Philippine National Commission for UNESCO

The Philippine National Commission for UNESCO (also known as PH NatCom or UNACOM) was established by law (R.A 621 in 1951, amended by R.A. 892 in 1953 and R.A. 3849 in 1964) to honor the Philippines’ international commitment to UNESCO. PH NatCom’s original mandate was to serve as an advisory and liaison body bridging the work of relevant Philippine partners to UNESCO’s own work in educational, scientific and cultural matters and concerns.




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UNESCO holds Ethics Teachers’ Training Course in Manila

Last 06 August 2018, UNESCO and Ateneo de Manila University hosted a week-long Teachers' Training Course on Ethics here in Manila. Many scholars presided, including Dean Jonathan Chua and Dr. Rainier Ibana of Ateneo De Manila University, Dr. Zosimo Lee of University of the Philippines and three foreign scholars specializing in Bioethics – Dr. Bert Gordijn from Ireland, Dr. Marie-Genevieve Pinsart from Belgium, and Dr. Mohammed Firdaus Bin Abdul Aziz from Malaysia. PH NatCom Secretary General Lila Ramos Shahani opened the ceremonies. Excerpts from her speech: "Today we come together to discuss a field that is at once controversial and deeply fraught. My own forays into the complexity of bioethics begin with a harrowing personal story. It is about the end-of-life issues that were raised during my Mom’s final month with us on this planet. Her stage four colon cancer had progressed to her liver, lymph nodes and lungs. Afflicted with pneumonia, she was too ill to be treated with chemotherapy. "Tragically, she never left a medical directive indicating which end-of-life treatments were acceptable to her and which were not. Eventually, as she slipped into a near-stupor (hot tears streaming down her cheeks), my two brothers and I had to make some terrible decisions: do we intubate her when she obviously hates the tube and keeps trying to pull it out, forcing the doctors to put her in uncomfortable restraints? Do we do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on her when she already has advanced osteoporosis and is likely to have cracked ribs as a result? Will she be able to withstand the pain of electric shock? "The doctors were divided and, frankly, of little help (in the end, none of them even bothered to attend her wake). My brothers and I, too, were divided. They wanted to do everything humanly possible to keep her alive at all costs and I wanted to let her go. My instincts were telling me that she just wanted to rest. After all, she was too ill for chemotherapy and therefore the cancer was progressing anyway. But, in the end, she died of low blood pressure – taking the decision-making entirely out of our hands. "The question I kept asking myself throughout was: when does a human life expire – in substance, in meaning and in spirit? Is life itself more important than the dignity and well-being of that very life? "These are examples of bioethical concerns that have affected me personally. But what exactly is bioethics as a field? Bioethics is a study of ethical issues that arise from the intersection of biology and medicine. It introduces the question of moral discernment in medical policy and practice, and asks about the relationship between and among life sciences, biotechnology, medicine, politics, law and philosophy. It includes debates on the boundaries of life (such as abortion and euthanasia), surrogacy, health care, the right to refuse medical care, cloning, gene therapy, human genetic engineering and human experimentation. "From the Hippocratic Oath ('Do No Harm') during Antiquity to the heated ethical debates that characterized the 1970s, we can trace the rise of a field that in turn spurred the development of numerous sub-disciplines. "Indeed, it has been suggested that bioethics grew out of a critical reaction in the US to 19th and 20th century experimentations on human subjects, often performed illegally and without their consent, and often funded by the US government. As early as the 1840s, gynecological experiments without anesthesia were performed on Black American women. Indeed, American history is studded with such examples: the whooping cough virus; US Navy pathogens of pneumonia in San Francisco; the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments; and, after WWII, 400 secret and classified experiments on Black infants. More recently, the CIA has conducted experiments on prisoners and the mentally challenged, exposing them to fear, pain and sexual abuse. "But this is not to suggest that these sinister activities took place only in the United States. Surely there are no more egregious examples than the Nazi experiments on Jews in Europe or Japan’s Unit 731’s experiments on prisoners of war during World War II. It is simply to observe that the resistance to these practices – and the rise of bioethics as a field – can be traced to the US. "Here in the Philippines, the debates around family planning (what we call "reproductive health"), abortion and the drug war remain sharp and intense. "These are tensions that exist the world over. Indeed, Bioethics can be seen as implicit in the ideas behind the formation of the United Nations in the wake of WWII and certainly explicit in parts of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "To the extent that bioethics involves framing debates about proper care and treatment of all that exists in the world, it will necessarily be engaged with questions of power and politics. In other words, the bioethical will inevitably involve what Michel Foucault and others have called the biopolitical. The latter entails contemporary modes of governance whereby the State seems to shape the development of lives both on the individual, as well as on the most general, levels. "This includes such things as creating public health policies and regulating carcinogens, food supplies, water purity and reproductive health--areas that have a direct impact on the population as a whole. In order to do this, biopolitical governance must rely on scientific and medical experts. At the same time, biopolitics, to be effective, must invest in the continuing research and development of infrastructures, institutions and practices that promote the life of its population. This is precisely why the biopolitical involves defining and governing life itself… "So, following Foucault, who, then, had the power to make decisions about my Mom -- her doctors or her children? In our case, we were asked to make a decision. After all, the medical establishment -- the medium through which biopower is generally coursed -- tends to favor keeping the patient alive above all else. I, on the other hand, wanted to free her from the terrible imprisonment

