Thursday, August 6, 2009

Yes Virginia, Anyone Can Be a National Artist...

This is precisely why we have rules and institutions. And why principles - like delicadeza - are not flexible.

CANVAS stands squarely with the Filipino cultural community in condemning what is really a mockery of, and total disrespect for, a once proud and prestigious award.


Marking the Death of the National Artists Awards

by Sam L. Marcelo
First published by BusinessWorld, August 5, 2009.

As a protest against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s “meddling,” a funeral will be held on Friday for the “death of the Order of National Artists.”

The event is being organized by several National Artist awardees, Bienvenido Lumbera — himself a National Artist for Literature — told BusinessWorld at the sidelines of a press conference called by the Board of Trustees of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) to denounce the interference.

Among those who are expected to attend the event are National Artists for Visual Arts Arturo Luz and Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera; National Artist for Theater Salvador “Badong” Bernal; National Artists for Literature Virgilio Almario, F. Sionil Jose, and Mr. Lumbera.

The “necrological service and funeral march” will be held on Aug. 7, 2 p.m. onwards, at the CCP front ramp.

Changing lists

When the Palace announced the names of the seven new National Artists last Wednesday, the outrage from the artistic community was immediate.

The list submitted to the Palace for confirmation consisted of four names: Manuel Urbano, also known as Manuel Conde, for film and broadcast arts (posthumous); Lazaro Francisco for literature (posthumous); Federico Aguilar Alcuaz for visual arts, painting, sculpture and mixed media; and Ramon Santos for music.

The list had been given to the Palace by the Board of Trustees of the CCP and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), and living National Artists, after they had narrowed down the list to four from the original 13 who had made it through two rounds of deliberation by the National Artist Award Council of Experts.

According to a statement released yesterday by the CCP Board of Trustees, there were 87 nominees for the National Artist Awards this year. This was cut down to 32 in the first deliberation. A shortlist of 13 nominees was decided on in the second deliberation. On May 6, the NCCA and CCP Boards submitted the final list of recommended awardees to MalacaƱang for confirmation, proclamation and conferral. There were only four names on the list.

Four of the awardees announced last week — Cecilia Guidote-Alvarez for theater, Carlo J. Caparas for visual arts and film, Francisco “Bobby” Manosa for architecture, and Jose “Pitoy” Moreno” for fashion design — were identified by insiders as Presidential “insertions” to the list, while Mr. Santos was dropped — a first in the history of the awards.

Messrs. Caparas, Manosa, and Moreno were all nominated. The first two didn’t make it past the first round of deliberations; Mr. Moreno, on the other hand, was eliminated in the second round. Ms. Guidote-Alvarez was not nominated at all.

Not qualified?

Contrary to a statement by Executive Secretary Eduardo R. Ermita to the effect that Ms. Guidote Alvarez’s executive directorship of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) does not disqualify her, the nomination procedure — which can be perused at the NCCA web site — states that “NCCA and CCP Board members and consultants and NCCA and CCP officers and staff are automatically disqualified from being nominated.”

Most of the criticism from the community has been directed towards Ms. Guidote-Alvarez, who, even if she were eligible, is said to lack a “substantial and significant body of work” (part of the official requirements to be a National Artist) beyond founding the Philippine Educational Theater Association; and towards Mr. Caparas, who did not illustrate his comic stories and whose massacre movies are considered by many to be of questionable cinematic excellence.

“In my personal opinion, the awards have become meaningless after this. If it were in my power, I’d scrap the National Artists Awards — remove it from the state — and establish a new one that’s peer-based,” said a high-ranking official at the CCP, which jointly administers the award with the NCCA.

Mr. Almario, who served as NCCA executive director from 1998-2001 before being named National Artist in 2003, said that it was “alarming” that Ms. Guidote-Alvarez was included in the list of honorees.

“As a matter of delicadeza, she should have resigned before being nominated at all,” he said in cellphone interview with BusinessWorld.

Mr. Almario noted that the practice dubbed “DNA” (Dagdag National Artist) is by no means new.

