Friday, August 28, 2009

A Grave Abuse of Discretion: National Artist Awards Controversy Reaches Supreme Court

In the morning of Aug. 19, most of the Philippines’ living National Artists, which included poet-critic-scholar Virgilio Almario, poet-critic-scholar Bienvenido Lumbera, painter Benedicto Cabrera, sculptor Napoleon Abueva, and painter and sculptor Arturo Luz, together with supporters and concerned individuals, most of them prominent and respectable names in the country, marched from Padre Faura Street to the Supreme Court (SC) in Ermita, Manila, to file a 38-page petition to stop the conferment of the National Artist awards to komiks creator and film director Carlo J. Caparas, National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) executive director Cecile Guidote Alvarez, fashion designer Jose “Pitoy” Moreno and architect Francisco Mañosa. The petition also asks for the refraining of the release of cash that goes with the award.
The petition cites “grave abuse of discretion” by President Gloria Arroyo in disregarding “the rigorous process for screening and selection of National Artists;” deleting inexplicably the name of Dr. Ramon Santos, who was chosen by the joint boards of NCCA and Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), which administer the award, as National Artist for music; and adding the names of Alvarez, Caparas, Mañosa and Moreno, who did not go through the selection process, as awardees. Moreover, it says, the naming of Alvarez transgresses the National Artist selection law as she is currently the NCCA head and presidential adviser on culture.
For about two years, the NCCA and CCP stringently screened and deliberated on artists to be proclaimed National Artists, the highest honor the country bestows on its artists. By May of 2009, the two institutions submitted four names for the award: actor and film director Manuel Conde for the field of cinema, painter Frederico Alcuaz for visual arts, novelist in Tagalog Lazaro Francisco for literature and composer and musicologist Santos for music. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita made public the new National Artists on June 29 with the addition of Alvarez, Caparas, Mañosa and Moreno, and the deletion of Santos. Widespread indignation and uproar immediately followed, especially with the naming of Alvarez and Caparas. A protest rally was held on Aug. 7, which was followed by the filing of the petition. A status quo order was issued by the Supreme Court (SC) on Aug. 25, stopping the conferment of the awards.
Artists, art lovers, university deans and professors, writers, cultural workers, students, lawyers and concerned private individuals acted as co-petitioners and rallied behind the National Artists together with the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), an organization of artists that promotes the rights and welfare of Filipino artists and cultural workers, headed by Lumbera.
“The arts and culture are constitutionally protected fields. They are, thus, greatly impressed with public interest and public policy should be directed toward this. For this reason, any act of the President or officers and/or agencies acting under her or on her behalf that would diminish arts and culture would be compelling reason for this court to act,” the petition stated.
Spearheaded by Marvic Leonen, dean of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law, and Theodore Te, vice president for legal affairs of UP, who act as petitioners and counsels, the petition named respondents as Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the CCP, the NCCA, Caparas, Alvarez, Moreno and Mañosa.
The petition states that the President “gravely abused her discretion in disregarding the results of the rigorous screening and selection process for national artist and in substituting her own choice for those of the National Artist experts panel by appointing the private respondents” and argues that “the President’s discretion to name National Artists is not absolute nor unlimited; it cannot be exercised motu propio nor can it be exercised without basis.”
It stated: “The President has no discretion motu propio to appoint one who has not been recommended by the CCP and the NCCA Boards; proof of this is that the award is not given every year — the last batch of National Artists was named in 2006. The very first National Artist to be named, Fernando Amorsolo, was named upon the recommendation of the CCP Board.”
Furthermore, “The recognition by the Office of the President of the importance of the recommendation by the CCP and later the NCCA Boards clearly militates against absolute and unlimited exercise of discretion by the President — it also militates against the disregard of the procedure designed and followed by the CCP and NCCA Boards in the selection of new National Artists.”
With the naming of Alvarez, Caparas, Mañosa and Moreno and the deletion of Santos, the choices of the President constitute a majority of the conferees, “in utter disregard of the choices of the NCCA and CCP Boards and the arts and culture community, which were arrived at after a long and rigorous process of screening and deliberation.”
Furthermore, the petition says, the selection of Alvarez is “clearly illegal and unethical.”
“Her being named as National Artist clearly violates the rules, and no amount of discretion on the part of the President can justify this,” the petition adds.
On the other hand, the unexplained deletion of Santos is said to be a “patent and palpable” abuse of discretion, which “contemplates the absence of arbitrariness and the adherence to reason.”
The petition also states that “The President’s discretion to name National Artists cannot be exercised to defeat the recommendations made by the CCP and NCCA Boards after a long and rigorous screening process and with the benefit of expertise and experience.”
“For the President to cavalierly disregard the collective judgment of the CCP and NCCA Boards and substitute her own judgment without a clear indication of the reasons and bases… is an unacceptable and manifestly grave abuse of discretion,” it says.
Moreover, it declares: “That the President was presumably advised by her presidential adviser on Culture and the Arts, private respondent Guidote-Alvarez, on the selection of the four additional names adds to the abuse of discretion. In her twin capacity as adviser and executive director of the NCCA, she is the conduit of the President to the arts and culture community and, presumably, brings with her the expertise the President needs to decide on this and other matters pertaining to arts and culture. That respondent Guidote-Alvarez did not counsel against including names of those already disregarded under the screening and selection process and, in fact, allowed her own name to be included, with full knowledge of its legal and ethical infirmity, clearly shows the arbitrariness of the President’s exercise of discretion in this regard.”
The petition continues, “That the President named private respondent Guidote-Alvarez to the list of National Artists is a grave abuse of discretion because the President’s discretion to appoint National Artists does not carry with it the discretion to remove a legal impediment to a person’s entitlement to be nominated. Respondent Guidote-Alvarez could not be nominated, let alone named, to be National Artist because she was executive director of the NCCA.”
Since Alvarez was disqualified from being named National Artist, she did not go through the selection process. “Her inclusion on the list represents a clear and manifest favor given by the President in that she was exempted from the process that all other artists have to undergo,” says the petition.
Alvarez’s inclusion shows “undue bias.” It is also “discriminatory and violative of the equal protection guarantee under Article III, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution,” thus petitioners urge the court the naming of Alvarez as National Artists “null and void.”
The Order of the National Artists carries with it many privileges, including cash award and life pension which are taken from public funds. The petitioners, Filipino citizens and taxpayers, are said to be “deeply concerned with the preservation of the country’s rich heritage of culture and the arts as well as in the prevention of public monies being spent for illegal appointments or spurious acts of discretion.”
The petition said that the manipulation “will irretrievably taint the Order of National Artists as being one that is subject to politics and will diminish the prestige of the rank and title for the National Artists who are alive and active.”
This should concern the Filipino people as much as it does the National Artist petitioners who “are living and active National Artists who (with the unfortunate exception of Abueva, who is physically unable to continue his sculpture) continue to produce works of great excellence” and “have an actual as well as a legal interest in maintaining the reputation of the Order of National Artist.”
The petition explains that these National Artists “have the right under the due process clause of the 1987 Constitution to not have the honor they have been conferred with diminished because of an irregular and questionable award made by the President to the four private respondents.”
It further says: “Part of the due process guarantee under the 1987 Constitution is that the right to life shall not be deprived without due process of law. The right to life contemplates not only the right to exist but the right to have everything that makes that life meaningful; this would include being able to enjoy the fruits of one’s labor as well as to be acclaimed by your peers and to have the just recognition for a life’s labors. By diminishing and making suspect the entire process of choosing National Artists, the President’s exercise of discretion violates petitioners’ rights under Article III, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution.”
Aside from the National Artists, the petition was also signed by prominent academicians, professionals, writers, scholars and artists such as university professor emeritus Gemino Abad, dean Danilo Silvestre of UP College of Architecture, dean Roland Tolentino of UP College of Mass Communication, Jose Dalisay, Dr. Anton Juan, Dr. Alexander Cortez, Dr. Jose Neil Garcia, Dr. Pedro Jun Cruz Reyes, Jose Claudio Guerrero, Michael Coroza, Gerard Lico, Verne de la Peña, Marian Abuan, Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo, Jose Wendell Capili, Sir Anrial Tiatco, Nicolo del Castillo, Horacio Dumanlig, Danton Remoto, Priscelina Patajo-Legasto, Belen Calingacion, Amiel Leonardia, Vim Nadera, Marilyn Canta, Cecilia de la Paz, Charlson Ong, Clod Marlon Yambao, Kenneth Jamandre, Jethro Joaquin, Nicolas Pichay, Rose Beatrix Angeles, Fernando Josef, Susan Lara, Alfred Yuson, Jing Panganiban-Mendoza, Romulo Baquiran Jr., Carljoe Javier, Rebecca Anonuevo, JP Anthony Cunada, Leah Navarro, Mark Meilly, Vergel Santos, Gil Olea Mendoza, Edgar Samar, Christine Bellen, Angelo Lacuesta, Anna Maria Katigbak-Lacuesta, Lex Ledesma, Kelly Periquet, Carla Pacis, J. Albert Gamboa, Cesar Evangelista Buendia, Paolo Alcazaren, Alwyn Javier, Raymond Magno Garlitos, Gang Badoy, Leslie Bocobo, Frances Bretana, Judith Torres, Jannette Pinzon, June Poticar-Dalisay, Camille de la Rosa, James Ladioray and Renato Constantino Jr.
For its part, Malacañang said it welcomed the court’s decision. Before that, Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said they were holding a dialog with “certain sectors,” which he refused to identify. He reiterated that they are open to dialog. Faced with such vague, contradictory and even vacuous statements on the National Artist fiasco, many people doubt that a satisfactory conclusion will be reached soon. There are fears as well of a further manipulation, this time of the court proceedings. But at this time, Almario is pleasantly surprised by the court’s swift and favorable action.
Published in The Daily Tribune, August 28, 2009, by Roman Catablan

