MANILA – A group of National Artists and their supporters on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court (SC) to stop Malacañang from awarding this year’s Order of National Artists to four individuals, including controversial director Carlo J. Caparas.
The group, led by National Artists for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera and Virgilio Almario, filed a 38-page petition for prohibition, certiorari and injunction with prayer for restraining order to prevent the Palace from conferring the title to respondents Cecile Guidote-Alvarez (theater), Caparas (film and visual arts), Francisco Mañosa (architecture), and Jose “Pitoy” Moreno (fashion design).
In its appeal for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO), the petitioners also asked the high court to stop "the release of the monetary benefits, entitlements and emoluments… to private respondents arising from such conferment," and the "holding of the acknowledgement ceremonies for their recognition."
The petitioners said President Arroyo committed "grave abuse of discretion” when it added the names of Guidote-Alvarez, Caparas, Mañosa, and Moreno to the final list submitted by Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and the National Commission on Cultural and the Arts (NCCA).
They scored the President for her alleged disregard of “the rigorous process for screening and selection of National Artists.” They also lamented the “unexplained deletion” of composer Dr. Ramon Santos from the final shortlist.
The final shortlist submitted by the CCP and the NCCA included Santos, Manuel Conde Jr. (posthumous award for film and broadcast media), Lazaro Francisco (posthumous award for literature), and Federico Aguilar Alcuaz (visual arts, paintings, sculpture and mixed media).
Aside from Lumbera and Almario, other petitioners include Benedicto Cabrera (painting), Napoleon Abueva (sculpture), Antonio Luz (painting and sculpture), the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, cultural workers, members of the faculty of various Arts disciplines, and the University of the Philippines College of Law.
Also named respondents in the case were Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), CCP, and NCCA.
The CCP and NCCA are the two agencies tasked to select those who will be conferred the Order of the National Artists.
'Grave abuse of discretion'
The petitioners decried that none of the four had been chosen by their peers or recommended by the CCP and NCCA. They noted, in particular, that Guidote-Alvarez is not eligible to become National Artist since she is NCCA executive director and the President’s adviser on culture of arts.
"What is notable is that she even sat as a member of the final deliberation panel. This makes her inclusion in the final list all the more irregular and patently illegal," the petitioners added.
Guidote-Alvarez has denied taking part in this year's screening for the Order of National Artists.
Caparas, Mañosa, and Moreno were included in the original list of 87 nominees. When the number of nominees was brought down to 32, however, Caparas and Mañosa's names were dropped from the list. Moreno's name was removed when the first shortlist of 13 nominees was drafted.
The NCCA and CCP came out with the final shortlist with only 4 nominees - Santos, Conde, Francisco, Alcuaz. This was subsequently submitted to the President.
When Ermita publicly disclosed the Order of the National Artists late July, the roster included Caparas, Moreno, Mañosa and Alvarez. Santos' name was not part of the official list, a move that did not sit well with the petitioners. They pointed out that Santos passed the rigorous screening and selection process.
PGMA's prerogative not absolute
"For the President to cavalierly disregard the collective judgment of the CCP and NCCA boards, and substitute her own judgment without a clear indication of the reasons and bases, therefore, is an unacceptable and manifestly grave abuse of discretion," they said.
They also argued that the President's prerogative to add to the Order of National Artists roster is not absolute or unlimited.
“Petitioners also seek a definitive definition of the discretion reposed on the President in the matter of naming awardees to the Order of the National Artist for guidance in future selections and for the instruction of all stakeholders concerned,” they said.
“The arts and culture are constitutionally-protected fields. They are, thus, greatly impressed with public interest, and public policy should be directed toward this. For this reason, any act of the President or officers and/or agencies, acting under her or on her behalf that would diminish arts and culture, would be compelling reason for this court to act,” they added.
The petitioners asked the high court to set the case for oral arguments. -Reports from Julius Babao, ABS-CBN News and ANC