MANILA, Philippines ? The tempest over the new set of National Artists continues to rage, with two of the controversial awardees finally breaking their silence on the maelstrom swirling around them.
National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) executive director Cecile Guidote Alvarez, in a statement she sent to the Philippine Daily Inquirer said, ?It is unfortunate that our country is divided by politics. It is through arts that our people can be united. I pray that culture as the nourishing womb will eventually bond together our nation toward the betterment of our citizens.?
Alvarez, who founded the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) in the late 1960s, said the National Artist award recognized her ?lifelong vision of 50 years service for others through initiating and developing a national theater movement that draws meaning and power from the lives and language of our people.?
For his part, Carlo J. Caparas said he had never asked for the award and should be spared criticism.
?Bakit parang ako pa ang may kasalanan (Why am I being made out as the one at fault)? Why are people saying negative things about me? While I worked hard for the award, I never asked for the government to give it to me,? he told the Inquirer Thursday on the phone.
Caparas said he would host a press conference on Friday at 10 a.m. at the NCCA, specifically to answer questions in connection with the controversy.
Meantime, past National Artist awardees called on Malacañang to withdraw its proclamation of Alvarez and Caparas in this year?s crop.
In a press conference at the University of the Philippines Film Center Thursday morning, National Artists for Literature Virgilio Almario and Bienvenido Lumbera said the names of Alvarez and Caparas should be stricken off the list of the 2009 National Artists, and that the selection process should be kept free of politics.
Almario and Lumbera also said they would boycott the award ceremony along with other like-minded National Artists and members of the art community.
The choice of Alvarez as National Artist for Theater is being assailed because she heads the NCCA which administers the awards along with the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). She is also President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?s adviser on culture.
That of Caparas as National Artist for Film and Visual Arts has triggered an uproar because, his critics say, he did not draw any of the komiks characters he created, including the popular ?Panday? and ?Totoy Bato,? and his ?massacre? movies did not qualify him for the honor.
Neither Caparas nor Alvarez was nominated by the selection committee.
A ?necrological service for the National Artist Award? is scheduled Friday at 2-5 p.m. The protest action includes a march/motorcade from the CCP on Roxas Boulevard to the NCCA building in Intramuros, Manila.
A National Artist receives a lump sum of P100,000 upon awarding, a monthly stipend of P24,000, medical support, a P1-million project grant for a year, and other benefits like burial at Libingan ng mga Bayani, according to NCCA commissioner Elmar Beltran Ingles.
?These are public funds and it would be a waste if these are spent on those who don?t deserve the award,? he said.
Ingles said two committees of peers that selected the current crop of National Artists had submitted only four names: Ramon Santos for music, Lazaro Francisco for literature, Manuel Conde for film, and Federico Aguilar Alcuaz for visual arts.
But they were surprised to find that, drawing on the traditional presidential prerogative, Malacañang dropped the name of Santos and ?inserted? the names of Caparas, Alvarez, Francisco Mañosa for architecture, and Jose ?Pitoy? Moreno for fashion.
Ingles said the selection process was laid out by Ms Arroyo herself in a set of guidelines she had signed.
?If the National Artist Award is to remain an honor, what the President did violates that honor,? Lumbera said.
Said Almario: ?We heard there was lobbying for certain names on the list. That should not be so ? If there is something wrong with the process, there should be a discussion on how to improve it, and not simply subvert the process to make accommodations.?
Asked whether he was calling for the removal of Alvarez and Caparas from the list of the 2009 awardees, Almario said: ?Yes, and also to stop the dagdag-bawas (padding and shaving) of the list and to adhere to the legitimate process??
He said the selection process had been debased and that he would not be able to sleep at night until the names of Alvarez and Caparas had been removed from the list.
But according to NCCA Chair and Education Undersecretary Vilma Labrador, Ms Arroyo?s choices were not limited to those recommended by the NCCA-CCP selection committee.
She said Fr. James Reuter, National Artist for Literature Alejandro Roces and Sen. Edgardo Angara had recommended Alvarez, and their peers in their respective fields recommended Caparas, Mañosa and Moreno.
The Malacañang honors committee, which uses the same criteria followed by the CCP-NCCA, can recommend its nominees to the President, she said.
?[Critics] should not put any political color to this,? Labrador said at the regular briefing in Malacañang. ?A presidential award is given by the President.?