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Roman Catablan's 'For Art’s Sake: The 2009 National Artist Awards Controversy'

The August 7, 2007, protest rally starting at the CCP in the form of a necrological service, perhaps the most creative and most moving of protest rallies, just befitting the real artists and National Artists in attendance

The NCCA Committee on Visual Arts, led by Egai Talusan Fernandez, holding their own protest by lighting candles. A similar activity also happened in Cebu by a group of Cebu artists.

Protesters in front of the NCCA building in Intramuros.

The march to the NCCA began with a large funeral wreath.

Artist Junyee created an installation at the front law of the CCP, planting numerous black ribbons to signify the tears shed for arts and culture

Two days after the much-lamented and attended burial of former President and Philippine icon of democracy Corazon Aquino and in the wake of Typhoon Kiko, another funeral happened amid a storm of controversies. Artists, including several National Artists, cultural workers, arts and culture lovers, journalists, students, educators, activists, civic leaders, government employees, lawmakers and government officials and many others converged on the ramp of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) to protest and express their indignation over the recent announcement of the recipients of the National Artist Awards, the Philippines’ highest honor to artists. The protest-rally, which happened in the afternoon of August 7, 2009, was in the form of a necrological service, with much mourning, a funeral march and a burial.

There was electricity in the air. The passion and fury were almost palpable. The sky remained somber, but the big crowd was stellar with respectable names in the arts and culture, academe, politics and other sectors. Prominent were National Artists Bienvenido Lumbera, Virgilio Almario, F. Sionil Jose, Benedicto Cabrera or BenCab, Eddie Romero, Napoleon Abueva, Arturo Luz and Salvador Bernal. There also to make known their indignation were award-wining sculptor Ramon Orlina; writers Alfred Yuson, Gemino Abad, Gilda Cordero-Fernando, Herminio Beltran and Jun Cruz Reyes; singer, actress and producer Armida Siguion-Reyna with her son, filmmaker Carlitos Siguion-Reyna, and daughter-in-law, screenwriter Bibeth Orteza; screenwriter Raquel Villavicencio; actress and director Laurice Guillen and her husband, actor Johnny Delgado; Rep. Imee Marcos, Irene Marcos-Araneta and Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel; former model/actor Iliac Diaz and his mother, gallery owner and art connoisseur Silvana Diaz; actresses Eugene Domingo, Ces Quesada, Malu de Guzman and Isay Alvarez; stage actor-director Bart Guingona; writer and Radioactive Sago Project front man Lourd de Veyra; Apo Hiking Society members Jim Paredes and Danny Javier; scholar Felipe de Leon; former broadcaster Maan Hontiveros; filmmakers Joel Lamangan, Jose Javier Reyes, Mark Meily, Gil Portes, Raymond Red, Joey Romero, Chito Roño, Adolf Alix and Butch Perez; playwrights Rody Vera and Nicolas Pichay; cinematographer Romy Vitug; dancers and choreographers Nonoy Froilan, Myra Beltran and Edna Vida; stage directors Alex Cortez and Chris Millado; artist Alma Quinto; journalist Raul Locsin, cousin of National Artist for architecture Leandro Locsin; actors Fernando “Nanding” Josef and Joonee Gamboa; and many others.

Seven women, representing the seven fields of art, clad and veiled in black, marched up the CCP ramp to meet the protesters, wailing and carrying a large wreath of flowers. Singer Bituin Escalante led the singing of the National Anthem. Bernal, Cabrera, Almario and Lumbera delivered speeches.

Singer Celeste Legaspi, who is the daughter of National Artist for visual art Cesar Legaspi, read a famous poem by Amado V. Hernandez, the late National Artist for literature, re-titled “Kung Tuyo na ang Luha Mo, Aking Sining.” (If your tears have dried, my Art) Musician Renato Lucas played his cello, rendering Bach’s Sarabande from the Fifth Suite, and the group Kontra Gapi provided ethnic-inspired music.

Actress Mae Paner, popularly known as satirical comedian Juana Change, performed a hilarious monologue titled “National Artist na Ako! Have Mercy on Us!” written by Rody Vera. She parodied National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) executive director Cecile Guidote Alvarez as an ambitious and unscrupulous “First Lady,” and told the crowd the ways of securing a National Artist award.

The National Artists surrendered their medals, putting them in boxes to be kept in CCP until the crisis is over. After the CCP event, the protesters marched, as the sky let out rays of sunlight, to the NCCA building in Intramuros, where Alvarez holds office, to lay the flowers, light candles and voice their outrage.

The people who attended the rally were but just a fraction of those outraged by the announcement of the new National Artists, particularly Alvarez, who is to be awarded for theater, and Carlo J. Caparas, komiks writer and movie director, for visual arts and film. Many others, including Filipinos abroad, vented their feelings through the Internet and mobile phones.

Earlier, during lunch, Alvarez and Caparas held a press conference at the NCCA building, trying to defend their inclusion. Papers handed out included Alvarez’s statement, which generally expressed her gratitude on her proclamation, including some congratulatory notes from friends and allies, none with any substantial value and none from recognizable and/or respectable names. Caparas and his wife, producer Donna Villa, answered questions from the press, but generally jeering at their critics and declaring him as deserving.

Outside the building, a “rally” was being staged, while rain poured, reminiscent of the production quality of “massacre movies,” for which Caparas is known. Informal settlers, including children, living in front of the NCCA building were recruited and given placards of uniform handwriting and colors. One said, “Pana-panahon lang ‘yan. Hintayin niyo ang sa inyo,” (It’s only a matter of season. Wait for yours), implying that the National Artists Awards is determined by whoever is in power and affinity to that power, and not by artistic excellence and contribution to the country. It was also indicative of the vacuous arrogance of Caparas.

Caparas and his group left the NCCA before the protesters arrived, and the counter “protesters” they had organized disbanded to go about their daily concerns. Alvarez was at the lobby during the protest with a small group of staff members and allies, including Jose Ladera Santos, whom she helped put in place as chairman of the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino (Filipino Language Commission). Her assistants were shouting expletives at the protesters outside, giving them the dirty finger. They had put up speakers by the door, playing loud music, in an attempt to drown the protests. There was a short spat, caught on TV. The protest ended before twilight.

