MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – University of the Philippines professor emeritus Nicanor Tiongson admitted he had reservations about Dolphy being named National Artist in 2009 but said it is “impossible for any one person to influence” the selection process.
In a letter to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which was published on Monday, Tiongson, who was president of the Cultural Center (CCP) of the Philippines in 2009, reacted to the comment of National Artist for Theater Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, who claimed Tiongson’s opposition hurt the chances of the country’s “comedy king” from being considered a National Artist that year.
Guidote-Alvarez, in an interview with radio dzMM last Thursday, said Tiongson “protested” Dolphy's inclusion as a nominee due to his early portrayals of gay men in films, which the ex-CCP chief allegedly saw as demeaning to the gay community.
“Sa second stage, na-shock nga ho kami dahil somebody, a former CCP president, stood violently, or had a very passionate protest against Dolphy. It's on record and it can be -- si Nick Tiongson ho,” Guidote-Alvarez said.
In his letter to the Inquirer, Tiongson said the accusations against him by Guidote-Alvarez were “selective and misleading.”
“She makes it appear that one person (in this case, myself) can actually engineer the outcome of the second stage of the National Artist selection process, when in reality it is a council of about 20 experts representing various disciplines that chooses, through majority and secret vote, the candidates to be short-listed for the final deliberations,” he wrote.
Tiongson added that the selection for National Artists is “done in three stages by three bodies and it is simply impossible for any one person to influence all of them into making the same decision.”
Tiongson, however, admitted that he had reservations about Dolphy being named a National Artist.
“I believed that the two icons he created for film and TV – the screaming gay and the happy-go-lucky poor man – have, in the majority of his movies, equated gayness with abnormality and mindless frivolity on the one hand, and romanticized or deodorized poverty on the other,” he explained in his letter.
“As a participant in the selection process, I thought it was my right and duty to express this opinion, just as others in the group had every right to express theirs, all toward the helping the peers make an enlightened evaluation of the candidate,” Tiongson added.
Throughout his 65-year career, Dolphy has portrayed numerous gay characters, dating as far back as 1954, when he played the gay lead in "Jack and Jill." Among his popular gay roles were "Facifica Falayfay" in 1969, "Fefita Fofonggay viuda de Falayfay" in 1973, "Ang Tatay Kong Nanay" directed by National Artist for Film Lino Brocka in 1978 and most recently, the multi-awarded drama "Markova Comfort Gay" in 2000.
Dolphy also appeared in the long-running and well-loved sitcoms “John en Marsha” and “Home Along Da Riles” as poor but hardworking family men.
Despite his “reservations” about Dolphy, Tiongson said he admires the veteran comedian.
“The opinion I expressed in no way diminishes my continuing admiration and respect for Dolphy as a most talented comedian and a very kind human being,” he wrote.
Breach of confidentiality
Tiongson also criticized Guidote-Alvarez for “grave breach of confidentiality” with her revelations.
“Her disclosure of comments I made in strictest confidence strikes at the very heart of the selection process, even as it speaks volumes about her character,” he said.
Faculty members of the UP College of Mass Communication also said they "strongly denounce the actions of Alvarez’s unethical breach of confidentiality" as they expressed support for Tiongson's right to free speech.
"The issue at this point is not Dolphy himself. What needs to be exposed is Alvarez who blatantly violated the trust and confidence given to her by her peers who participated in the selection process in 2009," the UP CMC said in a statement.
"What needs to be publicly clarified is that there is a strict selection process in the National Artist Awards, making it hard for just one individual to affect the outcome. There is also a need to stress that, as a member of the selection committee, Dr. Tiongson is expected to express his opinion without having to think of any backlash resulting from unethical disclosure of his peers," it said.
Riding on emotions?
Tiongson also questioned the timing of Guidote-Alavarez’s expose three years after the fact.
“Is this a plot by some people to regain face and credibility, by riding on the emotionally charged and media-magnet issue of a National Artist Award for the ailing and hugely popular comedian?” Tiongson asked in his letter.
Several groups have urged the government to finally give the National Artist Award to Dolphy, with the clamor growing in recent weeks after news of Dolphy's worsening health became public.
The actor has been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other complications.
“With regard to Dolphy, I wanted to fight for this right, [it was a matter of] principle,” Guidote-Alvarez said in the radio interview.
But Tiongson claimed, "Dolphy’s kin have made it clear that to them the award is no longer an issue.”
“Why can’t we all show a little respect by leaving them in peace as they go through this very difficult time in their lives?” Tiongson said.