Revisiting PH Legislation Feats on Culture and Heritage

by Angel Grace D. Untalan, JULY 2021

The Philippines lives in a cultural landscape with a rich history tracing back over 2,000 years ago.

The Hagdan-Hagdang Palayan ng Kordilyera ng Pilipinas, for one, had been a testament to the beauty and complexity of Philippine heritage in 1995, making it the first-ever property to be included in the cultural landscape category of the World Heritage List.

Photo by Palu Malerba on Pexels.com

Through the years, laws had been enacted to pursue and maintain the integrity of our cultural identity in terms of heritage protection.

Current government policies and legal framework

As early as 1966, the State policy on the preservation and protection of cultural properties has been outlined through the Cultural Properties Preservation and Protection Act

The 1987 Constitution emphasized the mandate of promoting and popularizing the nation’s historical and cultural heritage and resources, as well as artistic creations, specifically on Sections 14, 15, 16, and 17 of Article XIV.

In 2010, Republic Act No. 10066 (“R.A. 10066”) or the National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009 was enacted for the protection and conservation of the national cultural heritage.

This also included strengthening the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (“NCCA”) and its affiliated cultural agencies.

Other laws, such as Republic Act No. 4846 and Presidential Decree 374 also recognized the importance of the Philippines’ cultural heritage, as well as the threats being faced from illegal excavations and cultural property commercialization. 

On the other hand, Republic Act 8492 or the National Museum Act of 1998, defined the role of the National Museum as a permanent institution with the primary mission to acquire documents, preserve, exhibit, and foster scholarly study and appreciation of works of art specimens and cultural and historical artifacts.

In a broader context, international organizations such as UNESCO adopted the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage in 1972.

The said Convention aims to serve as an efficient complement in establishing a system to protect the cultural and natural heritage organized permanently and following modern scientific methods.

In so far as underwater cultural heritage is concerned, the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region, through the Regional Workshop in Hong Kong in 2003, has yet to be ratified by the Philippines along with other Southeast Asian countries in the region.

Archaeological activities within the archipelago’s maritime territory are governed by collaborative agreements between the National Museum and private proponents, anchoring its guidelines on the Underwater Archaeology Policy Guidelines, which was expanded by the Rules and Regulations for Underwater Archaeology in Exploration and Excavation in Philippine Waters.

The policy of just compensation also plays a factor in the engagement of activities relating to the acquisition or use of ancestral territories in the Philippines.

Project proponents, whether state agencies or private companies need to consider the historical, cultural, and spiritual value of a property in determining compensation.

Strategies to address the gaps in culture and heritage laws

Lawmakers noted that there is a need to integrate heritage protection with existing local government mandates, and to provide financial incentives to encourage property owners to preserve their structures.

House Bill (“HB”) No. 4229 filed in 2019 proposed to address key issues in the implementation of the Heritage Conservation Law by requiring building officials to verify the status of a structure as heritage before issuing a permit, providing tax incentives to preserve heritage, and mandating cultural agencies to develop a hierarchy of classification of heritage structures to lay down the responsibilities of the State and the owner, among others.

In the same year, Senate Bill (“SB”) No. 512 was filed to protect and conserve future underwater archaeological discoveries by providing a statutory mechanism for a permit system on underwater exploration and excavation. 

Earlier this year, the Philippine Daily Inquirer published a report on counterfeit Cordillera-woven blankets and garments coming from abroad which prompted local weavers to demand protection from the government for their indigenous craft. 

The Senate then conducted an inquiry in aid of legislation, highlighting that the influx of counterfeit goods poses a risk to rural livelihoods of indigenous cultural communities which is detrimental in sustaining their culture and creative productivity. 

To support this notion, Senate Resolution No. 1549, which pushed for the said inquiry, cited Section 16 of the 1987 Constitution’s Article XIV stipulating that the country’s artistic and historic wealth constitutes the cultural treasure of the nation and shall be under the protection of the State which may regulate its disposition. 

Other proposed measures anchored on the same provision includes SB No. 1102 or The Singer’s Equity Bill which seeks to address the imbalance in the displacement of local performers income every time a foreign act performs in the country by making the latter pay a charge known as the Equity Fee, which proceeds shall then be allocated to the NCCA. 

In the landmark case of Knights of Rizal vs. DMCI, the Supreme Court lifted its Temporary Restraining Order and allowed DMCI to resume the suspended construction of the Torre de Manila, commonly known as the “photobomber”.

The majority decision came about since no local or national legislation prohibits the construction of the said condominium.

As such, a solon initiated the approval of HB No. 102 in 2019 which sought to expressly prohibit any construction or real estate development that could ruin the view and sightline of any national shrine, monument, landmark, and other historic edifices and structures by amending Sec. 48 of the National Cultural Heritage Act.

The said bill was then substituted by HB No. 8829, currently on its Third Reading, with key provisions proposing the expansion of Sec. 25 of the same law to stipulate the issuance of a cease-and-desist order by the appropriate cultural agency or the NCCA shall also be applied to any infringement against national historical landmarks, shrines, monuments, and sites, including their visual impact.

On another note, HB No. 726 or the Filipino Heritage Craft Bill sought to establish an integrated educational program in all levels with hopes to enable Filipinos to pursue a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts with a major in either Capiz Shell Artistry or T’boli Textile Artistry in the future. 

In 2020, SB No. 1851 also sought to amend provisions of the National Cultural Heritage Act in ways such as mandating LGUs to conduct a cultural mapping program for their respective areas for both tangible and intangible and natural and built heritage and utilizing the results of the program as a framework for culture-based governance and enhancement of the scope of cultural education in the country.

Photo by Zeyn Afuang on Unsplash

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About the writer:

Angel Grace D. Untalan. A Legal Management graduate with an inclination to pursue the field of higher arts. She is moderately comfortable with social interaction, but can also relish her time off from the crowd. Her works are influenced by distinguished screenwriters such as Gene Roddenberry, George R.R. Martin, and Quentin Tarantino. She aspires to become a law practitioner at The Hague, who has published papers in a Scopus-indexed journal at some point in the future.

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