The kerfuffle over Nora Aunor’s place in the pantheon of Filipino artists (that pitted the culture types against President Aquino and the powers-that-be) was mostly lost on the ordinary Joes—people of my kind and station in life with no interest in culture whatsoever.
We are, sadly, the type described by H.L. Mencken in “The Sahara of the Bozart,” his indictment of the cultural vacuity of the American South.
“It is, indeed, amazing to contemplate so vast a vacuity,” wrote Mencken on the cultural moorings of the American South. Those words apply to us, people with no interest in either music or film, fields where Nora Aunor have made her mark. Or literature for that matter. Maybe we have been too busy putting scarce food on the table and raising it on the hardscrabble land where we grew up to even bother on soaking ourselves up with either high-brow or popular culture.
On the fight between the Palace and the big names of culture, we stayed out and we did not venture our an opinion. We have, so to speak, no “skin in the game.”
So when a popular actor defended Nora Aunor in over-the-top-terms (that she may not be a saint but she is a hero), the search for the areas where she devoted her “ heroism” was really forthcoming. Where was she (Aunor) on politics? Was she ever a dissident or a maverick? The answers, sorry, are not pretty.
In 1971, Nora Aunor, then considered the country’s “superstar” was some sort of pioneer on political endorsement. She sang a campaign jingle to boost the senatorial bid of a Nacionalista Party (meaning the NP of Ferdinand Marcos) candidate, Juan Ponce Enrile.
The opening line of the Aunor-rendered campaign jingle, titled “Aksyon Agad Enrile” was this: “Malinis ang record ni Enrile.”
Did she, during that time, believe in what she sang? Or was she paid handsomely to render that jingle? Mr. Enrile, despite the jingle that dominated the airwaves, did not land in the Top Eight, the number of winning Senate seats before martial law. He landed at 12th place, right behind 11th placer Dominador Aytona. The loss, however, did not affect the standing of Enrile within the power circles. In 1972, he was—as Marcos’s defense secretary- one of the architects of martial rule.
Mr. Enrile was to win his first Senate seat in 1987, the first post-martial law election. He remains a senator up to today but is detained on plunder charges.
In 1998, Nora Aunor barnstormed the country for her chosen presidential candidate, Joseph Estrada. That was her major political involvement after singing that unforgettable jingle “Malinis ang record ni Enrile.” A distinguished lawyer, poet, songwriter (he wrote the words for San Beda’s anthem) and fellow Bicolano—the late Raul Roco— was in that race. But Nora Aunor opted for Joseph Estrada.
I am not from Bicol. But I am still proud of having voted for Raul Roco in the 1998 and 2004 presidential election. And so were ordinary citizens with nuggets of discernment.
That the 1971 candidate of Nora Aunor is now facing plunder charges and her1998 choice was pardoned after being jailed for plunder, is, to be kind about it, a sad commentary on Aunor’s choices in politics.
Were the choices the political choices of a “hero?” That question does not even need an answer.
The efforts to secure a National Artist award for Nora Aunor via the incessant drumbeat of her supposed greatness as an artist do not reflect well on the intellectual types, the culture overlords in the country. How can they deify someone so flawed on her choices on who our leaders should be? One can scale Mt. Everest with the trajectory of the hosannas paid to Aunor’s supposed awesome artistic gifts. But what about her political endorsements aimed at the masa that adore her? One cannot reconcile her supposed gifts with her zero gift on political wisdom.
Of course, the target of the cultural overlords, President Aquino, did not acquit himself well in the kerfuffle either. He finally admitted that the drug charges once faced by Nora Aunor were the deciding factor against the grant of the National Artist award. What?
What has personal virtue got to do with greatness as an artist? Nothing really. The private life of a candidate for a National Artist award should not even matter. Are not artists and performers allowed much leeway on what they do with their private lives? They can even hop from one bed to another without getting the ire of the broader society. Drugs, booze, illicit affairs—the public has tolerance for them on those issues. They are artists, remember.
Of course, the cultural types struck back. Mr. Lumbera, a literary figure who was at the forefront of the efforts to get an award for Nora Aunor, described the president as “arrogant.” Aray ku po. Even the professional Aquino-bashers have not been that creative in bashing the president.
Sadly, the tit for tat was over an issue that has not gained resonance with the ordinary Joes, those living tough lives in their hardscrabble land, those who still fit Mencken’s critique, the inhabitants of the Sahara of the Bozart.