By JO ERLINDA G. NEBRES
MANILA (PhilAmPress) – President Benigno S. Aquino III has declared six individuals as National Artists of the Philippines, dropping superstar Nora Aunor in the process.
The six new National Artists are Cirilo Bautista (Literature), Alice Reyes (Dance), Francisco Feliciano (Music), Ramon Santos (Music), Francisco Coching (Visual Arts), and Jose Maria Zaragoza (Architecture, Design, and Allied Arts).
Aquino’s decision to drop actress and singer Nora Aunor immediately earned support but drew criticism from fans, directors and some previously proclaimed National Artists themselves.
The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), whose joint Boards of Commissioners and Directors by law, together with some National Artists, are mandated to administer the Order of National Artists, recommended the superstar for the top honor, said they would appeal the President’s decision.
NCCA Chairman Felipe de Leon and lawyer Trixie Angeles, a former NCCA commissioner, disclosed that Aunor got the highest votes during the vetting in several panels and the final voting by the joint boards of NCCA and CCP.
“Nora Aunor was a popular choice,” de Leon and Angeles said in separate interviews.
The NCCA chief, in a statement on the issue, stated:
“The NCCA is pleased at the proclamation of five new National Artists of the Philippines. While we still need to determine the bases for Ms. Aunor’s exclusion, the commission is prepared to review the processes of proclamation and formulate policies to strengthen procedure and to ensure that the determination of who finally gets the title of National Artist is free from political influences and elements unrelated to artistic accomplishments. Meanwhile, we congratulate the new National Artists.”
Ironically, it was NCCA Chairman de Leon, then an NCCA Commissioner, who questioned the choice of award-winning composer George Canseco as nominee for the National Artist award for music, due to flimsy and unsubstantiated report.
National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, who was one of the living National Artists, who voted for Nora Aunor, was also outraged by the President’s decision.
.“The Office of the President owes the CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines) and the NCCA an explanation for the insulting disregard of the choice of Nora Aunor for national artist. I ask fellow national artists and other artists to protest this insult to the rigorous process of choosing national artists,” Lumbera said.
Aunor was the only nominee for Film. She would have been the seventh recipient of the honor since it was instituted by Proclamation No. 1001 in 1972. The six National Artists for Films are Gerardo de Leon (1982), Lino Brocka (1997), Ishmael Bernal (2001), Eddie Romero (2003), Fernando Poe, Jr. (2006) and Manuel Conde (2009).
Fans of the legendary actress and singer were outraged by the unexpected turn of events.
The Facebook pages Nora Aunor for National Artist and Nora Aunor for National Artist: The Real Journey Begins Here changed their profile and cover photos to black shortly after the announcement was made.
“Ang itim na profile pic ng ating fanpage ay simbolo ng pagluluksa sa hindi makatarungang pagtanggal sa pangalang NORA AUNOR sa listahan ng mga nominado bilang National Artists. Maaari nyo ring gawin ito bilang pakikiisa sa pagdadalamhati ng sangkanoranianan sa buong mundo. Ate Guy, ikaw pa rin ang Superstar at ikaw pa rin ang TUNAY NA NATIONAL ARTIST sa wagas na pakahulugan. Ang hindi pagproklama sa iyo ay hindi makadudungis ng iyong tagumpay bilang tunay na alagad ng sining. Mahal ka naming,” posted the admin of Nora Aunor for National Artist fanpage.
On Twitter, a similar sentiment was also expressed by those favoring Ate Guy’s proclamation as National Artist.
Aside from Nora Aunor, President Aquino also dropped from the award, National Artists proclaimed in 2009 by his predecessor, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, except for four persons not recommended by the joint boards of the NCCA and CCP.
Those bypassed were the late visual artist Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, fictionist Lazaro Francisco and filmmaker Manuel Conde. Only Ramon Santos was restored as National Artist from among the 2009 batch of National Artists.
