A Senate bill for artists

Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares flanked by Baltazar Endriga, Lisa Macuja-Elizalde and Grace Nono, while in the back row, from left, are Atty. Joenar Pueblo, Dennis Marasigan, Eghai Roxas, Fernando Josef, Manny Garibay, Ronnie Lazaro and a theater artist from Thailand as guest

On Monday last week, the officers of the Artists Welfare Project, Inc. or AWPI presented an excerpt from Ugoy ng Duyan at the Senate floor, preliminary to the manifestation of Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares of her filing of Senate Bill No. 2758 or “Artists’ Welfare Protection and Information Act of 2015.”

This has since made the rounds of social media, earning numerous FB likes and general appreciation from artist-friends we know.

AWPI president Nanding Josef, veteran theater artist and long-time artistic director of Tanghalang Filipino, and AWPI executive director Grace Nono, legendary singer, first posted the organization’s notable achievement and have asked friends to share the call for support.

Section 2 of the landmark bill states, as Declaration of Policy: “The State shall protect and promote the rights of an artist to be considered as a person actually engaged in cultural work and to benefit from all legal, social, and economic advantages pertaining to the status of workers.”

Among others, the bill seeks to provide for hospitalization benefits and the establishment of a housing community for artists and cultural workers, or an Artists Village. This feature appears to be particularly welcome to most artists, as we’ve all heard of this notion before, yet it has only stayed as such.

But it’s the health benefits that lie at the core of the legislative provision. Our friends at AWPI have long lamented the plight of artists who have been striken with illnesses, resulting in spontaneous efforts among the arts and culture community to raise funds through instant music concerts or sales of donated artworks.

The bill was drafted by Atty. Joenar Pueblo, a filmmaker from Iloilo, whom we understand to have been recommended to AWPI by our good friend Rock Drilon.

The bill’s Explanatory Note reads:

“The 1987 Philippine Constitution in Article XIV, Section 14 provides that ‘The State shall foster the preservation, enrichment, and dynamic evolution of a Filipino national culture based on the principle of unity in diversity in a climate of free artistic and intellectual expression.’ The provision is complemented by Section 17 in the same Article, ‘the State shall recognize, respect, and protect the rights of indigenous cultural communities to preserve and develop their cultures, traditions, and institutions. It shall consider these rights in the formulation of national plans and policies.’

“Despite these constitutional provisions, our artists whether engaged in visual or performing arts have not acquired a professional working status and standardized benefits as those enjoyed by regular workers. They are not afforded medical, disability, retirement, death insurance and housing benefits despite their contributions to the country’s cultural development.

“The United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) General Conference in 1980 adopted the Recommendations concerning the Status of Artist. As a standard-setting instrument, it aims to strengthen policies and measures around the professional, social, and economic status of artists, thus enabling them to work, create, and organize successfully in an enabling environment. It recognized that ‘the artists face increasing challenges and opportunities because they operate in a globalized and digital age, marked by economic and/or social transitions, shifting communication, trade and consumption trends, and rapidly evolving technologies.’

“In view of these recommendations, it is the duty of the State to enact and implement appropriate policies for the welfare and protection of artists, including members of the indigenous cultural communities. The Bill seeks to achieve these objectives.

“Immediate approval of this measure is requested.”

Among other salient features are the following: “(a) Improve the social security, labor, medical, and legal conditions of the artist, whether employed or self-employed, taking into account their contributions to cultural development, through a system of accreditation (b) Help create and sustain a culture encouraging freedom of artistic expression and communication, and to facilitate the release of necessary resources in developing the artists’ creative talents (c) Recognize artists as professionals, granting them the corresponding rights and privileges, to enable them to collectively defend their common interests (d) Protect the artists’ sensibilities and material rights over their works or performances, or any other use made of them to confirm their artistic dignity”

As the usual early bashers have noted, however, an antsy area may be what defines an artist. Would a simple declaration that one is an artist suffice? An accreditation system is proposed, to include indigenous artists and cultural performers. This will probably need some strengthening.

At the core of Article II (Rights and Privileges), Section 5 on “Benefits,” it states: “An accredited artist shall have the rights and privileges to be provided with PhilHealth, SSS/GSIS, Home Development Mutual Fund (Pag-IBIG), and shall be entitled to all other benefits as provided by the pertinent provisions of law.”

Section 6 on “Artist Education and Information” states: “An accredited artist shall have the rights and privileges of free legal aid and information, medical assistance, hospitalization, and options for Second/Alternative Careers.”

Other provsions include a 10-percent discount privilege on purchase of medicines, professional fees of attending physician/s in hospitals, medical and dental services, diagnostic and laboratory fees in hospitals and medical facilities, even travel fare. Special provisions covering payment of taxes and the matter of burial services are also included.

For the full draft of the bill, check out http://www.senate.gov.ph/lis/bill_res.aspx?congress=16andq=SBN-2758

Is it a pie-in-the-sky affair? We hope not.

Since its incorporation in 2007, AWPI has shown resolve in helping out the artists’ community. Apart from Nanding Josef and Grace Nono, other prime movers are known to us as accomplished and credible veterans in their respective fields.

They include film actor and director Ronnie Lazaro as vice president musician and civil servant Karina Constantino-David as chairperson theatre actor Mae Paner as vice-chairperson, prima ballerina Lisa Macuja-Elizalde as treasurer painter and educator Karen Ocampo-Flores as secretary) and arts manager Baltazar Endriga as adviser. Original incorporators included CCP President Raul Sunico, playwright Nicholas Pichay, dancer Edna Vida, theater luminaries Dennis Marasigan, Madeleine Nicolas, and Alyansa chair Glecy Atienza, and playwright Jose Victor Torres.

Since last year, the group has orchestrated efforts at facilitating Philhealth registration and payment and providing medical and legal information services. It has also organized lecture-workshops on intellectual property rights, arts management, second careers, financial literacy, bookkeeping, and preventive healthcare for its members.

The group realizes that the bill as drafted may need polishing, and thus calls on everyone to help in this matter by providing positive inputs.

Nanding Josef issues the following call:

“Let’s all support Senator Grace Poe, as she champions a great cause for the Filipino artists through a policy measure that she declares as being ‘aimed at improving the professional, social and economic status of a larger number of workers in Philippine Culture and Arts.’

“Let’s all hope this bill gets approved. It will secure the future of many hardworking, selfless Filipino artists whose hearts and minds are passionately focused more on expressing their art that edifies what is beautiful, good and hopeful about us as a people, and exposes the reality and truth about the evils in our human society. This passion oftentimes gets so consuming that many of these heroic men and women of integrity completely become unmindful of their own welfare and security, only to be confronted eventually by the reality of aging, of illnesses, homelessness, abject poverty and most painfully, after all these dedication and sacrifices, of being ignored and forgotten. With heads held up high, we, Filipino artists must say that, a nation that forgets and ignores its own artists-heroes and their contributions to our country and our people will forever be a nation without a soul and spirit, and will never, ever become a great nation.”

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