A storm brewing

The controversy started upon the announcement of the seven new National Artists by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita during a press conference in the airport on July 29, before President Arroyo’s flight to the United States. Revealed were late actor and filmmaker Manuel Urbano or Manuel Conde (for film and broadcast arts), the late Tagalog novelist Lazaro Francisco (for literature), painter Federico Aguilar Alcuaz (for visual arts), Francisco Mañosa (for architecture), Jose “Pitoy” Moreno (for fashion design), Alvarez and Caparas.

A month earlier or so, there was already buzz or leakage on the names of the new National Artists. Early reports mentioned all of them except Alvarez plus composer and musicologist Ramon Santos (for music) and director and actress Zeneida Amador (for theater). During that time, artists, cultural workers and concerned individuals were worried about the manipulation of the National Artist results, and the addition of new names that did not undergo the rigorous selection process. Their fears came to fruition.

It turned out the artists, who were selected and recommended to be National Artists by peers and experts composing the selection boards, were Conde, Alcuaz, Francisco and Santos. Santos was inexplicably scratched out of the list. To the remaining three, President Arroyo added Mañosa, Moreno, Alvarez and Caparas. The last two caused much furor, Alvarez being the head of NCCA, which oversees the selection process, and is therefore disqualified from being named; and Caparas, having a body of work that is dubious in quality and had been undeserving of many awards, much more the National Artist award. Overall, the act of addition to the National Artists made by the President, which has been popularly called “presidential insertion” and is almost always done as return for political favor or reward rather than as recognition of contribution and excellence, is disputed. In less than week after the announcement, the outcry escalated, galvanizing the arts and culture community and other sectors to action.

A great honor

The National Artist Awards is the highest national recognition given to Filipino artists who have made significant contributions to the development of Philippine arts, which include the fields of music, dance, theater, visual arts, literature, film and broadcast arts, and architecture and allied arts.

It was established in 1972 through Proclamation No. 1001 “to give appropriate recognition and prestige to Filipinos who have distinguished themselves and made outstanding contributions to Philippine arts and letters.” Then, it was administered by the CCP. When the NCCA, an umbrella government arm and grant-giving agency for projects on arts and culture, was formed in 1992, the awards were jointly administered by the CCP and NCCA. In 2003, through Executive Order 236, the National Artists Awards was included in the newly created Honors Code of the Philippines, which consolidated all the awards given by the government and established an order of precedence and created the Committee on Honors “to assist the President in evaluating nominations.” Through this order, the National Artists Awards was renamed Order of National Artists (Orden ng Gawad Pambansang Alagad ng Sining) and made equal in rank to the Order of National Scientists and the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan.

The aim of the award is to recognize “Filipino artists who have made significant contributions to the cultural heritage of the country; Filipino artistic accomplishment at its highest level and to promote creative expression as significant to the development of a national cultural identity; and Filipino artists who have dedicated their lives to their works to forge new paths and directions for future generations of Filipino artists.”

Aside from the title, medallion and citation, awardees receive “lifetime emolument and material and physical benefits comparable in value to those received by the highest officers of the land such as a cash award of P100,000 for living awardees; a cash award of P75,000 for posthumous awardees, payable to legal heir/s; a monthly life pension, medical and hospitalization benefits; life insurance coverage for awardees who are still insurable; arrangements and expenses for a state funeral; and a place of honor, in line with protocular precedence, at national state functions, and recognition at cultural events.”

But more than the material reward, being named National Artist has become a great honor. Because of its importance, the selection process is understandably rigorous and stringent.

Nomination can be made by any organization, school or agency when the award nomination opens, except by members of the Special Research Group, as well as agencies attached to the NCCA and CCP. Also, NCCA and CCP board members, consultants, officers and staff are automatically disqualified from being nominated.

Eligible for nomination are “living artists who are Filipino citizens at the time of nomination, as well as those who died after the establishment of the award in 1972 but were Filipino citizens at the time of their death; artists who through the content and form of their works have contributed in building a Filipino sense of nationhood; artists who have pioneered in a mode of creative expression or style, thus, earning distinction and making an impact on succeeding generations of artists; artists who have created a substantial and significant body of works and/or consistently displayed excellence in the practice of their art form thus enriching artistic expression or style; and artists who enjoy broad acceptance through prestigious national and/or international recognition such as the Gawad CCP Para sa Sining, CCP Thirteen Artists Award and the NCCA Alab ng Haraya awards, critical acclaim and/or reviews of their works, and respect and esteem from peers.”

The National Artist Secretariat prepares the initial list of nominees along with experts from the different art fields. The works and achievements of the nominees are studied, reviewed, contemplated and deliberated upon by boards made up of artists, educators, cultural workers, experts from different fields and others, from both the CCP and NCCA. A number of deliberations take place in which there would be arguments, debates and considerations taken until the list is trimmed down. This list is a distillation of the best among them. The final list is presented to the President, who proclaims the National Artists and confers them the title.

A terrible right

The law of the National Artist Awards, however, allows a prerogative of the President to include any person of his/her choosing. Like any power, it is dangerous in the hands of the ignoble and ignorant. This presidential prerogative part has been a big thorn on the side of the arts community, and the act has been pejoratively called “presidential insertion” and “DNA” (Dagdag National Artist), and now “SNAG” (Singit National Artists ni Gloria) and “dagdag-bawas” (padding and shaving of votes).

There are strong reasons for the negative reactions about this presidential prerogative. Major one is the bypassing of the selection process, which is in a way disrespectful to the efforts of the experts and artists in upholding the integrity of the National Artist Awards. Because most presidents we had had meager understanding of arts and culture, the choices were often questionable, and often the presidents banked on personal and/or political association. President Joseph Estrada said he wanted to show his gratitude and give tribute to composer Ernani Cuenco Sr., with whom he had worked in many movies, when he proclaimed him National Artist for music in 1999. President Arroyo also made Alejandro Roces National Artist for literature in 2003, even though his literary work is considered still flimsy, to thank him for diligently serving in her father Diosdado Macapagal’s administration as Secretary of Education. The National Artist Award, thus, was reduced to a token of appreciation.

Many believed that presidential insertion was first made in 1997 by then President Fidel Ramos when he proclaimed biographer and historian Carlos Quirino National Artist, creating the new field of “historical literature” just to accommodate him. But presidential prerogative has been in the law since the creation of the awards by the Marcoses and may have been most likely exercised.

But “hardly was there a hint of politics at play,” said theater veteran Behn Cervantes, who now sits at the CCP Board of Trustees, in an article he wrote on this fiasco. “Obviously, Madame Marcos was properly advised. There was obvious respect for artists and their sensibilities.”

He further said: “To prevent politics from having an undue hand in this particular award, a selection process and research committees were set up. In the beginning, it was merely Mrs. Marcos and her advisers who selected artists who were obvious cultural icons. With time, it became vital that an unbiased and selection process be set up.”

Aside from Quirino, Cuenco and Roces, another insertion is Mindanaoan sculptor Abdulmari Asia Imao, named National Artist for visual art in 2006.

Before, presidential insertions were limited to one. What has made this year’s awards alarming is the inclusion of four names and the removal of one. Mysteriously struck out of the list was Ramon Santos, a legitimate product of the distillation of the selection process and marriage of opinions, to give way to those perceived as bastard National Artists.

A deluge of indignation

As soon as the names escaped from Ermita’s lips, howls quickly echoed throughout the nation and beyond. Outcries rose about the way of selection and the selections themselves.

The rule disqualifying anyone affiliated with the CCP and the NCCA was violated in the case of Alvarez, who is also presidential adviser on culture aside from being NCCA executive director tasked in overseeing the selection process. In the case of Caparas, it is all the criteria on excellence and contribution, aside from that fact that he is named for a field he is seen as having no skills on or has not even excelled in. These are all big and blatant transgressions.

Newsbreak, a magazine of “independent journalism,” is one of the first publications to report on the event as a “shameless selection,” mentioning the issue of delicadeza on the part of Alvarez and making a dire prediction.

