13 Artists awardees take tough stand vs. return of Marcos-Duterte in Malacañang

In the news lately was the strong position that the recipients of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Thirteen Artists Award (TAA), led by National Artist BenCab, took against the possible return of the Marcos and Duterte families in Malacañang. Together, the more than 100 awardees called their position paper their “Stand for Freedom and Democracy.”

Imelda Cajipe Endaya, who belongs to the TAA Batch 1990, said she found nothing wrong about an establishment award and its recipients taking the opposite view. She explained, “The TAA is composed of activist artists who lost jobs when martial law shut down media. They are First Quarter Storm activists, EDSA Revolution participants, performance and installation collaborators in communities, graffiti art activists and woke millennials. All have common visions of social justice. The TAA is a good brand when we first came together last year to make a stand against the anti- terror bill. So this is a sequel.”

Karen Ocampo Flores (top left), Lyra Garcellano (top right) and Imelda Cajipe Endaya (center).

Karen Ocampo Flores (top left), Lyra Garcellano (top right) and Imelda Cajipe Endaya (center).

Lyra A. Garcellano (Batch 2006) reviewed how the TAA chat group that connected the awardees came to be: “In the previous year recipients of the 13 Artists Awards gathered together and started a group chat on Facebook messenger. I assumed it was the CCP’s Office of the Visual Arts Department that unintentionally bolstered that idea when it hosted the first get-together online. The activity, like many of such Zoom meetings, was created to have us discuss art-making/life during the lockdown.”

She continued, “As a consequence, a group chat in another channel was established by some TAA members. Not everyone is active. Around May 2020, there were concerns about the Anti-Terror Bill, still a bill then, and its looming passage into a law that moved people to come up with a statement against it. Given that the election is only a few months away, the movers and shakers in the group deemed it necessary to once again make a statement.”

Karen Ocampo Flores (TAA Batch 2000) added that there were signs of political divisions within the group. “The awardees convened on crafting a statement against the Anti-Terrorism Act. The initiative was mostly led by younger, more recent winners beginning from 2000. There were awardees who didn't want to sign or did not proceed to sign even if they were part of our chat group. Some were presumed to be Duterte supporters. Those who admitted to supporting Duterte refused to be identified as DDS, finding it derogatory. There were those who left the discussion because they would rather not associate with Duterte supporters.”

She recalled how the TAA chat group continued as a discussion board for news and issues that plagued artists. “No Duterte supporters remained in the group. This year, the question arose on whether or not a ‘hashtag never again’ would suffice to carry a statement for the upcoming elections. The agreement reached was to summarize a position that would raise issue against both Marcos and Duterte legacies and list down the most pressing concerns that elected leaders must address. There was dissent against the naming of names, that foreign incursion is not yet a fact, sovereignty is very much intact. And that hello, all politicians lie anyway. Just like last year, the chat group was not allowed to be a venue to contest arguments. Those who were against were simply asked whether they would sign or not. If not, the statement would proceed to its final form.”

The TAA position paper has a five-pronged definition of what kind of leadership the country needs:

  • Leaders must provide a clear, transparent and humane response to the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Leaders must address the issue of poverty, the landlessness among our farmers, oppressive wages and working conditions of workers and continuing unemployment.
  • Leaders must be accountable and hold other public officials accountable by bringing to justice all cases of corruption, negligence, gender-based violence and human rights abuses;
  • Leaders must be one with the Filipino people in upholding basic human rights and sovereignty. Academic Freedom and Press Freedom must be defended; and
  • Leaders must reject martial law and all forms of authoritarian control, and uphold the constitutional principle of civilian authority over the military at all times.

The three visual artists were asked their opinion on the role of creatives in these times. Cajipe Endaya answered, “Creatives and artists have the same role and responsibilities as all citizens, looking after good governance and protecting citizen rights. We have the gift to communicate in more sensitive, persuasive ways.”

Ocampo Flores said, “We are part of dialogues that are not exclusive to artists and art practitioners. Yet a statement issued as such remains an effective means of conveying a sectoral position, especially in the light of global inclinations to regard artists and creatives as non-essential. Creativity is an essential part of any dynamic socio-civic response.”

Garcellano said, “Like any citizen or living person in a society, everyone’s role is to make sure that people live in the most decent and dignified ways, regardless of one’s affinity or relation to them.”

How crucial are these elections at this juncture in Philippine history? Cajipe Endaya assessed them as “very crucial indeèd because our people and nation are plunged by greedy powers into the depths of poverty, hunger, violence and the pandemic. It is our moral obligation to rise up with a new version of People Power for our grandchildren’s bright future.”

Ocampo Flores said, “This is the time to junk not only the Marcoses and the Dutertes but also Gloria Arroyo as well. Junk the Communist Chinese government in the process, too, especially with the indicators of its support and funding for the villains. In my reading, the positions asserted in the TAA’s' statement can be responsibly answered to by only one contender. That is Leni Robredo. All the rest are fake opposition. I am glad that Leni has turned around the previous daang-matuwid thinking led by Mar Roxas in 2016 which was elitist and disparaged the reasoning and personalities of other candidates’ supporters.”

She continued, “Our biggest worries are firmly in place: a Commission on Elections led by Duterte appointees; the election system to be electronically served by a Duterte crony; the call by Duterte himself for the police and military to enforce peace during the election period, which we read as the very harbinger of election violence.”

Garcellano agreed that the elections are crucial, saying, “I can only wish that this country and its people receive the best political representatives that will ensure the population a life of equity. Elections do not wash away things bright and clean overnight. But we will never get close to even some form of equity if the elected representatives are the nominees just ensuring or continuing their own family’s/clan's comfortable existence. It’s very alarming that a good number of people still accept the idea that we are in this life because it is what it is. It is so defeatist.”

These artists admitted to frustration with how the regime continues to defy the rule of law. Cajipe Endaya said, “From the very start, Duterte was an authoritarian head whose language was war, who cursed God and waved the banner of a fake drug war. At the very first year, international law was defied by not standing by the Hague ruling.”

Ocampo Flores said, “The regime has toyed with the rule of law in so many ways—defied it, utterly proving that none of it applies to the President and his cohorts, weaponized it, using it time and again to delay, arrest, incarcerate and prosecute those who oppose and question him. Through the Department of Justice, it will continue to play games with the International Criminal Court to try to convince the world that the administration is pursuing judicial solutions to human rights issues raised in the international proceedings.”

Garcellano said, “I learned that if even the most basic movement is curtailed, there will be frustration. I always adhered to the tenet of one’s right to movement–to travel or even in the most general sense: To be assured that one has the freedom to, at the very least, go to the supermarket and have the right to choose to get what it is that one wants. It seems simple, but we know even such simple things have become very complex and close to impossible for the non-one percent of this country.”

She continued, “During the hard lockdown, there have been many times I understood why we must instill self-discipline to not go out, especially if we can economically afford to not go out. Even with the lifting of certain lockdown measures, I still make the choice to only go out when necessary because I know I won’t be able to afford the hospital bills should I get sick. There is logic to certain limitations, but throughout the 20 months or so, what is incredibly anger-inducing is that we have encountered the powerful minority groups being able to move about as if to clearly indicate the pandemic rules and regulations have no bearing on them.”

She asked, “Hasn’t our social news feeds been constantly peppered with reports of all these ‘erring and above the law’ personalities? The feudal behavior of this country is perpetually reinforced.”

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