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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What's New

PH NatCom participates in the First Consultation Meeting on the Safety of Journalists

Message of Secretary General Lila Ramos Shahani on the Crafting of the Philippine Plan on the Safety of Journalists: A Multi-stakeholder Consultation last 07 November 2018 President Mon Tuazon of AIJC; Undersecretary Jose Joel Sy Egco of PTFoMS; Undersecretary Markk Perete of DOJ; Undersecretary Severo Catura of the Presidential Human Rights Committee; Ambassador Frank Jessen of the European Union; Ambassador Jan Top Christensen of Denmark; Dr. Ming Kuok Lim of UNESCO Jakarta; Chair Nonoy Espina of NUJP; Director Mel Quintos de Jesus of CMFR; Mr. Lars Bestle of International Media Support; Mr. Red Batario, Ms. Anne Lourdes Lopez; the entire Journalist Safety Advisory Group (composed of CCJD, CMFR, KBP, NUJP, PPI, AIJC and IMS); journalists, friends, ladies and gentlemen: Let me be frank with you: these are perilous times. Rising populism, xenophobia and violence the world over characterize this fraught historical moment we share. And journalists have not been spared: on the last day of October–the month in which Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was presumed to have been murdered by state agents inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul–the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released its annual Global Impunity Index. Even though it showed the Philippines to now be the fifth most dangerous country for journalists, that was still an improvement over last year’s rating, which placed us as the third most dangerous. Since Communication and Information is one of UNESCO’s principal mandates, just as UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay roundly condemned the Khashoggi assassination, so too, as Secretary General of UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines—and as a Filipino woman—must I take a stance with you all in support of press freedom, and against impunity and the endangerment of journalists. Revisiting this year’s CPJ ratings reveals that we are substantially different from the four countries considered more dangerous than the Philippines. For over a decade, Somalia has intermittently been without an effective government, while Syria’s government has seen the country become the sight of a complex proxy war leading to a flood of refugees all over the world. As for Iraq, many of our younger journalists may not even remember a time when that country was not engaged in a war or set of insurgencies. And, finally, South Sudan is one of the world’s newest countries, and has been strife-torn throughout its struggles against genocide and for autonomy and independence—continuing on through rebellion and civil war. These four countries, subject to armed conflict and with governments defending themselves in civil war, are understandably dangerous places for journalists to work. But what about the Philippines? What makes journalism such a dangerous profession in a country like ours, with our long history of relatively stable–if not always democratic–governance, facing a few comparatively minor attempts at sustained insurrection? Is it not impunity itself, as our justice system remains perpetually clogged with pending cases? Indeed, impunity arguably remains the greatest challenge in fighting for a free and pluralist media landscape in the Philippines. The Ampatuan Massacre, of course, is what propelled us to the top of the charts, and continues to keep us there. Today, more than 100 of the accused actors and conspirators remain on trial—nine full years, come the 23rd of this month—after the killings in Maguindanao took place. But the massacre, as black a spot on the record as it is, cannot be allowed to blot out the numerous unprosecuted or unresolved cases of violence against individual journalists. Tragically, by 2015, the number of individual journalists subsequently killed surpassed the total deaths from the 2013 Maguindanao Massacre itself (CMFR). Additionally, mmany journalists (including photojournalists) also claim to have suffered severe psycho-social trauma from the government’s recent war on drugs. Impunity endangers us all, but perhaps together, we all can seek, find and implement effective solutions to improve journalist safety. As I once mentioned in a previous speech for AIJC, Filipino journalism has had a long history of struggle. “Free press” in the Philippine tradition has ranged from La Solidaridad through El Renacimiento / Muling Pagsilang; through post-war newspapers like the Roces family’s Manila Times and its fellows, which Marcos found necessary to shut down in aid of one-man rule. The We Forum, the original Philippine Daily Inquirer and others, effecting a free press breakout time after time. Today’s events, both global and local, can certainly be seen as favoring yet another attempt at putting the free press “back in the box.” One big danger is the financial precarity of “traditional media” in an era of tweets and social media posts aimed at instant delivery of “news.” Major media organizations are now in the market in ways and to extents they never were before, and special interests are primed to win a piece of mainstream reality—sometimes more than to deliver unbiased journalism. We see this at every level, whether it be the Washington Post passing out of the hands of the Grahams into the hands of Jeff Bezos—one of the world’s richest businessmen—or the possible sale of the Inquirer media and publishing complex here at home. So far, while it seems these particular changes in ownership have only lightly impinged upon press freedom, there are more egregious examples. At the intersection of rising authoritarianism and a neoliberal drive for deregulation, we also see very real threats from various monopolies. Instead of the old Marcos-style state takeover of the press, we now see the growing international inroads of the Murdoch press empire (which includes Fox News), reduced regulation allowing Sinclair Broadcasting’s buyouts of local TV stations all over the US, and the very internet itself coming under the control of less than a handful of corporate giants. The Philippines, of course, is not immune to such trends. Regulatory dangers abound here too: for instance, Rappler stands at a precipice, fighting in court for its existence in a situation that would more traditionally have been treated as an administrative matter. ABS-CBN remains uncertain whether it will be able to renew its license to operate. While both continue to produce journalistic output day by

