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K Magazine: Forum: Some Insights on Shaping Filipino Culture for the 21st Century

by Malou Leviste Jacob

Delivered during the opening of the 6th DLSU Arts Congress held at Fajardo Hall, De La Salle University-Manila last Feb. 20, 2003.

I say insights because I did not learn them from books; I realized them after decades of involvement in cultural work.

1st INSIGHT: Culture is the umbrella that gives direction to national socio-political and economic development.

I used to think like Teddy Boy Locsin who said that Culture is third priority. You know, soft. Economics first; politics first. Culture? That can wait.

Why? Well, because Culture is just entertainment, just an appendage in the scheme of things: an after dinner event, a ribbon cutting thing, cocktails etc.

But after years of cultural work, I saw that if Culture is not just the arts, is not just the food, but also the values, the dreams, the aspirations of a people; then, it cannot just be for entertainment, it cannot just remain an appendage, an afterthought, because it is the driving force that gives direction to our socio-political and economic development.

We are a capitalist country patterned after our colonizer, the great USA where “Survival of the Fittest” is the norm; now, being ruined by personal greed. Do we just go ahead in the same direction? Or will we step on the brakes? Be cautious in building a prosperous nation that is guided by compassion and empathy and conscious of its social responsibility?

If you say yes to that, you have to develop a culture of compassion first within yourselves. And how do you do that? I guess you just have to go out of your way to internalize this consciousness because your class origin will not allow you to do so. You have to go out of your comfort zone and see how the majority live/subsist.

After all, you are not Howard Schultz. Do you know Howard Schultz? You should. You drink his coffee at the corner . He is the CEO of Starbucks who is building a unique company in numerous countries outside the US on his father’s narrative shared in CNN: His father was an ordinary employee with no benefits. One winter night, he slipped on ice while working. His father’s accident caused a lot of suffering to his family and Howard Schultz never forgot that. And that is why Starbucks is one of the unique corporations that takes care of its employees.

But what is the situation right here? Well, we see to it that the employee is terminated every six months to avoid a regular employee’s monthly SSS, 13th month pay, medical benefits and health care. A month lapses; then the employee is rehired.

Will the situation change for the better for labor in the 21st Century? The so called ASEAN Century?

I don’t know. What I do know is that your elders will revive again the move to amend the Philippine Constitution. I chanced on an ANC TV interview of a foreign investor who said that the Philippines should drop the 60/40 ownership law for more foreign investors to come in. Well, if your elders do that, if your lawmakers do that—That will open the doors for the second coming/ the second wave of colonialism.

And believe me, the men in suits are coming to Asia to shore them up because it really looks bad in Europe amd USA. (Great Britain’s Cameron has been to India twice promoting British companies; France is back in Mali/Africa).

Will a Culture of Collusion prevail again among our elite or could you be part of a movement that will benefit the deprived majority of the world? Possibly, a new economic order? When I mentioned this possibility as a Philippine delegate to ASEM Poland, I was informed by a Chinese delegate that the BRICS are discussing this already. Do you know the BRICS? (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). A New Economic Order that combines the best features of both Capitalism and Socialism? A hybrid? Why not in this age of Hybridity? And isn’t China already experimenting with it? The Philippines could. With you, the future entrepreneurs, engineers, bankers, political and economic leaders cultivating a culture which includes your dreams, aspirations, goals, and a strong sense of social responsibility, anything is possible.

2nd INSIGHT: The Chinoys have a very important role in the 21st Century. You are the link, the bridge between the Philippines and China.

You may be descendants of those who fled China during Mao Tse Tung’s time but now you have to always remind China of its pursuit of socialist ideals. They are trying thru the BRICS in exploring a new economic order, hopefully a just one for the marginalized majority.

At this point, please allow me to share a portion of a presentation I made in a conference in China when I was with NCCA:

This is not an academic paper nor a scholarly one. It is a paper based on the colonial past of my country, the Philippines and my direct responses as its citizen in the 21st Century.

This paper is from the view of a simple Filipino playwright and cultural officer for the emerging giant, China, the imperial power of the 21st Century.

But first, allow me to describe my tiny country of 7,100 plus islands and almost 90 million people. The Philippines has a history of always being the victim, of Spain, of Japan, of the US. Our history does not have the stain of inflicting harm on others, we have never been the aggressor. We have always been the aggrieved, the victimized.

Perhaps it is this past that has made the Philippines as one of those few countries that has innate empathy. When powerful countries export destruction, war arsenals, my humble country exports humane resources –nurses, engineers, construction workers, domestic helpers to the Middle East, East Timor, Europe, USA, etc…

Yet, giant China inspite of its power has a long history of non interference, non invasion. And a recent history of liberation of its poor people.

Perhaps, this could be the very same guiding principle in its dealings with its immediate neighbors. Truly assisting the region to develop as China progresses to become a giant especially in the economic field.

3rd INSIGHT: We can be known as a Nation of Gifted Artists (from a nation of servants to a nation of gifted artists).

In the 20th Century, a dictionary even defined domestic helper (DH) as Filipina. Teachers were leaving the country to become DH to help their families survive. Even now in the 21st Century, we have the modern day slaves being trafficked. Slaves are not a thing of the past. It is present in our times.

A nation of gifted artists. Isn’t that a beautiful image? A good brand. Very marketable because it is true. Our most gifted artists are from the Indigenous Peoples. Our musicians are recognized by the other ASEAN States. They acknowledge the musicality of the Philippines. In Europe and the USA, our choral groups win international competitions. The Madrigal Singers has morphed into numerous university choral groups. And have you listened to the heavenly Loboc Children’s Choir of Bohol?

