural governance and the Philippine situation 

The Philippine society is culturally strongly Euro-American having been under Spanish and American rule for almost four centuries. But at the same time, it is culturally diverse with more than a hundred ethnolinguistic groups. The indigenous peoples in the Philippines have a very rich and diverse culture and cultural expressions from the Bontoc, Ifugaos, and Kalinga’s in Northern Luzon to groups in the Visayas who have assimilated and acculturated to Christian Filipinos to the Katawhang Lumads in the highlands of Mindanao.

In understanding cultural governance in the Philippine context, one has to acknowledge the prevailing debate between being ‘Manila-centric’ versus a push for regional cultural governance and administration of public support for the arts. The geographic, the Philippines is an archipelago with 7,641 islands, and cultural, has 182 living languages divided into 17 regions – 16 of which are Administrative Divisions and 1 Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), make-up of the Philippines heavily shape and influence the said debate.

To understand cultural governance, one has to consider that the term itself is challenging to define or elucidate because of the complexity of what is being governed, culture. Culture is highly abstract, and its governance through certain policies does not take into account its nature. More often than not, the conversation on cultural policy and governance happens within closed doors among experts, and platforms for public dialogues and debates are mere tokens of a democratic process. The Philippines’ concept of democracy is borrowed from American democracy – the ideology “of the people, by the people, for the people.” But is democracy in the Philippines truly democratic, wherein the voices of many and the sentiments of the ‘publics’ are heard? To be democratic means to be fair, equitable, proportional, and transparent in the representation of all in the process of building a civic society. Graves (2005) warns us that, as coined from historian and educator Benjamin Barber, empowering the merely ignorant and endow the uneducated with a right to make collective decisions and what results is not democracy but, at best, mob rule. Democracy is a sham unless everyone has an equal opportunity to be heard, and the contributions of many are needed to find democratic solutions. Cultural democracy offers a different paradigm, a system of support for the cultures of our diverse communities that are respectful and celebratory, that gives voice to the many who have been historically excluded from the public domain, and that makes no claims of superiority or special status (Graves 2005).

What has the NCCA done in this regard? In its work on cultural governance, has it created a system or mechanism that truly supports the arts and cultural projects of the various communities in the Philippines, regardless of language and location or proximity to central Manila?

The answer to this may be a resounding ‘yes’. Constitutionally through Republic Act 7356, the NCCA is bound to uphold the following governing principles: culture as human rights, national identity, culture of the people, culture by the people, culture for the people, and preservation of Filipino heritage. It is important to highlight that the NCCA was created to safeguard the culture of the people. Section four of R.A.7356 states that the Filipino national culture shall be independent, equitable, dynamic, progressive, and humanistic (NCCA 1994). Culture, being independent, should be free of any political and economic structures, which inhibit cultural sovereignty. Equitability is defined as providing opportunities to the poor and marginalized sectors. The Filipino national culture, defined to be dynamic, means that it must continuously develop in pace with scientific, technological, social, economic, and political changes both on national and international levels. Therefore, the NCCA must create avenues or means for these sectors to grow, and for their culture to develop amidst the social and economic changes. Moreover, it must ensure the creative and artistic freedom of every Filipino to achieve his or her potential.

Section five of this Act expresses that the Filipino national culture shall evolve and be developed by the people themselves in a climate of freedom and responsibility (NCCA 1994). Therefore, the national cultural policies and programs must be for the benefit of all. The Philippines is a country of diverse culture, having mentioned earlier that it has over a hundred ethnolinguistic communities. Therefore, the NCCA must acknowledge and respect the diversity of cultural identities, and needs to adopt or use a pluralistic approach to respond to the said diversity of culture. Furthermore, national cultural policies and programs must also be democratic and non-partisan. Bernan Joseph Corpuz (2010), the Head of the Planning and Policy Office of the NCCA, states, “We have to cater to all. We cannot favor contemporary and modern art and artists or only indigenous communities.” He further asserts that “[It] is a conscious effort in the sense that as much as possible we [NCCA] want to give equal funding to all aspects of culture and the arts.” Thus, reinforcing that the policy of the NCCA encourages and supports the individual or group, regardless of creed, affiliation, ideology, ethnic origin, age, gender, or class – including the marginalized sectors. State support cannot be monopolized by any group or sector.