“President Arroyo has exercised her ‘prerogative’ to alter the list of National Artists thrice before to accommodate political allies like Alejandro Roces, Francisco ‘Soc’ Rodrigo, and Abdulmari Imao—despite protests from the artists who would have wanted the credibility and relevance of the awards preserved. Did these well-meaning artists actually expect her to heed their calls now?” the magazine said.

Statements from different organizations and institutions quickly followed along aside the tremendous swirl of reactions in the Net and through SMS.

From the Concerned Artists of the Philippines

The Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), led by Lumbera, issued a statement against the “unprecedented brazen use by the Arroyo regime of the National Artists awards for its moribund, decadent politics.”

“We particularly detest the designation of Presidential Adviser on Culture Cecile Guidote Alvarez as National Artist as reeking of the worst kind of patronage politics the Filipino people would have long been far better off without,” the statement says. “Alvarez’s designation speaks of the worst conflict of interest possible in this situation, given that she is currently NCCA executive director and heads the secretariat for the National Artists awards! How is it possible that such an award can be seen in any good light, and that the awardee would accept it in all good faith and honesty?”

It further states: “We cannot but see Alvarez’s being named National Artist as Arroyo’s way of returning political favors after Alvarez’s consistent whitewashing of her regime’s corruption and repression. As well, we see this as a spectacular condonation of various reported anomalies at the NCCA committed by Alvarez all these past years.

“CAP will be alongside Filipino cultural workers, professionals and advocates in taking immediate direct actions to justly detest this latest outrageous act of the Arroyo regime. We enjoin all other freedom-loving Filipinos to do likewise. Philippine arts and culture deserve no less,” it concludes.

From the University of the Philippines

The Office for Initiatives in Culture and the Arts of the University of the Philippines in Diliman issued “Spare the Arts from Spoils” as the official stand of the state university known for its activism: “We artists and cultural workers of the University of the Philippines at Diliman strongly take exception to how the National Artists were named this year.

“First, the spirit of the process was not upheld in the final selection of the awardees. We concede that any subjective decision of this nature gives rise to a range of diverse views. What we cannot accept is the corruption of this already fraught process. The art community judiciously took part in this exercise, with the hope that an evenhanded process would produce truly worthy National Artists. This good faith in government has been subverted. It has made us distrust any effort to involve us in what may ultimately turn out to be a charade, or a farce in fact, and to regard the cultural bureaucracy as helplessly beholden to the contrivances of politicians and their courtiers.

“Second, there was a demonstration of significant indiscretion, or even egregious imprudence, on the part of the officials who administered the awards. It was totally amiss—unethical, dishonest, morally bereft, and abusive — that those who oversaw the process ended up being honored and reaping the gains of their own auspice. We, therefore, deplore the utter contempt for the vital value of fairness in favor of personal ambitions of Sicilian proportions.”

The institution calls “for the immediate review of the law governing the National Artist awards and the rules that carry it out” and demands and expects “the full commitment to integrity, excellence, and the tireless toil for the greater good.”

“National Artists deserve a process equal to their stature,” the statement concludes.

The statement was signed by Office for Initiatives in Culture and the Arts officials including Prof. Rubén D.F. Defeo, acting director; Ramón Ma. G. Acoymo, dean of the College of Music; Florentina P. Colayco, dean of the College of Fine Arts; Leilani L. Gonzalo, dean of the College of Human Kinetics; Adelaida V. Mayo, dean of the College of Home Economics; Elena R. Mirano, dean of the College of Arts and Letters; José Danilo Silvestre, dean of the College of Architecture; Rolando B. Tolentino, dean of the College of Mass Communication; Dr. Patrick D. Flores of the College of Arts and Letters; Prof. Cesar A. Hernando of the College of Fine Arts; Dr. Gerard Rey A. Lico of the College of Architecture; and Prof. Evangeline T. Ortiz of the Asian Institute of Tourism.

From the College of Mass Communications of the University of the Philippines

Tolentino led 22 faculty members of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communications (UP CMC) in signing “Restore dignity and honor in naming National Artists,” the college’s separate statement, issued on August 4, to “denounce in the strongest possible terms the shameless intervention of Malacañang in the conferment of the Order of National Artists.”

The statement particularly tackles the omission of Santos, former dean of the UP College of Music and university professor emeritus, which “shows its lack of respect for the selection process,” and “demands that Malacañang explain the omission of Santos in the Order of National Artists even if his peers have already strongly recommended him for his outstanding work.”

“Since the establishment of the National Artists Awards in 1972, this is the first time since democracy was restored in 1986 that an incumbent President dropped a recommended awardee from the roster and added not just one but four names,” it explains.

“That the government even had to constitute an “honors committee” shows its brazen effort to put political color in what should be a collegial undertaking among artists and cultural workers,” it also says.

The college protests the “Malacañang-initiated conferment of the Order of National Artist on Alvarez, Caparas, Mañosa and Moreno.”

“A careful scrutiny of Caparas’s body of work in the fields of visual arts and film would show that his accomplishments do not fit that of a National Artist,” it says on Caparas.

The statement concludes: “Indeed, dignity and honor should be restored in the conferment of the Order of National Artists. The President has absolutely no business intervening in the highest national recognition given to Filipino artists. UP CMC believes that excellence, freedom and integrity must be observed in the selection of National Artists and that these must never be compromised.”

From Leo Martinez and the Film Academy of the Philippines

Actor Leo Martinez, director general of the Film Academy of the Philippines, says it is “a pity that the National Artist Award has been reduced to a joke” in a reaction published in the online magazine and guide Spot (, edited by Myrza Sison, on Aug. 1.

“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,” he related.

“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,” he continued.

He believed the anomaly happened in Malacañang, where “someone waved the magic wand and a name appeared,” “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,” Martinez stated.

From Behn Cervantes of the Cultural Center of the Philippines

“As a member of the CCP Board, I saw inherent problems. To begin with, the NCCA had more voting members than the CCP board. Congress and Senate representatives who chair cultural committees have ex-officio seats. Furthermore, National Artist Award law allows the President of the nation to add names other than those cited by the Selection Committee so we persuaded those close to the Palace to admonish the President NOT to include names that did not pass the selection process since there were negative reactions to National Artists added by the Malacañang Palace. In fact, a Board Member recommended that dagdag National Artists have asterisks before their names so that the public realizes that these did not go through the proper selection process,” Cervantes related his experience.

“Not too long ago, I pleaded with a Palace official to convince the President not to include a name not worthy of a National Artist Award. I recommended that the President bestow a Presidential Award since that was her prerogative. I would fight to the end the inclusion of a person undeserving a National Artist Award. I would have expected Cecile Guidote Alvarez do as much as the cultural adviser of President Gloria Arroyo. She was aware that the CCP Board feared the National Artist Award was seemingly going to the hands of politicians. If we didn’t watch it, the award would appear like mere political largesse,” he continued. “So, imagine my shock when Ms. Alvarez was announced the National Artist for theater when she had not even been nominated; she did not go through the selection process that she was a significant part of as the head of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. She should have vehemently persuaded the President NOT to include her name as if she were a true artist sensitive to the feelings of her fellow artists.”

His article further states: “To top it all, she tolerated the inclusion of Carlo J. Caparas, a film director best known for gory, massacre films. Is he in the same class as Gerry de Leon, Lamberto Avellana, Lino Brocka or Eddie Romero? Can he artistically be talked of in the same breath as Manuel Conde?

“Can Caparas claim he is to film what Amorsolo is to painting, Tolentino or Abueva to sculpture, San Pedro, Molina and Maceda to Philippine music? Is he at par with Garcia Villa, Dr. Lumbera, Virgilio Almario, Arturo Luz, Daisy H. Avellana, Leonor O. Goquinco or Andrea O. Veneracion? BenCab and Badong Bernal? Has he made an artistically prestigious film that compares to any of the classics of Nora Aunor, Vilma Santos or director Mike De Leon? All yet have to be recognized.

“To our shock, Dr. Ramon Santos whom we chose National Artist for Music was taken off the list. He had been highly recommended by his peers for his talent, body of work, musical respect and creative integrity as a teacher and artist.”

