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Deputy Speaker and Antique Representative Loren Legarda Keynote Address Viva ExCon November 18, 2020/ 1:30 p.m.

November 18, 2020

At the outset, allow me to thank the organizers, who are gathered here today. Viva Excon is a Visayas-wide biennale, which has been running since 1990, and which seeks to provide a venue for meaningful interaction and dialogues for our talented artists, noted curators, scholars, students and arts and culture leaders and practitioners.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which has taken us all by surprise, caused substantial economic and social impact on the arts sector affecting the operations of most, if not all, organizations, leading to the cancellation of ongoing events, physical closing of museums and even the postponement of projects. We have been used to such a way of life that such disruption has led us to rethink the importance of such activities in our social and mental well-being.

 Though arts and cultural workers are adept and creative in finding ways to cope, the sector, deemed as nonessential, is particularly under pressure and vulnerable to the resulting uncertainties brought about by the current health crisis.

 A July 2020 Impact and Response Tracker Special Issue released by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) [1] has noted the “true economic weight of the cultural creative sector” and the effects of the pandemic on the same.

 The report cited the following statistics: 13% of museums may never reopen; 95% of the estimated 95,000 museums worldwide were closed in May due to COVID-19; 60-80% international arrivals for 2020 were reduced; and it is predicted that up to 75 million jobs in the travel and tourism sector are under immediate threat, equating to a loss of US$2.1 trillion GDP in 2020. Looking at these facts and figures worldwide, we can see that the arts and culture sector has been direly affected by the pandemic.

 I have always been supportive of projects and programs that promote arts and culture. Launched  in 2015 and now on its 9th season, Dayaw, this television documentary series on Philippine indigenous culture, was my brainchild, in collaboration with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC).  It has evolved into an invaluable resource on Philippine culture that has been made available to the public. 

 There is also Buhay na Buhay, another documentary series that takes a look at the multicultural dynamics of Filipinos. The show is based on the study of then NCCA Chairman Felipe De Leon, Jr. on the eight living cultures of the Philippines, namely, pagdidiwata (Harmony with the Deities), paguukir (Poetic Mysticism), pamamanata (Devotion to the Patron Saint), pananahan (Devotion to the Home and Family), paglilining (Reflection and Reasoning), pagprotesta (Culture of Social Criticism, Concern and Protest), pagaaliw (Culture of Entertainment), and pagkabansa (Devotion to the Nation and Being a Filipino). We are always in pursuit of deepening our understanding of the very soul and identiy of being Filipino. Through this show, we witness how our culture continues to be very much alive.

 In August 2019, we also launched Likha-an in Puerto Real in Intramuros, which serves as a space to learn alternative modes of learning through workshops, lectures and demonstrations on the Philippine living traditions.

 So much of the traditions, arts and crafts of our indigenous people are vanishing with the older generation.  To help preserve and continue their unique  rich heritage, we began the development of cultural villages of the Ata Manobo, Mandaya, Blaan, and Bagobo Tagabawa, and the Yakan village in Zamboanga,  focusing  on  their Schools of Living Traditions (SLTs). This became a vital step towards nurturing and mentoring  the artistic culture of the younger generations.    

 To support and promote the Philippine contemporary art, the Philippine Contemporary Art Network (PCAN) was launched in 2018 at the University of the Philippines – Vargas Museum which seeks to activate a network to coordinate a range of interventions in contemporary art in the Philippines. Since its inaugural launch in 2017, I am glad to note that PCAN has already organized two exhibitions, two curatorial workshops in partnership with the Japan Foundation, and has launched four groundbreaking publications. A fifth publication on the anthology of Philippine art is set to be released soon. I have also supported the conduct of a curatorial intensive in 2016, in partnership with the Independent Curators International and the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. We are also partnering with Jun Yee, for several installations in the University of the Philippines in Los Baños and Diliman.  

 To showcase the artistry of the Filipino contemporary artists to the world, I initiated the return of the Philippines to the Venice Art Biennale in 2015, with the  exhibition titled Tie A String Around the World, curated by Dr. Patrick Flores, featuring the works of Jose Tence Ruiz, Manny Montelibano, Manuel Conde and Carlos Francisco as artists. It was followed in 2016 with the first participation of the Philippines in the Venice Architecture Biennale housed at the European Cultural Center, Palazzo Mora in Venice, Italy, which featured the exhibition Muhon: Traces of an Adolescent City, curated by the team of Leandro Y. Locsin, Jr., Sudarshan Khadka, Jr. and Juan Paolo dela Cruz of Leandro V. Locsin Partners (LVLP). The 2017 participation of the Philippines in the Venice Biennale was also historic as the  Philippine pavilion was housed in the Artiglierie of the Arsenale, one of the main exhibition spaces of the Venice Biennale, featuring The Spectre of Comparison, curated by Joselina Cruz, an exhibition which brought together the works of Lani Maestro and Manuel Ocampo.

