A forum on the
exclusion of actress Nora Aunor from the 2014 National Artist proclamation is
slated on July 2, 2014, 4:30 pm, at Faber Function Hall of the Ateneo de
Manila University, Loyola Heights, Quezon City.
Titled, “The Nora Effect: A Forum on the Crisis in
the Order of National Art”, the forum features position papers from
National Artist for Literature Dr. Bienvenido L. Lumbera, (University of the
Philippines); Zandro Rapadas of the Nora Aunor for National Artist: The Real
Journey Begins Here; Prof. D. M. Reyes (Ateneo); Katrina Stuart Santiago,
(columnist for the Manila Times); and Dr. Benilda Santos (Ateneo and member of
the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino).
Prof. Jose Mari
Cuartero and Prof. Louie Jon A. Sanchez of the Department of English, Ateneo,
will serve as rapporteurs.
please contact the convenor, Dr. Jason Pilapil Jacobo at 4266001 local 5320 or
5321, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
IT is not in our
stars (pun, pun really intended because this whole debate is dumb!) but in our
being underlings, and the government knows that.
Those lines are
not of lovers but from politicians, from plotters. Cassius is convincing Brutus
to take the side that will benefit the public, the majority and not the side of
Julius Caesar. But the lines might as well be for lovers, the lovers of arts
and their value in societies. There is love in Cassius’s words, but there is
Fear grips those
who are not sure what art is all about. The fear of arts is the fear of doubts.
And the fear of doubts is the same fear of people who believe any form of
government is the epitome of stability. What we do not realize is the fact of
status quo, which props those who are in power and forgets the ordinary
citizens. So long as we are kept in the dark about this ideology, then all’s
well with the world. Any person who makes it his business to question or to
doubt is described as a destabilizing force.
The issue that is
facing the Palace and the latest act that emanates from that center is the
exclusion of Nora Aunor from the list of the individuals and personalities who
have just been proclaimed as National Artist. I don’t know how this decision
was reached; I do not have any idea also what went on inside the heads of those
people who opted to remove one name. What I do know is that it took them not
one month, not two months but some eight months before they had the courage to
What did the person
who received the list—drawn up and submitted by the National Commission for
Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines after
months of careful and impassioned deliberation—do in those months? If we are to
assume that it is only the President who has the prerogative to remove one or
all from the list, then what did this President do in the intervening period? I
would like to imagine that the president re-viewed all the films of Nora and
did not like them. He is perhaps not convinced at all about the genius of this
former water vendor from the dusty city of Iriga in Bicol. I can also see his
staff helping him out, his personal historian, his secretaries, his bodyguards
giving him tips about the greatness of Nora. In the end, he finds no merit in
what the critics say. Perhaps, he found Nora’s film a tad too dark. Maybe.
The problem is the
law of this nation seems to be on the President’s side. This law says it is not
his responsibility to explain. That is an awesome prerogative. It is so huge a
power, it could only come from God or, at least, from his people, from those
who made him the president. But even gods explain. The divine and the human
always explain even if those explanations, those answers are in the form of
As of the moment,
there is no word from the Palace, except those from the presidential lackeys.
At the other end
of this spectrum is Nora Aunor. No one seems to be interested to listen to her
speak about the snub. Much as it would make the ground tremble the moment she
speaks, Nora has no need to speak. A multitude has assumed the task of
explaining to the world Nora Aunor’s position. If the Palace meant to degrade
Nora and put her down, it has not succeeded in getting the desired results.
Nora’s name has even become stronger, draining any semblance of authority from
those hands that are supposed to declare the artists of this nation.
In what could have
been the deathly blow to her career, and her resounding eviction from the
consciousness of the Filipino people, the removal of Nora Aunor’s name from
that list of National Artist has caused her to ascend, body and soul, to the
firmament of greatness. Her detractors must be bristling with anger, for the
plot to murder the art of Nora Aunor and bury it in oblivion has now been
reduced to a hapless plan. In other words, this generation is getting to know
Nora Aunor, and why two National Artists have readily declared their support
When the news
broke out that Nora had been crossed off the list, an air of requiem filled the
air around those who admire her. It took a few hours before the outpouring of
support and the words of protest tore the air. The grieving stopped; the
planning began. The options were weighed; the decisions were made. The Facebook
accounts of many Nora Aunor fans turned black. But as quickly as the photos
dimmed, the social-media space opened up to accommodate the rage of the
citizenry. These were not fans anymore but citizens, Filipinos who believed
they have been shortchanged—yet again—by an act of the government. Ordinary
citizens ceased to be ordinary but became an extraordinary chronicler of state
errors and flaws.
