In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the issuance of the Enhanced Community Quarantine last March, the Nayong Pilipino Foundation (NPF) launched a public consultation session using available online tools and resources.

Titled Umpukan sa Nayon: Staying Alive, the online event was held on April 15 via Zoom and was streamed live on NPF’s official Facebook Page. It gathered different practitioners and cultural leaders of the arts and the creative industry and conversed about the current conditions of the sector during the pandemic, and how the government may respond to the needs of the people in this industry.

The Umpukan was facilitated by Joseph Keith Anicoche from the Sipat Lawin Ensemble. He began by first going through each invited speaker and checking up on them—asking them the background of their respective organizations and affiliations and how they are coping during the pandemic.

Ateneo de Manila faculty member Laura Corazon Cabochan then shared the results of the survey gathered by a team of artists and creatives called #CreativeAidPH. This effort was done in order to get a clear idea of the present condition of artists in the Philippines. The survey was released to the public between March 17 to March 20 with 72% of the respondents residing in the National Capital Region (NCR). The rest were from other regions such as Ilocos region, Central Luzon, CALABARZON, Bicol, Visayas, Northern Mindanao, Davao, SOCCKSARGEN, CAR, and MIMAROPA.

The survey showed how the cancelation of many events and projects have contributed to the loss of income for many working in the sector. To put it in numbers, the average income loss Php 98,000.00, with Php 2,000.00 being the minimum and Php 3,000,000.00 being the maximum.

Many—especially the daily wage earners—have begun subsisting on their savings. Some have also transferred to online platforms hoping to be able to monetize the content they produce. With this information presented to the speakers and the live audience as well, many questions were raised—Can we use this to inform our actions? How do we build the community, arts, and society? What value do we put into our sector?

Dr. Roland Tolentino from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) disclosed that NCCA has an approved budget for grants however, the issue is in transitioning the projects online.

“How can we pressure NCCA to reallocate their funds? Decision-making must be fast. What can we do, together?” asked Myra “Skarlet” Ruaro.

Dr. Tolentino suggested going online and trending hashtags as a form of social solidarity. He explained that this will add pressure on institutions so they can be more responsive and present long term solutions. “NCCA avoids being pressured by the people. They don’t want to take risks. How about freelancers? We need to synchronize our efforts,” he added.

This was supported by Lisa Ito from the Concerned Artists of the Philippines. She stated that “We need a database that is comprehensive. We need collaboration and cooperation among the different sectors, so we can establish this data. We need to have the fair basis of the distribution of relief, subsidies, and amelioration.”

“We are at the forefront of this. Don’t wait for NCCA, don’t wait for the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA),” Jennifer Lee Bonto from Artists’ Welfare Project Inc. added. In helping each other, hopefully, the government is encouraged to help as well.

The conversation then shifted to a shorter-term solution which is producing creative digital content and monetizing it.

Ayeen Pineda of Creative Content Creators Association of the Philippines (CCCAP or SIKAP) emphasized three main points in terms of the content that the arts sector should be creating. First, it should bring information and awareness through process sharing, second is that it should comprise of skill-sharing—what artists actually do—and last is that it should of course provide entertainment.

The platforms and tools for getting compensation were also touched upon. “[These days] financial platforms are not limited to bank transfers; we also have GCash and Paymaya,” she said.

Of course, for those artists or freelancers who have no means to transfer online all were in agreement that institutions are to be accountable. “We need baseline data, transparency, and programs for COVID-19,” said Anicoche.

The discussion closed with NPF Executive Director Atty. Lucille Karen Malilong-Isberto and NPF Deputy Executive Director for Operations Dr. Laya Boquiren-Gonzales announcing NPF’s approved budget to help artists in this time of pandemic as well as its planned project to engage the public in a call for user-generated digital content.

Umpukan sa Nayon is a multi-sectoral consultation session held by NPF as part of its mandate (P.D. 37, 1972) to engage the public for consultation and to enliven conversations.