First things first
Initially, the current interest shown by some legislators, show biz leaders and even a couple of bishops in the National Artist awards appears to be a positive indication of concern and involvement in one of the important aspects of our nation’s artistic and cultural life. In a country where the arts and artists are generally ignored or given short shrift, that seems to be cause for celebration.
Very quickly, however, our delight is dissipated by the realization that the escalating interest and concern are generally motivated by the desire, not to give belated importance to the arts, but to boost the campaigns for popular stars from TV and the movies to be conferred the country’s top artistic honor. These are artists who have won many other awards – but now, nothing less than the country’s top artistic honor will do.
Wait a minute, now. First things first:
Let’s start with this question: Are the leaders and boosters involved even aware that there’s a process already in place for the selection of national artists every three years or so? The process involves nominations which are then vetted by experts in different artistic fields of endeavor, pared down to a few finalists per field, which are finally voted on by CCP trustees and NCCA commissioners, to arrive at the four or so new national artists proclaimed every three years.
Why then do the legislators want to skip or speed up that process, which is based on the very sound principle of exceptional artists being honored by their peers?
Do the legislators realize that this is precisely one of the major problems of the much-prized awards at present, that all sorts of people, the previous president included, have tried to “insert and proclaim” their own winners, for all sorts of subjective reasons?
Why then would they and other leaders, boosters and proponents want to add to the awards’ many problems by pushing for their own bets – again, outside of the process? Just to make Dolphy, Nora Aunor, Vilma Santos or other “deserving” popular artists happy?
We need to remind everyone that there is a case long pending in the Supreme Court regarding certain “inserted” and questioned “winners” during the last process. Instead of focusing on the next batch, shouldn’t we first clear the air by joining the campaign to urge the court to finally rule on the important matter, the resolution of which has been pending for years?
Yes, Dolphy is ill. Yes, Nora and Vilma have come up with superlative portrayals. But, there is a careful, hopefully objective process to follow, not compromise even more than it has already been, just to make them and their supporters happy.
Besides, there are other awards that the state can confer on them, while they wait for the national artist selection process to play itself out.
Why does it have to be the National Artist awards? Because it’s the country’s top artistic honor? Well, that honor has been severely compromised of late, so in some people’s view, it isn’t as reliable a touchstone for excellence as it used to be—which is why we’re fighting to uphold its threatened integrity. Why threaten it further with other efforts to “speed up” the selection process? Again, first things first.
We hope that more informed and enlightened minds will prevail, and that proponents will stop pushing for specific bets and instead join the campaign to clean up the awards’ selection process, by urging the Supreme Court to rule on the case against some dubious “winners” that is awaiting its verdict.
Pending that, let’s also all agree that the next rounds of the process to select new national artists be put on hold, while the last batch’s disputed “winners” are being decided on. In the meantime, the outstanding popular artists who have been cited can be given other awards, which they richly deserve.
Finally, we should all realize that the continued legitimacy and value of the National Artist awards are more important than any individual artist’s desire for it to be conferred on him or her. Because, what good is a “top” honor when it’s no longer as definitive and prized as it used to be?
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