For the NCCA to achieve what it is mandated to do, it created a Secretariat to do the administrative and legal work of extending and disbursing financial and technical support to arts and cultural organizations, institutions, and communities. As discussed previously, the NCCA created the four subcommissions and the national committees to aid the national office and fulfill its pluralistic mandate. The pluralistic approach is further manifested in how the NCCA encourages and facilitates the organization of a network of regional and local councils for culture and the arts. This is to ensure a broad nationwide, people-based participation in the formulation of plans, implementation of projects and programs, and the review of funding requirements.

Advocating for the NCCA, one can argue that it fulfills its mandate through addressing the needs of various communities, and providing them access to the ‘round table’ where their sentiments and views are heard and considered. One only needs to use the main programs of the NCCA, coupled with it being an architect and patron in its arts funding model, to provide evidence to support such an argument. The NCCA Grants Program has five major types all responding to the different needs of the culture and arts sector. First, the Competitive Grant has the widest appeal because it caters to individual or group projects specific to the focus of each national committee. Applications or proposals usually come from urban or regional artists who have convenient access to information from the NCCA. Second, the Institutional Grants provide financial resources for institutionalized programs such as the Philippine International Arts Festival, Filipino Heritage Month, National Artists Award, and the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan (National Living Treasures) Award. Third, there are also grants for outreach programs, which are geared towards providing projects for marginalized communities. Lastly, are the grants for the Speakers Bureau Program, which provides professionals fees and travel funds for experts who then give capacity building trainings and workshops to communities across the country. This is to ensure that everyone will have the adequate training to be able to navigate through the grant schemes of the NCCA and the bureaucratic process, but more importantly, to be able to effectively and/or efficiently manage arts and cultural projects.

Furthermore, the NCCA has established the Philippine Cultural Education Program (PCEP) in 17 project sites in 2002. The PCEP is a comprehensive five-year medium term plan from 2003 to 2007 formed by government and non-government organization that lay out the goals, policies, programs, and projects on cultural education through the formal, non-formal, and informal education systems. The use of both the English and Filipino languages creates a unique impact on the education system in the Philippines. Although based on the American system where English is the medium of instruction, Philippine schools put equal emphasis on academics and social and cultural aspects. Culture thus becomes the foundation of education, sustainable development, and governance because of the adoption of a culture-based education. Through a culture-based education, the NCCA and the Department of Education created an educational system that nurtures a sense of belonging and identity, and strengthens community participation; as well as promotes appreciation and understanding of one’s history and cultural heritage. Moreover, through the PCEP, the NCCA offers the Certificate Program in Culture-Based Governance to local government units. That is why there are still on-going projects on cultural and heritage mapping that the NCCA continues to fund and support. The NCCA recognizes the crucial role of the communities’ culture in teaching and learning. In the province of Batangas for example, Batangueno music, literature, traditions, dance, food, and the arts are used to reinforce the learning of students and make them reflect on the characteristics of a way or approach in life that is distinctively Batangueno. Thus, culture-based education is used to instill a sense of national pride and develop an individual’s identity as a nation. But more importantly, by preserving the cultural memory, it is hoped that an individual will have a greater understanding of the nation’s destiny amongst a community of nations. In general, “culture shall be utilized as a catalyst for values formation and human rights education, promoting a culture of peace, social justice, and sustainable development” (MTPDP-CA 2007-2010).

However, the resounding ‘yes’ that the NCCA has created a system or a mechanism that truly supports the arts and cultural projects of communities all over the Philippines is not devoid of problems or gaps. The organization of regional and local arts and cultural councils and the creation of the PCEP has indeed helped in the dissemination of information about the funding and technical support that the NCCA and its affiliates provide to various communities. But the inherent geographical make-up of the Philippines still posts a major problem in the dissemination of information, and therefore, it creates problems in the dissemination of support. This is especially true to indigenous cultural communities in far-flung areas where access to transportation and communication is extremely difficult.

