13 August 2009

The National Artist Award (NAAW)

Yes, the President may exercise the authority to approve, reject, nominate and even create a category of the National Artist Awards (NAAW).

Yes, an Executive Order 236 signed in 2003 by President Macapagal-Arroyo gave more power to the President by creating an Honors Committee, a separate committee to screen and select awards like the NAAW.

Yes, the NCCA and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) were tasked to administer the NAAW.

Yes, the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA) created under Republic Act 7356 is the overall coordinating and policymaking government body that systematizes and streamlines national efforts in promoting and preserving Philippine culture and the arts.

Yes, the President has the Presidential Adviser on Culture and the Arts and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, both under the Office of the President, to advise her on matters pertaining to art and culture. The former were presidential appointees and the latter were nominated and elected by the art community.

These are some of the facts presently confronting the NAAW.
Yes, there is a duplication of tasks and responsibilities and yes, the President was not properly advised on the NAAW. But the passionate protests and the unnecessary maligning of both camps should have given way for a proper review of the laws governing the NCCA and NAAW to enable arguments to be addressed properly and in a civilized manner so that effective measures can finally be taken to correct the flaws in the structure or perception of the NCCA and the implementation of the NAAW.

The NAAW has several flaws. For one, although the NCCA and CCP were tasked to administer and create a panel of experts to screen and select from the nominations submitted, its authority and decision are merely viewed as “recommendatory”, thus the NCCA and NAAW panel has no final and absolute authority to insist that the President should abide by their recommendations.

Yes, an indifferent and ill-advised President can choose to bypass the expertise and authority of the NCCA and CCP over NAAW but the President must be able to support this decision and present it back to the NCCA and CCP for proper deliberation before making a public announcement. This move will ensure the respect for due process. The recommendatory nature of the NCCA and CCP must be viewed not as matters of protocol but as an absolute act of conferring the NAAW. The President must respect and abide by the role of the NCCA as mandated by law.

NCCA is not just an institution. NCCA was created to continue and sustain the vision of the PCCA (Presidential Commission for Culture and Arts) created by a Presidential decree issued by then President Cory Aquino in 1987. Before President Aquino ended her term, the artists and cultural workers lobbied in Congress and the NCCA was created under Republic Act 7356 in 1992.

It is important to note that the NCCA include individuals, organizations, and institutions representing several areas in art and cultural work: architecture, music, theater, cinema/film, dance, literary arts, visual arts, museums, art galleries, monuments and sites, historical research, archives, libraries and information services, cultural dissemination, etc. These individuals are nominated and elected in their fields of expertise to serve for a term of three (3) years. They serve as volunteer consultants and receive only transportation allowance per meeting. This indicate their independence and the participatory nature of the NCCA. These artists and cultural workers are joined by representatives from the Senate, House of Representatives, Department of Education, Tourism, Foreign Affairs, National Historical Institute, National Museum, CCP, etc. To disregard the NCCA’s role and expertise in matters of art and cultural work is indeed a disservice to all volunteer artists and cultural workers who chose to serve the NCCA and contribute to the development of art and culture in the Philippines.

However, if the major role of the NCCA is overpowered by its secretariat (from the Executive Director to the administrative staff) then a problem of power play is at hand. Who makes decisions? Who should handle administrative and operations (files, documents, etc.) to ensure the efficiency of the working committees? The NCCA is its volunteer workers and not the secretariat.

The National Artist Award is the highest recognition of the state for its Creative Geniuses, artists who have created excellent works of art as their significant contribution to the development of Philippine Art. It is not about popularity, or long years in their field of art. The idea of art being elitist is not so much about limiting itself according to a specific class but rather, it is about raising the consciousness and appreciation for art in its highest form. A sustained body of excellent works that speak of a craftsman’s need to transcend the material and raise his creative spirit to produce works that inspire, enlighten and speak of the community’s soul. Works of art that must be preserved and promoted as cultural treasures. This is what makes a National Artist.

The essence of the National Artist Award is Creative Genius.
The role of the NCCA and CCP’s NAAW board is due process.
And the mandate of an elected President is to understand and respect both.

NOTE: I served the PCCA from 1990 to 1992 and the NCCA from 1992 to 2004 under the Subcommission on Cultural Heritage and the Committee on
Art Galleries. I assisted in projects for museums, art galleries, and the visual arts.