PH NatCom joins Baguio’s newest Creative Arts Festival

Opening Message of Secretary General Lila Ramos Shahani during the opening of ENTACool: 2018 Baguio Creative Festival last 10 November 2018 Naimbag nga rabii, naglaing kayo amin! Undersecretary Edwin Enrile, Tourism Promotions Board COO Venus Tan, CCP Chairperson Margie Moran, Benguet Governor Cresencio Pacalso, Congressman Mark Go, Mayor Mauricio Domogan, Laida Lim, artists, heritage workers, and the people of Baguio, ladies and gentlemen, good evening. I am thrilled to be back in Baguio, the Philippines’ first UNESCO Creative City! As I said during the launch of the Creative City title last February, “I remember being fresh from university graduation in 1989 and joining the CCP’s Museo ng Kalinangang Pilipino for my first job. During my stint with the CCP, we came up to Baguio to attend the famous Baguio Arts Festival, which eventually put Baguio on the world map. While at the Festival, I met and interacted with artists like Roberto Villanueva, Santi Bose, Kidlat Tahimik, Ben Cab, Willy Magtibay, Laida Lim, Katrin de Guia, Tommy Hafalla and many others — all of whom were the lifeblood of that breathtaking festival. Indeed, the gifted and iconic Baguio Arts Guild left a deep impression on me. It was my first time to experience that ethereal feeling of being here, surrounded by the lush green environment that the people of Baguio call home — with its Igorot culture and vibrant arts community — many of whom remain dear friends to this day. “So when UNESCO designated Baguio a Creative City, I was genuinely thrilled by the news, although not at all surprised. Baguio is, and always has been, a world-class Creative City.” Tatlong dekada na po kini-kilala and mga manlilikha dito sa Baguio ng buong mundo!    Sadly, for many complex reasons, the Baguio Arts Festival was not able to sustain itself. Some of those reasons were structural, some partisan, and some purely organizational, such as the financial demands of sponsoring international festivals annually and sustaining the organization itself. The artists, as many of them have told me, were busy multi-tasking: organizing the festival, raising funds, promoting it here and abroad, curating the international participants, organizing logistics, AND — on top of all that — finishing their own art works in time for opening day. That was no small accomplishment for this band of talented Baguio folk. Naturally, they were worn out and felt they needed more institutional support. It seems that Panagbenga, while colorful and beautiful in its own way — although infinitely more commercial — has become more of a priority for the local community. But it should be remembered that Baguio got the UNESCO Creative City designation not because of Panagbenga, but because of its unique confluence of Cordillera-influenced crafts and folk art — specifically, woodwork, silverwork, and weaving. There have also been artist-run efforts, such as the 2011 AXIS Art Project and the 2015 Markets of Resistance. And we cannot overlook private initiatives resulting in numerous creative centers, like the BenCab Museum, the Maryknoll Ecological Sanctuary, Victor Oteyza Community Art Space, Tam-awan Village, Easter Weaving Room, Narda’s Handicrafts, the Ili Likha Artists Wateringhole, Asin Woodcarvers Village, and Café by the Ruins — all hubs of creativity energized by a sheer love for culture and the arts. How could UNESCO not choose Baguio as a Creative City over other contending cities? There is here what UNESCO calls a “creative economy”— a synergy of artistic sectors generating local business enterprises. Few cities have this endowment because — since the Americans created this hill station in Benguet — Baguio has become a conjunction of rich Igorot culture, on the one hand, and artistic cosmopolitanism, on the other. Finally, it is the home of two National Artists, my old friends Kidlat Tahimik and Ben Cab. All these swirling energies have contributed to making Baguio a UNESCO Creative City. So I am delighted anew that Chancellor Ray Rovillos and Tourism Promotions Board Head Director Venus Tan — and the many enterprising communities in Baguio — have once again been able to resuscitate a creative Baguio festival this year. But what, you might ask, is the value of a UNESCO designation anyway? If it doesn’t come with a cash gift, why does it even matter? Vigan’s World Heritage status is a good example of how investments can result from a UNESCO inscription. Since its World Heritage listing, significantly more investments have been made in basic infrastructure there. Prior to inscription in 1999, Vigan was merely a 2nd class municipality with an annual revenue of P27 million. After inscription, Vigan’s leaders came up with an action plan to transform the town into a thriving community with productive citizens and a more distinct identity. From a staggering unemployment rate of 45% in 1995, the city’s jobless population is now down to less than 8%. The city’s annual revenue has also increased more than 12 times since 1995. A UNESCO listing can thus help create a nexus of local and national government, international NGO activity and private sector involvement. Not to mention the international prestige that comes with such a listing. But there is also a dark side to being part of this prestigious list: hardly a year goes by that my office doesn’t become involved in some potential UNESCO de-listing or danger listing of one site or another. Yes, sites have been known to be deemed endangered by UNESCO or removed from the list altogether. This happens when the local government and the community do not sustain, protect and nurture — in short: take responsibility for and invest in — the creative environment that led to the UNESCO designation in the first place. So how do we make sure that the UNESCO designation of this beloved city doesn’t go up in smoke at some later point in time? After all, to ask artists and craftspeople on their own to not only create and curate, but also to finance, the arts community as a whole (as the Baguio Arts Guild had done in the 80s,) is not only

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.