By Ibarra C. Mateo
The sudden telephone call sent key persons in the Philippine culture and the arts sector scrambling.
However unexpected, the telephone call wiped out the widespread dismay shrouding the local culture and arts community for months. From a mood of resignation, there was instant rejoicing. SMS and messengers messages were furiously exchanged, lifting the spirit of thousands of Filipinos, initially, and then of the entire country.
They had been waiting for the presidential announcement since June 11, 2018. The award is traditionally given on the eve of the Philippine Independence Day, June 12.
When the Malacañang Presidential Palace released to reporters on October 23, 2018 the official list of the 2018 Order of the National Artist, many were sincerely thankful for the belated announcement.
The 2018 National Artists were: Larry Alcala (visual arts), Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio (theater), Ryan Cayabyab (music), Francisco Mañosa (architecture), Resil Mojares (literature), Ramon Muzones (literature), and Kidlat Tahimik (film).
The surprised telephone call relayed the urgent message that President Rodrigo Duterte was ready to confer the Order of National Artist, the first batch under his administration, on October 24, 2018 at the Malacañang Presidential Palace.
The Philippine president confers the Order of National Artist after a three-year deliberation process and recommendation by a joint panel of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).
Order of National Artists
‘The Order of National Artists (Orden ng Pambansang Alagad ng Sining) is the highest national recognition given to Filipino individuals who have made significant contributions to the development of Philippine arts, namely: music, dance, theater, visual arts, literature, film, broadcast arts, and architecture and allied arts,” according to a description of the order.
The NCCA and the CCP jointly administer the order, and the president can only confer the award upon the unanimous recommendation by the two cultural institutions.
Among others, a national artist is given a grand collar symbolizing their membership to the order.
The University of the Philippines said the order is similar “to the US National Medal for the Arts and the Order of Culture of Japan” and “the recipients embody the highest ideals of humanities and aesthetics and ideal expression of Filipinos as exemplified by their outstanding works and contributions.”
If the prescribed set of protocols were followed, the president confers the award at the Malacañang Presidential Palace in the morning. A tribute to the new national artists follows in the evening of the same date of the presidential conferment and is held at the CCP.
Although almost seven months delayed, the tribute called “Parangal para sa Mga Bagong Alagad Ng Sining” was performed at the CCP Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo on May 16, 2019.
CCP Chair Margie Moran-Floirendo and NCCA Chair and National Artist Virgilio Almario led the tribute.
“Tonight, we are honoring seven distinct individuals whose artistic accomplishments have promoted creative expression and helped develop a national cultural identity,” Moran-Floirendo said in her speech.
“Through their distinguished body of works that consistently displayed artistic excellence, they have forged new paths and directions for the future generations of artists while, at the same time, preserve, and enhance our rich heritage,” she said.
“On behalf of the Filipino people, I would like to say thank you,” Moran-Floirendo said. “Thank you for sharing your wonderful works not just to the Filipino people, but also to the world. You created something with a piece of your artistic soul and share it unselfishly.”
Following is the homage that the CCP chair paid to each new national artist.
“With National Artist Kidlat Tahimik, the films and the filmmaker are one. He has epitomized the possibilities of alternative modes of filmmaking and the artisanal form of production.
“In his films, he has exhibited intense independence as an artist. He has continually invented himself through his cinema. His inimitable singularity has become the model of independent art practice for Filipino and foreign filmmakers.
“Thank you for showing us that the Philippine arts can go global, exploring the opportunities for urbanized Filipino.
“National Artist Ryan Cayabyab has produced world-class music productions that are genuinely Filipino, albeit within the context of the transnational. He is open to foreign influences but transforms these into expressions that capture the very essence of the Filipino soul.
“The mainstream OPM songs he had composed never sound foreign. His compositions reflect a perspective of music that extols the exuberance of life and human happiness.
“The CCP resident dance company Ballet Company has enjoyed working with Maestro Ryan in La Revolucion Filipina, which was originally staged in the 90s for the Philippine Revolution celebration and re-staged for the fourth time as part of BP’s 45th ballet season.
”Maestro Ryan has also shared his genius to one of BP’s most memorable productions – Rama Hari. The poetic libretto by National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera came alive with Maestro’s music.
”Thank you for reminding everyone that there are endless possibilities and opportunities in the field of arts, for telling the people that there is more to arts than meets the eye, that art is more than just a hobby. It is a passion. It is a way of life.
“National Artist Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio has drawn upon the untapped wealth of Philippine and Asian folklore, experimenting with various forms and techniques of Asian theater arts and puppetry. She enriched our own cultural heritage in drama, creating an indigenous fusion of puppetry, children’s literature, folklore and theater.
“Her achievements ushered in a renaissance of writing for children and young adults, and reanimated the world of theater and literature for children. The title “Grand Dame of Children’s Theater in Southeast Asia” is truly befitting her.
“Thank you for creating dialogues through your art forms, opening up discourses and conversations on issues that matter to the community. We see the world from a different point of view through your works. They make us think. They provoke us. They make us feel. They push us to grow.
“National Artist Larry Alcala’s comic strips spiced up the slices of Filipino lives with witty illustrations executed throughout his 56 years of cartooning. He believed that “cartoon is meant to entertain, record events and capture local color. It can humorously expose society’s ills and serve as a mirror in which people can see themselves. It can also project the best in a people and a country.”
“He helped “keep alive the Filipino’s ability to laugh at himself, through the lively marriage of art and humour and through the commentaries that are at once critical and compassionate, evoking laughter and reflection.”
“Thank you for developing a legacy which is essential to our Filipino national identity, as exemplified by National Artist Francisco Mañosa who championed that Philippine architecture must be true to itself, its land and its people with so much conviction.
“Through his efforts, he created original Filipino forms, spaces with intricate and refined details, and developed the use of indigenous materials applied on architectural finishes, furniture and furnishings; like how he used bamboo and experimented on laminated crushed bamboo for the walls of Pearl Farm Beach Resort which he designed to resemble the salakot.
“The Coconut Palace, one of his iconic designs that highlights the numerous uses of the coconut, has been one of the main attractions at the CCP Complex.
“Thank you for championing the regional arts, as what National Artist Resil B. Mojares and Ramon Muzones have been advocating.
“National Artist Resil Mojares has been acknowledged as a leading figure in the promotion of regional literature and history, developing Cebuano studies as “an integral fiber in the national discourse.”
“In the process, he has produced works distinguished for the quality of its writing, range and versatility, depth of research, theoretical sophistication, and groundbreaking approach to varied, often neglected aspects of Philippine studies.
“With a literary career that spanned over 50 years, National Artist Ramon Muzones was a testament to the whole history of the Hiligaynon novel, from its rise in the 1940s to its decline in the 1970s.
“As he extended the remarkable versatility and inventiveness the scope and style of the Hiligaynon novel, he enriched Hiligaynon literature through his strong heroines and flawed heroes, anticipated trends like feminism while chronicling important socioeconomic and political changes in Iloilo City and allegorically of the emerging national condition.
“To all the National Artists, thank you for being pillars of Philippine arts and culture.
“Tonight’s Parangal to the newly conferred National Artists is most appropriate at this time, as the CCP celebrates 50 years of promoting and preserving the Filipino arts and culture this year.
“We, at the CCP, do our best to ensure that the gifts of arts bestowed by the National Artists do not go to waste. We endeavor to recognize the continuing relevance of their works. We hope to showcase their legacy and bring the fruits of their rich imagination and artistry to the Filipino people, and to the world.
“Tonight, let us celebrate the best of the Philippine arts and culture.
“Mabuhay ang mga Pambansang Alagad ng Sining.”