Noranians will never forgive President Benigno Aquino 3rd for denying their beloved idol the honor of being named a National Artist. That’s understandable. Nora Aunor has left a deep imprint on Philippine cinema, having achieved both critical acclaim and mass popularity.
Resentment towards the presidential veto has now spread beyond Ms. Aunor’s fans. It has touched off a spirited debate on whether the final say in proclaiming National Artists should be left to the President.
Choosing a National Artist is a long and painstaking process. It begins with nominations being submitted to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. The commission reviews the nominations and picks out the most deserving ones.
The commission’s board of trustees then sits with its counterpart in the Cultural Center of the Philippines and winnows the choices down to a short list. It is this list that is submitted to the President.
Here is where the process enters a controversial phase. The President can revise the list by adding or deleting names. He can even disregard the list and proclaim an altogether different set of National Artists.
In 2009, President Gloria Arroyo amended the list, taking out one name and putting in four. She omitted Ramon Santos, and wrote in Carlo Caparas, Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, Francisco Mañosa and Pitoy Moreno.
The revision triggered a firestorm in the local art community. It subsided in 2013, when the Supreme Court invalidated the presidential proclamation naming the four National Artists and rebuking the President for “grave abuse of discretion.”
Two years later, the presidential power to proclaim National Artists is once again being challenged. Presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma has defended the President’s decision to veto Ms. Aunor, saying it “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.”
The spokesman was implying that Ms. Aunor does not deserve the award because she does not have the high moral standing required of a National Artist.
There were insinuations that President Aquino thumbed down the artist because of her alleged addiction to drugs. In 2005, the artist was arrested at the Los Angeles Airport for possession of shabu. But she was cleared of the charges two years later.
Another speculation is that the President resented Ms. Aunor’s past association with the Marcos family. During the Martial Law years, Imee Marcos’ Experimental Cinema of the Philippines bankrolled Himala, the iconic film that starred Ms. Aunor.
Whatever the reason, the President has decided he cannot bestow the National Artist Award for Film on Nora Aunor. By doing so, Mr. Aquino closes his eyes to the dozens of local and international awards the actress has won. He refuses to accept that Ms. Aunor owns five FAMAS best actress awards, elevating her to the FAMAS Hall of Fame. He ignores the four international awards the actress received for her film, Thy Womb.
These are achievements that define a great actress. Yet, she does not qualify as a National Artist.
There is something terribly wrong here, and it’s time to do something about it.
National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera strongly believes that while the President had made his decision, he owes the CCP and NCCA “an explanation for the insulting disregard of the choice of Nora Aunor for national artist.”
Trixie Cruz-Angeles, the legal counsel of NCCA, says a proposal to transfer the authority to declare, proclaim and confer National Artists from the President to the Cultural Center and NCCA is now worth looking at.
We wholeheartedly agree. These two agencies, after all, have the experience and expertise for such a task.
The President should stick to governance and leave the selection of such a prestigious prize to a panel of experts