National Artist Fiasco ‘Defiles’ Culture – Critics

Despite the furor created by the controversy, NCCA chairperson Vilma Labrador earlier said in newspaper interviews that the administration has no intention of withdrawing the award for the four persons whose names were inserted by Arroyo into the list.

Art Community Outraged

The art community was outraged by the president’s actions. Many saw her move as a travesty of the process and the award itself.

The Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) denounced the Arroyo administration for its “brazen and grave abuse of discretion” in naming this year’s honorees. In a statement, the group’s members said they particularly detest the conferment of the award on Alvarez, pointing out that it “it reeks of the worst kind of ‘patronage politics’.” They said Alvarez should not accept the title considering that she is at the helm of one of the institutions that spearheaded the process. CAP stated that the conferment of the title on Alvarez is a form of political payback for Alvarez’s loyalty to Arroyo.

Meanwhile, the Neo-Angono Artists Collective described this year’s National Artist Award controversy as “reflective of the ‘Hello Garci’ scandal,” as it “undermines the democratic, collegial, painstaking and rigorous process of choosing the worthy recipients of the award.”

A symbolic necrological service was held on Aug. 7 in front of the CCP to dramatize the “demise” of the National Artist Award.

In an unprecedented event, all living national artists — including F. Sionil Jose, Ben Cabrera, Salvador Bernal, Arturo Luz, Napoleon Abueva, Eddie Romero, Bienvenido Lumbera, Virgilio Almario, Eddie Romero, and Jose Abueva — joined forces with more than a hundred other artists who came together to denounce Arroyo’s “bastardization” of the National Artist Award. Singer Celeste Legaspi and journalist Raul Locsin — daughter and cousin, respectively, of the late national artists Cesar Legaspi and Leandro Locsin — were also present.

The event was well attended by notable directors, artists, writers, actors and other cultural workers. Among those seen in the protest action were actors Johnny Delgado, Nanding Josef, Bart Guingona, Joonee Gamboa, and Malu de Guzman; film directors Jose Javier Reyes Laurice Guillen; writers Jun Cruz Reyes, Virgilio Almario, and Herminio Beltran; ethnic musician Edru Abraham; singer Bituin Escalante; and film and theater director Behn Cervantes.

The program started with a theatrical cortege with women donning black dresses and veils to symbolize the death of the award. They were followed by a vehicle that carried a funeral wreath, which was laid at the doorsteps of the CCP.

The national artists took turns in delivering eulogies while also urging the art community to defend arts and culture from the abuses of the patronage and politicking of the current administration.

In a symbolic gesture, they placed their medallions in a box for safekeeping until “a genuine national artist” is named again.

The crowd later trooped to the NCCA office in Intramuros, where the protest continued.

This is not the first time that the Arroyo administration caused controversy in the National Artist Award. In 2001 and 2006, Arroyo also altered the shortlist submitted by the committee to insert the names of Alejandro Roces and Abdulmari Imao, both known political supporters of hers. (

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