The 2009 Philippine National Artists Awards

5 August 2009 at 6:18 AM | Posted in News | 2 Comments

Knowing that Cecile Guidote Alvarez is one of my closest friends, a number of people have been asking me what I think of the latest batch of National Artists. This is what I think.

Cecile Alvarez deserves to be a National Artist, but not this way.

Alvarez was nominated some years back for the award. She was chosen by her peers in theater then as their group nominee in the first phase of the selection process. She did not, at that time, get through the second phase. It is not unusual for a National Artist to have lost in earlier years. Some make it on their second or third tries. I believe that, sooner or later, Alvarez would have gotten the award anyway. She has certainly amassed a body of theater work of the quality and quantity expected of a National Artist, not only in PETA and Philippine television and radio, but in New York.

What Arroyo has done is to rob Alvarez of the joy of attaining the award on her own.

As for the other presidential awardees, I am familiar with the work of Francisco “Bobby” Manoza. I nominated him in previous years and argued for him this year. He, however, failed to make it through the third phase of this year’s screening. I also believe that, sooner or later, he would win the award on his own. He has certainly built enough homes and buildings in his version of what is Filipino architecture, focusing on bamboo. To me, he is clearly worthy of being a National Artist, but not this way.

Although I am no longer active as a film critic, I know how the work of Carlo Caparas compares with those that have been unsuccessfully nominated, at one time or another, for the National Artist awards, such as Nora Aunor, Dolphy, Vilma Santos, Celso Ad. Castillo, and Kidlat Tahimik. I am very familiar with the work of the previous National Artists, namely, Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal, Gerardo de Leon, Fernando Poe Jr., and Eddie Romero (and now, as decided by artists themselves, Manuel Conde). A mere listing of the names of the National Artists is enough argument against the inclusion of Carlo Caparas. Those insisting that the choice of Caparas is the first time we have recognized popular culture are insulting the memory and stature of Poe, the most popular cinema artist of his time (who, by the way, should have been our president).

I cannot say anything about Pitoy Moreno, since I am not into fashion design. I was against, and am still against, fashion design as a category for art, despite my great respect for its advocate and my friend Patis Tesoro. It is true that art, like everything else, is rapidly changing and we cannot stick to the traditional list of seven arts, but we cannot expand the definition of art to such an extent that it will lose its meaning. If it is true that life is short but art is long, fashion, from its very name, is even shorter than life.

Since it is the letter of the law that has allowed a de facto president to subtract and add to the list of National Artists decided upon through an exhaustive (and exhausting) screening process, we should take steps to change the law. I suggest that we do with the National Artists what the JBC does with SC justices: the president (whoever s/he is) should not be allowed to choose anyone not in the list, not should s/he be allowed to suggest names to include in the list. That is justice. Art deserves no less.



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  1. I agree with not involving the President as the final step in the process of selecting the National Artist as it belittles the exhaustive selection process. It places the President at a higher level than the panel of peers that review the nominations. This subjects to scrutiny the qualification of the President in passing judgement upon the selection of National Artists, when there is already in place a strict set of criteria and selection guidelines used by the panel of peers.

  2. Francisco "Bobby" Manoza definitely deserves the award. He has a body of work that is very solid and Filipino.

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