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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 said to have plagiarized a famous 1952 speech of US politician Adlai Stevenson), was also said to have ghost writers who have written 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.

Sic Transit Gloria: Arroyo’s 9th State of the Nation Address

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Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

As of this writing, thousands of anti-Arroyo rallyists have already converged along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City to listen to her ninth (and supposedly final) State of the Nation Address (S0NA) which will commence moments from now.

It was also reported that at least eight senators (all from the opposition) and other militant lawmakers are planning to boycott the said event. This could mark the first time in the history of Philippine politics that numerous lawmakers will skip the president’s SONA.

All this may no longer negatively affect Arroyo’s mindset. Since grabbing the presidency in 2001, she’s certainly become accustomed to collective ad hominems and massive rallies against her. With all types of allegations being hurled against her person and her government through the years, she’s been through hell and back (what with all those countless protest rallies and coup d’états she had experienced). But what could certainly be troubling her mind all this time is a scathing editorial from the influential US daily The Washington Times. And this editorial was released at a most inopportune time: yesterday (Manila time), on the eve of her SONA.

The editorial criticizes US President Barack Obama’s decision to welcome Arroyo to The White House this coming Friday (Thursday, Washington time). It will be his young presidency’s first visit by a Southeast Asian leader. But this doesn’t sit well with the newspaper’s team of opinion generators.

The newspaper did its homework quite well because it cited Arroyo’s current standing in public approval polls (a ghastly 26 percent), the growing discontent of the masses (“Street demonstrations against her are routine and growing in size.”), not to mention her questionable victory during the 2004 polls (which many believe should have been won by local film legend and Filipino idol Fernando Poe, Jr.) and the bribe and extortion scandals. Furthermore…

The Philippines has become less free during Mrs. Arroyo’s 10-year presidency. According to Freedom House, “Corruption is extensive throughout the Philippine state apparatus, from the lowest to the highest levels. Bribes and extortion seem to be a regular element of the complex connections among bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen, the press and the public.” In Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index, the Philippines ranked 141st out of 180 nations on a list in which No. 1 is the least corrupt. The level of Philippine corruption is tied with Iran and Yemen and worse than in dodgy places such as Libya and Nigeria.

The corruption problem is affecting Manila’s relationship with other allies. A senior Philippine official told The Washington Times that German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent Mrs. Arroyo an ultimatum last month that Berlin-Manila ties are at risk if the Philippines doesn’t pay $60 million owed to the German government for Manila’s new international airport. The Philippine government seized the airport and refused to pay a German company — which is partly owned by the German state — for its construction after revelations that the contract allegedly was laden with millions in bribes and kickbacks.

There are also serious human-rights abuses in the archipelago. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, “The Philippines ranks sixth worldwide among countries that fail to prosecute cases of journalists killed for their work.” Between 1992 and 2008, at least 34 journalists were murdered in the Philippines; there were convictions in only three of these cases. Four more members of the press were killed this June alone. Opposition voices regularly disappear as well.

Surprisingly, it is apparent that the editorial shares the sentiments of many Filipinos, and in much precise fashion. For some political pundits and analysts, it remains to be seen if Arroyo’s spin doctors and speechmakers did hasty overnight revisions to her SONA just to counter the editorial. Or perhaps Arroyo will simply ignore it.

Whether or not Arroyo ignores the editorial content of The Washington Times in her SONA, the fact of the matter is that it has already disturbed her enough. She nor her spokesperson doesn’t have to admit this. Any major leader of a nation who has been loyal to the most powerful country in the world must win not only the attention of the American president but the American press as well. For as in most countries, the media still guide the flow of a body politic’s opinion.

Obama is still young. And such political youthfulness carries the innate wisdom to listen to the wise discernment of the Fourth Estate.

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