Politics

The new NCCA chairman’s priorities

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THE NEWLY ELECTED National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) chairman, Rene R. Escalante, plans to focus on the full restoration and use of the Metropolitan Theater and planning for COVID-19 recovery efforts in the arts and culture sector, among others.

Mr. Escalante, who is also the current chairman of National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), was elected during a Board of Commissioners meeting at the Metropolitan Theater in Manila on July 7.

The Board of Commissioners is composed of 15 members from other government agencies, the House of Representatives, and the Senate, plus the NCCA subcommission heads.

The election was called after the resignation of Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) president and concurrent NCCA chairman Arsenio “Nick” J. Lizaso.

“We did not really expect that Nick Lizaso will give up his post [at the] end of June because we were expecting to finish [his term] but unfortunately because of some personal reasons he decided to give up the position,” Mr. Escalante said in a press conference on July 18 at the NCCA office in Intramuros.

Mr. Escalante will be serving as NCCA Chairman for the remaining six months of 2022. He will also serve as concurrent Chairman of the NHCP.

“My tenure will only be until December 2022, because I will just be serving the unexpired term of former chairman Nick Lizaso,” he said. “I’m not sure what will happen in December so let us not move beyond that date.”

Mr. Escalante is a professor of history and a former chair of the Department of History of De La Salle University Manila. He began his time in government in 2004 as secretary of the NCCA National Committee on Historical Research (NCHR) until 2007. In 2010, he was appointed Commissioner of the NHCP before he was elected agency chairman in 2017. Mr. Escalante also served as the Executive Director of the National Quincentennial Committee for the Quincentennial Commemoration in the Philippines from 2020 to 2021.

THE METROPOLITAN THEATERFor 2022, the NCCA has an allotted National Endowment Fund for Culture and the Arts (NEFCA) of P500.4 million — P112 million for administrative and operations; and P388.4 million for 264 projects nationwide — and P26.9 million from the annual General Appropriations Act (GAA).

The newly elected chairman noted that his office is currently at the planning stage for several projects.

First among his priorities is to finish the full restoration of the Metropolitan Theater. The theater’s restoration is currently in its third and final phase. (related story:www.bworldonline.com/arts-and-leisure/2021/08/11/388298/a-long-awaited-revival/).

“We have some pending things to decide on the ground floor of the two buildings, and also with courtyard along the Burgos wing,” said Mr. Escalante who was also the project’s overseer.

He assured reporters that no part of the building was severely affected by the fire on June 17. Mr. Escalante said that the area where the fire occurred was near the workers’ barracks where the old theater seats and costumes were kept in storage.

Some of the seats which were in good condition were donated to the cultural center in Sorsogon and the old costumes left in storage were not disposed of “because of the possibility that they might have some owners,” he explained.

“The impact [of the fire] was minimal and the items that were damaged will no longer be used by the theater,” he said.

Also on the agenda for the theater is planning for the venue’s sustainability.

“We are deciding on whether to commercialize portions of Met to make it sustainable. So, we are not very dependent on the NEFCA or the GAA,” he said, adding that there is the option to open food and beverage establishments “for income to shoulder utilities and regular expenses.”

Another area of focus for the 990-seat main theater is maximizing its use for shows. Negotiations for shows this year are ongoing with National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab and National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes.

Mr. Escalante also added that he wants to get in touch with nearby universities which are welcome to host programs or culture shows there.

“If they (students) need a good venue, it is very accessible and big enough. This is open to them,” he said.

COORDINATIONMr. Escalante’s second priority is to meet with the new heads of the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) and the CCP.

On July 6, veteran actor Tirso Cruz III took his oath of office as the new Chairperson of the FDCP.

“One of the things that I revised in the old plan the Met is to go beyond the traditional shows. That’s why we invested a lot on the cinema facility of the Met,” he said.

The theater’s cinema is now equipped with a Dolby Atmos cinema system. Mr. Escalante hopes that more Filipino films and remastered classics will be available for screening.

The ticket prices for shows at the Met, Mr. Escalante said, are targeted to not go beyond four figures.

“It’s never our intention to compete with the Cultural Center. I want to know their priorities and where they are heading to so that we can also plan,” he said.

The CCP has yet to officially announce its new administrators.

REVISING NATIONAL ARTIST RULESThe third priority is the supervision of the awarding grants for NEFCA beneficiaries which will be decided on before the end of the year. The grants will be for implementation in the 2023 fiscal year.

The fourth priority is the proposal to review and revise the rules on the selection of the Order of the National Artists.

“In the course of our deliberation, we were able to identify some areas that need to be reviewed. So, we created a committee [whose] primary purpose is to come up with some proposals on how to enhance the selection process of the National Artist,” Mr. Escalante said.

As for the pandemic recovery of the arts and culture sector, Mr. Escalante said that a dialogue between the agency and the stakeholders is the first step in identifying the best way to help.

“Kailangan din naming marinig kung ano ang naging effect sa kanila ng pandemiya at adjustments na kailangan nilang gawin na dapat malaman namin nang sa ganoon ay matugunan namin ang kanilang pangangailangan (We need to know how they were affected by the pandemic to know the adjustments we have to make to provide them of their needs),” he said.

“I hope that stakeholders will also be very open and honest in sharing whatever concern they have,” he added.

Lastly, Mr. Escalante wants to make sure the election of the new chairperson will push through as scheduled in January 2023.

While his office is currently in the planning stage, other priorities include the continuation of the agency’s online programs to gain a wider reach, awareness, and participation; and preparing programs that give focus on the importance of historical research.

As for more long-term projects, he said: “I have things in mind, but I decided to keep it first for myself because I don’t want to be presumptuous.” — Michelle Anne P. Soliman