PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER
This is a reaction to the column of Ms. Belinda Olivares Cunanan, Political Tidbits, which was published today with the title “Artist Protesters Should Work to Revoke EO 236.”
Ms. Cunanan is correct in stating that the Committee on Honors was created by Executive Order No. 236 issued by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Sept. 19, 2003 and in identifying its members. In all other respects, she seems to be misinformed about the provisions of this Order (which was actually meant to rationalize all civil awards and decorations of the Philippines , not only the Order of the National Artists) and the specific function of the Committee. (It may be important to point out that in certain parts of EO 236, conferment is not a task that only the President is authorized to do, since the Secretaries of Foreign Affairs and National Defense are also allowed to do so, in the name of the President, for certain honors.)
First, EO 236 does not give the Committee the “prerogative to nominate ‘recipients of honors’”; its task is limited to assisting the President “in evaluating nominations for recipients of Honors.
Second, nowhere in EO 236 is there a provision that states that the Committee is empowered to become a second layer “above the NCCA/CCP” and to “screen nominations from renowned persons and institutions.” Instead, EO 236 provides that the Order of National Artists, the highest national (not presidential) recognition for Filipinos who have made distinct contributions to arts and letters, is conferred “upon the recommendation of the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).” This provision leaves no doubt as to the procedure to be followed: no recommendation, no award.
Third, Ms. Cunanan’s statement that the Committee nominated other names upon seeing that “certain categories were not filled by the NCCA/CCP committee” is based on an incorrect premise, if not an outright lie. Manuel Conde and Federico Alcuaz had already been recommended by the NCCA and the CCP as National Artists for Film and Visual Arts, respectively, the categories for which one of the added names is reported to be honoured.
Fourth, while Ms. Cunanan is right in stating that the NCCA was involved in the consultation process leading to the issuance of EO 236, she seems unaware that the consultation was premised on the stated objectives of the order (already discussed above) as well as the elevation of the National Artist Awards to a rightful position among honors bestowed by the nation and not about the creation of a “hated second layer.”
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Ms. Cunanan has chosen to disregard the many points being raised by the growing MULTI-SECTORAL protest:
1. THE PROCESS FOR THE SELECTION OF THE NATIONAL ARTISTS AWARDS REQUIRES THE PARTICIPATION OF THE NCCA AND THE CCP. The CCP is mandated and recognized by law (Presidential Decree No. 244) to administer the Awards. The NCCA is also vested by law (Republic Act No. 7356) with the responsibility of advising President on matters of culture, including advise on the creation of awards and recognition. EO 236, a Presidential Issuance, could not have superseded these and in fact recognizes the authority of the NCCA and the CCP to recommend who may be conferred with the Award.
2. THE GUIDELINES FOR THE AWARDS ARE BINDING, EVEN TO THE PRESIDENT. Since the NCCA and CCP issued these in order to implement the provisions of law, they are legal. T he guideline explicitly states the automatic disqualification of officers, staff and consultants of the NCCA and CCP from being nominated, and that nominations can only be made by government and non-government cultural organizations and educational institutions, as well as private foundations and councils, not individuals.
3. THE SELECTION PROCESS took more than a year involving hundreds of artists, art critics and historians, and researchers, including the living National Artists. This began with the open call for nominations, followed by extensive research into the life and works of nominees; then, a peer evaluation panel per discipline coming from various parts of the country came up with short-list in their particular field, after which another panel of over twenty other artists, art experts and historians from all the disciplines further narrowed down the list. This second shortlist was presented to and deliberated by the combined Boards of the NCCA and CCP together with living National Artists, and only then were four names were recommended to be conferred as National Artists.
4. PRESIDENTIAL PREROGATIVE IS NOT ABSOLUTE. It is limited by the letter and spirit of the law and pertinent issuances, including EO 236, as well as one’s own moral compass.
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But then, even if we were to agree that presidential prerogative allows for other nominees to be considered for and conferred the Order of National Artists, then are we to believe and comprehend that
A. the President and/or the Committee on Honors, by their stand that the NCCA and CCP have not done a thorough selection process, are undermining the position of the very agencies under the Office the President in the eyes and mind of the public?
B. in the case of one of the names submitted by NCCA and CCP (Ramon Santos) and the four names added, the President and/or the Committee on Honors set aside the recommendation of the body/bodies specifically tasked with this function and chose instead to go by the President’s personal evaluation or that of the members of the Committee as far as the prospective national artists’ “significant contribution to cultural heritage, artistic accomplishment and dedication of their lives to forging new paths, and direction for future artists”?
C. for three of the four added names (Caparas, Manosa and Moreno ) the President and/or the Committee on Honors received nominations and allowed these to prosper despite being informed that these were not voted favourably during the nomination process?
D. in the case of two of the added names (Alvarez and Caparas) and going by the explanation of the Undersecretary of education and similar pronouncements by the Press Secretary and Cabinet Secretary and by Ms. Cunanan herself, the President and/or the Committee on Honors disregarded the procedural guidelines by considering their nominations despite being nominated by individuals and not groups?
E. going by the reported announcements from Malacanang, the President and/or the Committee on Honors is giving one of the added names (Caparas) an award for achievements he did not do: he did not draw/illustrate the comic stories he is famous for and did not write the screenplay or direct the films based on his stories for which he is being honoured?
F. in the case of one of the added names (Alvarez), the President and/or the Committee on Honors chose to disregard the ab initio disqualification of being an officer of the NCCA?
In closing, and going beyond Ms. Cunanan’s article, if we are to follow the intent of all the laws, decrees, proclamations, orders and guidelines pertinent to the award and harmonize them at the outset (as is the standard practice in statutory construction), then can we not comprehend that the Order of National Artists being the highest award the Philippines bestows to artists, the thorough process and the participation of the President as representative of the nation are both equally important. This being so, shouldn’t the least that the President and/or the Committee on Honors could have done was to respect the process in form and in substance?
DENNIS N. MARASIGAN
41 Sta. Isabel, Kawit, Cavite