The NCCA also lacks the needed manpower to reach far-flung communities. Thus, the NCCA relies heavily on the national committee members or community representatives to assist them in information dissemination. Magsumbol (2010) shared that, “The committee members are our contact to the communities. We depend on them because some communities are so far that we can no longer go to them.” She also shared that communicating and coordinating with community representatives is also difficult as these representatives may not have easy access to communication tools, or it takes them days to travel from their communities to the town proper where access to telephones and the internet are available.

To solve this problem, the communities elect representatives who live closer to town centers and have better access to communication. The problem with this is that it goes against the idea of decentralization. Because the NCCA does not have satellite offices, it needs to have as many contacts from different regions, municipalities, and towns. What is ideal is that these contacts come from the communities both near or far from town centers as much as possible. But this is not the case. The reality is that community representatives live in town centers and no longer with their communities, to have access to communication; thus, somewhat undermining the mandate of the Subcommission, especially that of the SCCTA, to promote and disseminate the creation of artistic and cultural products to the greatest number of Filipino people.

Adding to this problem is the fact that most SCCTA staff and community representatives are not adequately trained as anthropologists or cultural administrators. Peralta (2010) explains, “A lot of people in the NCCA are not trained as anthropologists or sociologists, as well as the community representatives that are consulted. People who are elected are political figures whose backgrounds are not on culture but other areas. They propose a project for ethnic groups without understanding the purpose of the project for the ethnic group.” Thus, there is a need to review the system and mechanism in place to have the ideas, opinions, and insights from the communities reconciled and validated. Despite its limitations, the NCCA needs to find a way to expand the Speakers Bureau Program to provide the information and technical assistance needed by the communities and their representatives.


Issues in cultural governance in the Philippines

In spite of the formulated policies, and the initiatives, programs, and development work done by the NCCA towards the arts and culture in the Philippines, it still faces several issues foremost is on transparency and diversification, and patronage and conflict of interests. In terms of its organization, is the NCCA’s governance through committees and cluster representatives, whether appointed or elected, ensure a democratic process? In terms of the process of governance, how exactly are the members of the committees chosen? Who exactly is marginalized by these choices?

Madden (2009) argues that effective civil society participation in the governance of culture is achieved not by the set-up of additional institutions, but by the degree of independence from the government. Unfortunately, as argued by Holden (2006), the problem with cultural governance is that cultural policy is a closed conversation among experts rather than a democratic mandate from the public; and this reality seems to be true in the Philippines. Corpuz (2010) explains the alignment of visions of the government and the cultural communities, that both visions are ‘married and weaved’ through the NCCA’s model as an architect and patron. Corpuz (2010) shares that, fortunately, what the culture and arts sector identifies as its vision aligns with the government’s goals specifically on the development of the Filipino national culture and identity. Mark Dela Cruz (2016), from the Program Monitoring and Evaluation Division of the NCCA, states that the committees and cluster representatives hold the responsibility as well as the power to voice the issues of their respective communities, bring them to the attention of the NCCA and propose resolutions together with their fellow representatives.

But there is a problem here. If the culture and arts sector often, if not always, identifies as projects, resolutions, or initiatives align with the government’s goal, it brings into question if the communities through the representatives are merely playing the funding game and are reshaping the needs and voices of the communities they represent accordingly. The reality of this alignment to gain public funding and support also discounts the fundamental acceptance of differences. Rather than assisting the communities, collectives, and individuals in their cultural development in multiple directions, such process reinforces a top-down approach where the dominant culture still comes from the elite institutions, or in this case from the director and heads of the Commission. When asked how the National Endowment Fund for Culture and the Arts is allocated, Corpuz (2010) shares, “Most of the budget, at least 50% is allocated to the competitive grants and opened to grassroots projects. This is to give communities a bigger chance to submit and get funding from the programs set by the four subcommissions, so we align the vision of the culture and arts sector to the vision of the government. Because if the vision of the culture and arts sector is not aligned to the government, then no funding will be given.” Cultural professionals have focused on satisfying the policy demands of their funders in an attempt to gain the same unquestioning support for culture, that exists for health or education, but the truth is that politicians will never be able to give that support until there exists a more broadly based and better articulated democratic consensus (Holden 2006), and this highlights the situation between the relationship of the NCCA and the arts and cultural sector. However, when it comes to traditional arts, Peralta (2010) insists that the NCCA does not intervene in the decisions of the indigenous communities. According to Peralta, no matter what the NCCA does to preserve a certain cultural product, whether it is tangible or intangible if the community will not exert the effort, the initiative will fail. The NCCA does encourage and influence the community to make the proper decisions.

