A Catholic bishop disagreed with the decision of President Benigno Aquino 3rd to exclude acclaimed actress Nora Aunor from this year’s National Artist awardees.
Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes on Monday said Aunor should have been honored as National Artist for Film for her big contribution to Philippine cinema.
“She still deserves it for her great achievement in the film industry,” Bastes said in a text message of Aunor’s arguably rightful claim to the National Artist award.
Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. earlier said the decision of the President to exclude the actress from the National Artist honor roll was already final.
He added that Aquino had considered “how each of the nominees measured up to the criteria for choice.”
“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,” Coloma said in a report.
There were speculations that the President had refused to confer the Order of National Artist on Aunor because of her alleged use of illegal drugs, citing that the “National Artists” could be role models for the people especially the youth.
In 2005, Aunor was arrested at the Los Angeles Airport for allegedly possessing the illegal drug shabu or methamphetamine hydrochloride. She was cleared of the charges in 2007.
According to Bastes, he was willing to set aside what the actress had gone through, citing the actress’s return to the country from the United States to rise again despite the crisis she experienced.
“I’m willing to forget her past because she is rising again in the future,” the bishop said.
Aunor’s exclusion from the National Artist roster has prompted the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA) to review its policies, lawyer Trixie Cruz-Angeles, legal counsel of NCCA, said also on Monday.
NCCA, together with the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ (CCP) Board of Trustees, administers the Order of the National Artists.
On June 20, Malacañang officially named six Filipinos as National Artists namely Cirilo Bautista for Literature, Alice Reyes for Dance, Francisco Feliciano and Ramon Santos for Music, Francisco Coching for Visual Arts and Jose Maria Zaragoza for Architecture, Design, and Allied Arts.
Aunor, however, was vetoed by the President, who has the final say in approving and declaring the National Artists.
While the NCCA shares the sentiments of the masses who wish that their idol be named National Artist, according to Angeles, they could not ask Aquino to justify his decision.
But she said they want to explore what the President’s reason—“national interest”—meant when he rejected Aunor.
When asked what steps the NCCA will pursue, Angeles replied that they would review the policies, especially the power vested in the Philippine President in proclaiming the National Artists.
“To know if the President has absolute power, we will review our policies,” she said.
Angeles added that in recent years, controversies affecting the National Artist awards always involved the President’s powers, which include adding or removing names.
In 2009, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo removed one artist, Ramon Santos, and added four, Carlo Caparas, Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, Francisco Mañosa and Pitoy Moreno, causing a long battle between the government and other National Artists. It was only resolved in 2013 by a Supreme Court decision.
Angeles said the NCCA might consider taking steps in changing this policy, in such a way that only the NCCA and the CCP would have the final say in declaration, proclamation and conferment.
One step would be calling for review of Presidential Proclamation 1001, which created the National Artist awards in 1972.
The proclamation was updated in 1973 by Presidential Decree 208 (Granting certain privileges and honors to National Artists and creating a special fund for the purpose), signed by then-President Ferdinand Marcos.
On the question of morality—National Artists and Aunor fans alike decried that this was the President’s reason for excluding the actress—Angeles said this has never been a basis for the NCCA and the CCP in choosing a National Artist.
Besides her arrest over illegal drugs, Aunor is also accused of being a lesbian.
The NCCA and the CCP have stood by their declaration that Aunor was of “good moral character,” actually a criterion for selecting National Artists.