Now it can be told: Drugs did Nora Aunor in
CLARK FREEPORT, Philippines—Now it can be told. Actress Nora Aunor’s alleged use of illegal drugs in the past cost her a national artist recognition.
President Aquino on Tuesday broke his silence on the controversy, saying Aunor’s conviction for possession of illegal drugs while in the United States in 2006 was the reason he excluded her from the latest batch of national artists.
“First of all, for the record, my father (slain Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.) was one of the fans of Nora Aunor. I admire her for what she has achieved in life,” the President said at a media briefing after he graced the 67th anniversary celebration of the Philippine Air Force on Tuesday.
He was referring to Aunor’s life, where she started selling water at a train station in Bicol, her winning the singing contest “Tawag ng Tanghalan” and her earning the distinction of being a “superstar” among Filipino actors.
“Now, when I was faced with the nominations, there was only one question, and this is with regard to the title national artist. In my view, the honor and praise of a National Artist Award is given to people who contributed a lot to the Filipino race and someone who should be emulated,” Aquino said.
Clear message to nation
“The problem I had with this and we know this and I respect Ms. Nora Aunor, she was convicted for illegal drugs, convicted and punished. The question here is if we make her a national artist, am I sending a clear message to the nation?” the President said.
A report said Aunor pleaded guilty to possession of illegal drugs in Los Angeles in 2006. The criminal case was dismissed in October 2007 after she complied with court requirements and underwent treatment.
But Aunor’s lawyer in the case belied Aquino’s claim, saying that the actress was not convicted.
Message to Aquino
The President disclosed his reason a day after Aunor confirmed for the first time that she was hurt by her exclusion. A photograph from the Facebook account of actor Gardo Versoza and which appeared in the Inquirer on Tuesday showed Aunor wearing a shirt with the message: “Proud to be Filipino. Ashamed of my government.”
The illegal drugs problem has existed in the country for many years and reports say that syndicates operating cartels in West Africa and Mexico have penetrated the Philippines as a market, the President said.
“I don’t want to send a message that using illegal drugs is OK occasionally or it’s acceptable. The message must be: ‘It is always bad and illegal drugs do nobody any good,’” Aquino said. “I cannot emphasize that message enough and at the same time raise Ms. Nora Aunor to be a national artist.”
Aquino said he knew his decision in excluding Aunor from the list of national artists would be met with opposing reactions. One camp would not find her an acceptable role model while another would insist she deserves the award, he said.
Zero tolerance for drugs
“May I reiterate that I respect her and I recognize her body of work. My problem is, we have a clear priority in stopping the illegal drugs problem. And when it comes to illegal drugs, we have zero tolerance,” he said.
The six new national artists that Aquino approved were Alice Reyes for dance; Francisco V. Coching (posthumous) for visual arts; Cirilo Bautista for literature; Francisco F. Feliciano and Ramon Santos for music; and Jose Maria V. Zaragoza (posthumous) for architecture.
Trixie Cruz-Angeles, legal counsel of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, welcomed the President’s input.
“It places matters in perspective. We encourage discussions because it will help us craft better policies in the future,” she told the Inquirer.
‘Blessing in disguise’
Rep. Rodel Batocabe of the party-list group Ako Bicol said the President’s explanation was a “blessing in disguise.”
“If the President said that Nora was convicted, then he was misinformed. His decision to drop Nora arose from a misapprehension of facts. Therefore, the President can turn things around by reconsidering his exclusion of Nora. It’s the honorable thing to do,” Batocabe said.–With a report from Bayani San Diego Jr.
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