A Puppy in the NCCA Window?
Is culture going to the dogs? We're asking because, as we write this, the beleaguered NCCA Board is facing another acid test with the receipt of a "desire letter" expressing Malacanang's preference for the appointment of Education Undersecretary Labrador as NCCA Acting Chairman.
The "desire letter" is the latest in a series of what could only be perceived as state control and intrusion into the country's cultural affairs. Malacanang has previously succeeded in installing NCCA leaders who are not from the ranks of the active culture sector and were largely perceived as unpopular.
True, Malacanang is vested with the exclusive right, power and prerogative to appoint men and women to head national government agencies. But it must do so guided by the principles of good governance, transparency and respect for institutional history. It must not lose track of the agencies' innate culture and the dynamics of sectoral participation and consensus building among vaious constituencies.
NCCA's unique history as an agency born out of the concept of people empowerment and sectoral self-governance should have been taken into account. This important organizational premise has, unfortunately, been lost on both the national leadership and the chosen minions it appointed to run the organization. This is also the main reason why the NCCA always finds itself in such a messy state of affairs with charges of excessive and autocratic management styles shadowing its leaders.
And who is Usec Labrador that Malacanang has anointed as successor to its previous legally problematic appointee? We do not know her cultural and artistic background. We only know that she is the Department of Education's Undersecretary for Organizations and Programs tasked with the heavy load of ensuring the organizational efficacy of the country's largest bureaucracy – a job that requires full time involvement and dedication considering the sorry state of our our country's educational system. Her mandates as Education Undersecretary require her to give full attention to the shortage of classrooms and teachers, dealing with institutional partners and stakeholders, delivery of quality educational resources such as books and teaching aids, and the achievement of quality basic education for all. Already saddled with the gamut of problems besetting the nation's educational system, Malacananang has deemed it wise for Usec Labrador to head the premier agency concerned with the development, promotion, and dissemination of our national culture, heritage and artistic expressions
The "desire letter" manifests both Malacanang's indifference to culture as a national priority and predicates its scheme to control the country's cultural resources for its own purposes. Usec Labrador is not only an overloaded government functionary. She is also a public official whose reputation warrants further investigation. At the Department of Education, she allegedly faces some administrative cases with the Ombudsman on some shady deals concerning the misappropriation of education funds. The case of acquisition and purchase of gardening tools intended for schools without gardens is indicative of her sense of priorities. An enquiry with the Ombudsman's office is definitely in order, as the NCCA cannot afford to have another leader with the potential of misappropriating public funds. After all, Labrador is not known in DepEd circles as "Usec Kubrador" for nothing. According to sources, the only reason why her cases do not prosper in the Ombudsman Office is her close affiliation with the powers-that- be, particularly to House Speaker Jose De Venecia.
As NCCA's mandates implicate the formation of Filipino cultural character and identity, it is not good for the agency to have a leader whose integrity and sense of political patronage is under a heavy cloud of suspicion. Usec Labrador must answer persistent questions about her role in the 2004 presidential bid of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo where she was alleged to be GMA's money bag in charge of doling out campaign funds to principals and school heads. What Jocjoc Bolante was to the infamous fertilizer scam, Usec Labrador has to prove otherwise in terms of electoral politicking and maneuvering in the education community during the 2004 elections.
The culture sector is not lacking of leaders with solid experience in the study, practice, management and dissemination of arts and culture without the baggage of ill repute from the spoils of political patronage. The NCCA Board must be resolute against Malacanang's intrusion into the country's cultural affairs in general and the agency's operations in particular. It must choose leaders who will uphold the best principles of public governance, transparent and truly representative of the ideals and aspirations of the culture community, and assertive of the greater cultural interest of the Filipino people.