What national interest?

This is my column today, June 29, 2014. 

Having been reared by women– an aunt, a grandmother, and a yaya – who were diehard Noranians, I wasn’t surprised by the howl and the resentment created by the President’s decision to deny Nora Aunor the title of National Artist.  I grew up fully aware of Aunor’s magic among the masses, and consequently, learned to appreciate her immense talent as an artist.  She was and continues to be a cultural phenomenon by virtue of the fact that she rose to an exalted position on sheer talent, guts, and intuition alone – she wasn’t schooled and her talent wasn’t honed by academic discipline.  She also broke the mould of what a movie queen was supposed to be.  To many, therefore, she is the embodiment of what comprises a real Filipino artist.  The Presidential snub was therefore personal as it negated their personal choice and preferences.
When I became actively involved in theatre and in the arts, I was exposed to many more intellectuals and professionals who did not fit the stereotype of what comprised a Noranian but who were, nonetheless, unquestionably convinced that Aunor’s gifts as an actress were unparalleled.  Aunor’s status as the Filipino superstar may have waned through the years because of her many frailties as a person, but this has not diminished the respect and recognition of her talent and her contributions to Philippine cinema and the arts.   The many articles written by national artists and by many pillars of the arts in this country establish Aunor’s qualification to become national artist on grounds artistic merit.  I still have to meet anyone who questions the inclusion of Aunor’s name among those worthy of the title of National Artist.
The Presidential snub is therefore incomprehensible and indefensible.  And this is proven by the fact that to this day, no one among the bright boys in the palace has been able to given a cogent and sensible explanation why the President stripped Aunor of the honor and title.  Truth be told, the President’s apologists have been reduced to blabbering idiots who mouth nonsensical generic answers every single time they are grilled on the matter. 
The question that has been raised is so stark in its simplicity:  What was the reason why the President refused to confer the title of National Artist on Aunor despite the recommendations of the two bodies that were authorized by law to take care of the selection process?  No one has been able to make a direct answer; even the usually effusive Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma has been reduced to making trite responses about how the President action was within the bounds of law and dictated by the national interest.  Secretary Coloma, no one is saying the President’s decision was illegal – the question that begs an answer is “why?”  People want to know what national interest would be endangered by declaring Aunor a national artist.
And so we are left with the conjectures.  The prevailing opinion is that Aunor was snubbed on moral grounds, which rankles not only because moral fitness it is not part of the criteria but because it’s an area nobody is qualified to become ultimate judge of; so much so that the matter is not even part of the qualifications for the highest post in the land.
The controversy has once again illustrated the extent to which our current leaders are detached from and oblivious to the real sentiments and issues of the people.  Many have repeatedly raised the issue of the utter lack of emotional intelligence of the people in the current administration; this latest controversy has validated that lack of empathy and moral superiority are truly two of the more obvious manifestations of the malady. 
But there are two things that bother me the most about this controversy.  It’s really not about declaring Aunor a national artist anymore, although it is obvious that her exclusion for this year’s batch of national artists represents a major injustice.  First, it has become apparent that we haven’t really learned anything from the last National Artist debacle.  Second, that the process of choosing national artists remains embroiled in dirty politics. 
We all expected that after the national embarrassment created by the deletion and addition of names by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, our leaders have become wiser and would henceforth respect the process and the expert opinions of the respective boards and committees who have been empowered by law to take care of the selection process.  It is apparent that artists in this country remain subject to the whims and caprices of the powers that be.  It’s a shame that our leaders mouth words like freedom, respect for law, and democracy and claim to be vanguards of these concepts and yet make a mockery of these under the guise of protecting national interest.  So perhaps the student who was arrested in Naga for disrupting the President’s Independence Day speech was right after all.  Nothing has changed in this administration.


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