Wednesday, May 17, 2006

NCCA: Vanguard of National Treasures

Strips of abaca fiber woven by nimble hands on a traditional loom for three to four months—that is what it takes to craft a fabric big enough to make a regular-sized traditional tube skirt. Salinta Monton, a Tagabawa-Bagobo from Bansalan, Davao del Sur, is practically the only remaining person who knows the intricacies of the art of abaca-ikat weaving. And on her shoulders lie the task of passing on the skills to the youth of her community.

Uwang Ahadas finds himself on the same boat with Salinta. A native Yakan from Basilan, Ahadas is a master of his tribe’s music. Despite being almost blind, he is able to play several native instruments like the gabbang (bamboo xylophone), kulintang (five gongs in a row), agung (three large suspended gongs), tuntungan (wooden platform), and kwintangan kayu (five log beams suspended horizontally). Ahadas goes around the country showcasing and teaching traditional Yakan music.

Being harbingers of indigenous arts, Monton and Ahadas have both been conferred the National Living Treasures Award (Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan). The award recognizes contributions to Philippine arts and culture by indigenous individuals or groups. Such honor is bestowed through the efforts of the country’s governing body on issues concerning arts and culture—the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

The NCCA is assigned to be the caretaker of the country’s cultural identity, creating and managing programs for arts and culture education, promotion, and propagation throughout the nation. The award is just one of the agency’s efforts to realize its mandate.

Origin and Mandate

In recognition of the importance of a solid cultural identity in a nation’s development, then President Corazon C. Aquino formed the Presidential Commission on Culture and the Arts in 1987, the forerunner of the NCCA. In 1992, Republic Act 7356 breathe life into the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, making it the “over-all coordinating and policy-making body that systematizes and streamlines national efforts in promoting culture and art.”1

The NCCA is mandated to “formulate policies for the development of culture and the arts, administer the National Endowment Fund for Culture and the Arts, encourage artistic creation within a climate of artistic freedom, develop and promote the Filipino national culture and arts, and preserve Filipino cultural heritage.”2 The Commission is also tasked to oversee the formulation and implementation of the policies and programs of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), Commission on Filipino Language (CFL), National Museum, National Historical Institute (NHI), National Library (NL), and the Records Management and Archives Office (RMAO).

National Programs
The NCCA has established national programs in the form of projects, grants, and awards that are focused on developing human resources, enhancing the quality and variety of cultural activities, and protecting cultural artifacts.


Conservation of National and World Heritage Sites Program. This project involves the physical restoration and preservation of historical sites; the development of indigenous villages; the improvement of human resources in heritage sites, museums, and historical libraries and information services; and the improvement of the network of anthropology museums in the country.

Program for Artistic Excellence. This project promotes excellence in the different fields of artistic expression by organizing workshops, mounting festivals where artists can showcase their talents, giving financial support to performing groups and the local government units for their arts and culture activities, and recognizing excellence in the arts.

Promotion of Culture and Arts. This includes activities that augment public awareness and interest in arts and culture using mainstream media and the Internet.

Culture and Education. This involves the enhancement of the arts and culture education curriculum and the provision of materials for use in teaching culture and the arts. Through this project, the NCCA provides assistance to the improvement of museums, libraries, and other cultural agencies and strengthen heritage education for public schools through visits to shrines, monuments, and heritage sites.

Culture/Arts Diplomacy. The NCCA provides assistance to individuals or groups to represent the country in international competitions and implements cultural agreements with other countries by supporting cultural scholars, artists, and workers exchange.

Culture and Development. This includes the promotion of culture and arts for the disadvantaged and marginalized, the development of cultural industries where there is local initiative, the documentation of traditional arts and rituals, strengthening of local arts and culture organizations, and the building of cultural networks to strengthen cultural communities.

Cultural Agency Cooperation Program. This project assists cultural agencies with projects that are consistent with the goals of the NCCA.


The Culture and Development Grant recognizes the important role arts and culture play in the country’s development. It aims to promote cultural understanding which it believes is a key to attaining peace and order and economic stability.

