Deputy Speaker and Sorsogon 1st district Rep. Evelina Escudero rallied her House colleagues Monday to make sure that the proposed creation of the Department of Culture (DOC) sees the light of day.
This, after the lady solon heard the collective sorry plight of the country’s culture and arts agencies during a virtual hearing of the House Committee on Basic Education and Culture.
“After hearing all the agencies na lahat sila nangangailangan ng mas malaking budget (After hearing all the agencies say that they need bigger budgets), probably Mr. Chair this is the best time that we push our [proposal] that we have a Department of Culture,” Escudero said
“Kasi alam naman natin na our culture and heritage is a very important part of our lives. Kailangan talaga dagdagan ang kanilang mga budget. (We know that our culture and heritage are a very important part of our lives. We really need to increase their budget),” added the House leader and mother of ex-senator and current Sorsogon Governor Francis “Chiz” Escudero.
Sharing their current hardships during the hearing were representatives from National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), National Museum (NM), National Archives of the Philippines (NAP), National Library of the Philippines (NLP), and Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWP).
The agencies also discussed with the House panel their recent accomplishments, as well as their proposed budget under the 2021 National Expenditure Program (NEP). The NEP will be the basis of next year’s proposed General Appropriations Act (GAA), which the congressmen would tackle beginning next month.
Escudero said that having a DOC in the bureaucracy would ensure bigger budget allocations for the agencies involved. However, this new department would effectively abolish the NCCA.
NMP Director-General Jeremy Barns in particular couldn’t help but “express disappointment” during his presentation of their proposed budget for next year.
“What has been proposed since the end of last week, for our NEP, is a drastic decrease in MOOE (Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses) from P259 million to P153 million. Capital outlay, zero. Capital outlay has been zero the past three years. There was P10 million this year because of congressional support, thank you for that,” he said.
“I don’t know how long we can sustain that, having absolutely zero. I cannot buy a laptop, I cannot replace an airconditioner when it’s simply zero,” Barns said.
The NMP official also noted a huge reduction in their proposed supplies budget. “That feeds not only our office, but our exhibitions. That’s where exhibition materials are charged. We’re going from P40 million to just under P6 million.”
And then there’s the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit the CCP hard. Chris Millado, CCP vice president and artistic director, bared that the pandemic shuttered at least 800 events, leading to P90 million in lost sales revenue.
Some 3,000 artists, cultural workers, and production staff have been affected, as well as numerous suppliers, Millado said. Other businesses at the CCP complex like restaurants also had to close down.
Still, Millado highlighted some positives like the “robust social capital” and “high level of volunteerism” in the arts industry. He also notes that local artists are early adopters of digital technology, which is vital in the switch to the new normal.