Jason Pilapil Jacobo
Nora Aunor’s exclusion from the roster of national artists signed by the President of the Republic came at the eve of an action star-senator’s entry into the carceral. The government’s juxtaposition between the erasure of the superstar’s name and Revilla’s imprisonment was clear: that the cinematic industry did not have a place in Aquino’s national imaginary. Nora’s defacement was the most appropriate sign to her real of shame, it seemed. As if his relentless smile and her tearful gaze did not pose contradictions along the sequence.
The attempt at a trope could only be revolting, since the President’s sibling had been plundering the nation’s symbolic milieu since their mother inaugurated and finally entrenched a cacique democracy of mass media auras in place of the aesthetic modernity of a dictatorship. Such contiguity—Nora Aunor, Bong Revilla, Kris Aquino—could not hold any propitious ground to the critical among us, since Aunor’s enchantment was distinguished. Against Revilla’s ancestral claim to the talismanic and Aquino’s quotidian attachments to the cult of the banal self, Nora’s place in the purported seriality was the only moment capable of metonym: it taught us how a head of state’s understanding of art could be so impoverished that he would not grant Aunor’s body of work the relative autonomy it deserved. In the treatise of culture that is yet to be written, Kris Aquino and Bong Revilla can only be exemplars of the consumption and the corruption of the form they think they can deploy to exalt vanity and amass wealth.
The President subtracted “Nora Cabaltera Villamayor” from his proclamation, upon the recommendation of an Honors Committee, whose members do not have a history of a critical engagement with art and the ethical conditions of its dissemination in the public sphere. And if even if, let’s say, these advisors can grasp what set of valuations determine the category of “honor,” their judgment can only be framed within an unmediated interpretation of a kind of imperial quarantine and the cultural hygiene it proposes. This “honor” is inherited from a neo-colonial mentality, one whose tracking of the historical hinges upon dichotomous relations between totalitarianism and democracy, as if the latter could only demolish the former’s edifices by a fundamental negation of what had been by way of ordinance and policy. Democratic posture does not discredit imperial habitude; it only affirms its intractable minutiae.
Aunor’s error is the manner in which she has conducted her actressing along the discontinuities of Philippine politics. Such is the allegation against her acumen. And yet, one must understand that to acknowledge her immorality—as tax evader, drug addict, and lesbian—is to recognize oneself as complicit to the abuse of her art. Bureau, precinct, and confessional: these are the sites of her defeat as citizen of a forlorn republic. When all ethical else has been subtracted, surely she is the differ end. So, if one’s paycheck had been charged exorbitantly, with the bare life of body dragged beyond metabolic propensity, and the longing that lurks within a human heart failed by the heterosexist model of studio romance she herself had imagined while drowning in the mainstream, what is left as moral and honorable but the art herself? The filmography is deep as long as an enduring ascendancy can be accounted: as miracle worker denying ideology’s luster; as rebel for an revolution of intimacies; as conduit of diasporic injustice; in each frame, an agent of recalcitrances of both body and spirit.
It is “of national interest” that the President and his cohorts explain their reactionary misreadings of Aunor’s radical interventions in the national imaginary. And this includes the chair of the board of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The public cannot stand such sycophancy. Please enlighten us: how can three tiers of intellection and criticality among specialists and colleagues be ignored? What prerogative entitles one to quarantine these arbiters of the Philippine humanities?
Let us all resist the production of culture as merely premised on the low life of an auto-gossip!