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Toff de Venecia: Artist in the House

Jojo G. Silvestre



TOFF with his constituents in the 4th District of Pangasinan.

Unmistakably, Christopher “Toff” de Venecia has kept his first love in his heart.

A writer, director and an actor from his youth, Toff, today, represents the 4th District of Pangasinan in the House of Representatives where he holds the post of Deputy Majority Leader.

While he has taken a break from theater work, he has chosen to support the creative sector in the law-making body by convening the 50-some-member Arts and Culture and Creative Industries Bloc of the current 18th Congress. He serves as the chair of the Special Committee on Creative Industry and Performing Arts.

Not surprisingly, Toff soldiered on, addressing the concerns of his committee as the country coped with the challenges brought about by the pandemic and, with it, the lockdown which practically paralyzed the creative sector.

Non-traditional politician
Aware of his credible and dedicated performance in the House, as well as his credentials as a public person in the arts, we included Toff in our initial list of promising men and women of the new decade last Sunday, 10 January, and with him, we start with our series on our chosen 100, the rest of whom we will reveal in the coming weeks.

That Toff is the offspring of seasoned politicians former Speaker Jose de Venecia and former Representative Gina de Venecia, the latter herself the daughter of post-war movie mogul Doc Jose Perez, does not automatically relegate him to the usual category of traditional politicians because his approach is fresh and inspiring, and he has chosen an advocacy and concern that, for the longest time, had not been given the appropriate attention of our country’s lawmakers.

We, thus, see Toff as someone who, in the coming years, would play a significant role in the creative industries which, many foresee, would contribute significantly to economic and social development. This is especially significant since Filipinos have already shown their mettle in the world stage, and with Toff leading his generation in the quest to uplift the workers in the sector, we can expect our artists and craftsmen to grow, succeed and prosper even more.

Daily Tribune sought out Toff who gladly shared with us his thoughts on the arts, culture and creative industries.

INSTITUTIONALIZING support for Filipino artists and craftsmen is a top priority of Representative Toff de Venecia.

Daily Tribune (DT): What is your passion? What have you been focusing on?

Toff de Venecia (TDV): Creative industries. Through my work with ACCIB and the Special Committee, we are advancing several key legislations that will help pump-prime our Philippine creative industries — particularly the Philippine Creative Industries Act, the Film Philippines Act, the Freelance Protection Act and other congressional initiatives to help protect, promote and bolster arts and culture, as well as our creative industries.

DT: What is the status of the Philippine Creative Industries Act?

TDV: Currently, the Philippine Creative Industries Act is in the technical working group stage in the committee which I chair. The Film Philippines Act is set to be tackled in the committee as well, so as to provide fiscal incentives to film and television companies who will showcase our culture and promote local tourism. The Freelance Protection Act is pending approval in the Committee on Labor which will essentially provide the necessary protection to our millions of freelancers by institutionalizing contracts, hazard pay and night shift differential and providing a special lane within the BIR so as to help usher them into the formal economy.

DT: What are the challenges of the creative industries? What is still needed?

TDV: Currently, there are many challenges facing our creative industries. Vis-à-vis our ASEAN neighbors, we are lagging behind in terms of the export of creative goods, and we’ve identified the reasons for this based on our consultations with industry stakeholders.


RELAXING in the midst of Pangasinan greenery, Toff contemplates the future of Philippine arts.

Through congressional action, we will be seeking to address these pain points and bottlenecks in their overall value chain. The sector is also too broad and there is a need to generate more data so that the policies we’re putting forth may be guided by it and so we’re working this out in partnership with NEDA and the DTI.

Some sectors within the creative industries like live events, fashion, animation, software and game development have certainly stepped up, but others remain fragmented. Ergo, there is a need to organize and consolidate each sector, with the energy and initiative starting from the private sector. Hopefully, the lack of a governance framework for the creative industries will be addressed by our proposed bills.

Daddy Joe and Mommy Gina
DT: Who do you consider your mentor in your profession and in life? What did you learn from them?

TDV: My mentors in public service are my parents — Joe and Gina de Venecia, both of whom served in the institution that I work in now. They taught me to think of others before myself, which is really the core of being a public servant. In terms of congressional work, I’m privileged to have several mentors in the field — Congresswoman Sharon Garin, Congresswoman Stella Quimbo, Congressman Joey Salceda and Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda. They are role models as much as north stars in various areas of my work.

DT: What has been your greatest accomplishment in life, profession and in your field?

TDV: My greatest accomplishment, I would say, is the inclusion of creative freelancers in the scope of beneficiaries for the stimulus bill which Congress passed last year. It was an uphill battle amidst competing interests and limited resources but our determination, in partnership with empowered business support organizations like the National Live Events Coalition, ensured their inclusion in the cash assistance programs of government which to date are slowly being rolled out.

Another accomplishment would be the creation of the Special Committee on Creative Industry and the Performing Arts which only happened in October of last year under then Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano. Our constant lobbying and awareness-building in the Lower House in partnership with the 50-some members of ACCIB led to a now-institutionalized attention which the State will provide this sector that has long been neglected.

DT: What did you learn about yourself in 2020?

TDV: There’s no “I” in team.

DT: What do you intend to pursue in 2021?

TDV: This is the United Nations International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. We have a lot of plans and programs in store for our local creative industries in partnership with other government agencies. And hopefully, 2021 will be the year that we get to pass a lot of key legislation that will pump-prime the creative industry sector.

TOFF wth his parents Joe and Gina de Venecia.

On his aunt, Marichu Vera Perez Maceda
DT: Where do you see yourself in your career and profession 10 years from now?

TDV: I see myself closely working with our local creative industries, whether in a private or public sector capacity.

DT: Who is your hero? Why?

TDV: Anne Bogart. She’s a contemporary theater director and philosopher. We have unfinished business. I hope to be able to join someday the Columbia University Directing Program which she heads.

DT: Have you totally forgotten theater?

TDV: I am a stakeholder and actively working in the creative industries as a producer and director for theater. Hopefully, I’ll be able to direct and produce original works again when our industry has recovered from the pandemic.

DT: Who is the living person who has had the greatest influence in your life?

TDV: She passed away recently but having gotten to know her better through her colleagues, I would say it’s my aunt, Marichu Vera Perez Maceda, who is one of the grand dames of Philippine Cinema. She was the driving force behind storied institutions like the Film Development Council of the Philippines, Film Academy of the Philippines, Experimental Cinema of the Philippines, Metro Manila Film Festivals, Movie Workers Welfare Fund and Philippine Motion Picture Producers Association of the Philippines.

I didn’t realize that the work I was doing in theater and now government is similar to what she had done for the entirety of her life — putting herself in the service of our movie workers. In her generation, she continued the legacy which my grandfather Doc Jose Perez started when he founded Sampaguita Pictures. Now in my generation, I plan to do the same.