Santiago (2016) alluded to the issue, where she argued that government appointments need to be questioned and scrutinized because relationships brought about by said appointments to positions are primarily based on the Padrino system, which is a “mentorship” system that is about who you know, not what your skills are – and tends to keep the opportunities within the very small circle that the cultural establishment sustains. Santiago, perhaps, was talking about the controversial appointment of Freddie Aguilar, a veteran singer-songwriter but has not headed any cultural organizations or has been a commissioner of the NCCA, to be the Head of the NCCA. Aguilar was called by the president’s executive assistant on the possibility of heading the NCCA. Before this, Aguilar, who is a staunch supporter of Duterte who is the current president of the Philippines, asked Duterte to create a department for culture and the arts where he plans to lead a cultural revolution. The obvious problem with this is that it is not within the President’s authority to appoint the head of the NCCA. Section 9 of the Republic Act 7356 states that the chairperson of the commission is elected by a 15-member Board of Commissioners. It is exactly these closed-door decisions and disregard of established processes that highlight the Padrino system. One can argue that the problem of cultural governance in the Philippines is that it is a dysfunctional or false democracy. It is, in reality, a feudal system of governance specifically pointing towards the relationship between the lord and vassal, where the lord and vassal have agreed on obligations to one another. Such a relationship creates a very small counsel of people in power where decisions are made based on their views. How then is the voice of the people being heard?

The Padrino system may already be very well present in the NCCA. Looking at the current structure and organization of the NCCA, one can see that most of the members of the Commission are appointed to their positions, and those who occupy these positions may not necessarily come from the culture and arts sector or have substantial knowledge and understanding of what is happening in the sector. Amongst the members of the Commission, only four come from the private sector, where three are the elected heads of the Subcommissions on Cultural Heritage, Arts, and Cultural Dissemination. Appointments to political or cultural positions that make decisions for the society may not necessarily be a problem as long as such appointments observe agreed upon democratic processes. Moreover, information on such process is readily available to the public, and that those who are appointed or elected within the commission, represent the very communities they serve. Failure to do so results in the issue of delicadeza, a behavior anchored on general accepted moral standards because it questions who the committees and cluster representatives truly represent.

To address this concern, Arlene Flores, a project development officer of the NCCA, argues otherwise. Flores (2010) explains that the NCCA’s process is unique and organic to the agency. It is very democratic, at least in Asia, in its approach because of the structure of the Subcommissions and national committees that consist of more than a hundred experts in various fields; and are reflective of the Filipino culture. Flores further explains that these experts who are volunteer members of the national committees are consulted regularly. Ninety percent of the members of the national committees come from the private sector. This demographic is highly valued by the NCCA because these national committee members voice the needs and concerns of the communities since they are directly in communication with them. Without the involvement of the private sector, it will be highly improbable that the NCCA would know and understand the needs of the different cultural sectors.