In Visual Arts, the Filipino painters (BenCab, Ventura, Imao) are sought after. In international Film Festivals, Brillante Mendoza, Pepe Diokno, Aureus Solito, Teng Mangansakan and Kidlat Tahimik stand out. I have not even mentioned design in fashion and furniture.

As future Enterpreneurs, Bankers, Marketing people, you can create a Creative Industry for the benefit of the Filipino Artists. It was in China, Beijing that I first heard that after Information, the Creative Industry is next. The buzzword was that the Creative Industry is the Sunrise Industry.

But everytime I see a a beautifully woven mat or cloth, I always ask the question: How much went to the artist? The creator of the cultural product.

I realize, of course, that there will always be middlemen and capitalists, Foreign or local who get the largest share of the pie. But it doesn’t have to be always that way. You can change the situation in favor of our Filipino Artists.

You can develop a unique creative industry.

A creative industry concept that will implement a paradigm shift: profits first and foremost to the Filipino artists/craftmen/women by providing them with capital at lowest interest and no collateral through tapping of companies that follow the Grameen Bank principles of Nobel Peace Prize Awardee Yunus of Bangladesh (a professor turned banker).

When I first heard about him, I couldn’t believe that such practice existed. A bank for the poor? An oxymoron!

But yes, Grameen Bank is a reality. In Bangladesh, and spreading all over Asia. It is a bank that lends to the poorest woman at lowest interest with no collateral. That will eliminate the practice of 5/6 so prevalent in poor communities all over the country!

And what about creating a new breed/practice of marketing? That gives 70 percent to the creators, the artists and 30 per cent to Marketing and not the other way around? Capitalization and Marketing that will redound to the economic benefit of the artists, evolving an economy of culture for the sunrise Industry in Music, Visual Arts, Film and Traditional Arts.

4th INSIGHT: Arts for healing could alleviate the effects of climate change.

The Arts should not only be for entertainment. Neither should it only be for the artist’s expression or for nation building. First and foremost, because of the onslaught of natural catastrophes, it should revert back to its original purpose in the community—for healing.

In 2009 at NCCA, I started a series of training workshops for artists to become facilitators of creative workshops for children and women–victims of natural and man made disasters. The idea is for the artists to go to a community or a refugee center of a community after the economic needs have been addressed by the government and NGOs and conduct workshops where children and women are able to tell their stories thru drawings, drama, music, dance, and poetry.

We conducted a training workshop in 2009 for Christiian artists; in 2010 for Muslim artists; and in 2011 for the Indigenous artists. Now, there is a total of about 100 artists in various parts of the country who are ready at a moment’s notice to conduct their workshop modules.

Imagine if the Christian artists go to a Muslim community and the Muslim artists go to a Christian community to conduct healing arts workshops for children and women? Imagine if NCCA is able to pinpoint gifted children from the marginalized communities? (Already, there is an orphan in Zamboanga described by a Muslim artist/facilitator as having the makings of an Alcuaz.)

Yes, gifted children from the marginalized may be discovered all over the country as urban based artist/ facilitators are given the opportunity to heighten their consciousness and worldview thru rural exposure which will redound to more mature creative works on Philippine realities.

Imagine the opportunity of heightening or deepening the worldview of DLSU students if the school links up with NCCA in exposing the students to situations other than their own.

This effort could also be expanded ASEAN wide. We are all within the ring of fire and the typhoon belt. I can think of no other better way in unifying the tri people of our country and the 10 Asean States.

5th INSIGHT: A unified and prosperous nation for the Ips, Muslim, and Christian Filipinos is attainable.

You could be the future Politicians and Civil Servants who will bring about economic progress in the midst of mutual respect and understanding among the Muslims, Christians and IPs in Mindanao.

Indeed, Culture has a very important role in unifying the country and in making her an active member state of the ASEAN.

A lot of cultural work still has to be done to deepen the change of mindsets among Christians and Muslims. A lot of biases, remnants of the 333 years of Spanish colonization (culture of discrimination, violence and impunity) still have to be dismantled to bring about respect and understanding among Filipino Christians, Muslims and Indigenous Peoples.

Culture has a very important role in unifying the country; and in making the almost 100 million population lead in the celebration of multiculturalism in the 500 million population of the 10 ASEAN States.

In late 20th Century, political scientist Samuel Huntington shared his concept of the clash of civilizations. In the 1990’s, he said that the clash of ideologies will morph into a clash of civilizations with cultures and religions at the core. When I quoted him at a National Theater Festival, one of the foreign guests warned me not to dwell on this dangerous concept. I didn’t quite understand what she meant.

But now after some thought I believe that on the contrary, Huntington’s Concept of a Clash of Civilizations could be transformed into a Harmony of Civilizations. All religions/philosophies: from Islam to Christianity to Buddhism uphold the same beliefs for Peace, Justice and Equality. We just have to see to it that the extremists do not appropriate them for their own purposes.

Malou Leviste-Jacob, a former Executive Director of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), is a writer for plays, television productions, and documentary films. One of her works ‘Juan Tamban’, shown in 1979 by PETA Kalinangan Ensemble, was recognized by critic Doreen Fernandez as “a landmark in Philippine modern theatre, because of its well-researched and realistic portrayal of contemporary social problems and its combination of both realism and non-realistic styles.”


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