MANILA, Philippines – "Das a las of nonsense!"
Quoting comedian Mariano "Pugo" Contreras, this is how Buhay Representative Lito Atienza described the proposed 2017 budget of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), amounting to P31 million ($641,265.65).
The government agency's proposed budget is significantly lower than its 2016 budget of P188 million ($3.89 million).
"Wala akong alam na departamento na binawasan ng ganitong kalaking halaga (I don't know of any other department with such a reduced budget)," Atienza said during plenary deliberations of the budget at the House of Representatives on Tuesday, September 27.
He called the budget a "big insult" to the competence and capacity of Filipinos to develop the country's culture and arts.
Sponsoring the NCCA's proposed budget, Compostela Valley 1st District Representative Maria Carmen Zamora explained that the government agency actually requested P162 million ($3.35 million) but was only alloted P31 million "for the reason that is beyond also the understanding of people from NCCA."
Bohol 1st District Representative Rene Relampagos asked about the reason behind the cut.
"I can only quote the answer of the DBM…. What has been said to them was that the cut is due to the fact that locally funding, sourcing shall instead be taken from the NEFCA," said Zamora, vice chairperson of the House committee on appropriations.
She explained that the NCCA has two sources of funding: the NEFCA or the National Endowment Fund for Culture and the Arts, and the General Appropriations Act.
"[But] the allocation from NEFCA has also been reduced. Whatever further reason for that, even NCCA and this representation could still not find the right answer except that DBM wants it sourced from NEFCA," Zamora added.
The NEFCA is a fund meant exclusively for the implementation of culture and arts programs and projects in the Philippines.
Zamora said there is P1.6 billion ($33.10 million) in the treasury under NEFCA, but P600 million ($12.41 million) of this is seed capital that cannot be used by the NCCA.
The agency's proposed budget from NEFCA amounts to P423 million ($8.75 million) – still lower than the P678-million ($14.02-million) budget from the fund in 2016.
Zamora said the lower budget under the GAA will "greatly" affect the NCCA's programs and projects, including its cultural mapping, its scholarships for the arts, and even the Sentro Rizal.
Atienza criticized the past 5 presidents of the country who "did not mind cultural needs of Filipinos."
"Paanong mangyayari na ang programa ng [Pangulong Duterte ay] magtatagumpay sa pagpapatatag sa ating pagkatao bilang Pilipino, pero 'yung kagalingan ng Pilipino 'di mabibigyan ng diin dito sa administrasyon na 'to? Kawawa po naman mga magagaling na Pilipino," he added.
(How will President Duterte's program to strengthen our identity as Filipinos succeed if the competence of the Filipino will not be emphasized under this administration? What a pity for great Filipinos out there.)
Only 34 employees
On Tuesday, Atienza also pointed out that the NCCA only has 34 employees.
Relampagos proposed that Congress "at the very least" support the NCCA by "creating and approving" 31 permanent positions that the agency asked for.
Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman also proposed not only to restore the NCCA's 2016 level of funding, but also to increase its budget further for the next calendar year.
"Let's ask [the NCCA] to submit to the committee on appropriations what is the budget which they would need to truly discharge their mandate and make the proposition that culture is the embodiment of people's heritage, and [that] culture and arts would play a very prominent role in the development and progress of [the] country," Lagman added.
Zamora said she will get back to the NCCA and ask the agency to revisit its budget proposal. – Rappler.com
$1 = P48.34
Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.