Dumaguete City

‘Art not in a vacuum’: Dumaguete artists oppose ‘smart city’ project

Robbin M. Dagle
‘Art not in a vacuum’: Dumaguete artists oppose ‘smart city’ project

Members of the Youth Advocates Through Theater Arts (YATTA) held a creative protest against the proposed 174-hectare 'smart city' reclamation project in Dumaguete City last Wednesday, July 21 along Rizal Boulevard.

Hersley Casero/YATTA

‘An undertaking of this magnitude – one that can cause irreversible and catastrophic damage to interconnected ecosystems – should not only undergo public scrutiny, but careful and thorough deliberations from all sectors as well,’ say writers and artists from Dumaguete

Writers and artists who found home in Dumaguete City, an important cultural hub in the southern Philippines, registered their opposition to its controversial P23-billion ($459.36-million) “smart city” reclamation project.

“Art does not exist in a vacuum – it is grounded and informed by the sociopolitical struggles of our time. As such, we strive to commit in illuminating, critiquing, and challenging injustices that impact our society and immediate community,” said a statement by concerned writers and artists of Dumaguete.

As of writing, the statement had 108 signatories, according to writer Ian Rosales Casocot, who spearheaded the initiative alongside writers Sigrid Gayangos, Tara de Leon, and Renz Torre. Casocot first posted the statement on his social media accounts on Thursday, July 22. 

The artists raised their concern about the “railroading” of the project, which was only revealed publicly during a July 7 City Council session when councilors voted to give Mayor Felipe Remollo authority to sign a joint venture (JV) agreement with contractor E.M. Cuerpo, Inc.

“An undertaking of this magnitude – one that can cause irreversible and catastrophic damage to interconnected ecosystems – should not only undergo public scrutiny, but careful and thorough deliberations from all sectors as well,” the statement read. 

Dumaguete’s artists also expressed solidarity with the city’s residents and fisherfolk who will be most affected by the project, as well as the scientists, youth groups, officials, and lawyers organizing the resistance against the project.

Aside from its rich marine biodiversity, Dumaguete is also known as the “Cultural Center of the South,” according to Casocot, himself a multi-awarded writer. 

“We have vibrant literary, visual arts, theatre, and music communities here, many of the groups being pioneers in their respective fields,” Casocot said.

Dumaguete City is also home to national artists Edith Tiempo for literature and Eddie Romero for film. The city also hosts the prestigious Silliman University National Writers’ Workshop, the first creative writing program in Asia, founded by Tiempo and her husband, Edilberto.

Gayangos, who authored the statement, said that while changes in the landscape may “drastically affect art practices and production” in a city whose beauty had inspired “a laundry list of writers and artists,” such approach to the issue may be “myopic and self-centric.”  

“Instead, I hope we can de-center the conversation and move it outside the insular world of art. I hope we can shift the focus to the vulnerable communities that will bear the brunt of all these.”

Nadagit sa Dumaguete

Like many artists and residents who now call Dumaguete home, Gayangos was actually born elsewhere, specifically in Zamboanga City.

“As with most folks here, nadagit kos Dumaguete (I was captivated by Dumaguete).” 

At first, she was hesitant to put out an initial draft of her statement, as she felt that it may overstep the city’s local artists and writers. But when Casocot asked her to write on behalf of the community, she immediately took the opportunity.

“Pretty soon, the statement was being passed around as signatories were being gathered, and I’m glad that the sentiment expressed by the statement resonated with the art community here. As individuals, we do have a voice – but as a collective, that voice becomes louder and stronger.”

Some critics have described the opposition to the project as outsiders who know nothing about the city. For Gayangos, who hails from a family of fisherfolk, she finds these sentiments “laughable.”

Ngano man kusog kaayo ta mag #FreePalestine or #PrayForMyanmar when we don’t even live there? We can make informed opinions on a matter and empathize with people who are affected – even when we are not – because being compassionate makes us human.”

(Why are we active in saying #FreePalestine or #PrayForMyanmar when we don’t even live there? We can make informed opinions on a matter and empathize with people who are affected – even when we are not – because being compassionate makes us human.) – Rappler.com