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Battling for Arts



There is an almost-war raging presently. It is in the realm of arts, and the culprit is a monumental title “Art Capital of Bicol Region.”


The recipient is Masbate, one of the two island-provinces of the Bicol Region. The giver is the office of the Department of Tourism for Region V. The authority is couched in now infamous Proclamation No. 1, with the grand phrasing “Declaring the Province of Masbate as the Art Capital of Bicol Region.”


A news item from the Philippine News Agency dated February 29, 2024, with a byline of Connie Calipay, states: “To further promote and give way to diversified art sectors in Masbate, the Department of Tourism-Bicol (DOT–5) has issued a proclamation declaring the province as the “Art Capital of Bicol.”


The same press release discloses how, in an interview, “Regional Director Herbie Aguas said Proclamation No. 001 which he signed on Tuesday also puts the Obra Masbateño Arts Festival in the official calendar of the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA) and its activities that are about to conclude this February, which is celebrated as the National Arts Month.”


The recognition has been articulated as awarded to the province of Masbate “for its efforts and enthusiasm to boost the art sectors in the Bicol Region.” It also describes the flagship project as the “Obra Masbateño Arts Festival,” which “honors the existing art sector which includes visual, literary, culinary, music, dance, photography, film, fashion design, and makeup.”


It appears that the said activities were held in February, the month designated as the National Arts Month. The truth of the matter was, the observance of the National Arts Month did not end in February but spilled over into the month of March, as, in our case, the Executive Committee on Cinema, which brought our lecture and film screening to Zamboanga, Ormoc, and Iloilo. The fact is, all over this island-republic, towns, cities and provinces were commemorating what became, for the first time, the National arts Months.


If the Department of Tourism only looked around, the entire region was also celebrating the arts in various forms.


I did read this declaration earlier but I took it not as the ultimate title but perhaps to recognize Masbate for its efforts. The tourism people should have simply done that: point to the island province and applaud their efforts. As it should have done also for the other provinces.


But what happened was something else: a government agency, in a sense, bestowed a title to one province and when the other provinces looked, they found themselves lost as to what just happened.


Was there a competition? Or a search for that capital? What were the criteria and what rubrics were used?


Given the posthaste endowment of a crown, a kingdom was created and all the other lands became just that, fiefs. Or feudal lands. Or vassals.


The immediate response was wrong: blame Masbate. The remarks were ad hominem, and resurrected ancient irrelevant issues about the island-province and the two smaller islands of Ticao and Burias, as not Bikol enough.


Who determines what Bikol is? The whipping boy in this case is always the Language. Or, to be precise, Languages. That Masbate is Bisaya and therefore cannot represent anything Bikolano. If you investigate enough, Ticao and Burias have Bikol-speaking populations. And because students in the mainland look to Albay and Camarines Sur as educational centers (the other significant part of the population see Cebu as their academic destiny), then technically you develop an educated population developing their fluency in Central Bikol languages or other forms.


The fact is we are blaming the wrong sector.


The insults heaped at the Masbate artists are unwarranted because they never sought this distinction. Tha title also instead of valuing more the artists of the islands now contributes to the diminishing of the artistic fruition happening there.


What is happening really is the age-old discrimination of the mainland against the island. That being dislocated from the center, nothing significant can take place ever on those locations.


Interesting that the same artists reeling against the ill-fashioned imperial center are now exactly assuming that position when it comes to appraising arts and artists in Masbate.


Already, some Masbate artists are confronting this issue by going the way of the rational and artistic - to ignore the critics and to continue whatever it is they are doing. There is also a move for some to ask the Tourism people to explain their position. They should be made to recognize the impact - mostly negative - of designating capitals when the world is now appreciating territories with blurred boundaries. That a capital perpetuates the terrible act of marginalization and peripheralization.


At the end of the day, if you really want to be smart-alecky, then Masbate should be proud because the Ticao/Monreal/Masbate stone was found in their territory. While other lands were subsisting on literatures written on perishable materials, some Tigaonons wrote verses on stones. Hala! Atuhi daw niyo ina! Somewhere here a laughing emoji is hidden.

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