“What a slap on all our faces!

“This dagdag-bawas of the Palace insults all Filipino artists — living and dead. It is an audacious act that turns the National Artist Award into a political achievement rather than an artistic accomplishment. I am not only disappointed in the insensitive Presidential act. I am angry at President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for this thoughtless slap on all Filipino artists.

“I am dismayed at Cecile Guidote Alvarez’s gall for grabbing an award she does not deserve and for ignoring the process of selection she was very much a part of.

“I say, ‘BOO.’ You will go down in history with ignominy for dishonoring the National Artist Award!”

From Benedicto Cabrera, National Artist for visual arts

On July 31, Spot secured an exclusive interview with and statement of National Artist for visual arts Benedicto Cabrera, more popularly known as BenCab.

“I feel bad. It’s a mockery of the system,” he began. “They might as well just appoint [their own choices] and not go through the whole process. I will boycott the awards. I will not march. I will not mention any names but we heard that there was one very influential person who helped manipulate the results.”

Sabi nga ng mga artists, it won’t be a parangal kundi pagdadalamhati. It’s sad. The awards have been debased. One can just lobby for anyone. Hindi na ‘yung peers ang nag-de-decide. Our opinion doesn’t mean anything.”

BenCab said that “there used to be prestige” and that presidents used to have one insertion.

“Now everybody can be a National Artist. They keep adding categories: landscape art, fashion design… What’s next, hairdressers? They should stick to the seven arts,” he lamented.

From the south

The stir was not happening only in Metro Manila, but the controversy rippled throughout the country. On August 7, as the rally concluded in Manila, a group of artists in Cebu held their own “necrological service” at seven in the evening at the Turtle’s Nest Café, along Gorordo Avenue in Cebu City. As reported by the community newspaper Cebu Sun-Star, among those who participated and protested were Dr. Resil Mojares, historian, University of San Carlos professor and part of the selection committee, who called for a review of the law; Javy Villacin, visual artist and faculty member of the UP Visayas in Cebu’s College of Fine Arts, who said that Alvarez’s management of Philippine Education Theater Association was “short-lived” and that Caparas’s stories “were only copied from Western works, like Lastikman from Plasticman;” Bambi Beltran, painter and writer; and theater artist Alex Uypuanco. They read poems criticizing the awards and the two awardees in question.

Fury from within

The administration of Alvarez has been fraught with conflict since she took office at the NCCA. She has been at odds with NCCA employees and officers, members and leaders of commissions, leaders of the attached agencies and the art and culture public in general. The National Artist fiasco is proving to be the height so far. Officials of the NCCA commissions have voiced out their experiences and thoughts on the matter.

From Elmar Ingles of the NCCA Sub-commissioner on Cultural Dissemination

Elmar Beltran Ingles, NCCA commissioner for cultural dissemination, related his in his official statement called “Of Truth, Honor and Delicadeza, or How to Bake Your Cake and Eat It, Too”:

“The leak did it. Whoever leaked the results of the deliberations is a criminal.

“This was the observation of a government agency official who sits as ex-officio member of the NCCA Board. His statement was concurred to by another cultural agency ex-officio Board member who was attending the meeting for the first time.”

“The occasion was the July 31 regular meeting of the NCCA Board of Commissioners. The statements were made in response to the expression of anger and disappointment aired by Commissioner Ricardo De Ungria, of the Subcommission on the Arts, on the manner by which Malacañang decided, confirmed and announced the results of the 2009 National Artist Awards. Commissioner de Ungria was merely conveying the initial reactions of artists and cultural workers to the presidential proclamation.

“As an elected sitting NCCA commissioner and board member, I would have just let the remarks pass as the confidentiality of the results was really agreed upon by the joint panel of CCP and NCCA after the May 6 deliberations. I was not guilty of the insinuations because I never spoke about the results until my own Subcommission on Cultural Dissemination met in mid-June, way past the expected date of announcement on June 12. But the next statement from Department of Education Undersecretary and NCCA chairman Vilma Labrador was something I could not let pass. She said that we should respect the President as she was within her legal bounds to do whatever she pleases with the Awards-or words to that effect.

“While the chair was extolling the virtues of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the wise words of a truly extra-ordinary woman leader—President Corazon Aquino, she of unquestionable integrity—kept bugging me: ‘We do everything not only according to the law but we do what is right and honest.’ True enough, it was only during the Cory presidency when the awards process was truly respected without intervention from Malacanang, To my mind, if GMA is really that virtuous, respectable and legal as her appointed minions want us to believe, why did the ‘Hello Garci,’ Jocjoc Bolante, and NBN-ZTE scandals came about? Why should we be bothered by the breach of silence and confidentiality pact when the final result was the exact reversal of truth despite the leak? Nasaan ang lohika, katotohanan at hustisya sa pangangatuwirang mas mahalaga ang tiwala (trust) kaysa pagiging lantad (transparency)?

“I felt I was being taken for a ride destined to bring me away from the truth and integrity of my sworn duties. And I was being led away by the very leaders entrusted — make that forced upon us-to protect the sanctity of the Filipino soul and creative expressions.

“So I took the floor and minced no words. I related to everyone present how my mobile phone died twice on me because it could no longer manage the 516 angry text messages I received the day before the meeting. I questioned the need for the Malacañang Honors Committee which was said to have advised the President on this matter. I pressed to know who they are, what their qualifications are, and if they are, indeed, honorable. The last question was premised on the simple fact that they omitted the eminent musicologist and composer Dr. Ramon Santos from the list who, I said, I personally consider as the most qualified and brilliant in the list of final nominees and even after it was manipulated. I went on to state that we are not here to be compelled to respect GMA. That while most of us—particularly the presidential appointees to the Board—serve at the pleasure of the President, our loyalty and service should be dedicated to the Filipino people and the arts and culture sector, and that we should disabuse ourselves of the notion of political patronage.

“I also personally appealed on record to the NCCA executive director, being concurrently the presidential adviser for culture, to do her job of advising the president on the divisiveness of the presidential decision to alter the decision of the real experts in the arts and culture sector.

“I concluded that the president is NOT an expert on arts and culture and that she should stick to matters where she is supposed to excel i.e., the national economy, etc.

“I said all that with voice quivering and butterflies in my stomach-but in no uncertain terms. All I got from the chair and her co-factotums from government were icy stares. I could almost hear their thoughts: ‘The nerve of this boy to lecture us on public service!’ And, boy, that was exactly how she referred to me at NCCA!

“But I stood my ground. I knew I hit sensitive nerves. I was daring them to contradict what I said but all I got were perfunctory words to the effect that the points raised will be considered part of the legislative agenda to review the policies on the National Artist Award. The chair even assured the executive director of the board’s support to her victory. ‘You deserve it.’ Case closed, at least as far as they were concerned. They got what they wanted. Never mind that ABS-CBN was waiting outside for the chair's statement-which was passed off as the NCCA official statement. They must be congratulating themselves on how the joke was on the rest of us. The NCCA Secretariat would later tell us how they were compelled to be present at a meeting a day before the board meeting to congratulate the executive director. Congratulatory tarpaulin banners were immediately posted at the NCCA building's façade and lobby to express the greetings to Mrs. Alvarez: ‘From your NCCA family and Chairman Vilma Labrador.’ Commissioner De Ungria has wisely said that the arts sector should desist from participating in future selection processes until clearer rules of engagement are set. He feels we are just being used to justify and legitimize the selection of the SNAGs, or the Singit National Artists ni Gloria. Bakit ka nga naman mag-aabalang igalang ang proseso kung mas mamamayani ang mga letters of appeals mula raw sa mga ambassadors at iba pang functionaries na nag-endorse kay Cecile Guidote Alvarez at sa tatlo pang SNAGs? Mas pinaniniwalaan pala ng Pangulo ang mga nasa posisyong ‘di naman mga alagad ng sining at mas ignorante pa keysa sa kanya sa larangan ng sining kabilang ang mga matrona, pulitiko at iba pang kwestyonable ang kaalaman sa sining. At ang masaklap, ito pa ang ipagtatanggol na desisyon ng pamunuan ng NCCA kaysa mahigit na isang taong proseso ng pagpili na nilahukan ng pinagsama-samang henyo ng mahigit isang daang alagad ng sining at manggagawang pangkultura sa buong bansa.”