Forum on the Filipino Youth and Violent Extremism

PH NatCom organized an exhilarating forum on "Filipino Youth and Violent Extremism in the Digital Age" last 19-20 July 2018. Looking at the causes and evolution of extremism in this country, PH NatCom led the discussion on the vulnerabilities of Filipino youth to the harsh realities around them, particularly in social media. Secretary General Lila Ramos Shahani opened the discussion by reflecting upon how violent extremism does not exist in a socio-cultural, economic or political vacuum. "Rather, it is part of a complex, incremental continuum that is at once a resistance to -- just as it is deeply imbricated within -- state power. In the case of Marawi, we can trace its roots to as far back as the American colonial occupation of Mindanao and subsequent attempts by the post-colonial government to integrate Moro polities into the Republic. While some Moro elites were successful in using the state to further their local power, many others were neglected by (and therefore tended to regard) the state as a colonial power. Furthermore, the social importance of families and clans created conditions for the emergence of warlords and other strong men who have tended to use violence as a way of furthering their power. So: the combination of state and local violence, and the construction of socio-political relations have set the conditions for what we might consider to be violent extremism. In the case of Marawi, one of the immediate causes for the eruption of war was the failure to enact the BBL during the Aquino administration due to resistance among certain Congressional elites, many of whom were members of the Mindanao settler elite. Prior to the failure of the BBL, other events also set the stage for the Maute uprising, such as the siege of Zamboanga and the Mamasapano fiasco. It's important to note, however, that the war in Marawi was enabled by what seemed to be a remarkable flow of cash and arms. So what, then, of what Francisco Pancho Lara calls ‘shadow economies’? Give the weakness of state institutions, these shadow economies play an inordinate role in providing economic opportunities, livelihoods and the accumulation of political power on the part of those who seek to challenge the government. But is this not ultimately part and parcel of state formation in a post-colonial era, I wonder? Is the larger chain of events not brought about by similarly-intersecting global forces -- a long history of violent conflict driven by colonial occupation and capitalist exploitation, weak institutions that become prey to strong men, an underserved population available for recruitment to various causes, and the workings of a shadow economy characterized by the illicit cross-border flows of money, arms, drugs, goods and people?” PH NatCom and the youth participants were privileged to have as their guest speakers, Ms. Amina Rasul and Mr. Richard Heydarian. Ms. Rasul gave a searing critique of the Philippine state since the Marcos years, seen from the perspective of Mindanaoans. Why, she asked, are only Muslims seen as violent extremists? What about Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus and indigenous peoples -- all of whom have arguably been complicit in xenophobic behavior at some point in human history? Mr. Heydarian gave an excellent analysis of the youth bulge in this country and elsewhere, citing the factors that lead to radicalization: economic, socio-cultural and political grievances; fundamentalist ideology; and the capacity to mobilize. The discussions were passionate and earnest, with young people from all walks of life (the police, military, civil society, NGOs, academics, media personnel) weighing in. So where does this leave us now, as the BBL is just about to be signed? In view of how Martial Law decimated infrastructures in Mindanao during the Marcos years; FVR's focus on MNLF and Nur Misuari; Erap's all-out war on the region; GMA's complicity with Moro elites like the Ampatuans; PNoy's preference for the MILF over the MNLF; and the normalization of Nur Misuari/MNLF's status during the Duterte administration, in the wake of the Zamboanga siege -- how representative is this current incarnation of the BBL of different sectors in the region, and to what extent are young people's voices represented? Secretary General Shahani ended by pointing out that we all need to be wary of a discourse that pits "us" versus "them," as if the problem only lies in conflict-related areas and only "they" need to be changed. In the Philippines, Muslims are not the only problem: Christians -- and imperial Manila -- are deeply responsible as well. She added that in the field of education, it is not enough to teach Muslim Filipinos about themselves, we also need to teach the mainstream majority (the Catholic, Tagalog and English speaking cultural hegemonies) about these minorities so that we do not Orientalize them.  To close her speech, she asked, “But what about social media, which often goes well beyond the purview of the state? Is it not time to show positive and empowering messages of Mindanaoans to challenge existing tropes and stereotypes about violent Muslim men and passive Muslim women?”

PH NatCom joins Youth GenFest

PH NatCom joined an exhilarating meeting of 7,000 youth delegates from over 53 countries, all speaking over 16 languages. This was during the Youth GenFest from 06-08 July 2018 in Tagaytay City. The Foccolare Movement, established by Chiara Lubich, a UNESCO Peace Awardee, is impressive. This Catholic movement is not only about personal redemption but about a collective move among the youth towards world peace. The gathering engaged youth delegates to discuss Life Directions of the Self, Social Responsibility, Global Citizenship, Inter-religious Dialogue, Entrepreneurship, Social Media, and Ecology. PH NatCom Secretary General was chosen by the Focolare Movement to be the keynote speaker. She pointed out that these were not discrete and distinct narratives. Instead, they are inextricably linked -- almost like concentric rings. Because young people are not only beautiful to behold but the very hope of our future.

