Friday, November 27, 2009

The National Artist Awards Controversy: Answering the Protests

Following is an executive brief on the issue of the National Artists awards controversy, from the Office of the Solitor General, in response to the issues raised by the protesters.

Experts and peers no matter how good, do not for a nation make. In a representative democracy, there are but a few times when the people directly express their sentiments as a nation – during elections, when they choose a leader; and in times of war, when they defend their country.

In times of peace and in a democracy, the nation’s views, hopes, ideals, and opinions are expressed through their leaders. The President carries with her the mandate of the Nation.

On the issue that there was grave abuse of discretion in disregarding the results of the NCCA-CCP deliberation and that the exercise of the President’s discretion cannot be exercised to defeat the recommendation of the CCP-NCCA board.

The President did NOT abuse her discretion and did not disregard the NCCA-CCP Boards’ vetting process which is only a preliminary phase of a two pronged process receiving and vetting nomination to recommend to the President. The third stage fully rests with the President for the determination of the proclamation of the award with an eventual formal conferment ceremony in MalacaƱan :

The award of the Order of National Artist is the exclusive prerogative of the President.

- To sustain petitioner’s argument that the president cannot grant the award to someone not recommended by the NCCA-CCP Boards is a patent contradiction to the Petitioners previous pronouncements pertaining to the Power of the President as the final arbiter with regard to the selection process of National Artists.

- In 1997, the NCCA-CCP Boards, in the minutes of their meetings dated November 6, 1997 and December 4, 1997 signed by now protesting national artists such as Virgilio Almario, Eddie Romero, Felipe de Leon, Jr., son of the late national artist, and some CCP officials, affirmed that the President could appoint those not recommended by the respective boards and could in fact ignore the list submitted by the NCCA-CCP Boards. To wit:

“c. The two Boards concluded that it is within the President’s prerogative to create new categories as well as declare awardees without the benefit of passing through a formal selection process” (November 6, 2007; NCCA Minutes of the Regular Commission Meeting, page 3)


“It was emphasized that the NCCA Commissioners and the CCP Trustees acknowledge the authority and prerogative of the President of the Philippines to create National Artist categories, to disapprove recommendations made to him by the NCCA and CCP, or to designate National Artists on his own initiative.” (last paragraph, page 2; December 4, 1997; NCCA Minutes of the Regular Commission Meeting)

- Clearly, from these meetings since 1997, there was a consensus and unanimity acknowledging Presidential authority and prerogative to select and proclaim National Artists.

- Granting that the two boards have expertise in matters pertaining to culture and the arts, the fact remains that their power is limited to what the law provides. And since, the limit of their legal mandate is to give advice, they cannot arrogate to themselves the power of the President to make the final authoritative decision in conferring the award.

- President Ramos awarded artists not recommended by the NCCA-CCP Boards while creating a new category: historical literature given to Carlos Quirino. Likewise, President Joseph Estrada awarded Andrea Veneracion and Ernani Cuenco who were not recommended by the NCCA-CCP Boards. Petitioners ADMIT these facts in Footnote 1 to Paragraph 5.1 of the Petition subsequently President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in exercise of her prerogative without recommendation from CCP-NCCA award-winning harmonist – short story writer proclaimed as National Artistt, Dr. Alejandro R. Roces and Abdulmari Asia Imao in 2006, in fact, the first Muslim sculptor to be so honored.

- The entire melodrama of protest which has brought us to the case at bar, was maliciously conjured up as a media magnet of hitting the President and unleashing a smear and vilification campaign against the persona of the 2009 National Artists.

- The issue asserted by the petitioners with respect to the President’s prerogative in the awarding of the Order of National Artist is Based on RA 7356 and EO 236, as well as EO 435, the NCCA-CCP boards ADVISE the President in the conferment of the award of the Order of National Artist. The power to give advice is persuasive in character but NOT binding upon the party to whom it is made. The case of Cojuangco vs. Palma (462 SCRA 310 (2005) is definitive as to what comprises the power to advise.