From Ricardo de Ungria of the NCCA Sub-commission on the Arts

Poet and professor Ricardo De Ungria, NCCA Commissioner for the Arts, wrote an open letter on the issue, which opens as thus: “As long as the power to make the final decision on the choice of supreme exemplars of the arts— in the persons of National Artists—does not lie in the arts community through their own members chosen for such task, but in a President who can exercise it as executive privilege—as it is now—then the arts community will not always get the heroes of their art that they deserve, and they will always be burdened with the choice of according or withdrawing recognition and respect to those merely imposed on them by presidential prerogative. The Presidential Proclamation on the National Artist simply must be changed.”

The letter proceeds: “On a personal note: I was witness to the selection process from beginning to end, observing and studying it, and eventually submitting a list of recommendations to both the NCCA and CCP Boards that should help iron out kinks and improve it. Like everybody else, I was hoping against hope that the integrity of the process will be preserved and that good sense and discretion will prevail in the one who will confirm the recommendation and make the final decision. But it was not to be. When the announcement of new National Artists was made, I knew that my worst fears had come to pass. I was surprised, angry, disappointed and hurting. I was party to a carefully guarded process that proved eventually futile because scorned and trashed. I felt like a fool, a willing cow led to the slaughter. What made it more bitter was the knowledge that I had it coming. The truth was that good intentions to keep things above board and under control were not enough-someone else who had the power (or someone close to the one who had the power) was in control and had seen it fit to flout the rules mindlessly, disdainfully, and unconscionably. This situation speaks ill of the mode of valuation of artistic achievements in this country.

“If most of us feel outraged and disgusted by this show of might, it is because we trusted too much-to fate and to the powers that be-and thought that a modicum of morality was still possible or recoverable in the small corner of the arts. We were proven wrong, dead wrong, again, like many times before. We have never learned our lessons well, it seems, because we have not addressed the root of the problem, which is the deleterious and obnoxious Presidential Proclamation itself that gives the president ownership of and power over the award. There was not much outcry about this same situation the last few times it happened when the President added names to the official list submitted by the two Boards. And so now we were slammed with a caboodle of National Artists, four of whom—the biggest number ever to befall us—were presidential choices. Once again, we are suddenly burdened with four personalities who we did not choose but who shall anyway be conferred the most coveted and prestigious title in our field simply because it was not in our power to prevent their proclamation. Once again, the notorious tribe of National Artists who are only presidential choices has increased. What to do with this ilk in our midst and their unenviable kind of victimage worse than death? For whether they deserve the title or not, the scorn and rejection coming to them from the artistic community simply for being backdoor men will be rightfully earned. In the end, nobody wins-the rightful ones get to stand with the less rightful (and probably more righteous) ones, the arts community becomes divided, and the integrity of the award becomes all the more doubtful and tarnished.

“Unless we work in the next three years to have the offending Presidential Proclamation amended to give the power of final choice to the boards of the CCP and the NCCA, and unless we enjoy (outside of our ordinary lives) going through this knot of frustration and anger and disgust and helplessness every three years over this recurring issue of presidential prerogative and national artists, we might as well stand clear of the selection process and let the President decide his or her own national artist of a kind.”

From the NCCA Committee on Visual Arts

The NCCA Committee on Visual Arts’ press release is short, accompanied by a photograph of members lighting candles: “The National Commission for Culture and the Arts Committee on Visual Arts, composed of regional representatives from Luzon, NCR, Visayas and Mindanao, headed by Egai Talusan Fernandez, gather to mourn the death of the National Artist Awards. They refuse to dignify the naming of Carlo J. Caparas as awardee for visual arts. Caparas does not have a body of work to qualify him as a visual artist and he does not have any contribution to the visual arts community.”

Skirting the issues

To the barrage of protests and accusations, Alvarez, Caparas, Malacanang officials and NCCA chairman Vilma Labrador, who is also an Undersecretary at the Department of Education, defended themselves, offering what is regarded as mostly lame justifications and diversions. Alvarez and Caparas insisted that they deserve the award. Labrador and Malacanang insisted they did not violate any rules. All of them invoked presidential prerogative.

On August 1, Malacañang, through Presidential Political Adviser Gabrial Claudio, explained that the new awardees were named in consultation with CCP and NCCA and that the role of the President was just “ministerial,” just to proclaim the recommendations.

The CCP responded with a press conference on August 4. Emily Abrera, chair of the CCP Board of Trustees, clarified that they “were never consulted about these final choices, nor have we been officially informed about them to this day.”

The CCP Board also said that Alvarez did not go through the process and that they “deplore the disregard of the established process.”

In a press briefing at Malacañang on August 6, Labrador said all the National Artists underwent the deliberation process and passed the needed criteria, that “we did not violate any laws,” and “we followed the criteria.” The statements were made despite the fact that only three underwent that process and the naming of Alvarez broke the disqualification rule.

Labrador said that CCP and NCCA’s role is only to recommend, and the final decision lies with the President who has the prerogative to name whoever she likes.

It was also reported that Secretary to the Cabinet Silvestre Bello III said that the President followed process and Alvarez was not nominated by the NCCA but by other artist groups, although he could not name it.

Later Labrador said that Fr. James Reuter, Alejandro Roces and Senator Edgardo Angara recommended Alvarez. The three other “insertees” were recommended by their peers in their respective fields.

On the other hand, Ermita said that the new awardees was named in consultation with the Committee on Honors, which in the law is composed of the Executive Secretary, the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, the head of the Presidential Management Staff, the Presidential Assistant for Historical Affairs, Chief of Presidential Protocol and the Chief of Protocol and State Visits from the Department of Foreign Affairs. It is still unclear how the committee came up with the decision or even who the members are.

In the midst of the puzzlement and the evasions, Malacañang, through Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, appealed for respect on choice and justified that the awardees have substantial contributions. Presidential prerogative prevails. One wonders if it is also presidential prerogative to transgress the rules that are already laid out. There must a limit to it.

For writer Butch Dalisay, it is not that bothersome.

“The question isn’t whether it’s Mrs. Arroyo’s right or privilege to appoint whomsoever she wishes a National Artist. The question is whether such appointments and their acceptance are in good taste—an element you’ll find even in the most disturbing of the arts,” he in his column published on August 3.

Meanwhile, Alvarez and Caparas defended themselves by brandishing their achievements and accusing critics either of envy or of politicizing the issue. Their modes alternated from bragging to appearing oppressed and appealing for compassion.

A head start

Alvarez’s closeness to the President immediately made her suspect in manipulating the awards. Aside from being NCCA head and presidential adviser, she is married to former senator and secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources Heherson Alavrez, who is currently presidential adviser on climate change.

Alvarez denied lobbying for the award and said the President never talked to her about it. She also said that she submitted her resignation letter to the President as early as April, which was not accepted. Her statement could be interpreted to mean her resignation concerned the award and that she already knew of it at that time.

While seemingly shrugging off the issue of conflict of interest, she is vehement in her competence for the award.

“Before you make a judgment, read my achievements first as an artist. Was I an idiot before I became a National Artist?” the GMA News Web site reported Alvarez lashing back.

“Maybe not, but she is now,” retorted an observer.

Sixty-five-year-old Alvarez has a long list of awards, many garnered in recent years, but she is particularly proud of her Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service and Arts and Culture, which she received in 1972, the youngest recipient, for her establishment of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) in 1967, and of being one of the Ten Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Services.

The founding of PETA remains to be her main claim to fame. It was the first effort in her concept of establishing a national theater movement. Under her helm, PETA staged subversive plays directing against the Marcoses, which led to their “persecution.” Alvarez is particularly proud of her standing up against the Marcoses. She recounts how she protested the building of the CCP. It is ironic, given that she has been vocal about her hatred of the Marcoses and anything connected with them, how she holds on to the Marcos-initiated National Artist award.