To be democratic is to ensure that the wealth of cultures is practiced openly, and not behind closed doors, or else it will diminish. To be democratic demands a more accurate work in providing an equitable spotlight on moments and needs that call for a response, and that the communities themselves are seated in the decision-making table. Perhaps there is a better way and a more honest representation across the culture and arts sector, which, as Santiago (2016) proposes, entails a review on the right to vote within the sectors regardless if the individual is or is not part of any structured organization, or is not well connected within the network of artists, practitioners, or administrators. It also entails a review of representation across generations of artists and scholars, demanding for more diversity. Doing so enables people to participate in policy decisions that affect the quality of their cultural lives, assuring fair and equitable access to cultural resources and support. Moreover, it saves the NCCA from falling into the trap of patronage of keeping the same circle of people in positions of power. When we take into consideration the cultural institutions’ loss of authority, the cultural liberation, we might expect a cultural policy turn that points toward the contribution to negotiations on meaning, with value in our everyday life as an independent purpose (Juncker & Balling 2016). With this in mind, it might be necessary for the NCCA to review, if in its process of institutionalizing a lot of its programs and initiatives, has it empowered the communities and arts sector to speak, participate and contribute.

Thus, it is extremely important to know who are the actors in cultural governance in the Philippines. What are their motivations, and where does the power reside? With over a hundred ethnolinguistic communities, cultural governance in the country is faced with webs of ethnicity and affiliations, political or otherwise, that need to be navigated. Although certain levels of trust are given to the committee members and cluster representatives, it can also be argued that communities are likely to view the ideas, statements, and actions of these committee members and representatives with varying degrees of suspicion. Underlying here is the fact that committee members and cluster representatives, although having institutional authority, cannot be fully informed or effective, which then reinforces that artists, cultural practitioners, and members of the communities are at the bottom of the hierarchy. How can they be lifted to be part of the table where important discussions on the governance of culture take place?

Gattinger (2011) opens three main ideas for debate and discussion on these perspectives. First, the democratization of culture and cultural democracy can be most effectively pursued by public arts funders if they do so through the lens of governance and multi-level governance. In this context, governance means encompassing, non-hierarchical, decentralized, and collaborative policy-making approaches between interdependent public, private, and civic actors (2011: 4). Second, public arts funders should carefully analyze the possible repercussions for the democratization of culture and culture democracy of making fundamental changes to existing governance arrangements between business, government, and society (Gattinger 2011: 4). Third, public arts funders would do well to identify the multi-level governance arrangements best suited to pursuing the democratization of culture and cultural democracy. This involves identifying the most supportive coordination arrangements for the democratization of culture and cultural democracy and identifying which aspects of democratization of culture and cultural democracy should be pursued by which level of government (Gattinger 2011: 5).

In this conversation of multi-level governance in the Philippines, Gattinger’s arguments demand us to look microscopically on the arts administrator or cultural mediator who is at the crux between the government and national cultural institutions and the communities across regions and provinces in the country. As Graves (2005) stresses, the arts administrator or cultural mediator holds a significant power within its spheres of influence, and this highlights how far down the economic food chain artists and communities are. The mediator mediates several distinct realms between the artists, communities, funding sources, and the red tape of civic bureaucracy. This also makes cultural mediators the glue that holds things in place for something to happen. The mediator is in this powerful and influential, but very important position, as this power and influence, demands him to navigate and manage the enormous knowledge and commitment of the other actors in cultural governance both from the government and the communities.

Graves (2005) further shares that it is important to understand that the cultural mediator cannot make anything happen without the community, but often the community cannot budge without the facilitation of the mediator. But what seems to be ironic is that for a cultural mediator to be successful, he has to be willing to give the power away to others at every turn (Graves 2005). This brings us back to the argument earlier that governance is non-hierarchical, and instead encompassing and decentralized, where policy-making takes on collaborative approaches. This is not to argue that the NCCA changes its structure and model of arts funding. Instead, it encourages and suggests to the NCCA the imperative need to review, how in its hybrid model of reconciling the vision, views, and voices of the national agency and the communities in the grassroots level are considered in the shaping of cultural policy, and the creation or development of mechanisms that will create far more effective dissemination of financial and technical support to cultural communities across the country; and through this redefine the role of the NAB, and address the issues of transparency and diversification, and patronage. As argued by Juncker and Balling (2016), we need to consider a culture that takes place outside institutions, and without gatekeepers and mediators, and develop cultural policies and arts advocacies that allow interconnected and peer-driven interaction and collaboration.

