Who should become national artists?

To the extent that a funeral procession, a funeral wreath, medallions are symbolically entombed, and black ribbons on wooden sticks are planted all over the lawn of the Cultural Center of the Philippines – all these – that read as a clear political statement, serve notice to the president how she made another ‘lapse in judgment’ in the exercise of her presidential prerogative.

As reports have it, Carlo Caparas and Cecile Guidote Alvarez are perceived by the art and culture community itself as not deserving to be conferred the honor as national artists along with the truly deserving ones. It seems unlikely for the president to recall the endorsement that is already made public and it seems more likely that only the Supreme Court could decide where questions of law may be raised. Until then – no one individual, no one entity, no one tradition – can overturn whom the president desires to confer the awards to.

Not few quarters are heard to have said – why not Dolphy, why not Nora, why not Vilma for our national artists? So, has the institution of the National Artists Awards been struck a fatal blow? Why are recipients of this prestigious award returning their medallions? Why do they cry wolf that GMA has abused her power? Will the conferment of national artist awards still be credible? Why an indicatively interventionist Malacanang? Where will this bring culture and the arts unless we can disabuse our minds of the perils of crippling political patronage?

It is important that the people who will be conferred the honor as national artists really deserve the awards and that they have really made their marks in their own fields of artistic or cultural expertise. Absent those conditions, it is not the business of Malacanang to play the better judge as to who among a recommended pack, given well-established criteria, should be dropped from the listed and who should then replace them. As one commissioner aptly said – “the president is not expert in art and culture”.

It seems revolting that a national artist, among other privileges, are entitled a lifetime monthly pension of a whooping P100,000, a state funeral that not even a great president like President Ferdinand Marcos has yet deserved, and a free hospitalization or all expense paid health care insurance. This is fabulous and offhand, it should not ever have to apply to an artist like Guidote while seating as Executive Director of the National Commission on Culture and Arts and concurrently presidential adviser on culture. This is not to say that her husband is also presidential adviser on global warming and climate change. Is anything being rather badly politicized here?

There is really such a thing as delicadeza and a former head of the Commission has aired these overtures – and rightly did. Indeed, one cannot have her cake and eat it too. Well, perhaps, rules are made to be violated and promises are made to be broken. But if one’s peers themselves and other peer groups in the fields complain against the conferment of these awards by the NCAA

In the end, is a noise just created to drum up hate against PGMA or smear campaign launched against the most-favored recipients? Or, couldn’t Sen. Pangilinan been more correct in pointing out that Section 11 of Republic Act No. 7356 been violated as it applies to Guidote as an incumbent NCCA commissioner? As far as it goes, there are valid questions raised why the bar of choosing the Filipino national artists should never be compromised nor lowered just to satisfy a personal whim. As taxpayers, even those benefits that involved generous economic renumerations or incentives should probably be reviewed and be amended accordingly. What exceptional feat should reward Caparas and Guidote a lifetime pension of P100,000 unless we think this amount is peanuts. As a taxpayer, this comes very unsettling to me.