Nora Aunor’s exclusion sparks national debate

MUCH of the nation’s surprise, President Benigno S. Aquino chose six individuals as National Artists this year, excluding veteran actress Nora Aunor. She was the only reported nominee recommended by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) who was dropped off the list.

Malacañang made the announcement Friday and offered no details to justify Aunor’s exclusion. This only fueled the growing sentiment by artists, showbiz personalities and the public in general that Aunor deserves the conferment based on her talent, body of work and numerous recognition she received from local and international bodies.

“The Office of the President owes the CCP and the NCCA an explanation for the insulting disregard of the choice of Nora Aunor for National Artist. I ask fellow National Artists and other artists to protest this insult to the rigorous process of choosing National Artists,” said National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera in a text message sent to Noel Ferrer, PEP blogger.

In reaction, NCCA chairman Felipe De Leon Jr. was saddened that after the tedious review process, the recommended list was not declared in full.

“Like the rest of the nation, we would also like to know the basis of such decision.  However, legally, the President does not have to justify himself or his decision, we are limited to the statements of Malacañang,” said Atty. Trixie Cruz-Angeles, NCCA Legal Counsel.

Morality clause

In a press briefing Monday, Malacañang issued a statement that the decision was based on national interest.  This shed no light over President’s concern over the morality clause that was earlier reported by sources as the main reason behind the decision.

Don Rapadas of the Nora Aunor for National Artist Movement, however, confirmed this as he revealed the phone conversation between the President and CCP Board Chairman Emily Abrera late afternoon Friday before the announcement came out.

“The President wanted to explain his decision to veto Nora’s recommendation. Abrera argued to death the side of CCP-NCCA and talked for about 40 minutes but the President stood by his decision.  He was worried about the drug case and he does not want to send a signal that we are honoring someone who has been in this situation,” said Rapadas.

According to reports, Aunor committed and pleaded guilty to a felony of possession of illegal drugs in Los Angeles, USA.  In October 2007, the criminal case was dismissed and stricken off the record after Aunor met court requirements, including a drug treatment program and community service.

As far as the joint CCP-NCCA Board is concerned, the morality clause is a non-issue even with Aunor’s criminal case involving illegal drugs in the US.

“If the issue was whether the candidate was in good standing, the Malacañang Honors Committee found her to be so since they submitted seven names to the President. So whatever reason the President may have to exclude her name, it is clear that the recommending bodies were in agreement,” added Atty. Cruz-Angeles.

Moving forward

“NCCA is looking into the possibility of immediate resubmitting the name.  NCCA is going to propose this to the joint board and resubmit the name,” said Cruz-Angles.

Recent years saw the announcement of National Artists being hounded by controversies involving the powers of the President. To prevent such circumstance, NCCA is now looking into the review of the existing laws concerned such as Presidential Decree 208 and certain policies governing the National Artists awards.

According to Cruz-Angeles, “It is very timely to review the law and the policies. The power of the President to exclude is backed up solid jurisprudence, but we would like to explore the parameters and define that power. He has power to exclude names in the list and not necessarily justify the exclusion. NCCA is now looking into reviewing this policy and propose a new one.”

She also shared that this may result in new legislation overturning PD 208 and the creation of a new body mandated to choose National Artists. “As practiced in other countries, the declaration of National Artists comes from the academe. One possibility is the creation of an Academy of the Arts involving experts, so we can diminish political influences.

While we have the utmost respect for the President, it might be better that those with expertise will be the ones to choose the National Artists and its formal proclamation delegated to the President.”

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