- Ultimately, the recommendation letter of the NCCA-CCP Boards is merely persuasive and NOT binding on the President, hence she had the legitimate and legal discretion to confer the award not only to those endorsed by the CCP-NCCA Board but also to those recommended by the Honors Committee, or even those artists brought to the attention by legitimate third parties to the President for her discernment. Therefore, the petitioner’s prayer should not be granted because they are estopped from further questioning the President’s proclamation of 2009 National Artists due to their previous acquiescence to the principle of Presidential prerogative. In July 29, this year the Proclamations of the National Artists have been officially announced by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita in media and subsequently issued to the honorees. Their protest through their petition filed in August 19 is therefore must and acadme.

There is no CONFLICT OF INTEREST or any other legal impediment to award Private Respondent Cecile Guidote-Alvarez with the award.

- Private respondent Guidote Alvarez was proclaimed a National Artist by the President in exercise of her prerogative. Section 11 of RA 7356 (the act creating the NCCA) only prohibits NCCA Commissioners from receiving grants and awards from the NCCA. The Order of the National Artist is NOT a grant or financial aid from the NCCA, it is a presidential award, hence private respondent Guidote Alvarez is NOT barred from receiving the same. She has never applied for any private grant for herself.

- The issue asserted by petitioners with regard to the violation of the NCCA Law’s provision is a misinterpretation which should not be given credence or due course. In the case at hand, the National Artist Award is granted and conferred upon awardees by the Office of the President started in 1972. Hence, it is not an award created by the NCCA Board which started to exist only in 1992 to which the prohibition applies. NCCA and CCP have their own special awards. They have conceived and executed with their respective criteria such as the NCCA Haraya Award and the Gawad CCP Award among others.

- Neither can a legal impediment be gathered from the Guidelines for the National Artist Award promulgated by the NCCA-CCP Boards in Section 6.5 which states that “NCCA and CCP board members and consultants and NCCA and CCP Officers and staff are automatically disqualified from being nominated.”

These are merely internal guidelines issued by the NCCA-CCP boards themselves and is only limited to the internal deliberations of the NCCA and CCP boards. Consistent with this, the NCCA-CCP boards did not nominate or deliberate upon respondent Guidote-Alvarez.

Verily, the office of the Solicitor General explained the internal rule of the CCP-NCCA is unrelated or impertinent to the proclamation by the President of Cecile Guidote-Alvarez as a National Artist. She was not nominated during the CCP-NCCA process where she was involved as the head of the coordinating secretariat. She also did not participate in the Honors Committee deliberation where she was nominated by no less than Ramon Magsaysay awardee and Congressional Medal of Merit Awardee Fr. James B. Reuter, SJ, National Artist Dr. Alejandro Roces and Senator Edgardo Angara among others. Corollarily, the President’s proclamation of Alvarez is not unprecedented. The late Carlos P. Romulo was declared National Artist during his incumbency as Secretary of Foreign Affairs primus interpares in the cabinet by President Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Private respondent Guidote-Alvarez was nominated and vetted under the Committee on Honors’ evaluation process. Thus there was no violation of the guidelines.

- Evidently, private respondent Cecile Guidote-Alvarez was NOT nominated through the NCCA-CCP process, but through the Honors Committee as provided for in EO 236. Hence, there was no conflict of interest or other impediment on private respondent to be proclaimed by the President as a National Artist. At no time did private respondent sit on any board or panel to deliberate on her nomination by third parties to be recognized with the National Artist Award.

Private respondents extensive achievements qualify them to be National Artists

Private respondents have accomplished a number of far reaching achievements through the years that enhance the culture heritage of the Filipino people deserving recognition and acknowledgment of our government. They are renowned in their chosen fields. Bobby Manosa pioneered a distinctive Filipino Architecture through the use of Indigenous materials; Pitoy Moreno is dubbed as Asia’s Fashion Czar; Carlo J. Caparas is the King of Comics, known for his voluminous work of graphic novels and its characters that have been transformed into TV and film forming part of Filipino Modern Culture in his efforts to revive the comics industry; and Cecile Guidpte-Alvarez, is the youngest Filipina to have received the Ramon Magsaysay Outstanding Asian Award as PETA Founder linking Philippine Theatre to the international arena since 1972 and has been hailed as the 1st UNESCO Artist for Peace Awardee from our country in 2003 with a subsequent honors of a Congressional Medal of Merit. Even during her exile, 1973 to 1986 she merited the UN Human Rights Day Award for Theatrical innovation by the Fund of Free Expression while providing cultural services to Filipinos abroad. She received accolades for her production of a Third World Liturgy for the UN Year of the Child as a “masterwork of a master third world woman artist,” by the villagers receiving an Outstanding Political Theatre Award of Off-Broadway for her PETAL presentation at the world famous La MaMa Theatre. Her work on radio or TV Balintataw has been singled out by CNN as a “Soap Opera for Social Change.

