Every once in a while, at WhenInManila.com, we get submissions of different stories from our readers from all walks of life, from all over the world. This particular email sent to me by a writer who would like to be named only as Caloy caught my attention, as it speaks, somehow, about politics and this country’s educational system but from a standpoint of not only someone so young (Caloy is only 19), but from also an artist—a population we don’t every day hear from. I don’t believe artists are exactly a minority, they are out there amongst us (I am an artist myself), but as Caloy points out in his letter, our current system has very well convinced many of us that to pursue the arts is to pursue a second-tier career.
But, personally, I like to think of artists as wallflowers. They observe, and observe, and observe, until the right time comes—the right words, the right colors, the right tunes come along, and then they speak up. And when they do, it is best we listen. They have a lot to say.
Here is what Caloy wrote.
Recommended reading: An Open Letter to a Millennial Nation
An Open Letter to VP Leni Robredo
As I was going on about my life as a broke artist, taking a break in my days of having no sufficiently-paying profession, I saw an article in my news feed in which the newly-elect Ms. Robredo headlined, asking for guidance from artists on how they might be able to help us. I got chills at the sight of the headline. I’ve been so neglected as an artist to the point that I would get chills at such slightest kind of recognition. And I have a lot to say. In the more than two years I’ve lived the life of being a broke artist (and still living it), here are a few. I hope, with much respect, it adds some color to the blank page you say you are staring at in terms of what needs to be done for us artists, Mrs. Robredo.
It starts with the current education system we have across the more than 7,000 glorious islands that is home to the countrymen that you now partially lead. The thing about our education system is that it only caters to some and not all, and unequally at that. I have a deep passion for learning and I believe I share the interest with everyone else. And yet, I dropped out of school at 17. Partly because I did not feel like I belong there. A feeling I’ve had since pre-school, or grade school at least. And I was right. Throughout my experience as a student of formal education, I’ve been made to believe that Math and the other academic subjects of the like are what matters most. Music and the Arts where I’ve always been passionate about, for as long as I can recall, were and still are undervalued. So undervalued that they didn’t even make individual books for each, fitting them all together in one book commonly known as MAPEH. There is a hierarchy within the subjects we were and still are being taught. Since the beginning, what the education system tells me is that “What you’re good at is not good enough.” A sentiment that so many people I know echo. The system places the subject/field where I believe I would not just excel but also I was most interested at on a lower pedestal. And if I’m being convinced that my niche is not that important, what that would consequently tell me is that I am not that important too. It is not to say that Mathematics bears no importance because it does too. What I hope would happen is that the education system be reevaluated and reconstructed in a way that would place equal value to all basic subjects to cater to all types of intelligences. Intelligence is diverse. Everybody can be a genius. But if you judge a musician by their ability to do calculus, they might live the rest of their life believing they’re stupid. (A minor modification of a famous quote that’s been going around.) The education system we have now came into being to meet the needs of industrialism that rose in the 19th century which is so two centuries ago. The climate of the world in several aspects have changed so much since then. If our phone’s operating systems prompt updates every now and again to meet the globe’s ever-progressing technological standards, our education system, of all systems, should update too to meet the arguably progressed needs of humanity now.
Moving forward, in the benefit exhibit you, VP Leni, stated your asking for guidance from us artists to help you figure out how you could help us, as per the article, what I believe was addressed most is our need for medical support. While it is true that we also need such benefits for our health because we are people vulnerable to sickness too, the support we need goes beyond that. And I’ll say why we need what we need and why we, practicing artists/creatives, deserve what we need. In the event, you, our respective VP, also acknowledged our contributions to society by serving as inspirations through our [creative/artistsic] work.’ With all due respect, we, practicing artists/creatives, are more than just inspirations to society. The creative industry is both art and commerce. We also contribute to the economy and greatly, in various cases, we contribute with our supposedly paid skills without getting paid. My partner is a self-taught photographer trying to make it into the creative industry he is most passionate about. With his own budget, he’s travelled across the country, contributing to tourism in his own way by means of photography, and he doesn’t get so much as a nod from the government. The countless individual photographers like him, effortfully curating their platforms, filling their instagram accounts with beautiful shots of the countless beautiful corners of the archipelago, endorse for our country’s tourism so much more than all local travel magazine combined could ever have. I am a creative writer, a creative in general. And during the two years of being an artist/dropout, I’ve written a book, among other creations yet to be released, which I believe would contribute to our country both culturally and economically. As if it wasn’t hard enough as no publisher has taken on my manuscript yet, I haven’t gotten so much as a nod from the government with all that I’ve done, still is doing, and plan to continue to do. Although I create for my country out of love and passion and contribute to it commercially while I do so, I don’t want to starve. Nobody does. Nobody should ever have. The industry is still hard for a number of tenured creatives and it’s especially harder for those starting out like myself. Simply put, there has to be some sort of financial support granted to beginning artists especially.
To cite an example, according to Pepe Diokno, a Filipino filmmaker (another kind of creative professional), the Korean filmmakers he talked to said that they couldn’t have done their first films without the support from the gov’t of South Korea. And the support those Korean filmmakers get from the gov’t is not one-sided. It’s a collaboration between the gov’t and those artists. For those Korean filmmakers create in a way that would promote the culture, the arts, and consequentially the tourism, among others, of the country. Therefore, it is mutually beneficial for both parties. And that’s just one field of artistry among the many artistic forces for the state.
Mrs. Robredo, I am only 19 and I speak only from experiences that I am still living. I know my suggestions are raw but I at least hope that my open letter to you gives a good enough idea of what it means to be an artist/creative in the Philippines, the struggles that come with it, its beneficial roles to the nation, and the potential, the problems we can collaboratively treat as opportunities. The government should protect and invest in artists in return to how its artists invest their sweat and tears in the country you serve.
“Art changes people. And people change the world.”
I stand with Freddie Aguilar with his plea for the establishment of a Department of Culture and the Arts.
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The views written above do not reflect that of WhenInManila.com’s. Caloy’s views are his alone, and we are merely a platform sharing his work. For more or Caloy’s work, head on over to his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/riverboycaloy.