Her organization of PETA is not enough to make her National Artist. It makes her a mover and shaker, an organizer, rather than a creator or artists. Many of her awards are for her being a promulgator. Many say that her theatrical creations and written work are not substantial enough. Others say her impact and influence still remain to be seen. Garnering many awards does not ensure a National Artist award. In being an artist, creative works take precedence over founding a group, heading an organization, etc.

Today as NCCA head, most of her projects seem to be geared towards the glorification of the projects of Pres. Arroyo. She is styling herself as a “cultural caregiver,” a term she invented to the one bringing arts and culture to the poor and marginalized groups. She is doing it through her Kalahi project, which is in line with the poverty alleviation campaign called Kalahi of Pres. Arroyo. Through the Kalahi she gives art workshops to different places.

The height of the ridiculous

On the other hand, 61-year-old Caparas, who is known for always wearing cap, shades and jeans as his trademark look, authored hundreds of komiks serials including Bakekang, Totoy Bato, Joaquin Bordado, Kamagong, Kamandag, Angela Markado, Tasya Fantasya, Gagambino, Pieta and Panday, which is his most famous. Many had been adapted to film and television series. Both his serials and the adaptations proved to be popular. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Caparas became known as director and producer, with his wife Donna Villa, of gory movies depicting true-to-life crimes, which were often lambasted for its poor quality.

“They cannot take the award from me anymore,” huffed Caparas as reported by the ABS-CBN news Web site. “Ganyan talaga kung may something for grabs. Eh, iisa lang ang pipiliin. Sana, maghintay na lang sila ng tamang panahon sa gusto nilang manalo. Hindi naman ito palakasan.” (That’s the way it is when something is up for grabs. But just one must be chosen. I hope they wait for the time when they can choose the winners that they want. This is not about who is close to the authority.)

He was also reported as saying: “Baka ang nasa isip nila ay bata pa ako. Pero hindi naman ‘yon ang basehan. Sino naman ang ko-contest sa decision ng Cultural Center, ng NCCA at ng Malacañang tungkol sa award na ito? Mabuti na nga at ngayon pa lang ay ibinibigay na ang ganitong award sa mga taong nandito. Ang akala kasi nila ay sa matatanda o sa beterano o sa mga patay na ibinibigay ang ganitong award.” (Maybe they’re thinking that I’m too young [for this award] but that’s not the basis. Who will contest the decision of the Cultural Center, of the NCCA and of Malacañang on this award? It is good that they are giving this award now to persons who are still here. They’re thinking only the old, the veteran or the dead are given this award.)

Always joining him in defense is his wife who likens the criticism of her husband to the persecution of Jesus Christ and attributes his winning to mass appeal.

ABS-CBN interviewed her saying: “‘Yang mga critics na ‘yan, wala namang nagagawa ang mga ‘yan. Magtigil na nga sila. Patunayan muna nila ang nagawa ni Carlo sa komiks at sa pelikula, kahit sa TV.” (Those critics haven’t achieved anything. They should stop. They should prove first what Carlo have done for komiks, for the movies and even for TV)

Caparas, who lives in posh Ayala Alabang, is turning the issue into a class war, accusing his critics of being “elitist” and that they are incensed because he is pang-masa, from the masa, and he wrote komiks and make films that they regard as lowly but are patronized by many.

Many still believe that art is elitist, but the argument that art and culture being elitist is so last-century or even last-last-century. Like information, it is easily accessible—through mass media, through the Net, in the LRT, in schools, in malls, through outreach programs of different cultural institutions, in bars and cafes, through artists bringing their art to public spaces despite danger of denigration and of being begging of attention, etc. Museums and galleries are always there for anyone to enter. It is our fault if we are ignorant.

Caparas thinks he got the award because he is popularly known nationwide unlike most of the National Artists. He even demeaned the National Artists, particularly F. Sionil Jose and Lumbera. He believes that because of his being a National Artist people will get to know more about it.

“‘Yang mga National Artists, sino ba sila? Ni hindi ko nga sila kilala,” retorted Villa in one press conference.

Caparas claims that he gave people jobs as a movie producer, which the other National Artists were not able to do. Many says that Caparas just milked money form the public with his exploitative and escapist works during the movie industry is still vibrant and is not around when it is dying.

The tandem’s reasoning was easily butchered in conversations in the Net and other forums. Even the defense of their allies like showbiz reporter Ricky Lo and former Movie and Television Review and Classification Board chairman Manoling Morato were answered point by point.

It was clear they had no idea what they were saying.

Indignation in the Internet

If one searches “National Artists 2009,” one will uncover encoded anger, disbelief, disillusionment and disappointment. Many statements and letters are being circulated through e-mails and posted in sites. Multitudinous blogs tackled the problem, getting numerous reactions and comments in return. Anger is also the common emotion in the numerous posts in Twitter, Facebook and even YouTube.

Many are directed toward the orgulous Caparas.

Jim Paredes, in his Twitter account, asked, “What ground-breaking or artistic film Caparas has created to deserve the title?”

Many said that Caparas is attacked for being a komiks writer and that komiks is not a “legitimate” art form. But comics illustrators and writers themselves criticized Caparas.

San Pablo City-based comics creator and illustrator Gerry Alanguilan and other comics illustrators expressed their anger in writings and editorial cartoons. In his blog,, he cries, “Carlo J. Caparas is not a visual artist.”

He addresses Caparas: “This is not a social class issue. It doesn’t matter if you come from the poor or if you were born rich. The issue is that you were given the title of National Artist for visual art when you are not a visual artist. You claim you can draw. You’ve shown your drawings of eyes, or whatever they were on TV. But the issue here is whether you drew the comics stories that form the body of your work. You did not.

“Steve Gan drew Panday and Pieta. Karl Comendador drew Gagambino. Karl also drew the artworks on the stamps of your characters. Tor Infante drew Totoy Bato. Hal Santiago drew Kroko. Mar Santana drew Bakekang. And so on and so forth.

“You drew none of these.

“By claiming and keeping the title of National Artist for Visual Art, you are also claiming and stealing the work of these men. These men have toiled years and offered much of their creative lives to comics, and collaborated with you to bring your characters to life. And now you turn around and claim the credit for their work once again.”

Alanguilan also chastised Labrador for defending Caparas.

“You know what? I want to bestow Carlo J. Caparas and NCCA chairman Vilma Labrador an award, and a much deserved award, too!” he wrote. “The Award for Best Issue Diverters. Ever.”

Different administrations have been putting people with insufficient knowledge on arts and culture in the NCCA. Labrador is no exception.

Alanguilan also drew up an online petition letter, and about 2,000 have signed it.

“Many of us in the artist community were shocked and appalled that Carlo J. Caparas was named National Artist for visual arts and film in July 2009. Although we recognize the work and accomplishments of Caparas within the comic book industry as well as television and film, we strongly believe that his body of work does not live up to the tradition of excellence the title of National Artist entails,” the letter said.

It concludes: “As Philippine artists and concerned citizens who feel that our artistic legacy as a nation is compromised by these events, we strongly and vehemently put forward this protest.”

Prominent sculptor Ramon Orlina seconded Alanguilan with his own account, which he shares to all.

“I was a member of the Stamp Advisory Committee (SAC) of the Philippine Postal Corp. for many years, and the chairman of the Designing Sub-committee (SAC) till 2005,” he wrote. “Together with Philatelic expert Dr. Ngo Tiong Tak, chairman of SAC, we instituted the National Stamp Collecting Month dedicated to the arts in 1994. We titled the issues Great Achievers in Philippine Art.

“Naturally the artworks chosen for the stamps were of artists who are achievers; National Artists were given preference.

“An important philatelic policy and one of the guidelines that I insisted upon was that only art works in public collection can be featured in the stamps, or an artwork donated to the Philatelic Museum.