She said the NCCA would not withdraw its recommendations, and that it was up to the individual National Artists to reject their proclamation.
?Yes, it?s true, there are a lot of [other] qualified persons, but there?s a time for giving recognition,? she said.
Emily Abrera, chair of the CCP board of trustees, has accused Malacañang of failing to consult the CCP before proclaiming Alvarez and Caparas as National Artists.
But Labrador said that while Alvarez, Caparas, Mañosa and Moreno were not recommended by the CCP-NCCA, they ?passed the criteria? to be proclaimed National Artists.
?Sometimes there are people who simply ignore the credentials or greatness of some persons because of some personal agenda ... If there will be another group to look at the credentials, there is a balance, there is validation,? she said.
Labrador defended Alvarez from criticism that as an official of the NCCA, she could have influenced it into recommending to the Palace her proclamation as National Artist.
She said Alvarez had submitted a resignation letter as early as April but that she was able to prevail upon her to stay so that the NCCA could complete its lineup of activities this year.
?And ask yourselves: Who is the Filipino who has given so much of her sweat and blood for culture better than Cecile Alvarez?? Labrador said.
Alvarez herself ignored the flak, saying that it was up to God to enlighten her critics.
?I am delighted that the award officially underscores the significance of a theater apostolate I have pursued since I was 15 years old to dynamically apply the arts as a force for education; a peaceful weapon to fight poverty, pollution, terrorism and other social ills besetting our nation; a mirror to reflect and forge our cultural identity and appreciate the beauty and bounty of our habitat, heritage, history and language; a vehicle for social transformation; an engine for creative industry development; and a bridge for international understanding,? she said.
Alvarez said the award collectively belonged to all in the theater industry who had worked with her, particularly her students, colleagues and partners in PETA, the Earthsavers Movement, Balintataw, local governments, schools and nongovernment organizations.
She said her joy at receiving the honor was shared by her family?her husband, former Sen. Heherson Alvarez, and their children Hexilon and Herxilia?and friends, such as Father Reuter.
?They gave their faith and love that steeled my determination to realize dreams in spite of difficulties, intrigues and petty rivalries,? she said.
She added that she was dedicating her award to her father, Mauricio Guidote, a film producer turned guerrilla captain who died before she was born.
On Aug. 1, Alvarez was quoted by GMA 7 as saying: ?Before you make a judgment, read my achievements first as an artist. Was I an idiot before I became a National Artist??
Caparas said, ?I don?t understand why people are making a big fuss about this. It?s sad that they have to resort to this tactic. It?s because it?s the first time for a National Artist to have such a long title.
?I?m not being conceited. I just want to point out the truth. The past winners are not well-known. ?Di nila mapalutang ang award na ito. Ngayon lang ulit napapag-usapan (They can?t make this award shine. It?s only now that it?s being talked about again),? he said.
Caparas said that through his work in TV, film and comics, he was able to provide employment to hundreds of Filipinos.
?I ask this question of other National Artists: Have you helped anyone in your work? I think this is not about the National Artist award anymore. It?s a personal attack on me,? he said.
Caparas singled out National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose, whom he described as ?a mere sectoral or campus artist.?
?He writes for a school. Not everyone knows about his work. Does that mean people not familiar with the things he does should also protest his being a National Artist?? Caparas argued, adding:
?He said he walked out on my movies. But while he was walking out, millions were arriving to watch ?The Maggie de la Riva Story.? Who has the problem?the only one who walked out or the millions of viewers who came to watch my film??
Caparas said ?The Maggie de la Riva Story,? released in 1994, held the all-time high box office record. ?The population of Metro Manila at that time was 10 million. Four million people came to watch my film. Ask the film?s producer, Viva Productions, if you think I?m lying to you.?
Lumbera and Almario said they had nothing personal against Caparas and Alvarez, and that any critique of their contribution to Philippine culture could have been discussed thoroughly if their names had been submitted for deliberations.
?[But] what is the power of Caparas? art on the consciousness of the masses? His movies were not important,? Lumbera said.
He said that if Caparas was chosen for his film work, ?what about Dolphy, Nora (Aunor) or Vilma (Santos) or Mike de Leon??
On Alvarez, Almario recalled that when he was NCCA executive director, he was also nominated for the National Artist award but he declined.
?In her case, it is not only an issue of delicadeza but a moral question as well,? he said. With reports from Marinel R. Cruz and Jerome Aning