Cultural competitions and awards—at local, national, regional or international level—are usually more controversial and exciting than awards given to scientists.
Take the Nobel Prize, that most coveted of awards. How many times has the Swedish Academy been taken to task for honoring writers who are no longer read today while ignoring great authors such as Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Franz Kafka and even Graham Greene? (In the case of the last novelist, Time quoted one Swedish Academy member as saying, “He’s too popular and, besides, he doesn’t need the money.”)
On the other hand, who has heard objections to this and that scientist winning the Nobel? Or, for that matter, being named National Scientist in the Philippines?
Which leads us to the conclusion, possibly facetious, that it’s more fun and more exciting to be an artist than a scientist, although science may be a more important field, at least as far as the physical well-being of man is concerned.
And now there’s this brouhaha over Nora Aunor (“a great actress,” as National Artist Lamberto V. Avellana described her to me years ago) being snubbed by President Aquino.
The details are well-known; in fact, they’re all over the place.
The raging controversy has unfortunately overshadowed the fact that we have a new set of deserving National Artists: Cirilo Bautista (Literature), also long overdue; Alice Reyes (Dance); Francisco Coching (posthumous, Visual Arts); José Ma. Zaragoza (posthumous, Architecture); and Francisco Feliciano (Music).
Reinstated, in a praiseworthy decision by Aquino, is composer Ramon P. Santos, who had a heart attack in 2009 when his name was stricken off the list by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. (Like Santos, Aunor may be renominated next time, said the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.)
And to be finally conferred, along with the new batch, is the batch of National Artists proclaimed in 2009: Lazaro Francisco (posthumous, Literature); Federico Aguilar Alcuaz (posthumous, Visual Arts); and Manuel Conde (posthumous, Film).
The case of Tagalog novelist Lazaro Francisco was of special interest to me, thanks partly to the influence of National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera, my professor (for only one semester) at the Ateneo de Manila Graduate School when it was still on Padre Faura, Manila.
Lumbera had long championed the cause of Francisco, who wrote many socially conscious novels first serialized in Liwayway and later printed in book form by Ateneo University Press. Time and again, Ka Lazaro would be nominated as National Artist, only to be bypassed.
Finally he was proclaimed in 2009, and the family rejoiced. Then came the shenanigans of Macapagal-Arroyo, and the Franciscos have to wait for another five years.
And now, at long last, the Palace has announced that the two batches of National Artists (with two composers at that!) will be conferred soon. (“Another looong wait?” groaned Ka Lazaro’s son Floriño, a physician.)
A harvest of National Artists, indeed. There have been no National Artists proclaimed since 2006.
“The nation now has a big number of National Artists,” observed a longtime chronicler of the cultural scene. “This should be cause for celebration, not division.”