Why is Nora Aunor not a National Artist?

Every Filipino knows Nora Aunor. She’s the superstar. She’s the little girl with the golden voice. And, she could have been the first woman to be conferred as National Artist for cinema in 2014. However, that was not her fate.

While Aunor has a vast reputable body of work and is one of the most awarded actresses in the history of Philippine cinema, former President Noynoy Aquino rejected the nomination because of Aunor’s previous drug issues. The decision drew flak among Noranians and the general public. “We’re looking for a National Artist not a saint or a religious figure,” I thought when I learned about the decision.

This year, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Cultural Center of the Philippines open the nomination for National Artists. The Order of National Artist is the highest national recognition administered by the National Commission of Culture and the Arts and the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Awarded every three years, it’s given to individuals in the fields of architecture, literature, visual arts, music, dance, cinema, and theater.

Painter Fernando Amorsolo is the first ever National Artist of the Philippines. Former president Ferdinand Marcos bestowed the recognition to Amorsolo days after his death in 1972. In fact, it was also President Marcos who created the Order of National Artist through Proclamation No. 1001.

Photo courtesy of National Commission for Culture and the Arts
Photo courtesy of National Commission for Culture and the Arts

But what does it take to be a national artist, anyway?

First, the artist must be nominated by cultural organizations, educational institutions, and private organizations based on his or her contributions to the craft. According to the guidelines, the nominated artist must have made “significant contributions” that helped develop national cultural identity and created new paths for future artists. The artist should have exhibited a substantial body of work and must have pioneered a style or expression. The artist should also be a natural born Filipino citizen. Lastly, artists who have received critical acclaim or a significant international and local recognitions like Gawad CCP Para sa Sining, CCP Thirteen Artists Award and NCCA Alab ng Haraya.

In the case of Aunor, she received Gawad CCP Para sa Sining for Film and Broadcast Arts in 2015. Other than that, she has received various international awards including best actress awards from Asian Film Awards and Venice International Film Festival for her role in Brillante Mendoza’s Thy Womb. So, she could really be qualified for the Order of National Artist.

After the nomination, a special research group verify the information declared. Once verified, the nominees undergo three rounds of deliberation. For the first two sessions, experts from each category deliberate and come up with a shortlist for the third deliberation. The third session is comprised of NCCA Board of Commissioners, CCP Board and Trustees, and living National Artists. They come up with a shortlist that they submit for the president’s review.

The president confirms and awards the recognition. This is why Aunor wasn’t given the recognition. Although an artist is deemed qualified, the president has the final say on who becomes a National Artist.

The most recent set of national artists were recognized in 2016. Photo courtesy of Inquirer.net/
The most recent set of National Artists were recognized in 2016. Photo courtesy of Inquirer.net/Joan Bondoc

Upon getting the recognition, the National Artist is given a gold-plated medallion minted by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, cash award, insurance for living national artists, a state funeral benefit, and a place of honor in state functions.

Although the recognition is not gender-sensitive, some categories like cinema, architecture, and visual arts have yet to see a female National Artist.

There has also been a notion that the honor is only bestowed to National Artists posthumously, but it’s given to living artists, too. In fact, a long list of national artists have received the honor while living. The list includes national artists Bienvenido Lumbera, F. Sionil Jose, Virgilio Almario, and Benedicto Cabrera.

So, will we see more women and living artists on the growing list of National Artists? Will Aunor be part of it? We’ll find out soon. NCCA and CCP will accept nominations until September 30, 2017 only.

Read more:
Remembering the Manila Metropolitan Theater
How Brilliante Mendoza is saving Philippine cinema
What it means to be a curator, according to Joselina Cruz


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