For someone who’s been waiting for the National Artist Award (NAA) proclamation, I dare say it’s been as exciting a climax as it can be, given a President who did exactly what I feared he would: refuse to declare TV, film and stage icon, and actress beyond compare Nora Aunor a National Artist.
I was giving PNoy the benefit of the doubt. Certainly he could have gone the other direction and decided to sign Nora’s proclamation. Certainly he could have considered the various things we’ve heard were raised against her and agreed with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ committees that these don’t matter. Say tax evasion? Non-existent cases. Drug addiction? Stricken off her record for having done community service, and therefore non-existent.
Of course this is to even acknowledge that these things matter at all, or should matter at all, before giving anyone a National Artist Award. The thing is we all know that these issues are only being raised because we are talking about Nora Aunor, The Superstar.
We are also talking about Ate Guy, and everything that means.
As Ate Guy
Because it is the fact that we know of Nora Aunor’s work, as we do of Ate Guy’s persona, that to me has spelled the difference between her and the rest of the National Artists we’ve got. Doing her work in film and music, the stage and television, Nora Aunor was not, and could not be, just about her work as actress.
Because Nora is also Ate Guy. She who we know to have adopted many children, long before Angelina Jolie made it fashionable. She who fell in love, time and again, with the most unexpected of men.
I was six the year Ate Guy starred in Himala. I grew up loving Pinoy popular and mass culture, local TV and movies, and knew only of Ate Guy as Elsa, the barrio lass who held a whole community in the palm of her miraculous hand. At some point in college I would realize the magnitude of this role, the breadth and scope of its importance, how scholars have studied it, how it made Nora into an icon. More importantly, how Nora as an actress made that role iconic.
This is the thing with our better actresses really: some roles make their careers, and some actresses make these roles far bigger and more important than others. This to me is the Nora-Elsa dynamic, which is also to point out the complexity of her iconography. Who is the actress playing a role, and which role is it that allows us to reimagine the actress as person?
With Nora, that person is also Ate Guy, her kindness and kasupladahan included, her spoken voice almost a whisper, her singing voice still unequaled. She speaks with a humility, like she is no Superstar. Yet she is elusive and evasive like a Superstar, rebelling against convention and proving she doesn’t care about the news at all. She epitomized rakenrol about as much as she does devil-may-care.
In the context of an entertainment industry that has devolved into fakery and manufactured personas, where one’s wealth and privilege are enough reason to get anyone on TV and in film, and where oversharing one’s personal life makes anyone a celebrity, there is no one like Ate Guy. There is also nothing like having her in our midst.
PNoy obviously doesn’t understand. But that’s why there’s an NAA Committee made up of experts and National Artists, to decide who deserves the award. That should be the reason why the President must sign off on it.
It is obvious to us all that this is not about Ate Guy’s body of work. It is about what the President thinks of her. I don’t know about you but that sounds like a grave abuse of discretion.
That Supreme Court decision on the 2009 National Artist proclamations of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo defines grave abuse of discretion to be an act (1) done contrary to the Constitution, the law or jurisprudence or (2) executed whimsically, capriciously or arbitrarily, out of malice, ill will or personal bias.
If we are to believe the more dominant story about this non-conferment of the award to Ate Guy, it would seem to be the case of drug possession against her in Los Angeles that put her on the President’s chopping block. This is after the Joint NCCA-CCP Committee for NAA, and Malacañang’s own Honors Committee, have said that Ate Guy deserves the award regardless.
This is the President exercising his right to ignore recommendations for National Artists, yes. But also this is the President executing an act on pure personal bias. And it is not even just a bias against Ate Guy because of her personal history. It’s a bias against her because she is an artista, whose work and life are interwoven by virtue of the artistic form she is part of.
Because we do not know the personal histories of our National Artists for Architecture or Literature, Dance or Music, or Visual Arts. Their lives are not feed and fodder for tabloid and showbiz news, their personas extraneous to the judgment of their work. Certainly we’ve got National Artists who are just as aloof as Ate Guy, if not even more so. Certainly we’ve got National Artists who are just as temperamental, and who are rebels in their own fields. All artists choose their own poison.
Certainly they have been declared as National Artists no matter these personal quirks, no matter these personal histories.
My brother is not … a pig!
Many things are clear now. One, that when Boy Abunda and Kris Aquino used their Sunday showbiz talkshow to absolve PNoy of the sin of not declaring Ate Guy, they were actually spinning this story. Because they pinned the blame on the Honors Committee of Malacañang, and yet Secretary Sonny Coloma says this was all the President’s doing, exercising his right to remove a recommended National Artist from the list of those proclaimed, never mind that it’s purely a personal bias against Ate Guy as artista.
Two, there is something wrong with an NAA that has to pass through an Honors Committee made up of political appointees. It’s a problem that has everything to do with another body that is purely political in nature, submitting their own recommendations to the President. That this PNoy government has kept the NAA under the Honors Committee at all, is so very Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of them.
Three, an icon like Nora Aunor, whose body of work is cradled by the fields of cinema, TV, stage and popular music will always be victimized by being Ate Guy, the artista. And this is the real irony: the same field that allows Nora Aunor to even vie for the National Artist Award, is also the same field that has become her liability.
That is of course because this President has a personal bias against showbusiness and popular culture, and judges Ate Guy not on her work but her personal life.
One wonders how he judges someone like his own sister.