The Senate’s Finance Committee recently had a hearing on the 2021 budgets of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), and its attached agencies. There, I encouraged the NCCA to coordinate with the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) on an ongoing project to paint murals on the walls and banks along the Pasig River. I also suggested that the project be expanded to murals on the walls of major thoroughfares, like EDSA or even C5.
In the same hearing, when I inquired about how much of our national collections were available online, the National Library of the Philippines shared that only 5% was uploaded—which is much too low.
From what I heard, there are many opportunities to leverage and maximize our culture and heritage, if NCCA and the cultural agencies attached to it were to collaborate with other government agencies and integrate their plans. Such synergy should be pursued initially for two reasons. The first is for Filipino culture and heritage to be integrated more into our economic strategies as a resource that can be developed. The second is to integrate culture and heritage to our existing goods and services, to give them that texture and flavor that is singularly Filipino—the “Tatak Pinoy” that we’ve written extensively about before.
Regionally, some of the counterparts of the NCCA in other countries have their own strategies to leverage culture as an economic resource. In South Korea, for example, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism had an overall budget of $4.9 billion for 2020, with the biggest share going to the culture sector. There will also be a large investment in the development of virtual reality content. The ministry’s aim is to nurture the country’s cultural potential and spread, around the globe. Other segments of the budget will be aimed at content creators and support for these creators to expand into overseas markets. For their 2021 budget, they will set aside $548 million to promote what has been termed the “Korean Wave,” which is the global distribution of some of their pop culture properties like the groups Black Pink and BTS.
Japan also has its own version of the NCCA, the Agency of Cultural Affairs, which is under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology. While the divisions under the agency are more similar to ours, with many of them concentrating on conservation and restoration, the agency also has divisions that handle cultural economy and international affairs, copyrights, and cultural resources utilization – all of which are important to the development of culture into an economic resource. The agency was, as of 2018, backed up by a $1-billion budget, and it adheres to a basic plan to promote Japanese culture and the arts.
Here in the Philippines, we are already taking some steps to develop our culture in this manner. For instance, the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Training Institute had programs that center on the cultural heritage of fiber products, such as abaca weaving, and hand-made papermaking.
Culture can also become a powerful component for tourism. When the 2020 budget of the Department of Tourism was being discussed early last year, I encouraged storytelling as a way to attract tourists. Local culture and heritage can be the center of that narrative aspect, which will be useful in attracting more tourists if travel bubbles will be developed.
The NCCA and its attached agencies should coordinate with DTI, other government departments, and stakeholders on hammering out a Creative Economy Roadmap. From formulating policies in support of the creative sector to growing and refining creative goods and services for export; from building special economic zones and having UNESCO-recognized creative cities to integrating culture and creative content into education and tourism destinations—all these should be hallmarks of our creative economy, anchored on Filipino culture and heritage.
According to the 2018 UNCTAD Creative Economy Report, the Philippine creative economy was worth P625 billion, or $12 billion, in 2010—accounting for 7% of our GDP, and employing 530,000 individuals, excluding freelancers. And yet, as of 2018, our total creative exports were only at $4.151 billion, behind Indonesia ($5.42 billion), Thailand ($6.632 billion), Malaysia ($7.544 billion), and Singapore ($11.586 billion). We must combine our culture and economy, so we can leverage on what is uniquely Filipino to positively differentiate, develop, and refine our goods and services for a global market.
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Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 16 years—9 years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and 7 as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.