We need to think about the cultural equivalent of the physical ‘Build, Build, Build.’
The Duterte Administration’s multibillion-peso infrastructure program dubbed ‘Build, Build, Build’ is moving apace. When most of its projects are finished by mid-2020s, they will transform the Philippines into a modern country, and Metro Manila, Cebu, and Davao into more livable metropolitan areas. But in the flurry of carrying out the ambitious physical infrastructure, we seem to be forgetting our equally important cultural infrastructure.
Our architectural heritage is crumbling. Centuries-old churches are in neglect. Manila was once reputed to have the largest collection of art deco buildings in the developing world, but many of them have been torn down and the remaining ones will soon face the bulldozer. The Cultural Center of the Philippines is poorly maintained. Historical houses look forlorn for lack of support for rehabilitation. Many of our historical sites are unmarked. While the National Museums have been upgraded (e.g. on Natural History), cities and towns have no center of culture to speak of, depriving schoolchildren of the opportunity to better appreciate their country’s heritage.
Meanwhile, the country is experiencing a surge in the number of museum-goers, and the local art scene has become very vibrant. A feverish art auction market has developed and art exhibits and fairs are being mounted with greater frequency. As the Philippine economy improves, people’s demand for culture is palpably being felt. The problem is that the government has been slow in responding to people’s thirst for these “higher things in life.”
Public museums, art galleries, and libraries are woefully inadequate, in number and in quality. The challenges include collection and prioritization of specimens and exhibits; manpower skill deficits in highly-specialized fields of ethnography, archeology, and cultural preservation and curation; inadequate equipment; and limited budgets. Above these is the lack of a Department of Culture that can oversee a more ambitious nationwide infrastructure as well as an art- and specimen- collection program.
We need to think about the cultural equivalent of the physical ‘Build, Build, Build.’ After all, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, what is the point of having a gleaming highway or a subway to get there, if there is no there?