The Film Desk of the Young Critics Circle (YCC) condemns the exclusion of Nora Aunor (Nora Cabaltera Villamayor) by President Benigno S.“Noynoy” Aquino III from the roster of National Artists proclaimed this year.
Aunor was nominated as National Artist for Film and duly passed all levels of screening in the legally constituted process presided over by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and the National Commission for Culture and theArts (NCCA), acting jointly as the Order of National Artists (ONA) Secretariat. Her nomination, and her subsequent inclusion in the final list drawn up by theCCP and the NCCA, was made in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the Philippine film industry and to Philippine culture and arts in general. Her powerful portrayals of various roles over the past several decades of her career have received wide acclaim both at home and abroad, including from ourown organization, which has cited her for Best Performance five times.
We are outraged that, in the wake of a stringent process of selection by our state cultural institutions, the President of the Republic nevertheless elected not to bestow upon Aunor the rank and honor of National Artist because Aunor ,he claimed, had been convicted and punished in a drug case, referring specifically to her being taken into custody for alleged possession of metamphetamine hydrochloride in California in 2005. This supposedly made her unworthy to be a role model for Filipinos, and would send the wrong message about the use of illegal substances.
We argue that his reasoning is utterly destitute, premised as it is on a misapprehension of the circumstances of Aunor’s arrest, as has been pointed out by Claire Navarro Espina, Aunor’s lawyer in the United States. Moreover, it can only have a chilling effect upon anyone who has ever struggled with drug abuse, a widespread problem in this country, especially among the young—can there be no hope for rehabilitation and redemption?
We believe that issues pertaining to morality are contentious at best and must not be applied to the recognition of a National Artist. What matters most is the artist’s superior development of her craft, which should be recognized by her peers primarily, and by the Filipino people ultimately. Such consideration has been met by the disqualified nominee.
As a critics’ group that advocates dynamic interactions between artist,artwork, and audience, we think that the state plays a crucial role in the development of artistry, and the appreciation thereof, in the country. With its wide institutional reach and public funding, it significantly influences not only the creation and dissemination of works of art, but also the examination and celebration of these and their makers. The state must be mindful that it performs its role in the name of the Filipino people.
“At the end of the day,” as President Aquino always concludes his interviews, the matter at hand bodes ill for the Filipino people. The same thing happened in 2009: it will be remembered that then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, whom the incumbent chief executive despises and professes to be in contrast to, chose not to proclaim renowned composer and music scholar Ramon Santos as National Artist, despite the fact that Santos had garnered the highest score from the ONA Secretariat–a act of caprice that the Supreme Court unfortunately saw fit to uphold in 2013. We are extremely concerned that the selection of such esteemed individuals as the National Artists has once more been subjected to an exercise of presidential prerogative that, however legal, does not demonstrate the least bit of rigor in thought or awareness of responsibility, and join the artistic community in the call to rethink and reform the ONA.