PH NatCom works on the PH ratification of the UNESCO 2005 Convention

Last 29 June 2018, PH NatCom hosted an inter-agency workshop on the UNESCO 2005 Convention on the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. The 2005 Convention is essentially a response to the cultural imperialism of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). In the words of PH NatCom Secretary General Lila Shahani, “many UN member states are balking at the hegemonies of Hollywood, Bollywood, K-Pop, and Silicone Valley, to name just a few cultural whirlwinds that flood our markets. Why not let Filipino independent films be more available in the Philippines and elsewhere, for example? How do we support our artists more, especially when they are indigenous peoples who are already the bearers of intangible cultural heritage in their respective communities? Because they are also individual creators, distributors and consumers of a wide variety of cultural expressions in the global market. How are their intellectual property rights then to be respected? And, for that matter, where does a community begin and how does it end, and who is culturally equipped to give them adequate representation? How do we balance culture, on the one hand, and trade, on the other, which is dominated by capitalist markets? While the notion of the creative economy -- where the economic dimension of culture is explored, along with its livelihood-generating capacities -- is deeply positive, when does it become fraught? When we coopt creativity into the market, do we then do an injustice to its sources? What is the distinction between cultural inspiration and cultural appropriation? Finally, given the lack of equity that defines globalization itself, how do we negotiate around it?” PH NatCom was pleased to have a UNESCO expert, Ms. Anupama Sekhar lecture to the country team. Many other partners from the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA), Intellectual Property Office (IPO Phil), Design Center of the Philippines (DCP), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), British Council, and DFA-UNIO, joined the workshop.

Philippines attends the 5th Interregional Meeting for UNESCO National Commissions

PH NatCom Secretary General Lila Ramos Shahani represented the Philippines during the 5th interregional meeting for UNESCO National Commissions held in Diani, Kenya. It was a meaningful gathering of all UNESCO Secretaries General who shared the frustrations and difficulties in their respective countries, and also their many goals and aspirations. 5 Vice-Chairs were chosen for this conference, representing Africa, the Arab States, Europe and North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Asia-Pacific region. She was deeply honored and humbled to have been chosen to represent the Asia-Pacific, which spans such heterogenous countries as Cambodia, Pakistan, Fiji, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Mongolia, Nepal, South Korea, Singapore, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Tonga and Vanuatu, among others. In this sense, the Asia-Pacific is very different from other regions, who have strong linguistic, religious and cultural ties with one another, so it was particularly fulfilling to sit down, break bread and try to speak with one voice as a region. In the end, the Asia-Pacific member states gave some excellent recommendations to help strengthen UNESCO and its efforts towards a Strategic Transformation.  

Culion Leprosy Archives designated as one of Asia-Pacific’s most important documentary collections

The United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Memory of the World Committee for Asia and the Pacific (MOWCAP) inscribed the Culion Leprosy Archives to the MOWCAP Regional Register during its 8th General Meeting in Gwangju, Republic of Korea last 30 May 2018. Housed at the Culion Museum and Archives in Culion, Palawan, the Culion Leprosy Archives boast of a wide collection of rare journals and reference materials on leprosy, as well as clinical records and letters of the island’s residents since 1906. The Archives also feature publications such as the International Journal of Leprosy and Other Mycobacterial Diseases, of which the first editor-in-chief was Dr. Windsor Wade. The Culion Leprosy Archives garnered a majority vote from the 28-member MOWCAP after having been strongly recommended by the MOWCAP Register Sub-Committee for inscription. Dr. Arturo Cunanan, Chief, Culion Sanitarium and General Hospital (CSGH), spearheaded the nomination of the Archives with the support of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) and the facilitation of the UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines (UNACOM). The Archives are the second documentary collection to be inscribed from the Philippines after the inscription of the Presidential Papers of Manuel L. Quezon in 2010. The Regional Register also includes Cambodia’s Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum Archive, Australia’s Landmark Constitutional Documents of the Commonwealth of Australia, Fiji’s Polynesian Immigrants Records from 1876-1914, and Viet Nam’s Royal Literature on Hue Royal Architecture (1802-1945), among others. In addition to being part of a prestigious list of documents and archives, inscription also allows documentary heritage workers and custodians to become part of an active community that advocates for the preservation of, and access to, documentary heritage. Inscription has also helped custodians and Member States promote, publicize and pool resources to maintain collections. The Philippine Delegation to the 8th General Meeting of MOWCAP was composed of Prof. Nick Deocampo, Chairperson, Philippine National Committee for MOW; Dr. Rene Escalante, Chairperson, NHCP and Ms. Joana Rizza Bagano, Programme Officer, UNACOM. The Philippine National Committee for MOW envisions increased promotion of Philippine documentary heritage and more inscriptions to the National, Regional, and International MOW Registers.