Lumbera, National Artist for Literature, called the presidential prerogative an
insult to those who selected Nora Aunor. Lumbera asked his fellow National
Artists in effect to protest the insult. F. Sionil Jose, National Artist for
Literature, in lines that are going viral, questions the ability of the
President to appreciate excellence.
The NCCA, it is
said, aims to renominate Nora Aunor. Some critics believe there is no nobility
in seeking reconsideration from the Palace; instead, these critics believe it
is wise to wait for the next president—the right president—to declare Nora
Aunor. Even as these opinions make the declaration of National Artist look like
that of a confirmation from the Commission on Appointment, the general feeling
is that the whole process has already been tainted.
self-effacing person that she is, Nora Aunor has remained circumspect all throughout.
Which is just as well. Nora Aunor does not need now the President to declare
her an artist. A group of artists and intellectuals and experts has already
Nora Aunor is
acclaimed by the nation. Wise men and women have already formed a circle of
support around her. In the Palace, the President is also surrounded, I like to
think, by advisers who believe they have given him the right advice. We do not
have to count years; we only have to wait for the next election before they are
As for Nora Aunor,
she will always be part of this nation, any critical sense of this nation, as
an artist who has no need for presidential prerogative, and whose art and
genius will live beyond elections.
the previous administration, the president committed a sin by inclusion; in the
present dispensation, the evil act is in the exclusion.
is really a committal of artists and thinkers—an arduous arena where those who
believe in the potency of culture and its power to gift us with identities and
political persuasions, tangle in theories and compete in their abilities to
assess achievements and social impact of geniuses—is reduced finally into a
management transaction. Gone is the rigor of thinking about how arts and
artists form nations. Gone is the rage that borders on the divine when great
minds, or at least those who support the work of artists from all over the
land, struggle to discover what is great about the dance, the music, the
theater, the literature, and the new technologies that fuse aesthetics with
science along with the histories, the fashion and the crafts of an
island-republic. Gone in fact is any kind of struggle. Gone is the majesty of
the many minds that fought not out of violence but out of love for a country in
search of its own artists. In their places is a multitude of tasks and
assignments, cunningly cold, to slice off a slab of agreed-upon names. Without
rancor. In their places are men who believe it is facile to remove or add a
name or names. Without thinking.
of this scenario: the list of the artists arrives in the palace. Somebody must
have held it in his hand. That man, or the King’s Men, would have contemplated
the list. Perhaps for a week. Or weeks. But the list is placed on a table and
stays there for months and months. Was someone committing them to memory? Did a
name bother them?
this country were in the temperate zone, the list would have seen trees lose
their leaves, and trees regain those leaves and live again. If this country
were an infant, the list would have witnessed the country crawl and attempt to
stand. Time, the faithful witness to histories, becomes an absurd mute
observer. Absurdity becomes the order of the day.
the day finally comes that the celebratory list is announced. Almost near
midnight. The announcement is done by the Communications Secretary. The
tradition is for the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the
Cultural Center of the Philippines to jointly announce the list. This was not
to be so.
name of Nora Villamayor, known around these parts and beyond as Nora Aunor, was
struck out of the list. Again, logic played tricks with our understanding: the
palace spokesperson would not know who was removed from the list because they
just received the list. Indeed, who can debate with that? Another spokesperson
also had no explanation because she was not present in the deliberation. So,
there was a deliberation? Were NCCA and CCP part of this new deliberation.
letter from the Chairman of the NCCA, Prof. Felipe de Leon, asks for an
explanation from the Palace. Outside of Nora Aunor’s body of work, the NCCA,
according to De Leon, is not interested in anything about Nora Aunor. De Leon,
commenting on the exclusion of Aunor, laments the loss of another artistic role
model. De Leon calls for reforms that will shield the selection of National
Artist from politics.