The NCCA-CCP Boards themselves admitted the exclusive prerogative of the President to award the title of National Artist.

The letter of the NCCA-CCP Boards reveals that they did not intend to bind the president to their advice and that the same was merely recommendatory in nature. The letter states clearly that: “We are respectfully submitting a recommendation…”

THUS, The NCCA-CCP Boards conceded:

(a) the authority and prerogative of the President of the Philippines to create National Artist Categories;

(b) to disapprove recommendations made to him by the NCCA and CCP; and

(c) to designate National Artists on his own initiative.

Indubitably therefore, the President was well within her legal powers when she conferred the award of private respondents in recognizing their outstanding contribution to the enrichment of our nation’s cultural life.

The president took notice of the NCCA-CCP Boards’ recommendation in conjunction with that of the Honors Committee.

- The arguments presented by the petitioners are unavailing. The fact that of the 4 artists recommended by the NCCA-CCP Boards the President awarded 3 shows that the NCCA-CCP boards’ recommendation was duly considered by the President. The CCP-NCCA Board likewise failed to fill up or nominate artists for the following disciplines: architecture, fashion, theatre while comics was a new component discussed. The 4th candidate of CCP-NCCA board on music is still under validation because of other nominees that have entered into the President’s sphere of attention. It just happened that the Honors committee also made certain recommendations based on the nominations of various third parties, hence the inclusion of: Carlo Caparas (Comics – as a component of visual arts), Cecile Guidote-Alvarez (Theater), Francisco Manosa (Architecture), and Jose “Pitoy” Moreno (Fashion Design).

- The Honors Committee is a valid second layer of the evaluation process established due to various nominations made directly to the Office of the President by virtue of EO 236 that had also rationalized all awards given by the government into an Honors Code. The selection process is not the exclusive province of the NCCA-CCP Boards to decide. It is a three-tier system which takes into account other nominations submitted directly to the Office of the President and vetted through the Honors Committee that can call on any expert or resource person for the validation process. The final 3rd stage is the President’s own judgment based on recommendations of the former two bodies. She signs the proclamation which she has already done. Only the formal conferment is held in abeyance until the Supreme Court responds to the protest.

A National Artist of the Philippines is a title bestowed upon a Filipino who has been given the highest recognition for having made significant contributions to the development of Philippine arts. Such Filipinos are announced, by virtue of a Presidential Proclamation, as National Artist or in Filipino, Gawad Pambansang Alagad ng Sining. They are then conferred membership in the Order of National Artists, the regalia of which is an ornate, gilden collar of honor. In addition to the collar, each newly proclaimed member of the Order is given a citation that is presented during the awardees' conferment ceremonies.

The National Artist Award (Gawad Pambansang Alagad ng Sining) was established under Proclamation No. 1001 dated April 27, 1972 to give appropriate recognition and prestige to Filipinos who have distinguished themselves and made outstanding contributions to Philippine arts and letters. The first award was conferred posthumously later that year on Fernando Amorsolo.

Proclamation No. 1144 dated May 15, 1973 named the CCP Board of Trustees as the National Artist Awards Committee and Presidential Decree No. 208 issued on June 7, 1973 reiterated the mandate of CCP to administer the National Artist Awards as well as the privileges and honors to National Artists.

The NCCA was organized under Republic Act No. 7356 dated April 2, 1992 and given broad responsibilities over the development and promotion of the Filipino national culture and the arts, including awards to persons who have significantly contributed to the development and promotion of Philippine culture and the arts.

Executive Order No. 236 dated September 19, 2003, otherwise known as the Honors Code of the Philippines, conferred additional prestige on the National Artist Award by raising it to the level of a Cultural Order, fourth in precedence among the orders and decorations that comprise the Honors of the Philippines, and equal in rank to the Order of National Scientists and the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan. The National Artist Award was thereby renamed the Order of National Artists (Orden ng mga Pambansang Alagad ng Sining).

