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
PHOTOS COURTESY BY JOSE WENDELL CAPILI AND TRIXIE CRUZ-ANGELES