Bohol First District Representative Rene L. Relampagos questioned the budget cut against the National Center for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in his interpellation during the plenary deliberation of the 2017 proposed national budget or the General Appropriations Act of 2017 at the House of Representatives last Wednesday, Sept 28.
He said, “there is an urgency and necessity to look into the condition of NCCA”.
“I come from a province where we give a priority to the development and preservation of culture and the arts. Our vision is for Bohol to be a prime eco-cultural tourism destination in the country,”the solon said.To realize this vision, he boasted that Bohol ensured that “a necessary mechanism” is in place within the provincial government through the Culture and the Arts Office.
His interpellation centered on the budget cut suffered by NCCA for the proposed budget from P 188 million in the 2016 budget to P 31 million in the proposed 2017 budget. “How can NCCA perform its mandate when they are not given sufficient ammunition and armaments? Why is there a big cut? What is the explanation for this?” he asked.“While the government’s budget for 2017 has increased by 11.6 percent, how can the budget of this agency, with a very important role, has been decreased by 83 percent?”
NCCA budget comes from two sources: the General Appropriations Act and theNEFCA, or the National Endowment Fund for Culture and Arts, which is NCCA’s share from the proceeds of the travel tax. The reason for the budget cut according to Rep. Maria Carmen Zamora, of Compostela Valley and sponsor of the bill, was thatlocal fund sourcing shall be taken from the NEFCA. However, according to the sponsor herself, NEFCA has also been “substantially reduced” by P 254M.
He again questioned, “How will they (NCCA) be managed when the source of the other fund has also been substantially decreased? How would you reconcile this?”
In its current set-up, NCCA has 34 personnel with plantilla positions serving the entire country. NCCA further said that they have 98 consultants. In response to Rep. Relampagos’ questions, NCCA confirmed that that the 98 consultants are all contractual employees, hence, do not receive benefits and have no Philhealth coverage. These consultants have worked with NCCA for quite a time – some 20 years, some 15 years and some 10 years.
“And is it correct to say that when these contractual employees reach retirement age, they will not receive retirement benefits, terminal pay, monetization of leaves and pension?” he asked. NCCA answered, “Yes”.Stating the obvious, the lawmaker raised, “What will happen if they retire and need money for their own needs in their old age?”NCCA said that they have been asking, since time immemorial, for additional plantilla but their request has not been addressed by Congress.
Relampagos rallied for additional personnel in NCCA like the proposals for the police, the armed forces and the Department of Education (DepEd) which previously held the mandate for culture when it was still the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS).
When further probed by the Congressman on what specific programs stand to be prejudiced by the budget-cut, NCCA answered cultural mapping and that they will now fail to address the request of various provinces which seeks to avail the services of the agency. NCCA noted that Bohol is among those affected because it is the recipient of several NCCA projects.
More specifically, NCCA named six projects directly affected by the budget-cut: Scholarship for the Arts; EskwelaTalyer (a project for the out-of-school youths); School for Living Traditions; Cultural Heritage Mapping Project; Centro Rizal; and the Filipino Heritage Festival, among others.
“When people ask me, ‘What do you think would be the best attraction of your province?’ My consistent answer is, ‘It is not the chocolate hills, not the Loboc river cruise, not the man-made forest not the adventure activities, not the dolphin watching nor the tarsier watching, not the heritage sites. For me the best attraction of the province is the Boholano people. Culture defines us as a people, culture defines our identity, culture defines our nationhood. And I believe that we should give the NCCA sufficient support for them to be able to accomplish their mandates under the law,” he emphatically said.
“The budget-cut is material to the very heart and soul of NCCA, how can we, in conscience, accept this and not do anything about it?”, the congressman said. To this, he called Congress to support NCCA and proposed the following recommendations: first is the grant of 31 additional key and permanent positions being asked by NCCA; and second, find means to substantially restore the cut made in the proposed budget and make the necessary representations with the Department of Budget and Management as well as the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations.