Where has the National Artist declaration gone?
Because I remember hearing from the grapevine that the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) had already submitted its final list to the Office of the President, before, if not around the time, Yolanda hit, I figured then that the declaration could only be delayed by the tragedy, and rightfully so.
But it’s been two months since, and the National Artist Award (NAA) has become the subject of rumors. And while bad / sad news isn’t extraordinary for this institution—we could go on and on! —this time around the rumors point to something that we haven’t heard in recent years about the NAA. And while this might all be chismis, it’s interesting and new enough to warrant a conversation.
This is what happens when we wait too long for the President to make the declaration.
Not simply presidential prerogative
The normal controversy that surrounds the NAA has to do with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s Executive Order No. 435, s. 2005 which amended Section 5 (IV) of Executive Order 236 of 2003. The latter states that the President will confer the National Artist Award to deserving individuals “upon the recommendation of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).” The more important amendment via EO435 was in this statement: “the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Cultural Center of the Philippines shall advise the President on the conferment of the Order of National Artists.” This effectively downgrades the function of the CCP and the NCCA, where in the end the President is not bound to work with a recommendation, and is free to ignore advice.
In practice, the President could always add one (or two) names to the list of National Artists, and this would be acceptable. But GMA did one over the NAA, when she not only added four people to the list in 2009—Carlo Caparas, Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, Francisco Mañosa and Pitoy Moreno—but also removed one name from the CCP-NCCA list, that of Ramon Santos.
My issue from the beginning was that she didn’t need to remove anyone at all from the list; she could’ve added the four names without having to sacrifice one, after all. But also it became about two things: whether or not Caparas was qualified to be National Artist at all, rejected as he was by two committees (literature and visual arts), and the unethical nature of having proclaimed Guidote-Alvarez when she was Executive Director of NCCA at that time.
In July 2013, the Supreme Court declared void GMA’s proclamation of her four chosen National Artists for 2009. Sadly, this did not mean the automatic proclamation of Ramon Santos.
The Superstar of the 2013 NAA
I was glad to hear from the grapevine that Ramon Santos was again being recommended by the CCP-NCCA National Artist Selection Committee. It is the right thing to do. I heard, too, that Cirilo Bautista is finally National Artist for Literature, which makes me immensely happy, literature major that I am.
But the bigger name really is that of Nora Aunor. And yes, her name on that list was part of the chismis that I heard, and I thought then that she absolutely deserves it—in fact no other movie actress does. No other actress after all has made many of her roles iconic; memorable doesn’t quite cut it for Ate Guy. She is Elsa as she is Bona, and she is Flor Contemplacion as she Mabuti, and that list goes on. She had the longest running variety show on television via Superstar, has a singing voice so distinct, it barely matters if she’s making albums still.
Noranians have been giddy with expectation, and one can’t help but join in the excitement. Because there is something wonderful about having the Superstar of Philippine TV and movies having a go at an award that is always being criticized for being elitist.
Ah, but the rumors have also zeroed in on Ate Guy, where talks have been rife about how her morals are being put into question, and is in fact the reason why she has yet to be proclaimed National Artist, and why there has yet to be proclamation at all. It was unclear in the beginning what they meant by morals and morality, until showbiz reporter Arnel Ramos wrote about how it seems to be about the kind of citizen Ate Guy is. That is, so the rumors say, this is about Ate Guy’s alleged tax evasion cases, which to the powers-that-be are an important aspect of her being “National Artist.”
Nowhere in the Proclamation No. 1001 (April 27 1972), which established the Order of the National Artist Award, is there a morality clause; neither is there a sense that one’s tax paying (or non-taxpaying) self needs to be considered in deciding who can be National Artist. If this is true, that we are judging Ate Guy on aspects of her person that have nothing to do with her contributions to Philippine cinema, music and television, then we are being unfair to her. If this is true, and she will lose a National Artist Award based on something that is extraneous to her body of work, then we must hold all National Artists under that same lens.
That this lens is one that’s about morality and decency, subjective and changing as that is, will of course make this an impossible task. One wonders why we’re making it possible for Ate Guy.