New NCCA chairman on state of culture and his plans

Photographs BY Roel Hoang Manipon for the Daily Tribune the Manila Metropolitan Theater.

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts welcomed its new chairman, Dr. Rene R. Escalante, who is the current chairman of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, succeeding Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso after he resigned as president of the Cultural Center of the Philippines by the end of June, terminating his NCCA post which should run until December.

The NCCA Board of Commissioners elected the historian and professor as the new chairman on 7 July to serve until the end of the year.

Before entering government service, Dr. Escalante was an academician, who was a professor of history at the De La Salle University and then became the chairman of its Department of History. DLSU sent him to University in Tennessee as an exchange professor in 2003.

He earned his baccalaureate degree from Saint Camillus College Seminary and his master’s degree from the Ateneo de Manila University. In 2001, he received his doctorate degree in History from the University of the Philippines in Diliman. Aside from articles in many journals, he has published three books: The American Friar Lands Policy: Its Framers, Context and Beneficiaries (2002;The Bearer of Pax Americana: The Philippine Career of William H. Taft (2007) and History of Hacienda de Imus (2013).

Dr. Escalante’s involvement with the NCCA began when he served as head of its National Committee on Historical Research from 2007 to 2009. He was appointed as a commissioner at the NHCP in 2010 and was elected as its chairman in 20 February 2017, becoming part of the NCCA board.

Aside from these posts, he was appointed as member of the Commission on Higher Education Technical Panel on History, serving from 2015 to 2016. He has also served as the executive director of the National Quincentennial Committee. He is currently a member of the Board of Trustees of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission and was also appointed in June 2022 as head of the EDSA People People Power Commission.

Dr. Rene R. Escalante of NHCP is the new NCCA chairman.

In a recent interview, Dr. Escalante shared his plans and thoughts on the cultural sector
(Responses have been edited for brevity):

As of now, what are your plans for the NCCA?

One thing I have to focus on will be to finish the full restoration of the Metropolitan Theater. We’re done already with practically all parts of the second floor, both the Arroceros and the Burgos wings.

And then, we have some pending things to decide on the ground floor of the two buildings and also with the courtyard along Burgos Street. By the way, you might be wondering why I am so familiar with the project. I am the one who oversees this project as soon as I assumed the chairmanship of the NHCP.

Now, the other issue we have to face is how to make the theater sustainable, considering now that — I don’t know if the pandemic is already over — but gradually we are already relaxing health protocols, so we are now in a series of projects that will be at the Met. We are also deciding whether to commercialize some portions of the Met to make it sustainable, so we will not be very dependent on the NEFCA, the endowment fund of the NCCA, and also on the GAA (General Appropriations Act). We are also thinking of the ground floor of the Burgos Wing to keep some fast-food chain, probably a 7-11 (store) or a Starbucks…so that we have a fixed income that can shoulder the utilities and also the janitorial and other regular expenses.

Similarly, I would like to get in touch with the new administrators of the CCP because it is never its intention to compete with the Cultural Center of the Philippines. So, I want to know their priorities and where they’re heading to, so that we can also plan where we are going to with the uses of this theater.

I also need to talk to the new head of the Film Development Council of the Philippines, because remember, one of the things that I revised in the old plan of the Met is to go beyond the traditional shows. That’s why we invested a lot on the cinema facility of the Met. You have heard probably in one of my press conferences I announced that we installed state-of-the-art technology as far as Dolby Atmos is concerned. So, the Met now is the biggest theater in terms of seating capacity with Dolby Atmos facility. We learned from our supplier the Met is second in Southeast Asia in terms of capacity.

The other plan for the Met is really to get in touch with universities nearby kung mayroon (if they have) cultural shows, if they think they need a good venue, which is very accessible, big enough, then Met is open to them.

Photograph by Roel Hoang Manipon for the Daily Tribune
the NCCA building, Intramuros.

Now, going beyond the Met, one of my duties is to defend the budget of NCCA before Congress.

And third is the supervision of the awarding of grants for our NEFCA beneficiaries. So, we’re supposed to decide on this before the end of the year, and these are for implementation for the fiscal year 2023.

Another thing I have on my table is the proposal to review and revise the rules of the selection of the Order of the National Artists.

Siguro ang pinaka-challenging ngayon (Maybe the most challenging thing now) is how do we recover from the pandemic? And then how do we execute now the projects and programs of the NCCA under the “new normal” set-up. Because for the last two years, karamihan sa atin (many of us are in) virtual (mode) but gradually nagshi

-shift na tayo sa (we are shifting to) physical and face-to-face presentations. So, I think for the next five months that I will be running in this office, ‘yun ‘yong ita-transition siguro natin (the transition will maybe be the focus).

And then I think there should really be a dialogue between the commission and the stakeholders, kasi kailangan rin naming marinig kung ano ang naging epekto sa kanila ng pandemya at kung ano ang mga adjustments na kailangan nilang gawin na dapat malaman namin, nang sa ganoon matugunan namin ang kanilang mga pangangailangan (because we also need to hear what are the effects of the pandemic on them and what were the adjustments that they needed to do, that we need to know, so that we can respond to their needs).

So, dialogue I think is the key here, and I hope that the stakeholders will also be very vocal and honest din, airing whatever concerns that they have. And from there, we
can integrate them into our planning.

It has been raised several times already. Ako kasi ang tingin ko, para ang isang bansa umunlad, kailangan niya munang magkaisa (In my view, for a nation to progress, it must be unified). And I think culture is a unifying factor. ‘Pag may mga usapin sa politika na maiinit, kapag nagpalabas ka ng isang cultural show at magaling ang artist, puwedeng magtabi-tabi ang magkakaaway sa politika, at kapag cocktails puwedeng mag-usap-usap (When there are heated political issues, but when you mount a cultural show and the artist is good, enemies in politics can sit side
-by-side, and during cocktails, they can talk). Imbitahin mo ‘yung (Invite the) Philharmonic Orchestra.

Second point is it is also a source of pride na kapag mayroon tayong mga cultural activities, pinapakita natin ang ating galing — pag-awit, pagtugtog, pagkanta, pagsayaw and other performances. Bumibilib tayo—kaya pala ng mga Filipino (that when we have cultural activities, we show our mettle — in singing, playing music, dancing and other performances. We believe that the Filipino can do it).
We can produce these masterpieces. Not only performances, even works of arts. So ‘yung (the) promotion of culture and the arts to the extent that we will be competing in popular world stages would really elevate our identity, our status as a nation. I also visited the Venice Biennale last February, the World Expo in Dubai, nakakataba ng puso, pinupuntahan ng mga turista, nagpapa-selfie (it warms the heart, being visited by tourists who take selfies). ‘Di ba, wow. Ito ‘yung mga kailangan natin (This is what we need) and I hope this will be sustained in the next six years.



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