Bienvenido Lumbera, National Artist for Literature, states: “The Office of the
President owes the CCP and the NCCA an explanation for the insulting disregard
of the choice for Nora Aunor as National Artist.”
the center of the loss and lament is Nora Aunor.
cannot be denied the title of National Artist because she has always been there
at the edge, in the gaps, in the interstices of this culture.
no mainstream producer dared to question the war we fought back in the 1940s,
she presented to us her Rosario, caught in the calumnious triangle of love and
deceit and life. Her Rosario is not a Filipino woman to love but one to
question or even to malign. At a young age, Aunor knew how to summon the
political cinema. At a young age, she produced a piece of cinema that
interrogated the nation and its past.
when the American bases were the boon of this nation, she conjured Corazon, a
nurse who dreamt of the American dream. But American soldiers guarding the
spaces around one base mistook Corazon’s brother for a wild pig, or so the
American military brass claimed. Shrouded in veil but bristling with wrath,
Corazon delivered the lines that made us rethink about Americans. It would take
the natural agitation from a sleeping volcano, and the strong political will
from the political men of the mother of this president, to push the American
bases out of Philippine soil. It cannot be denied, however, that Aunor’s
Corazon strong sentry over the coffin of her brother, and the grin that
appeared on that face when at last she was the only one who could save a young
American in an accident, made us think where we were in terms of the US bases
and imperialism. Nora’s films always made its audiences think and rethink about
came Himala, a film about miracles. If Filipinos were still unaware of the
manipulations of the institutional church, Nora’s Elsa—delivering an
impassioned speech about the social origins of saints and miracles and
apparitions—delivered us to our liberation from an imposed religion. Some of us
came back to the fold and some stayed at the peripheries, but our notion of
religion had been altogether changed. It has been said Aunor was not directed
in this film; she directed herself while the other actors used her as pivot.
Aunor in depicting the abuses and mysteries of religion could not be faulted by
the big church because the film is itself a commentary on both the state and a
religion that was becoming that of the state. Amid the architecture of guilt
and gods, Nora stood as the condensation of all of those questions we needed to
ask from God but which we always ended up asking from priests and pastors.
would incarnate role after unforgettable role: the activist who falls in love;
a mother who gives birth in the zoo, beast and motherhood in a trenchant tango;
another mother who dies for a movement for there is no other way.
was Flor Contemplacion. The film which severed the old ties between the Philippines
and Singapore was one of the heralded comebacks of Nora Aunor. She was selected
to play Flor because the tragic domestic helper was a Noranian. Again,
absurdity became the order of the day. At the end of that day, Flor and Nora
became interchangeable, as men and women coming from the Philippines became
interchangeable with all the other workers of the world, as their workplaces
and the people they worked for and the children they cared for became
interchangeable with their families and their own children.
stage and on screen, Nora has portrayed characters who struggle so they could
triumph. Sometimes, the character does not win the battle; sometimes, the
character steps outside the stage to address a crowd. These characters have
always been portrayed with the realism Nora Aunor was and is noted for, an
acting style that has influenced many generations of actors. Like Aunor’s
complexion, her approach to performance has changed our ways of looking at
here and abroad, her films lauded in practically all the significant
international festivals, Nora’s collection of characters have always remained
in the periphery. Even when her role is that of a lawyer, the marginal would
win over. For that is where the vitality of this actor is situated—at the edge,
at the margins where most of us find ourselves every day.
these characters and you have a vacuum in the collective memory of Filipinos of
not honor these films is to not honor the histories of this nation where the
dominant tale is important and those in the ruptures, in the crevasses matter
for action and change.
cannot deny the presence of Nora Aunor—not even the president of the land, or
especially the president of the land whose tenure is tethered to the next
election and not to the next generation. One cannot also proclaim the absence
of Nora Aunor, for her works, her voice, her gestures are all over the land, in
territories violated, as many of Aunor’s characters are.
cannot deny the artistry of this actor, for art—Nora Aunor’s art—is not
shackled by anyone who abrogates upon himself or herself the duty of naming
that who should stand for us. Given that, one cannot confer upon Nora Aunor the
name that is not originating in the ministerial body of a leader who is
suggested to be burdened by arts and culture.