 The Philippine participation was sustained yearly as it presented  the Exhibition curated by Dr. Edson Cabalfin in 2018 titled The City Who Had Two Navels; Island Weather Exhibition curated by Tessa Maria Guazon, with artist Mark Justiniani in 2019; and the exhibition titled Structures of Mutual Support curated by Framework Collaborative composed of GK Enchanted Farm community and architects Sudarshan V. Khadka, Jr. and  Alexander Eriksson Furunes in the 17th International Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia which was rescheduled to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 To support the traditional artist I spearheaded the launch of the National Arts and Crafts Fair together with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) which has been held since 2016 at the Megatrade Halls of SM Megamall. The fair highlighted both contemporary arts and crafts that exemplify indigenous living traditions through hand-made products, ornaments, jewelry, fabric and accessories, among others. An average of 120 groups and individuals from different regions in the country showcased their arts and craft. The 3-day fair also featured workshops and demonstrations on abaca weaving, piña embroidery, leather crafting, paper art, jewelry making, and contemporary, traditional and experimental dance and musical performances, among others.

 Let me share also with you the journey that we have undertaken to make Philippine textiles gain the primacy that it should have always had. Years ago, I have planned to create a standalone museum for our weaving cultures and approached the National Museum of the Philippines to develop one.

 We complemented this textile exhibition with a lecture series titled Philippine Traditional Textiles and Indigenous Knowledge with guests that include academics and weavers both from here and the Southeast Asian region to validate that our handmade fabrics are unique and one of the best in the world from the perspective of their role in life cycle rituals and their creation, and eventually had the exhibition tour the world, having travelled to Asia, Europe, South America and the USA, for two years since 2017.

 I have also been supportive of the outreach performances of the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO). I even brought them to my province of Antique, having them perform before the San Juan de Nepomuceno Church in Anini-y, and have always supported the restoration of built heritage, such as the Bahay Prudencia Fule, the Telegraph Office, the Old City Hall in San Pablo City, Laguna, the rehabilitation of the Barasoain Church in Bulacan, and the Balay nga Bato in San Jose de Buenavista, Antique.

 My love for the Visayas knows no bounds. I even take note that many of the artists and curators that I have partnered with and supported hail from the Visayas Region: Manny Montelibano, Lani Maestro, Mark Justiniani, Andy Locsin, whose father hails from Silay, and even Dr. Patrick Flores comes from the Visayas, just to name a few. I am also a beloved daughter of the Visayas, daughter of the Panay-Bukidnon, with the name Cuyong Adlaw Dulpa-an Labaw sa Kadunggan.

 These are just few of the many initiatives I have been promoting for the sector that has been close to my heart – the arts. I believe that this sector has an important role in binding us Filipinos together. A piece of art alone makes a great emotional impact to its viewers.  Artists have their ways of ordering the world, the capacity that I feel we most need in these trying times. In this time of pandemic, we bring ourselves back to art as we open the books that we have so long stored and kept away, watch performances that were streamed online, listen to music as we spend each day in quarantine, and engage ourselves in virtual tours offered by museums as a way to cope with the mental and emotional toll that the pandemic has also brought forth.

 During this pandemic, we were all given an opportunity also to re-evaluate our priorities.  In the arts sector, the government, particularly Congress, has had to re-assess how assistance can be extended to the sector and its stakeholders.

 This is why, as Chairperson of the House Sub-Committee on Better Normal, and sponsor of  HB 6864 or the “Better Normal for the Workplace Communities and Public Spaces Act of 2020”, I saw to it that the concerns of the art and culture sectors were addressed in the proposed law that was originally meant to institutionalize health and safety protocols only. Because of this, I included the following provisions in the bill:

  1. That the government provides sufficient support for culture bearers and masters, and those engaged in our dynamic traditional forms;
  1. That emergency cash subsidies shall be given to artists, cultural workers, freelancers and the self-employed, such as those working in the audiovisual, entertainment, and live events sector, and other creative industries such as architecture and allied arts, dance, dramatic arts, literary  arts,  music, visual arts, contemporary arts or expressions, audiovisual and multimedia, and scholars, critics, curators, and cultural workers;
  1. That our stakeholders are able to maximize the use of digital platforms for the consolidation of resources and cultural forms in public spaces to create an archive of oral histories, visual ethnographies, philosophical discourse, and technical and creative capacity-building programs geared towards bolstering various creative industries; and,
  1. That the proposed measure highly encourages online promotion or streaming of cultural programs, performances, exhibitions and enhancement of existing public arts and monuments.

 House Bill No. 6864 has already been passed by the House and now pending in the Senate.

 Earlier on, I also filed other bills to give stronger legislative support to the arts sector, which has always been a priority of mine.  This includes HB 638 or An Act Institutionalizing Philippine Participation in the International Exhibitions of the Venice Biennale which recognizes the important role of the arts in fostering patriotism and nationalism, and the vital role of culture and the arts in democratic and inclusive nation-building. The said measure has already been passed in the House of Representatives.  Meanwhile, as the Biennale activities have also been put on hold, we assure you that the Philippines will still continue to take its place in the Venice Biennale.

 I have also filed the bill that seeks to establish a Department of Culture, which shall be responsible for the protection, preservation, promotion of arts and culture in the country.

 Now more than ever are we becoming more cognizant of the value of art, amid this time of confinement and isolation. It is our social lifeline that gives us the sense of belonging and identity. Its future now lies in how we are able to adapt during this pandemic. As we intersect the physical with the digital, may we be able to counter the amnesia that may result from this prism of possibilities. This pandemic has reminded us that despite the challenges, we learn to adapt, we learn to listen, we learn to become resilient, and through a can-do attitude and an environment that fosters collective support, and understanding, I am confident that the sector will persevere and outlive the pandemic for centuries to come. 

 Thank you and good day.

[1] https://en.unesco.org/sites/default/files/special_issue_en_culture_covid-19_tracker.pdf