MANILA, Philippines ? Malacañang?s announcement of the new set of National Artists has stirred a hornet?s nest and elicited cries of outrage.
Concerned artists said the fact that Malacañang?s picks were more than the nominees of the selection committee showed that the National Artist awards had become a way for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to accommodate her allies.
Early this week, Ms Arroyo approved the nomination of theater stalwart Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, filmmakers Manuel Urbano (aka Manuel Conde) and Carlo Magno Jose J. Caparas, visual artist Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, novelist Lazaro Francisco, architect Francisco ?Bobby? Mañosa and fashion designer Jose ?Pitoy? Moreno as National Artists.
But concerned artists said that of the seven, only three?Conde, Alcuaz and Francisco?were short-listed in May by the selection committee composed of members of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). The other four were included as part of the so-called President?s prerogative.
The inclusion of Caparas and NCCA executive director Guidote-Alvarez was particularly galling to the artistic community.
According to actor and director Leo Martinez, chair of the Film Academy of the Philippines, neither of the two was included in the shortlist and deliberations of the selection committee.
Martinez told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that many artists were discouraged to see that the awarding was based on politics, and not on a nominee?s body of work.
He said the selection process had been ?disregarded? and ?cheapened.?
According to the rules, the President is allowed to pick a National Artist, director Eddie Romero said in a phone interview on Thursday.
?It seems it?s the first time the presidential prerogative was used to declare four artists. It?s like a wholesale declaration,? said Romero, National Artist for Film and the Broadcast Arts.
Also on Thursday, Bienvenido Lumbera, National Artist for Literature and a member of the NCCA/CCP selection committee, described the results as ?outrageous.?
?It was Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, as executive director of the NCCA, who had insisted on the President?s right to add names that were not discussed in the committee,? Lumbera recalled.
?Cecile shouldn?t have allowed herself to be named National Artist because she runs the NCCA. It smacks of utter lack of delicadeza (propriety),? he said.
What was more ?shocking,? Lumbera said, was that musician Ramon Santos was ?dropped to accommodate four names that didn?t figure in the committee deliberation.?
Those four names were Caparas, Guidote-Alvarez, Mañosa and Moreno.
Romero said that when he was declared a National Artist in 2003, he never campaigned for the honor. ?I didn?t even know that I was being considered.?
Lumbera said that this year, there was ?heavy campaigning because the government wanted to ensure the selection of four people.?
Martinez said the film community had nominated the late Conde and director Celso Ad. Castillo, but not Caparas, who he described as ?undeserving? of the honor.
He pointed out that Caparas?who made a name writing komiks novels and directing a string of ?massacre movies? in the 1990s?was appointed National Artist for Visual Art and Film, thus being awarded a new category for himself.
?It?s an insult to Manuel Conde,? Martinez said. ?Can you compare Caparas? body of work to those of Conde and [the late National Artists for Cinema] Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal and Gerry de Leon??
In his blog, comic book writer and artist Gerry Alanguilan said Caparas? nomination was a big disrespect to pioneering Filipino illustrators.
Said Alanguilan: ?Carlo J. Caparas is not qualified to be named National Artist for Visual Art. I?m not sure if President GMA was aware when she gave this title, but Caparas is not an illustrator. For every single story he has written, another artist worked with him to draw his story.
?How can someone who does not draw his stories, especially his most successful ones, ever be named National Artist for Visual Art??
?Dagdag National Artist?
Romero said he did not wish to question Caparas? appointment as he did not know the man personally.
He said his main concern was a reassessment of the rules governing the ?very complicated? selection of National Artists: ?When there?s a provision that gives a higher political authority power to choose a National Artist ... that leaves it open to a lot of intrigue.?
Romero, who is also a member of the NCCA/CCP committee, called such a provision ?a mistake.?
He explained: ?The President is the President. But that doesn?t necessarily qualify her to supersede the committee. It dilutes the process and, in a way, cheapens it.?
Lumbera recalled that as early as the deliberation process, he had pointed out that ?if the President wants to honor other people, she should set up a separate award.?
?What?s the sense of having a committee if it would be bypassed in the end?? he said.
He also said there was no need to revise the rules: ?The President only needs to respect the rules.?
Lumbera stressed that the selection process ?should not be tainted by politics.?
?Artists and cultural workers should band together and point out to the President that there should be no political intervention in naming National Artists,? he said.
?Why bad news only??
He also dismissed the presidential prerogative as ?DNA? or ?Dagdag National Artist??an allusion to the ?dagdag-bawas? (vote-padding and -shaving) that has long marred Philippine elections.
Calling from Cebu where he was shooting his latest film ?Ang Pangarap Kong Jackpot,? Caparas said that instead of criticizing his award, entertainment people ?should unite and work together to revive the ailing movie and komiks industry.?
?Let?s leave politics out of it,? he said. ?We always criticize the President. Why is that we only highlight the negative? Between good and bad news, we emphasize the bad.?
Caparas said he was aware of the criticism that his victory had bypassed such komiks legends as Mars Ravelo, Francisco V. Coching, Tony Velasquez and Larry Alcala.
?But they were my fellow recipients of the Presidential Medal of Merit in 2007. In any case, I am representing other komiks novelists and artists with this honor. I believe I was given this award because I was able to cross over from komiks to movies and TV.?
As for other entertainment icons who were bypassed, like comedy king Dolphy and superstar Nora Aunor, Caparas said ?their time would hopefully come in the near future.?
He defended Alvarez?s nomination as well, saying ?she helped found PETA (Philippine Educational Theater Association), which produced some of the country?s best directors and actors.?
?From the masses?
Caparas said his triumph was significant because he was from the working class: ?I am a National Artist who came from the masses. I work and struggle with them.?
He worked as a night guard in a printing press in his teens before becoming a komiks novelist over three decades ago, he recalled.
He said it was time for a National Artist ?who the masses can identify with?someone who walks beside them, someone who can inspire them.?
Caparas said some Filipinos did not even know the National Artists.
?Hopefully, since I am still active in TV and in the movies, this will encourage our countrymen to learn more about our National Artists,? he said.