Wednesday, July 31, 2013

CULTURE: Invaluable to Nationhood

 My barber asked for my take on the “National Artist Award” controversy.  I told him that my serious interest in “Culture” has been limited to the following circumstances:

First was when I was an AFS (American Field Service) Scholar assigned to live with an American family in order to learn American customs, traditions, and of course, “culture”. Correspondingly, I was expected to impart or show our own Filipino culture to my foster family, the school, and the community I lived in.

I learned Filipino folk dances for show in school.  In Stanford University, I sang with two other AFS students the song, “Maalaala Mo Kaya” (Would You Still Remember).   I also demonstrated how to cook Filipino food like Sinigang and Adobo.

Second was when I had to do a presentation in my International Criminal Law class to earn my Master of Laws degree.  The topic was, “Crimes Against Cultural Property and the Environment”.  It was serious enough to merit a bit of research.  The value of “culture” for every nation or community is indeed immeasurable.

Third was when I got involved with the minorities (Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and other Asians). Together we fought for our cultural, economic/business, and socio-political rights.  Working with the American Indian Tribes defending their treaties and reservation autonomy provided me with the opportunity to learn their culture.

Fourth was when former Maryland Delegate David Valderrama requested me to develop and present to the Office of the Prince George’s County Executive the viability of having a Cultural Center serving the Filipino community and other cultures.  We wanted the Land Title of an old Fire Station building transferred to a designated non-profit organization that would build the Philippine National Multi-Cultural Center.  The latter is now operating and hosts to events that include concerts and receptions for dignitaries.

Fifth was just last night when Tina and I attended a special screening at the Philippine Embassy with the presence of Ambassador and Mrs. Cuisia.  Written, produced, and directed by Mona Lisa Yuchengco (former classmate of Tina), the documentary was about Filipino national artist Marilou Diaz-Abaya whose contribution to Philippine Cinema and to Philippine cultural enrichment is invaluable. I sat for more than an hour listening to the late Marilou Diaz-Abaya telling stories about her films and the influence of acclaimed Filipino directors like Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal plus hearing TV commentator and writer Randy David talk about Marilou.  It made me feel “cultured” a little more.

I told Lisa that her movie would surely help convince President Aquino to make Marilou Diaz Abaya a “National Artist Award” recipient posthumously.


Most recently, the Philippine Supreme Court decided to invalidate the Presidential Proclamations of four known individuals as recipients of the “Order of National Artists”.   The reason for the invalidation is that, former President Arroyo had committed grave abuse of discretion when she ordered the granting of the National Artist Award to Cecile Guidote-Alvarez for Theater and to three others.

The former President supposedly gave “preferential treatment” to the four and disregarded rules of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts and the Cultural Center of the Philippines in selecting the awardees.

I read the pertinent laws (Presidential Decrees, Executive Orders, Republic Act 7356), relating to the awarding of the “Order of National Artists” by the President.  I am not too sure if the Supreme Court made the right decision especially in the case of voiding Proclamation 1826 re Cecile Guidote Alvarez.

If I remember my law, “grave abuse of discretion refers to capricious or whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction.  The abuse of discretion must be patent and gross to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law, or to act at all in contemplation of law, as where the power is exercised in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion and hostility.”

The awarding of the “Order of National Artists” is a Presidential authority, discretion, and prerogative.  He has the authority to proclaim, confirm, and confer awards.  Some executive agencies like the Cultural Center of the Philippines, National Commission on Culture and Arts, and the Committee on Honors have been designated to assist in the process but the final authority remains with the President.  The latter only has recommendatory powers.  Those of the President are NOT ministerial.

The honor, award, or order is the highest award for national artists.  That is why it should be granted and conferred by the highest official of the land – the President.  It is not a Congressional Award.  Neither is it a Judicial or Supreme Court Award.  It is a Presidential/National Award!

The fact that it was President Arroyo who signed the proclamations should not be the issue.  She is the same President who signed the appointments of most of the current members of the Supreme Court.  The proclamations were signed in July, 2009 - way before the end of her term.  So, they could not  be considered midnight proclamations.

Besides, the CCP and the NCCA are not like the Judicial Bar Council where the latter is called upon to come up with a short list of nominees to the Supreme Court.  Under the law, the President is mandated to appoint one in the short list.  In the case of the short list provided by the former, there is no law that mandates the President to choose the National Artist Awardees exclusively from the list.  Otherwise, the law should have provided it.

On the merits, there is no doubt in my mind that Cecile Guidote Alvarez deserves the award.  It would have been inappropriate and even unethical for her to be included in the short list of nominees by the National Commission on Culture and Arts (NCCA) having been its former Chairman and Executive Director.  

It would not have been proper to require her to justify why she should be given the award.  It was a presidential decision – not hers.

It has been said that, “A culture is a way of life of a group of people--the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.”

In the darkest time of Martial Law where the Philippines was known for its culture of corruption, culture of impunity, and culture of jewelry and shoe collection, a group forced to be exiled abroad remained true to Philippine values, beliefs, behaviors and symbols.  They were manifested in real life even in exile and in theatrical arts be it stage or in the streets.  Cecile was a leader of that group!  After the assassination of Ninoy, the group became part of the Ninoy Aquino Movement (NAM). 

There are legitimate sources to validate Cecile’s contribution to Philippine cultural and theatrical arts.  The awards that she received brought honor not only to herself, her family, but most especially to the Philippines.  

Proclaiming and conferring her with the honor of “Order of National Artist” would have recognized such contributions.  She does not deserve to be shamed by invalidating the act of another.

PNoy should correct this injustice.  Cecile Guidote Alvarez is a National Artist that we could be proud of.  The late Senator Ninoy Aquino, former Foreign Secretary Raul Manglapus, Father James Reuter, SJ, and former Education & Culture Secretary Alejandro Roces would have agreed.

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