E.O. 236 also established the Committee on Honors to aid the President in evaluating and assessing nominations for recipients of honors and presidential awards.

“ SECTION 9. Committee on Honors. There is hereby created a Committee on Honors (hereinafter referred to as the “Committee”) composed of the following:

Chairman : Executive Secretary
Vice Chairman : Secretary of Foreign Affairs
Members : Head, Presidential Management Staff
Presidential Assistant for Historical Affairs
Chief of Presidential Protocol
Chief of Protocol and State Visits, DFA

The Committee shall assist the President in evaluating nominations for recipients of honors hereunder, as well as Presidential Awards. For this purpose, the Committee may authorize relevant department or government agencies to maintain Honors and/or Awards Committees to process nominations for Honors and/or Presidential Awards.

The Committee shall meet quarterly or as often as it deems necessary to perform its functions.

The Chancellery shall provide the necessary technical and administrative support to the Committee. “

Executive Order 435 dated June 08, 2005 issued by the President set forth the procedural guidelines for the award of the Order of National Artists. Section 5, Part IV of EO 236 was amended to read: “The NCCA and CCP shall advise the President on the conferment of the Order of National Artists…” Notably, as early as 1997, the NCCA-CCP Board had affirmed that the President can ignore their advice and select awardees not stated in the list they submit.

On May 6, 2009, the NCCA-CCP Board forwarded a list of four names to the Office of the President. The list consisted of (a) Manuel P. Urbano (Film), (b) Ramon Santos (Music), (c) Lazaro Francisco (Literature), and (d) Federico Alcuaz (Visual Arts). The list was in turn submitted to the Honors Committee for evaluation. In the meantime, the Office of the President received nominations from various sectors, cultural groups, and individuals endorsing private respondents among others for the award of National Artist.

Thereafter, the Committee on Honors submitted to the President a memorandum recommending the following: (a) Manuel P. Urbano (Film), (b) Ramon Santos (Music), (c) Lazaro Francisco (Literature), (d) Federico Alcuaz (Visual Arts), (e) Carlo Caparas (Visual Arts and Film), Cecile Guidote-Alvarez (Theater), Francisco Manosa (Architecture), and Jose Moreno (Fashion Design).

Subsequently, the President issued the assailed Proclamation No. 1823 to 1829 declaring all those recommended by the Honors Committee as National Artists, holding in abeyance Rmon Santos since the comparative validation process has not been completed because of other nominees of equally outstanding achievement have been brought to the President’s attention.
As the award “National Artist” may be construed as the embodiment of the nation’s ideals – Artist for the Nation – it is understandable that while the President may entertain the recommendation of the arts and culture sector, ultimately and inevitably, her choice should not deviate from the will of the people, in whom sovereignty resides and from whom her mandate emanates.

For whom does an artist create? Perform? Does he do it for the satisfaction of his peers alone or for the acclaim of the sector to which he belongs? Or does he perfect and hone his craft for his country and its people?

The duty of the President is a difficult one, and only she can do it. To strike a balance between expert acclaim and public acceptance, peer recognition and national relevance. In the end, as the representative of the People, she alone defines what makes an artist truly worthy of the title National Artist – Artist for the Nation.

The exercise of Presidential prerogative is not a perversion of the selection process. In fact and in truth, it is precisely the exercise of Presidential Prerogative that perfects the process.

As a footnote it may interest the court that a similar award in the United States has this provision for its Nomination / Selection Process which underscore presidential prerogative.

“Recipients of the National Medal of Arts are selected by the President. Annually the National Endowment for the Arts initiates the selection process by soliciting nominations for the Medal from the public and various arts fields. Nominations are reviewed by the National Council on the Arts, composed of Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed individuals. The National Council’s list of nominees is forwarded to the President for consideration with candidates of the President’s own choosing.”

A number of people have been misled or deceived by the protesting national artists and CCP officials. If they insist that their nomination from the CCP-NCCA Board is exclusive and not advisory and part of a total process, the proper route is for them to go to Congress to amend the prevailing parameters of the Executive Order or ask for a New Law.