Aquino’s National Artist snub reflects his brand of presidency

published in The Philippine Online Chronicles, Sunday, 29 June 2014


Much has been said and written about Superstar Nora Aunor’s exclusion from the 2014 National Artist Awards list. Some were witty and amusing (because of Aunor’s uncanny resemblance to former president Gloria Arroyo),  some raging mad (because Aunor is a “National Treasure”!), some contemplative (did the president exercise his veto powers in the selection of the 2014 National Artist Awards?). Some were outright entertaining and creative enough to integrate some of Aunor’s most critically-acclaimed works in their criticism (“Walang Himala!” There is no economic miracle, Mr. President!”).

Others brought to the fore the very process by which the National Artist is annually selected. After all, the National Artists award has not been devoid of controversies throughout the years. Even National Artist for Literature Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera attests to the politics behind the selection process. All presidents have also supposedly revised the final shortlist submitted by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) based on, simply, his or her personal preference.

Still, Aunor’s omission from the final list is a great puzzle to most, and a blasphemy to more. Her almost 50 years of superstardom is more than notable, the very stuff legends are made of. Nominated 17 times since 1973, she is the most nominated actress in the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences Award (FAMAS). She is also the most nominated actress for Gawad Urian, with 17 nominations and 7 best actress awards; and the very first best actress winner, the most awarded and the most nominated for the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). Aunor also had nine nominations from the Young Critics Circle, winning best actress in five of those; and the only actress to get a best actress award from the Film Academy of the Philippines for three consecutive years.

In the international arena, she has also won the most number of best actress awards and nominations than any other Filipino actor – in the 19th Cairo International Film Festival (1995), first East Asia Film and Television Award (1997), 31st Festival International du Film Independant de Bruxelles (2004), Asia Pacific Screen Award (2012), Premio Della Critica Indipendiente (2013), Asian Film Awards (2013) and the Green Planet Movie Award, to name a few.

Needless to say, the merits of Aunor being bestowed a National Artist Award, given her credentials and her priceless contributions to the Philippine film industry, is a no-brainer. Even the NCCA said that she had the most number of votes in the initial nomination process. Much of this latest controversy owes to the fact that her achievements define and distinguish a great actress, arguably the greatest of her generation. The real issue now is what kind of president would be so crude and brazen to reject such greatness.

Art critic and columnist Pablo Tariman hit the mark when he said, “After Yolanda, he was totally inept.  After (the) proclamation of National Artists, he revealed a small and mediocre mind”. However which way Malacanang, Kris Aquino or any Palace apologist attempts to exonerate him, the president had further displayed his brand of leadership in his execution and handling of the National Artist snub:

1.       Cluelessness beyond bounds. Mr. BS Aquino is obviously very much out-of-touch with his countrymen, the masses, his “boss”. Even though, under law, the final judgment in the National Artist Award is endowed solely to the president, he has once again proven to Noranians, Bicolanos and the Filipino masses in general how unattuned he is to their interests, demands and desires. It does not help that, in the absence of a direct statement from the president in light of the controversy, his minions in Malacanang have also said that they are equally clueless on why Aunor had been deleted from the list. Think unending price hikes and incessant taxation under his rule despite a wage-hike freeze.

2.       Hypocrisy. Immediately, speculations surfaced that Aunor was not considered qualified due to “moral” issues. Ask any taxpayer and he or she will tell you that Mr. BS Aquino has no moral high ground to estimate Aunor for so-called morality or any standard of ethics. Nor is he in any position to be righteously indignant on basis of good character and conduct.  He is not necessarily a paragon of virtue. And no, this is not just about his chain-smoking, politically-incorrect slips or bad posture.

3.       Patronage politics. Malacanang was quick to say that the National Artist snub did not have anything to do with politics. That the president “acted within the prerogative as laid down by the law”. Hard to swallow, especially since he so unambiguously attested that the likes of Abad and Alcala are still in his very good graces, despite their having been involved in the notorious Napolist. Think DAP. Think “kamag-anak, kaklase, kabarilan”.

4.       Cacique president. The Oxford English dictionary defines “cacique” as “a local political boss”. “Caciquismo”, on the other hand, describes “a democratic system subverted by the power of caciques who successfully influence…process[es] in their favor”. By offering no explanation, no apologies, no nothing, Mr. BS Aquino has once again revealed himself as the modern dictator, despotic and autocratic. Something that most of Aunor’s characters in film have consistently opposed and so magnificently battled against. Indeed, Aunor in film and even in real life, to the masses, is the embodiment of someone rising above her oppressive class and conditions to fight against contemporary caciquismo. Mr. BS Aquino is now the ultimate matapobre from an arrogant haciendero class that scorns the masa and looks down on them with contempt and condescension.

The other day, this writer overheard activist friends talking about encountering a group of people painting “OUST Aquino!” slogans along a major highway in the metro. When asked, they said that they were not members of any activist, progressive or anti-Aquino organizations. What they proudly declared, “We are Noranians.”

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