Nora Aunor and her art is a piece of this nation. Remove Nora Aunor and her
artistry and you will be staring at a gap. Remove Nora Aunor and all the other
National Artists, for the so-called Presidential Prerogative allows that,
according to a few unenlightened ones, and you are looking at a massive
collective memory gap.
the power of any president to remove one or all in the list submitted by the
National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Cultural Center of the
Philippines, and you have a healthy democracy, a proud nation where arts
and culture have as much value—and burden, if you wish—as the questions on
sovereignty and human rights are. In fact the issue of arts and culture are
equal to the issue of sovereignty and human rights. And the artists are equal
to politicians who use their PDAF for their own vision of culture and arts, and
the technocrats who man film festivals as if these festivals are traffic rules
for Nora Aunor and all the other National Artists, their names will be part of
the more pleasant and gratifying chapters in our rewritten history. As for the
politicians and presidents, their histories will be about repeated follies and
the chapters about them will be repugnant. I do not think we will look for
identities and a sense of nationhood ever in our leaders but I believe arts and
cultures will be, however contentious, our wellspring of pride and person as
for Nora Aunor still, the chapter on her—National Artist or no National
Artist—will be gilded, a bountiful golden balanghay ferrying us to identities
after identities. As for those presidential spokesperson and other chairpersons
and people who have no comment on things when those things do not impact their
comfort zones, they will not even merit footnotes in our heritage. And even if
they do, I doubt if people will bother to check those notes at the margins.
is the power of cinema. Such is the power of Nora Aunor. But in the end, it
takes one person—or a hallway of critics—to strike out the name of Nora Aunor,
with no desire for explanation. And we are vastly, violently poorer for it.
selection of National Artists has again caught fire and hailstorm. This time,
though, the problem is not of those proclaimed but of one being dropped from
the roll by no less than President P-Noy. Obviously, the President had a
different view of Nora Aunor, never mind the highest recommendation given her
by the nominating bodies — the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and
the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Contrary to the
President’s decision, the fiery Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes said Bicolana
Nora Aunor should have been honored for her big contribution to Philippine
Cinema. There were speculations that the president refused to confer the Order
of National Artist on Nora because of her alleged use of illegal drugs. In
2005, she was arrested at the Los Angeles Airport for possession of shabu but
was cleared of the charges in 2007.
Bastes, he was willing to set aside what the actress had gone through, citing
the actress’ return to the country from the US to rise again despite the crisis
she experienced. “I’m willing to forget her past because she is rising again in
the future,” the bishop said.
legal counsel of NCCA, said a question on morality has never been a basis for
the NCCA and the CCP in choosing a national artist. The two bodies have stood
by their declaration that Aunor was of “good moral character,” actually a
criterion for selecting national artists.
Great men and
women, like Beethoven, Mozart, Julius Caesar, Vincent Van Gogh, and even Evita
Peron, are looked up to not because they lived the lives of saints or were
model citizens but because they proved themselves to be human despite their
awesome influences and monumental achievements.
Ateneo de Naga professor Tito Valiente, the Iriga born movie star Nora Aunor
“cannot be denied the title of National Artist because she has always been
there at the edge, in the gaps, in the interstices of this culture.”
incidentally is the chairman of the Manila-based Manunuri ng Pelikulang
Pilipino, writes in his column in the Business Mirror: “On stage and on screen,
Nora has portrayed characters who struggle so they could triumph. Sometimes,
the character does not win the battle; sometimes, the character steps outside
the stage to address a crowd. These characters have always been portrayed with
the realism Nora Aunor was and is noted for, an acting style that has influenced
many generations of actors. Like Aunor’s complexion, her approach to
performance has changed our ways of looking at cinematic life.”
And he reckons:
“One cannot deny the presence of Nora Aunor—not even the president of the land,
or especially the president of the land whose tenure is tethered to the next
election and not to the next generation. One cannot also proclaim the absence
of Nora Aunor, for her works, her voice, her gestures are all over the land, in
territories violated, as many of Aunor’s characters are.”
Bino Realuyo who
styles himself as a Noranian in New York, also shares his sentiments on the
issue: “My life in the Philippines wouldn’t be the same without her movies:
Minsa’y Isang Gamu-gamu, Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos, Bona, Himala, Banaue,
Bulaklak sa City Jail. Before I left the Philippines, I caught a glimpse of my
future home in Merika. In her acclaimed body of work, she carried the flag of
the disenfranchised, the humble, the voiceless, the faceless. She has given a
face to a world that most Filipinos don’t go to the movies to see. Watching her
movies is akin to being trapped in a dialogue with ourselves where there is no
escaping until the final credits. She is one of us. She looks like us. She
talks like us. Her characters transformed the movie theater from an escapist
song-and-dance complex into an ephemeral confessional box where we confront our
sins and truths, because if she could make it, we could triumph over adversity,