On mid-afternoon of August 7, 2009, which was a Friday, an assembly of artists and members of academe and the youth sector attended a rare kind of necrological services. As a symbolic gesture, eight National Artists placed their medallions in a wooden chest. The chest served as coffin which was buried in the garden of the Cultural Center of the Philippines main theater.
The National Artists vowed they will only retrieve their medallions once their protest has been vindicated in their favor.
The “mourners” included National Artist for Cinema Eddie Romero, National Artists for Visual Arts Napoleon Abueva, Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera and Arturo Luz, National Artist for Theater Salvador Bernal, and National Artists for Literature F. Sionil Jose, Virgilio Almario and Bien Lumbera.
Hopefully, those National Artist medallions will soon be dug up inasmuch as the controversy that stirred the furor has been finally resolved by the Supreme Court last Tuesday, July 16.
What stirred the hornet’s nest of protests and medallion-burying was the confer-ment of the National Artist Awards by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to these particular awardees: Cecile Guidote Alvarez for Theater, Carlo Caparas for Film and Visual Arts, Pitoy Moreno for Fashion and Francisco Mañosa for Architecture. The awardees allegedly did not pass thru the normal process of selection.
The protesting artists focused their indignation on two “awardees”—Director Caparas and then NCCA Executive Director Alvarez. They explained that Carlo Caparas even surpassed the achievements of the other official nominees like Dolphy and Director Celso Ad Castillo who were then still alive.
Protesters pointed out that Alvarez should have the delicadeza to refuse or postpone for another year the conferment of the award on her since she was then the executive director of the NCCA which administers the awards together with the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Providing support to the 8 National Artists were FAP Director General Leo Martinez, film directors Joel Lamangan, Carlitos Siguion-Reyna, Gil Portes, Mark Meily and Joey Javier Reyes.
Other showbiz figures included Maan Hontiveros, Jim Paredes, comedian Eugene Domingo, Ces Quesada, Bibeth Orteza, singers Leah Navarro, Bituin Escalante, Isay Alvarez and Celeste Legaspi.
Also present was Gov. Imee Marcos who was then still a congresswoman. Award-winning cinematographer Romy Vitug, then armed with a videocam.
For the 2009 National Artist selection, the awards were officially conferred to three others: namely, Manuel Conde , for film and broadcast arts; Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, for visual arts; and Lazaro Francisco, for literature.
National Artist Lumbera, who was a member of the final selection committee of the NCCA, said they did not include Caparas in the shortlist of nominees that was sbmitted to President Arroyo that May. He added the NCCA and CCP panel only submitted four names to the President and these were Conde, Alcuaz, Lazaro and Ramon Santos, for music. Santos was eventually dropped in favor of the four NA awardees.
The director-general of the Film Academy of the Philippines, Leo G. Martinez, released the following statement anent the controversy:
Where did he come from?
Some weeks back, news was rife about the National Artist Awardees awaiting confirmation by Malacañang. Cited as National Artist for Film, albeit posthumously, was Manuel Conde. We at the Film Academy of the Philippines had nominated Director Celso Ad. Castillo, but really, nobody can dispute Mr. Conde’s place in Philippine cinema’s history. We believe that even Director Castillo who is similarly deserving of the award will graciously acknowledge the greatness of the man.
Two days ago, the confirmation was finally announced and to our surprise and to the surprise of many in the film industry, the National Artist Award for Film was also conferred on Carlo Caparas. Not only that, he was bestowed the National Artist Award for Film AND Visual Arts. So, where did he come from? Throughout the long and exacting selection process, Carlo Caparas was never ever mentioned as nominee, not for film and surely not for visual arts. All of a sudden, he is a National Artist and seemingly the most gifted of all for straddling two major art fields.
There only seems to be one answer to this mystery. Between the Awards selection panels and us, the people, the list of awardees made a stop-over in Malacañang. Someone waved the magic wand and a name appeared, a person who never went through the incisive and deliberate scrutiny that the rest of the awardees were subjected to by the Awards organizers. I believe that this is an act of blatant accommodation.
Conferring the highest award on someone who was never in the running makes a travesty of the National Artists Awards, an institution that has been looked up to, venerated even for the recognition it gives to Filipinos whose body of works or whose contribution to the Filipino people is of the highest order. We have as this year’s awardees Manuel Conde for Film and Federico Alcuaz for Visual Arts. Both are commendable, both beyond question. It has never been done before but had the Organizers wanted to give the same award to more than one person, why not consider the other most deserving nominees. Instead, and to our utter disgust, a new category was coined and the two most prestigious awards for Film and Visual Arts were conferred on Carlo Caparas.
It is a pity that the National Artists Awards has been reduced to a joke.
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