President Fidel V. Ramos created an entire category called “Historical Literature” for the benefit of biographer Carlos Quirino in 1997. President Joseph “Erap” Estrada conferred the title to his friend Ernani Cuenco, Sr. in 2000. Mrs. Arroyo added Alejandro “Ding” Roces, who served as education secretary under her father, Presidint Diosdado Macapagal, in 2003 for literature, and again used her presidential prerogative to include sculptor Abdulmari Imao in 2006.

“I’ve always been against presidential selections. Dati, pa-isa-isa lang yung DNA. Ngayon, mas marami pa yung dinagdag kaysa yung pinili ng committee, [It used to be only one name would be added. Now, insertions outnumber committee selections],” said Mr. Almario. “Ang bigat at ang pangit ng nangyari. [This is a serious and ugly turn of events.]“

Guidote reacts

In a cellphone interview with BusinessWorld yesterday, Ms. Guidote Alvarez declared, “These are peddled lies. My life in theater is an open book.

“The process was not violated. It was a presidential proclamation. If this [small clique of protesting artists] wants the law changed, they should lobby in Congress instead of creating malice just because they’re Gloria-bashers. There should more civility in their actions and ethics,” she said.

She told BusinessWorld that she resigned as NCCA executive director on May 11.

“I kept my peace because of Tita Cory. But if they’re going to assault my integrity, I have to provide the mechanism for the truth to come out. It’s unfair to say that it was a political gift. Can you denigrate the Ramon Magsaysay Awards? Do they think that I lobbied for that as well? Just talk to the people whose lives have been transformed by theater.

“Are they trying to get back at me because they have an axe to grind? This is like Bien Lumbera organizing a rally supposedly because of a manipulated budget when it was because the President named Vilma Labrador chairman when his other colleagues were salivating for the post,” she claimed.

Life goes on

During a tribute last Friday night for Mr. Santos held at the University of the Philippines, where he chairs the Composition and Theory Department of the College of Music, performers and audience members wore pink ribbons as a show of support for the slighted composer, conductor and musicologist.

Mr. Santos is described in a profile prepared by the CCP as “the country’s foremost exponent of contemporary Filipino music and a prime figure in the second generation of Filipino composers in the modern idiom.”

Aside from “forging of a new alternative musical language founded on a profound understanding and a thriving and sensitive awareness of Asian music aesthetics and culture” — which, he admitted in his speech that night sometimes resulted in compositions that were foreign to the ear and difficult to listen to — Mr. Santos also conducted fieldwork to collect and document music from folk religious groups, which, in turn, he translated into works that “embedded indigenous musical systems into modern musical discourse, and the marriage of Western and non-Western sound.”

In an interview with BusinessWorld, Mr. Santos said that he was teaching a graduate class when he received the news that he was not one of the seven National Artists named.

“I’m okay. I knew something like this could happen — it has been happening. But still, it was quite a shock because no one has ever been dropped [from the list] before. It was disconcerting,” he said.

He added that having worked for CCP and NCCA at different points in his career, he is privy to the inner workings of the awards.

“I find my situation ironic because when I was artistic director of CCP, we refined the guidelines of the National Artists so that there would be a clear basis for selection,” he said, adding that he tendered his resignation when Mr. Cuenco was conferred the title without going through the process during the Estrada administration.

“I won’t stand for something like that. All my life, I’ve been working with artists to preserve integrity in cultural institutions. When there were anomalies, I always fought against them. Du’n ako nalulungkot at nababahala. [That’s what saddens and troubles me.] It’s about losing the value of what I’ve devoted my life to more than the award itself, that’s what I’m saying,” Mr. Santos said.

Asked why he thinks he was dropped, he replied that he didn’t want to make a conjecture. “There are so many possibilities but I’d rather not make any official statement on my suspicions,” he said as he smiled.

“Of course I’m angry, but it’s not the loss of the award that bothers me, it’s the fact that the whole cultural community has been violated,” he continued, adding that the perpetration of irregularities should make the country pause and reflect.

“Along the way, we must have been all remiss. That’s how I look at it,” Mr. Santos said.

“The world of the National Artists Awards is so small; there are larger things — and so I continue my work, I continue to write music, and life goes on.”

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