By Tito Genova Valiente
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 also fear.
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 do so.
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 riddles.
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 for her.
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.
Bienvenido 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.
Ever the 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 done that.
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 all gone.
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.