By May Zuleika Salao and Michael Henry Yusingco
IN 2017, Baguio City became first in the Philippines to be declared Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art by the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN).
Globally networking creative cities is a smart initiative by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) toward innovatively contributing to the core United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda.
UCCN presently consists of 180 cities aiming “to promote cooperation with and among cities that have identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development.”
It commits its member cities to advance a common thrust: “placing creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans at the local level and cooperating actively at the international level.”
Baguio City, as the first UCCN member in the Philippines, now operates within the 2017-2022 Philippine Strategic Framework to Promote Philippine Culture and Values. Its principal local government agency is the Baguio City Creative Industry Council (BCCIC) established through the city ordinance introduced by councilors Mylen Yaranon, Elmer Datuin, Peter Fianza and Elaine Sembrano.
In its initial bid to generate public awareness, the Baguio City local government with the Department of Tourism (DoT) launched the UNESCO Creative City Exhibition early this year. Partner organizations for this project were, among others, two universities — UP Baguio and the University of Cordilleras — and one regional government agency, the Department of Trade and Industry for the Cordillera Administrative Region (DTI-CAR).
From the micro-, small- and medium-enterprises (MSMEs) that predominantly comprise Baguio City’s business sector, fifteen firms participated in the UNESCO Creative City Exhibition from five industries — silver/metal craft, textile/weaving, sculpture, woodcarving and food products.
This melding of government, business and the arts then reached a new peak last Nov. 10 to 18 with the launching of the 1st Baguio Creative Festival. This landmark event featured arts-cum-trade fora and exhibits spearheaded by the BCCIC, DoT, DTI, UP-Baguio and the Baguio Arts and Creatives Collective, Inc.
What are the social and governance ramifications of shaping Baguio City as a UNESCO Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art? Toward institutionalizing scientific research on this question, the University of Asia and the Pacific and Saint Louis University, in their joint research collaboration, began their series of roundtable discussion (RTD) last Oct. 29.
Representatives from the national and city governments, artist groups, and civil society organizations attended the RTD. Participants were divided into three groups for the first session of focused discussion, followed by a plenary meeting for sharing perspectives and insights.
The RTD revealed compelling issues on becoming a Creative City. One major finding emphasized on the need for multidimensional analyses toward a more wholistic understanding of the UNESCO Creative City declaration and its path of activities. Two integral issue areas were deemed imperative.
First, a highly emotional concern converged on the value of instilling respect for indigenous peoples’ cultural identity, whose crafts and folk art are central to the Creative City project. Concomitantly, the urgency to protect intellectual property rights over indigenous peoples’ creations was articulated together with questions about their work and living conditions as creative workers.
Environmental sustainability is recognized as intrinsic to creativity since evolving crafts and folk art is anchored on both the natural and man-made ecology of Baguio City together with, indeed, the entire Cordillera region.
There was deep concern about the continued viability of Baguio and the Cordillera people as artists, artisans and producers of crafts and folk art. Governance needs to value community wellbeing redounding to each individual Filipino citizen of Baguio and the Cordillera. For ultimately, it is their resource — they are the ones channeling indigenous creativity into tangible creative objects for both enrichment of culture and commerce.
Second, the UNESCO declaration of Baguio City does not impact on the city alone but reverberates in and out of the Cordillera onto the rest of our country. Baguio City acts as the hub of creativity pulsating to and from the peripheral localities of Benguet and the rest of the Cordillera. The Cordillera region is intrinsic to this creative culture as well as economy and therefore, a regional perspective for development planning is rendered inevitable.
Accordingly, with the UNESCO Creative City declaration comes governance challenges for Baguio City and the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR). The RTD highlighted important questions: Can the current governance framework based on the Local Government Code respond to requirements for building this emerging Creative City? Is there an institutionalized mechanism that may facilitate coordination among city and national government agencies together with other stakeholders from business, civil society and the general public?
Many of the concerns raised in the RTD involve national laws such as those on environment, labor, business and infrastructure — in effect, formal-legal institutions, which were revealed to be intersecting with informal ones, thus calling for a closer examination of the institutionalization process.
At the regional level, what could be the role of the CAR in this Creative City developmental trajectory? How does the CAR facilitate linkages between its various local governments? And for Baguio City, how is it a catalyst of local and regional development?
It is worth noting that the UCCN declaration of Baguio City as Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art widely opens a path for achieving our national development goals, as embodied in the 2017-2022 Philippine Strategic Framework to Promote Philippine Culture and Values. Our culture and values — more than merely our livelihood but our national identity is at stake in this era of symbolic, creative economy. Moreover, this creative economy’s growth prospects consolidate in cities needing urban regeneration and environmental renewal. Without question, addressing governance issues must be of utmost priority.
May Zuleika Salao, PhD is director of the Political Economy Program of the School of Law and Governance, University of Asia and the Pacific.
Michael Henry Yusingco, LL.M is a non-resident research fellow at the Ateneo Policy Center of the Ateneo School of Government.