The Culture and Education Grant supports efforts in arts and culture education through the improvement of its status in the curriculum. This serves as the fulfillment of the NCCA mandate to propagate cultural literacy and appreciation throughout the country. Aside from the integration of cultural subjects in the curriculum, the grant aims to disseminate arts and culture through exhibits, guidebooks, and an improved arts and culture collection in school libraries. In this effort, the NCCA is assisted by the Philippine Cultural Educational Plan, which serves as a nationwide access for cultural education, and by the Institute for Cultural and Arts Management which trains culture and arts managers in the enhancement of their technical and management skills.

To fulfill the responsibility of providing for the country’s art talents, the NCCA’s Program for Artistic Excellence Grant creates various programs that allow established and traditional artists to develop their indigenous skills and pass them on to the younger generation. At the same time, it provides opportunities for young artists to explore other ways of expressing their artistry.

The Promotion of Culture and the Arts Grant supports efforts in utilizing the broadcast, print, and electronic media in disseminating cultural information. Through this grant, new researches that are known only to scholars can be easily brought down to the population and cultural activities are immediately publicized. Included in the grant’s priority concerns are publications and audio-visual materials; media, culture, and values enhancement projects; arts and culture Websites and exhibits; and cultural festivals.

The Conservation of Cultural Heritage Grant prioritizes the safeguarding of cultural artifacts, both tangible and intangible, that are endangered by society’s increasing preference for technology over tradition. This grant includes research and documentation projects; projects for the preservation, protection, and promotion of traditional music, arts, and craft; the conservation of historical, archeological, and heritage sites; and the protection of cultural treasures. This grant is also concerned with local and international scholarships, fellowships, workshops, and other forms of training for cultural managers and the like to develop new experts in the preservation of culture.

Through the Culture and Diplomacy Grant, the NCCA supports the promotion of Philippine culture around the world by way of cultural exchange agreements, international competitions and festivals, and programs for Filipinos overseas.

Schools of Living Tradition

The Schools of Living Tradition (SLT) serves as the stage for National Living Treasures such as Monton and Ahadas to share their knowledge in indigenous art with the others in their community. It is one of the priority programs under the Conservation of Cultural Heritage grant. SLT allows National Living Treasures, considered living culture bearers or culture specialists, to pass on their knowledge on traditional and cultural skill or craft to the next generation, in effect, preserving cultural heritage in living form. SLT sessions may be held at the National Living Treasure’s residence, a community social hall, or at a center built for that specific purpose. Teaching instruction is preferably informal, given orally, and demonstrative in nature. The students are limited to people from the same ethno-linguistic community. The project is parallel to UNESCO’s worldwide cultural preservation agenda.

Based on NCCA’s mandate to preserve and promote Philippine cultural heritage, SLT recognizes the importance of human cultural sources such as weavers, chanters, dancers, and other craftsmen who are bearers and consequently the transmitters of endangered traditional artistic, linguistic, and occupational skills.

Organizational Awards

To support efforts in artistic and cultural expression, the NCCA supports several award-giving bodies.

The National Artist Award is the highest recognition given to a Filipino artist who has exhibited extraordinary talent in the arts, and whose work has contributed to evoking nationalism in the Filipinos.

The National Living Treasure Award or Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan recognizes indigenous individuals or groups who hold and preserve their native culture at an exemplary degree, and are recognized as such by their community. Through this award, the existence and significance of the accomplishments of these cultural masters are proclaimed and made known to society to aid in cultural education and propagation.

The Alab ng Haraya Award recognizes exemplary contributions to the preservation and propagation of Filipino culture and tradition and the masters in specific fields of performing arts, cultural conservation, arts management, library and information services program, theater production, cultural journalism and documentation, and other fields. Among the awardees are Filipino artists, cultural workers and historians, artistic or cultural groups, historical societies, institutions, foundations, and councils. The conferment of this award is NCCA’s way of upholding excellence in artistic and cultural endeavors, encouraging participation among artists, and patronizing highly commendable cultural programs.

For Monton, Ahadas, and the hundreds or thousands of National Living Treasures, both institutionally recognized and those waiting to be discovered, the NCCA serves as the vanguard of their existence, to which all that is considered essentially Pinoy bloomed and flourished to what it is now.

1 (accessed 30 September 2005)
2 (accessed 27 September 2005)

References: 26 September 2005) 26 September 2005)

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