By TITO GENOVA VALIENTE
LAST October 6 Bikolano scholars officially claimed Nora Aunor as their own.
The event was called “The Nora Cause” and it was designed to be an academic convocation. Then the chief executive of the city of Naga came. He was not formally invited, although he was aware that something had been brewing in the Ateneo de Naga for a long time. That was such a gesture. The event became even more festive.
The event had a keynote speaker in the person of Dr. Patrick D. Flores, scholar and critic. Flores is one of the first critics to devote his academic concerns to the life and career of Nora Aunor. He titled the talk “Ang Gawa ni Nora, Ang Likha ng Sining at Balos ng Bayan.” He focused on the works of Nora, the works of art, which refers to the works of Nora, and the nation giving back (balos) to Nora the gratitude, the respect. Nora has given so much to this nation, and it is good to look at how this nation is now giving back something to her.
To see the gift of Nora, according to Flores, is to see how she was formed by her community, by her surroundings, by this region called Kabikolan. The term hubog was used by Flores. Nora was hinubog (formed) by the people, by the land. But Nora did not stop there. According to the scholar, Nora worked on her craft and she herself reformed the world around her—hinubog din ni Nora ang kanyang paligid.
Flores reminded the audience that Nora is a power. If politicians and leaders are a power, Nora is also that—a power, a potency. In the audience were some young students who call themselves “Neo-Noranians.” These are young men and women who are just getting to know Nora.
Two Ateneo de Naga University professors, Adrian Remodo and Dennis Gonzaga, were tasked to discuss two of the most significant films of Nora Aunor: Bona and Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos. The two are expected to come up with academic papers that may see publication soon.
Of course, what is a Nora Aunor forum without the National Artist issue being raised? A student came up to ask whether they would be aware of Nora Aunor presently without the snub the actor got from the president. Flores thought this was a good question. Flores spoke of the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Nora went through the process and her artistry, her contribution to the arts and cultures of the land is undisputed. As such, Nora is a national artist. The nation has recognized Nora; the nation-state would not. The spirit of the law was on the side of Nora.
In the afternoon, a roundtable was initiated. Kristian Sendon Cordero called it a combo of a fan, an artist and a critic, with the latter played by this writer. The artist was Frank Peñones, cultural leader and poet and an Irigueño like Nora Aunor; and Rico Raquitico, an Ateneo de Naga University professor in the College of Nursing and a theater actor, was the rabid and avid fan. Peñones admitted how proud he is as an artist because Nora is not only a Bikolana but an Irigueña, as well. He exults in the iconic nature of Nora Aunor’s persona. He told the crowd that Nora has played a great part in his being a poet, an artist.
Unabashed about his memories of Nora, Raquitico regaled the audience with his anecdote. He was proud that the air he breathed from their home in Iriga was the same air Nora Aunor breathed. He remembered—and this is classic—how he spent the whole day somewhere in a Quezon City home many years ago to wait for Nora. How Nora suddenly appeared at the top of the stairs and how he just found himself face to face with his idol. And how he managed to simply say “hi” to Nora. And how everything else about that meeting became a blur.
Songs made popular by Nora Aunor were sung by the members of the Ateneo de Naga Choir, under the direction of Joseph B. Reburiano. One song was “Moonlight Becomes You,” Nora’s winning piece in the Tawag ng Tanghalan.
The event was opened by the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Ronald Elicay, and ended with a speech from Dr. Noel Volante, director of the Ateneo de Naga Center for Arts and Culture, a speech that was ushered in by Nora Aunor’s voice singing “Yesterday When I Was Young” and closed by “The Music Played”. Sentimentality and scholarship, emotion and erudition. Anything and all for Nora Aunor.
Kristian Sendon Cordero, convener of the forum, described the event as “the first time in history of this region that Bikolanos in academe talked about Nora Aunor and her contribution to Philippine arts.” He described it as “a conscious effort on our part to claim her as one of us, as one of Bikol’s most iconic phenomenon: that the country or the rest of the world should not imagine her without imagining Bikol, our tierra de rinconada, our region, our language, a kanatung baluy [our home in the Rinconada language of Nora Aunor].”
The proceedings of this conference is envisioned to appear in the second issue of the Bikol Studies Journal by the Ateneo de Naga University Press, which will be edited by scholar and critic, another Bikolano, Dr. Jayson Pilapil Jacobo of the Ateneo de Manila University.
The conference was an initiative of the Ateneo Center for Arts and Culture, headed by Dr. Noel Volante as director; and the Institute of Bikol History and Culture, headed by Prof. Tito Valiente, who also sits as chairman of the film desk of the center. The Media Studies Department and the College of Arts and Sciences and the Office of the Academic Vice President supported “The Nora Cause.”