THE National Artist Award was created to honor the artistic geniuses of our country. It was established pursuant to Presidential Proclamation 1001 of April 27, 1972. The rank and title of National Artist is bestowed on Filipino citizens who have, through the arts, helped define our national identity.
I had the chance to know or to have known some of these great Filipinos, up close, personal and without filters.
There was national artist F. Sionil Jose, fiery and unwavering, always ready to write about the ills of our society and our national misconceptions. Survivor of the Second World War, his DNA had to be programmed at birth to fight until the end. He died with a mind still as sharp as a Saracen’s blade.
There was Federico Aguilar Alcuaz whose works are breathtaking and incredibly beautiful. Each work is an exceptional masterpiece. Her choice of colors could outshine a rainbow. Touch an Alcuaz canvas and feel the colors with your fingertips.
There was Nick Joaquin whose works will live on even after his bones have turned to dust. He walked the streets of Manila in three dimensions: the Manila of the Spanish Empire, the Manila of then and the Manila of his. Every time I saw him, I asked him what dimension he was in, he only smiled at me with sad eyes.
There was Bienvenido Lumbera. Read Lumbera’s poems to a crescendo, like a Beethoven symphony and you’ll hear the Filipino sound.
There was Francisco Mañosa, our national artist for architecture; his designs are truly unique, open and spacious, as if predicting the coming pandemic. Benevolent to fault, I ran to him when the house I was building was not up to par and he gave me engineers and builders, planners and technical advisers. As a result, my house looks like an ordinary house from the outside, but inside it is definitely a Mañosa. He was a great genius in design and engineering, in the use of posts and lintels.
There is National Artist Resil Mojares, the Titan of Visayan Letters as he is known. Silent and seemingly forever lost in thought, he still tries to figure out the past algorithms of our people’s existence.
There are other great artists who deserve to be honored by our nation who have passed away, but the work they left behind speaks for itself.
The manner in which potential national artists are selected and the limits of presidential power in their selection are exposed in Almario v. Executive Secretary, GR 189028, July 16, 2013.
In the Almario case, the Supreme Court described the various stages of the deliberations of the selection process. It was held that since the vetting process is set by law, the President’s selection of who National Artists should be should be limited to names submitted to him by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center. Philippine Governing Councils (PCC). If a person’s name does not appear in the shortlist submitted, that person cannot be considered a potential winner. Indeed, the power to deliberate on the choices of National Artists is granted to the NCCA and CCP Boards of Directors by Executive Order 208 and Republic Act 7356. Thus, Presidential discretion should be consistent with the duty of the Chief Executive to faithfully execute all laws. This is an obligation dictated by Article 17, Article VII of the Constitution. The screening and selection process must therefore be observed, even by the President, to ensure that we will have the national artists we deserve.
“Discretion,” according to Almario, “is not a free-spirited stallion that runs and roams where it pleases, but is restrained to keep it from straying. In its classic formulation, discretion n is not limitless and vagrant, but channeled into the banks that keep it from overflowing.”
Ultimately, there must be a list of names that should be provided to the President so that he can exercise his mandated prerogative to choose our National Artists. In my opinion, there should be at least a trinity – three people whose names must be submitted for each category in order for the President to effectively exercise his executive power. This brings me now to the latest news I have received from people who know about these things. I have been informed that for this three-year cycle, no national artists for the visual arts have been nominated. Luckily, I don’t have any proof other than the words I heard. If true, that means there should be an explanation for the sudden reversal of circumstances, certainly not by a court order or court warrant or “gentleman lawyers” like me, because a Supreme Court decision involving one sentence is certainly one case too many.