THIS year’s 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.
According to 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.
Trixie Cruz-Angeles, 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.
According to 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.”
Valiente, who 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, too.”