“The comics of Carlos J. Caparas was included in this art issue in November 2008. But Dr. Ngo (now vice chairman of SAC) removed the label ‘Great Achievers in Philippine Art’ from the design of the stamps as he could not find evidence of Carlos J. Caparas being a great achiever.

“The Philatelic Bulletin stated misleadingly that the ‘Designs: Komiks illustrations by Carlos J. Caparas,’ when it is public knowledge that the illustrations are farmed out.

“Dr. Ngo was unable to discover who gave Mr. Caparas the title of ‘Pinoy Komics King.’ If you ask any artist in the Philippines, Francisco Coching and Larry Alcala are deserving of such a title. They authored and illustrated their komiks and are highly popular.”

Jan Philippe Carpio, who describes himself as a “Bacolod City bred self taught writer, filmmaker and performer currently based in Metro Manila,” posted an entry on Aug. 1 in his Multiply site (, hitting Caparas being named for film.

In the post titled “The 2009 National Artists Murder, Massacre: God Have Mercy on Us (A Work in Progress),” he sarcastically wrote, “As an artist who works in the medium of writing and film, I am severely overjoyed to learn that Caparas’s films such as The Untold Story: Vizconde Massacre 2—God Have Mercy on Us and The Marita Gonzaga Rape-Slay: In God We Trust will now and forever stand alongside the classic works of Gerry de Leon (Noli Me Tangere, El Filibusterismo), Lamberto Avellana (Anak Dalita, Badjao), Lino Brocka (Maynila sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, Insiang), Ishmael Bernal (Manila by Night, Himala), Eddie Romero (Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon?, Aguila).

“It is nice to know that they will now be included in the curricula of film appreciation classes and filmmaking courses where students and their professors can argue about the complexities of delivering the line ‘Huwag po!’ in different tonal variations, the complex visual delights of the gang rape and multiple stab wounds experience, the pioneering efforts to help create a new Philippine sub film genre called ‘massacre films,’ the incalculable effect of reaching thousands (perhaps millions) of Filipinos through the lowest common denominator buttons of the ‘flight, fight’ and the all time fan favorite, fuck response, the revolutionary technique of film characters ignoring all sorts of human contradiction, paradox, emotion, behavior, logic and common sense, etc. etc. The aesthetic and life transforming achievements of Caparas’ work are endless.

“It is wonderful that generations of filmmakers will now have a newer and more modern model of Philippine cinematic brilliance to look up to in Caparas that will breathe fire and vitamins into to the already tired and overused examples of the exacting visual expression of Gerry de Leon, the democratic and compassionate explorations of Lamberto Avellana, the fierce and unapologetic socio-political critiques of Lino Brocka, the humanist and satirical versatilities of Ishmael Bernal, the subtle sarcasm but loving wit of Eddie Romero, and the playful and performative deep sea celluloid diving of Manuel Conde.

“Oh, how I love this country! It’s so great to be a filmmaker in this country!

Mabuhay ang Pilipinas! Mabuhay ang ‘exacting artistic taste’ ng Malacañang!

“Please, please, excellence, not mediocrity; humanism and compassion, not ‘pang-masa’ or ‘pang-elite’ divisive labeling; artistry, not box office pesos; complexity, not lowest common denominator erections, lubrications and emotional knee-jerk flare ups; personal truth, not self delusion.”

Another noteworthy blog read is “Kultura ng Korupsyon, Korupsyon ng Kultura” (Culture of corruption, corruption of culture) posted in on Aug. 7 and written in Filipino.

One part reads: “Mali ang ganitong mga argumento ni Carlo J. Caparas. Sa larangan ng pelikula na halimbawa, hindi maaaring akusahan si Lino Brocka, isa nang National Artist, sa pagiging ‘elitista,’ kung ang ibig sabihin ay hindi maka-masa. Ang mga pelikula ni Brocka ay walang tawad na tumutuligsa sa sistemang lumilikha ng api sa ating lipunan.

Isa pa’ng ibig sabihin ng ‘elite’ ay pinakamagaling. Hindi ba tama’ng piliin at ipagpugay ang pinakamagaling sa larangan ng sining? Sa gayon, ang standard ay mataas at ang mga nanalo ay maaaring magsilbing halimbawa sa iba pa’ng mga artist? Sa kahit ano’ng larangan, hindi ba’t tayo’y humahanga sa mga taong sa tingin natin ay magaling?”

(Carlo J. Caparas’s arguments are wrong. In the field of cinema, for example, one cannot accuse Lino Brocka, who is already a National Artist, of being “elitist” if that means not being for-the-mass. Brocka’s films unrelentingly attack the system which causes oppression in our society.

Another meaning of “elite” is the best. Is it only right to select and honor the best in art? In that case, the standard is high and those who win may be serve as models for other artists. In any field, is it not true that we admire people who we think is the best?)

Lourd Ernest de Veyra also tackled Caparas’s credentials in an article for Spot called “Carlo J. All the Way.”

“True, at present, television primetime is choking with fantaseryes inspired by Carlo J. Caparas’s novels of yore. His defenders may argue, ‘Why, his works are tremendously popular. Doesn’t that make him influential?’ With this line of thinking, you might as well name Willie Revillame, Boy Abunda, Kris Aquino, Vic Sotto and his director Tony Reyes, Piolo Pascual, Manny Pacquiao, and all the familiar faces and names you see on the television. Of course, this might spark another dumb debate between so-called high art and pop culture, but I’m all out of aspirin,” he wrote.

On the lighter side, the site The Next National Artist ( was anonymously put up using sarcasm as main ingredient. Along side news on the controversy and profiles of National Artists is the National Fartists section with the mock profiles of awadees Xerex Xaviera for literature, Vicky Belo for sculpture and Hayden Kho for film. This is a spin-off of De Veyra’s article on an alternative list of National Artists.

And the blogging, outcry and derision continue.

A legal resort

Lawmakers Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and Walden Bello of the Akbayan party-list filed House Resolution 1305 and presented it to the basic education committee at the House of Representatives, urging for an investigation into the National Artist controversy, particularly the review of the National Artist Awards in order to abolish presidential prerogative.

The selection for National Artists should be made with proper basis and must not be subjected to the “whims” of government officials, Hontiveros-Baraquel said.

“Choosing National Artists should fundamentally be about contribution in the arts and culture, not patronage or closeness to Malacañang,” she further stated. “Choosing eminent symbols of Filipino arts and culture should be left in the hands of the arts community.”

Hontiveros-Baraquel believes that Alvarez and Caparas should “refrain from taking the title out of delicadeza and respect for the rule of law.” While she does not discount their cultural and artistic contributions, also believes that “their selection casts doubts on the integrity and credibility of the National Artist Awards.”

The awards to Alvarez and Caparas will mean nothing, she said, because “it becomes a joke if it cannot evoke pride and unity among artists and the public.”

The controversy may also be dragged to court.

Lawyer Lorna Kapunan, a member of the CCP Board of Trustees, told GMA 7 that they are contemplating on filing an injunction at the Supreme Court to prevent President Arroyo from officially proclaiming Alvarez and Caparas as National Artists.

Malacañang welcomed the idea.

Two senators joined in the foray: Sen. Francis Pangilinan, who is appealing Malacañang to withdraw the proclamation of Alvarez as National Artist because it is illegal, and Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who said that the criticisms on Alvarez and Carapas are reasonable.

A culture in calamity

It is very possible that the worst fears of well-meaning and intelligent people will come to fruition—that Alvarez and Caparas will be proclaimed National Artists and will take their places in the prestigious ranks.

Many Filipinos may not know about the issue at all, having no concern about arts and culture and leaving the matter in the hands of the artists. The National Artists controversy affects us all, and we should not just shrug our shoulders. During the height of the argument, people blame presidential prerogative, the awardees, the President. In the end, we have to blame ourselves for letting this happen without a fight.

Like in any tempest, there will be casualties. The damage is lasting, insidious and terrible. And it will include the pride and prestige not only of the National Artist Award but of Filipino cultural heritage and people, more 80 million lives as well as succeeding generations.

Though we can always say we’re the best and world-class, ang galing ng Pinoy, the records show otherwise.