MANILA, Philippines – Philippine Educational Theater Association founder Cecile Guidote-Alvarez has finally broken her silence on the still-ongoing controversy over her National Artist award.
Speaking to ABS-CBNnews.com, Guidote-Alvarez said she defers to the wisdom and integrity of the Supreme Court to act on a 2009 status quo order that prevented Malacañang from conferring the prestigious title to her, architect Francisco Mañosa, fashion designer Jose “Pitoy” Moreno and comic illustrator and film director Carlo J. Caparas.
The four were named National Artists in July 2009 by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, which raised an uproar because their names were not part of the shortlist submitted by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCAA) to the Office of the President.
Also named National Artists by Arroyo were Manuel Conde (film); Lazaro Francisco (literature); and Federico Aguilar Alcuaz (visual arts in painting, sculpture and mixed media).
Conde, Francisco and Alcuaz were part of the shortlist submitted by the NCCA-CCP selection committee.
Guidote-Alvarez, however, said the selection process is based on Executive Order 236, which established “the Honors Code of the Philippines to create an order of precedence of honors conferred."
She said section 5 of the EO was further amended to stress the advisory capacity of NCCA and CCP, which makes the list submitted by the CCP and NCCA “merely recommendatory.”
“The EO is very clear, which has been deceptively hidden. Also not put in the forefront is a joint agreement in two board meetings of CCP and NCCA where Virgilio Almario and the current NCCA Chairman are signatories. They concurred to respect the President’s authority and defer to her executive privilege to either, subtract, add or even include new categories in giving out the award. That was in 1997, the minutes of the meeting can be secured in NCCA National Artist secretariat” she said.
The meeting was held after some artists and the board initially protested former President Fidel Ramos’s decision to include a new category -- the National Artist for Historical Literature -- and awarded it to Charlie Quirino.
She said this demonstrated that the President has the final say in proclaiming National Artists.
“They fail to recognize or to explain that there is a three-tiered process: First, the CCP and NCCA preliminary role to accept the nominations, do the screening, work out the validation, get people to vet and give the screening of their list to the joint board. The joint board votes and submits their selection to the Office of the President. The Executive Order of the Honors Code states that they are merely recommendatory and that there is an Honors Committee created that can source experts from anywhere else or other agencies to validate other candidates that are processed or appealed to the Office of the President. Then the Honors Committee, together with who they have vetted, transmits it to the President and the President makes the final decision from the list,” she said.
“There has been a well of deception of half-truths, tales and gossips. They keep on saying na CCP-NCCA lamang, but that’s not true,” she added.
Several National Artists who protested the proclamation claimed, however, that they did not know that an Honors Committee in Malacañang existed.
State or CCP-NCCA award?
Guidote-Alvarez said the presidential prerogative in proclaiming National Artists is being practiced by other presidents before Arroyo.
She said even former President Joseph Estrada had added his own choice with composer Hernani Cuenco (music).
“Is this a state award which is the executive privilege of the President or is it the way CCP and NCCA who wants to control it as its sole turf. Ceremonial lang ba ang presidente at wala nang pake? It’s a simple question that has to be resolved,” she said.
Guidote-Alvarez also said she did not give in to calls for her not to accept the award because she did not want to be "bullied" by those protesting her proclamation.
“It was a question of principle. It’s like putting to shame or embarrassing those who have nominated me like National Artist Dr. Alejandro Roces, Fr. James Reuter, Sen. Edgardo Angara and various cultural groups and the President herself who gave the honor. For me, it would have been unethical to do so. I don’t want to appear as a saint and return the award to the prejudice of the three other names that the President has selected. That’s unfair for them,” she said.
She also denied allegations that she personally approached Arroyo and lobbied for her proclamation.
Guidote-Alvarez claimed there is a “deeper political” issue in the protests against her proclamation as a National Artist.
She alleged that writer Virgilio Almario (also known as Rio Alma), a National Artist for Literature, opposed her proclamation because of their opposing political affiliations.
“There is a deeper political rationale here. Ang isa sa mga ringleader na nagpo-protesta, ay part of the Imelda [Marcos] faction. Rio Alma was an Imelda-known artist before, during and after Martial Law. I’m a Ninoy [Aquino] loyalist. I was part of those who sided with Ninoy Aquino who objected to the Cultural Center before its full construction as a ‘Pantheon to Imelda’ in a privilege speech. Imelda was going to use about $60 million of war damage educational fund. In exile, when Doroy Valencia as part of the press corps covering Marcos visit in Hawaii had extended an invitation to me to return to Manila with a National Artist Award and even an offer of running CCP, I graciously declined. I was close to Ka Doroy because he was our Executive Producer when I introduced PETA performances at Fort Santiago and Paco Park in 1967. When the [former] First Lady was convincing my husband to look at the benefits of Martial Law in the country complete with free airplane ride with an offer of a government position, there was also a reprise sweetener for me to be honored in the arts. Heherson Alvarez politely declined and carried on his work in the democratic opposition overseas," she said.
Guidote-Alvarez also alleged that Almario was against the decision of Arroyo to name Dr. Alejandro Roces to share the award in Literature with him in 2003.
“In the ceremony at Malacañang, he even insulted his co-awardee for literature, Dr. Roces, an eminent patriot-short story essayist and the foremost proponent of humor, satire folk traditions and indigenous heritage while being an anti-martial law activist. In his own acceptance speech, Virgilio Almario was raging against PGMA who bestowed the award by calling her ‘diwata sa Pasig ng dagdag bawas,’ and had in tow a cheering squad that booed Dr. Roces. It was a crude shocking conduct unbecoming of a National Artist,” she said.
She also said she was not in good terms with Almario due to a conflict inside the walls of the NCCA, where she used to be the executive director.
“I don’t understand where all this is coming from. If Rio wants to change the rule, he should seek a law in Congress or ask the President to amend the Honors Code. It is rooted in the angst of Rio Almario who from the very beginning has written all kinds of derogatory letters against me even before 2009 National Artist decision of the President. Why? The decision of the Solicitor General automatically took him out of an NCCA translation committee for not fulfilling requirements for his organization to become a member,” she said.
Meanwhile, Guidote-Alvarez expressed her support for actor Dolphy, who has been recently endorsed by Senator Jinggoy Estrada to be named as a National Artist.
She said Dolphy had been previously nominated by Senator Manny Villar in 2009 but was rejected by the selection committee.
“Personally, I was for Dolphy. I recognize his achievement as ‘Comedy King,’ I had endorsed him even before the CCP-NCCA process has begun. In fact, I nominated him to the screening committee of the Philippine Center of the International Theater Institute Lifetime Achievement awards for World Theater observance. But in the CCP-NCCA process, there were some literati that were against Dolphy. The great objector was a former CCP president. This known UP dean stood up against Dolphy,” she said.
“If Dolphy was already rejected in the NCCA-CCP process before, we don’t know if the new peers committee will reject Dolphy again. In such case, the only way to have Dolphy bestowed the honor is through the Office of the President. But clearance must be given by the SC that indeed this is a state award and the President has the jurisdiction to give the award,” she added.
Despite not being named a National Artist in 2009, the 84-year-old Dolphy received the Grand Collar of the Order of the Golden Heart by President Benigno Aquino III in 2010.
The call for National Artist nominations will be released by the NCCA in June.