A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Advancing the Mindanao Arts and Culture Agenda

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 03 July) – In the run up to the inauguration of President Rody Duterte, a number of civil society groups had their own summit to bring to the attention of the new administration their concerns for their respective sectors. Thus, there were summits among the groups of women (led by Gabriella), the indigenous people and other sectors.  At the national (in Metro Manila) and Mindanao levels (in Davao City) artists and cultural workers also held their summits.

The Mindanao Summit of Artists and Cultural Workers was spearheaded by the Musicians and Artists for Duterte (MAD) who convened a DuArts PISTA (Makisaya sa Masayang Pangulo) at the Matina Town Square in Davao City last Friday, 1 July 2016.  More than 200 individual artists  and performing groups(from both the mainstream and peripheral across Mindanao as well as from Manila) joined the First DuArts PISTA Festival for performances, art exhibits and a forum.  Name known singers, musicians and performers associated with the Mindanao arts movement – Joey Ayala, Popong Landero, Lolita Carbon, Chad Borja,  Maan Chua, Gauz Obenza, the Kaliwat, the Kalumon and Kathara and a wide range of bands traversing all kinds of music genres – they were all there jamming with artists among the millennials who are just making their mark.  This was truly a gathering of Mindanawon artists and cultural workers from across the various artistic and cultural fields celebrating the best of Mindanawon culture.  The whole evening of July 1 echoed with the colors, textures, sounds and music distinctly Mindanawon.

At the forum that began the event attended by the organizers of this event and key cultural workers and artists, there was a discussion on how to advance the agenda of the Mindanao arts and culture sector.  A summary of the sharing and discussions as follows:


  1. We are gathered together with the aspirations to promote Mindanao arts and culture believing that windows of opportunities have arisen because of the Duterte Presidency. Since he is from Mindanao and he has a number of advisers from Mindanao, we assume, they would be interested in making sure Mindanao’s arts and culture will be promoted.
  1. We hope to see a culture-based governance system under the Duterte presidency, meaning we have to situate arts within the broader perspective of CULTURE.  This means that the entire bureaucracy and not just DepEd should promote culture within its program plan of action (following the example of the Republic of Bhutan).
  1. We want Mindanao’s artists and their works (songs, theatre, music, visual arts, films, etc.) be more projected at the national level to counter the dominance of Manila’s imperial hold on culture and the arts. From there, we dream of the projection of Mindanao arts’ expressions to the global stage, so that the growing popularity of Filipino arts will include works from Mindanawon artists.
  1. We week greater collaboration with our colleagues in other parts of the country, and of course, Manila which has the dominance in terms of public and private institutions promoting Pinoy arts. This collaboration should also be between mainstream (celebrities) and peripheral artists so that there is a process of continuing mutuality.
  1. As artists and cultural workers need to be provided material support, we hope that the business and marketing side will flourish as businessmen-artists get involved in making sure that there is sustainability in support of artists’ needs as well as providing venues and occasions for showcases and festivals.  But the business side should be integrated into principles of ecological sustainability that also promote equality and solidarity.                                                                     B. SPECIFIC SUGGESTIONS:
  1. De-centralize the State’s national arts institutions, e.g. NCCA, CCP, etc. so that a) accessibility to grants is facilitated following the principles of federalism, b) cultural initiatives are not determined only from the center but in all other locations in the country where populations converge and there are cultural initiatives from below.  In this connection, set up a MINDANAO Commission or Agency for Culture and the Arts, located in a city in Mindanao, fully supported by the State with supplementary assistance from the private sector. Thus the need to look into how arts and culture budgets are allocated, to make sure decision-making and giving out grants are not monopolized at the center, namely Manila.
  1. Look for ways to build a Center that could be a performing arts center to showcase talents and artistic works in a number of cities in Mindanao.
  2. Work with FILSCAP to promote songwriters and performers, in the way that  it has supported the Cebu-based Song Fest. Also look into how the national office could assist Mindanawon songwriters to secure their rights to their songs, etc. Collaborate with other Manila-based groups, institutions and agencies who are interested in partnering with Mindanawon artists and cultural workers, but always in consideration of what Mindanao can specifically offer.
  3. Have a Directory of artists and cultural workers in Mindanao for easy reference
  4. Tap into social media to promote individuals and groups that could go viral and attract national and international attention.
  5. Set up a FaceBook wall or any other social media outlet to connect all Mindanawon artists and cultural workers.
  6. Ask the organizing committee of this event (Popong, JoAnn, Jack, Danny, Eddie et al) to continue being the Group’s committee to provide follow up to this event through discussions, etc. in the hope that there can be a yearly festival like the DuArts PISTA.

Meanwhile a group in Manila – composed of `Mindanao artists (even those based abroad but were reached through social media), artists, playwrights, art critics and representatives of CCP, PAAEd, BP/Philstage, TP/AWPI) met a few times in order to discuss the national agenda of cultural workers and artists to be presented to the Duterte Presidency. In the process, they drafted a Manifesto for a Blueprint of a New National Strategy In the Arts and Culture Sector, which they titled FORWARD CULTURE FOR GOOD.  The paper posits that “Arts and Culture develop the core values of the people which collectively becomes the soul of the nation. Because of this it stands side by side as co-equal pillar with the economic and political systems of every society.”

The Blueprint states that the group supports the 10-point economic and landmark legislative agenda of the Duterte administration but adds five more items the agenda for Arts and culture:  1) Arts and culture access to all; decentralize all resources, assets and programs of key cultural institutions, including foreign embassies and consulates; 2) support arts and culture as economic players towards the flowering of arts and culture as creative industry; 3) develop a national policy on culture and arts; 4) listen to and learn from the locals by providing them with a platform to identify them and support the accreditation of their arts and culture; including the retrieval and conservation of indigenous and people’s arts and works; and 5) create a Task Force to oversee this whole process.

In the heart of Mindanawon artists and cultural workers today is the hope that truly “change in coming” as they assert themselves to make sure Mindanao does not remain peripheral to the flowering of the country’s arts and culture movement given the windows of opportunity that they assume could be provided by the new State dispensation.  Six years from now, we shall see if this hope was founded on a realistic but optimistic assumption!

[Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is Academic Dean of the Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. He is author of several books, including Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations, and two books on Davao’s history launched in December 2015 — Davao in the Pre-Conquest Era and the Age of Colonization and Si Menda u gang Baganin’ng gitahspan nga mao si Mangulayon. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw)]