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The Shameless Massacre of the National Artist Award

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Many years ago, during the Marcos regime, Filipino diplomat Carlos P. Rómulo received the National Artist Award for Literature. Rómulo, allegedly a plagiarist (he was accused of plagiarizing a famous 1952 speech of US politician Adlai Stevenson), was also said to have had ghost writers who wrote some of his most famous speeches during his prime. That is why when news came out that he was to be awarded the highest literary prize in the land, National Artists for Literature José García Villa and Nick Joaquín were so disturbed that they reportedly tried to return their National Artist medals to the government.

But the awards were non-returnable. Thus, the two legendary poets were forced to remain in the league of Rómulo.

This controversy, however, was not made known to the public. Unlike what’s happening right now to the current crop of National Artists. For this year’s batch, there seems to be a new Rómulo…

The master of true-to-life Pinoy “slasher films” (aka massacre films) finally made it to the cut (no pun intended).

New National Artist Caparás: currently receiving heat from true artists. (photo from www.pep.ph)

New National Artist Caparás: currently receiving heat from true artists. (photo from http://www.pep.ph)

Last month, Magno José Carlo Caparás, better known as Carlo J. Caparás in the entertainment circuit, was named National Artist for Visual Arts and Film. This elicited vehement disappointment and disbelief from many artists from various genres. How could a film director be conferred the National Artist award when his works could be defined as sleazy when compared to the obras of local film giants such as Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal?

Could his violent B movie “The Marita Gonzaga Rape-Slay: In God We Trust!” hold a candle to Brocka’s critically-acclaimed “Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag”? How about Caparás’ forgettable “The Vizconde Massacre Story (God Help Us!)”? Could it be placed in the league of legendary Filipino films such as Bernal’s “Himala”?

The above mentioned Caparás films —and more— were commonly called as “massacre films” during the 90s. The comic strip writer-cum-movie director capitalized on such films at a time when Metro Manila’s bloodthirsty psychopaths and sex-starved perverts were having a grand time eluding anti-crime busters. In fairness, his massacre movies were well-received in the box office. However, these films were not artistic, nor did they elicit any form of beauty at all (beauty should be inherent in any art form).

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in its website listed a set of criteria in selecting a candidate for the award:

The Order of National Artists shall be given to:
1. Living artists who are Filipino citizens at the time of nomination, as well as those who died after the establishment of the award in 1972 but were Filipino citizens at the time of their death;
2. Artists who through the content and form of their works have contributed in building a Filipino sense of nationhood;
3. Artists who have pioneered in a mode of creative expression or style, thus, earning distinction and making an impact on succeeding generations of artists;
4. Artists who have created a substantial and significant body of works and/or consistently displayed excellence in the practice of their art form thus enriching artistic expression or style; and
5. Artists who enjoy broad acceptance through:
– prestigious national and/or international recognition, such as the Gawad CCP Para sa Sining, CCP Thirteen Artists Award and NCCA Alab ng Haraya;
– critical acclaim and/or reviews of their works;
– respect and esteem from peers

From the above criteria, I’m confident that Caparás —a vocal supporter of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo— should have failed the second, third, and last items. His works, particularly his films, never contributed in building a Filipino sense of nationhood; nobody will ever see any patriotism in “The Lilian Velez Story: Till Death Do Us Part” nor in his “The Maggie dela Riva Story (God… Why Me?)”. Not even his Panday films will generate any sense of nationalism at all, even if it starred cultural icon and National Artist for Film Fernando Poe, Jr.

He never made an impact on succeeding generations of artists; I have yet to hear a filmmaker who claims to have followed his footsteps nor to have mentioned that Caparás was a stylistic influence. And as far as I know —and I’m pretty sure of it— he never won any major award proclaiming the artistry of his films nor his comic strips. And are there any intelligent reviews written regarding his films?

In addition, Caparás started out as a comic strip writer/creator. But he never drew his comic strips. He had artists for them; he merely wrote the stories. So what’s the logic in conferring him the National Artist for Visual Arts Award?

On the religious side of things, Caparás has the knack (or the nerve) of inserting Eloi,-Eloi,-lama-sabachthani-like tag lines in the title of his crime movies (“God…Why Me?”, “God Help Us”, “In God We Trust!”, etc.). But were they really necessary? If you’d ask me, I say they’re next to blasphemy. In one way or another, Caparás is taunting God whether he denies this or not. Is this the kind of National Artist that the government wants to be proud of?

Aside from Caparás, another National Artist awardee is receiving flak from having been included in the prestigious list.

Cecille Guidote Álvarez is currently the Executive Director of the NCCA. Together with Caparás and five others, she was named as National Artist for Theater. She may or may not deserve the award, but for the sake of delicadeza, she should not accept it because of the fact that the NCCA (together with the Cultural Center of the Philippines) oversees the selection process of the National Artist Awards.

Many respectable figures from Philippine Arts and Culture, from writer Bienvenido Lumbera (National Artist for Literature) to film actor Leo Martínez (Director General of the Film Academy of the Philippines) expressed disbelief over the selection of both Caparás and Álvarez. Truly, this is the bleakest period yet for the National Artist Awards, if not Philippine Arts and Culture as a whole.

It appears that the Arroyo regime’s misgovernance of things have even trickled down to (gasp!) the country’s art sector. Does this mean every Philippine bureaucracy is no longer safe? Because not even Philippine arts and culture is spared from this sickening corruption that has been ravishing the archipelago since 2001. Tsk.

For more information about the controversy behind Carlo J. Caparás conferment as a National Artist for Visual Arts and Film, you may visit the online petition which seeks to block him from receiving the prestigious award (Carlo J. Caparás is Not Qualified to be National Artist). For the sake of Philippine Arts and Culture —and not for anything else— I signed up myself.

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