This then pushes the NCCA to engage in more long-term collaborations with local government units, cultural agencies and institutions, the Department of Education, non-government organizations, the private sector, and most importantly, the arts and cultural communities. The NCCA has to understand that to pursue a more democratic cultural governance, it has to realize that the concept of community itself is as varied as the perspectives of its members. Therefore, the NCCA has to facilitate and help the community members find agreement on a clear sense of itself as a coherent group, and not define the said identity for the community through representation. This is for the committee and cluster representatives to understand, that the sector or the community they represent do not have a singular voice; that each community functions differently with their own set of priorities or values most important to them; and that every community is diverse, and who gets to be invited in policy conversations and planning for the community needs to be thought through to not inadvertently alienate a whole segment of the community. Also, one has to understand that community culture is personal wherein the appointed or elected ‘leaders’ may not necessarily be the pillars, movers, or shakers of the community. Therefore, the said leaders must not make decisions on behalf of any community. In a democracy, participation is key; thus, no individual should be in a position to dictate the content or method of others’ cultural consumption, or the public representation of others’ cultures. Lastly, democratic cultural governance considers that the artists or cultural practitioners, communities, and institutions all need each other – that in the dialogic process, all three must be able to convey adequately their aspirations, values, and needs to others. To enable progress and move in the right direction, these three actors must understand each others’ value positions clearly, and recognize their respective legitimacy and limitations.



Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “Which is the best government? That which teaches us to govern ourselves.”

This paper has shown that with its hybrid funding model and governing principles, the NCCA has successfully established a structure, formulated policies, created mechanisms, and nurtured linkages with affiliate government agencies and cultural institutions, regional councils, and local government units in the governance of culture in the Philippines. Despite the limitations in resources and challenges faced in enacting its mandate, given the geographical make-up of the country and the hundreds of communities it has to serve, the NCCA continues to respond equitably and fairly to the various arts and cultural sectors, and in the process, has achieved its mandate.

However, the NCCA needs to realize that to answer the question on whose to govern for whose good, it needs to look toward the people who are closest to the issues of the cultural communities because they deal directly with the dynamic relationships and changes on the ground. This asks the NCCA to reimagine the cultural governance of communities as a regional governance process where the said process uses the communities’ traditional rules, values, and systems of social organization to reimagine their contemporary governance needs and solutions. This then leads to the consideration of nodal networks as a model of a pluralistic approach to cultural governance. A nodal network is formed by the interconnectedness and interdependence of essentially autonomous units and actors, where the constituent linkages can facilitate or inhibit the functioning of the overall system. New governance institutions should be initiated by the people themselves, based on their informed consent.

In this light, the NCCA needs to look into existing collectives and networks of artists, cultural practitioners, and leaders to study and understand how they bring community members together to undertake programs, activities, and initiatives that resonate with community members’ views; thus, what is considered is culturally legitimate and workable for the community. By empowering community members, the NCCA is able to create a culture of accountability and responsibility, which is a valuable asset in governance. An empowered community, one where the voices and sentiments of the community are heard and sets a consensus agenda among its members, and not simply wait for directions or directives from a national office, makes community participation or involvement simple, enjoyable, and meaningful for a member. This is not to argue that the concept of selecting a few to govern the many is ineffective and breeds incompetence. Instead, it is to embrace a pluralistic mindset to governance.

This also brings the conversation to a greater focus on important elements that can build a smooth, efficient, and effective governance structure specific to the context and realities of a community. It goes beyond cultural governance as an academic topic. Instead, it is a conversation that works toward structures, mechanisms, processes, and approaches that are sensitive and able to be shaped by public opinion. The conversation then turns from the centralization versus decentralization argument to a conversation on désétatisation, or the removal of state control, to allow shifts in governance within regions and within the synergy of the public, private, non-profit and civic actors. Therefore, cultural governance becomes a combination of horizontal, vertical, and lateral collaborations. It becomes a value-based governance, rather than a hierarchy-based relationship.



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