Composer Santos was conferred the honor National Artist for Music after a five-year wait. Santos was elected in 2009 but was dropped from the list by then President Arroyo, who added the names of komiks novelist Carlo J. Caparas, theater artist Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, architect Francisco Mañosa and fashion designer Jose “Pitoy” Moreno.
The proclamation of Santos’ fellow conferees in 2009—visual artist Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, fictionist Lazaro Francisco and filmmaker Manuel Conde—was likewise deferred because of the scandal.
The Supreme Court eventually upheld the elevation of Santos, Alcuaz, Francisco and Conde as National Artists, and voided the proclamation of Caparas, Alvarez, Mañosa and Moreno but there was no official conferment of the Order of National Artists since their proclamation in 2009.
Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said the declaration was made by virtue of Proclamation Nos. 807, 808, 809, 810, 811, and 812 signed and issued by President Aquino on Friday June 20, 2014.
The Order of National Artists was established under Proclamation No. 1001, s. 1972 to give appropriate recognition and prestige to Filipinos who have distinguished themselves and made outstanding contributions to Philippine Arts and Letters.
It is the highest state honor conferred on individuals deemed as having done much for their artistic field as recommended by both the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA).
Cirilo Bautista is a multi-awarded poet, fictionist, professor, critic, and essayist whose body of works includes “Boneyard Breaking,” “Sugat ng Salita,” “The Archipelago,” among others that has received various accolades from both here and abroad.
Alice Reyes is a dancer and choreographer who founded Ballet Philippines in 1969, which is widely recognized as a cornerstone of the Filipino cultural identity and is known globally as the country’s flagship company in ballet and contemporary dance.
Francisco Feliciano is one of the country’s most important composers and one of Asia’s leading figures in liturgical music who has created more than 30 major works that include operas and music dramas and hundreds of liturgical pieces, mass settings, hymns, and songs for worship.
Ramon Santos is a world-renowned Filipino composer whose works have been performed in major music festivals around the world. He has also done extensive studies in Philippine traditional music and Southeast Asian and Southern China music.
Francisco V. Coching was an illustrator and writer regarded by many as one of the pillars of the Philippine comic book industry. He was the man behind popular comic book characters Pedro Penduko and Hagibis that graced the pages of Liwayway magazine.
Jose Maria Zaragoza was considered a major figure in the architectural development of the Philippines. Among the places he designed were the Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City, St. John Bosco Parish Church in Makati, and the Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Posadas Village, Muntinlupa.
The Communications Secretary said President Aquino will confer the Order of the National Artist on these individuals in an appropriate ceremony in Malacanang. The artist’s Francisco V. Coching and Jose Maria Zaragoza will both be awarded posthumously.
Coloma defended the President amidst the criticism on dropping Aunor for the award. He explained that President Aquino has the prerogative to choose the persons who deserve the highest recognition for their contributions to local arts.
“It is the duty of the President to decide on who among the shortlisted nominees deserve to be conferred the Order of the National Artist. In making the decision, the President considered how each of the nominees measured up to the criteria for choice,” Coloma said.
“We are certain that his decision was based on what will best serve the national interest because the Order of the National Artist gives recognition to those who excelled in the arts and letters and embodied the goodness and nobility of the Filipino people,” he added.
Coloma however argued that the President has the “final decision” on who will be proclaimed National Artist.
“It is the highest recognition given to outstanding Filipinos in the arts and letters so it is only proper the highest leader of the country who has the mandate of the people, who was elected, would have the final decision on who deserves to be National Artist,” Coloma said in Filipino.
The President earlier reportedly refused to confer the Order of National Artist on Aunor because of various reasons, moral issues, including her alleged use of illegal drugs and her arrest in Los Angeles, California, according to sources.
The sources said the President wanted to ensure the National Artists could be role models for the Filipino nation especially the youth.
Asked if the drug case of the film actress was considered in the selection process, Coloma admitted he has not yet talked to the President about the matter.
But Coloma said they hope the public would understand the President’s prerogative on the selection of the National Artists. He maintained that Aquino only thought of the best interest of the country.