The nation, led by President Rodrigo Duterte, feted seven new National Artists in an awarding ceremony held on 24 October, which also revealed the honorees of other awards of national importance — the Presidential Medal of Merit; the Philippine Heritage Awards for tangible and intangible heritage, given for the first time and the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan or National Living Treasures Awards for traditional and folk artists, craftsmen and artisans.
The newly declared National Artists are Larry Alcala for visual arts; Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio for theater and literature; Ryan Cayabyab for music; Kidlat Tahimik for film and broadcast arts; Francisco T. Mañosa for architecture and allied arts; Resil B. Mojares for literature and Ramon Muzones for literature. Two of them — Alcala and Muzones — were honored posthumously.
“Itong hapong ito ay puno ng kahulugan. Ito ay isang pagdiriwang, isang pasasalamat, isang pagpapahalaga at isang paraan sa pagbubuo at pagtataguyod ng kulturang Filipino at pagka-Filipino (This afternoon is full of meanings. It is a celebration, a thanksgiving, a recognition and a way of shaping and upholding Filipino culture and being Filipino),” said National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) chairman Virgilio S. Almario, himself a National Artist, during the awarding ceremony the Rizal Ceremonial Hall of Malacañan Palace.
“Bagama’t iba’t-iba ang larangan, lahat ito ay konektado, sumasalamin at kumakatawan sa kung ano ang pinakamainam at pinakamagaling sa Filipino at sa kulturang Filipino (Though the disciplines are different, they are all connected, reflecting and embodying what is the best and excellent in the Filipino and in Filipino culture),” he continued.
“Hindi lamang simpleng pagkilala ito kundi ito ay isa ring paglulok sa mga sagisag ng ating bansa na may mahabang kasaysayan ng haraya, pagkamalikhain at kagalingan para sa lahat (This is not a simple recognition but the enshrining of the icons of our country, which has a long history of imagination, creativity and excellence for all),” Almario added.
Conferred by the President of the Philippines upon recommendation by the NCCA and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), the Order of National Artists or Orden ng Pambansang Alagad ng Sining is the highest recognition bestowed by the nation to Filipino artists who have made significant contributions to the development of Philippine arts and culture.
The NCCA and the CCP, which jointly administer the Order of National Artists, called for nominations on June 2017, after which the nominees and their bodies of work were evaluated in a rigorous process that involved panels of artists, cultural workers, scholars and experts.
The year-long selection process follows a multi-layer procedure. It begins with an initial deliberation and shortlisting by a council of experts made up of artist peers. This is then followed by a second deliberation by the jury of experts who in turn submits its recommendations to the boards of the NCCA and the CCP. The NCCA and the CCP board members are joined by current National Artists to vote on the final nominees to be recommended to the President. The list is reviewed by the Office of the President’s Honors Committee before it is transmitted to the President. The President may affirm all or some of the recommended names but is not allowed to add to what has been submitted by the NCCA and the CCP.
The new National Artists are icons in their respective fields and disciplines, which have grown richer with their bodies of work and the grounds they broke, and have inspired and influenced generations of artists as well as the Filipino people.
Here are short summaries of their lives and achievements:
Lauro “Larry” Alcala (18 August 1926-24 June 2002) is famous for his cartoons. His comic strips spiced up the slices of Filipino lives with witty illustrations executed throughout his 56 years of cartooning. He created over 500 characters and 20 comic strips in widely circulated publications. Alcala’s most iconic work, Slice of Life, not only made for decades long of widely circulated images of Filipino everyday life, it also symbolically became an experiential way for his followers to find a sense of self in the midst of an often cacophonic, raucous and at odds environment that Filipinos found themselves amidst.
Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio is known as the Grand Dame of Southeast Asian children’s theatre.
She is the founder and playwright-director of the Teatrong Mulat ng Pilipinas, which has placed the Philippines on the artistic map of world theater. She has written most of the plays performed by the group based on materials culled from careful researches. She has also been involved in the production and design of puppets. What she has achieved is an innovative fusion of puppetry, children’s literature, folklore and theater.
Ryan Cayabyab is the most accomplished composer, arranger and musical director in the Philippine music industry since it bloomed beginning 1970s. His skillful and versatile musical style spans a wide range of genres—from conservatory or art compositions such as concert religious music, symphonic work, art song, opera, and concerto to mainstream popular idioms in the music industry and in live contemporary shows. Being very visible in mainstream media, Cayabyab is a household name. His compositions reflect a perspective of music that extols the exuberance of life and human happiness, thus capturing an essence of the Filipino soul.
Kidlat Tahimik (Eric de Guia) has continually invented himself through his cinema, and so his cinema is as singular as the man. His debut film, Mababangong Bangungot (1977), was praised by critics and filmmakers from Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa and is still considered by many as a pioneering postcolonial essay film. Tahimik’s intense independence as an artist and, at the same time, the film itself called for Filipinos to actively live out their independence and not allow their culture to be imperialized by the west. Kidlat’s “imperfect” film is an exemplar of what is worldwide known as “Third Cinema,” a cinema that is critical of neocolonial exploitation and state oppression. But, unlike other Third Cinema films, Kidlat’s work does not glory in ugliness. His films, even those that lament injustice and violence, are premised on the hope of possible, though yet unrealized, triumph. His constant claim is that whatever “progress” has relegated to the realm of sadness and poverty should never remain self-referentially sad or poor.
Francisco T. Mañosa, for all of his more than 60 years of architecture life, designed Filipino.
From the 1960s, with his landmark design of the Sulo Hotel until his retirement in 2015, he passionately created original Filipino forms, spaces with intricate and refined details. But what is most valuable is that Mañosa was in the heart and soul of a Philippine architectural movement. He has developed a legacy of Philippine architecture, which is essential to our Filipino identity and at the same time, deeply appreciated and shared in our world today.
Resil B. Mojares is a teacher and scholar, essayist and fictionist, and cultural and literary historian. He is acknowledged as a leading figure in the promotion of regional literature and history. As founding director of the Cebuano Studies Center—an important research institution which placed Cebu in the research and documentation map—he pioneered Cebuano and national identity formation. As a leading figure in cultural and literary history, he networked actively in many organizations. For over 50 years, Mojares has published in diverse forms (fiction, essay, journalism, scholarly articles, and books) across a wide range of discipline (literature, history, biography, cultural studies, and others). To date, he has 17 published books and edited, co-edited, or co-authored 11 books, and written numerous articles for popular and scholarly publications.
Ramon Muzones (20 March 1913 to 17 August 1992) was a Hiligaynon poet, essayist, short story writer, critic, grammarian, editor, lexicographer and novelist who authored an unprecedented 61 completed novels. A number of these represent groundbreaking “firsts’ in Hiligaynon literature such as the feminist Ang Bag-ong Maria Clara, the roman a clef Maambong Nga Sapat (Magnificent Brute, 1940), the comic Si Tamblot (1946), the politically satirical Si Tamblot Kandidato Man (Tamblot is Also a Candidate, 1949), the longest serialized novel, Dama de Noche (1982 to 1984, 125 installments), etc. Hailed by his peers as the longest reigning (1938-1972) among “the three kings of the Hiligaynon novel,” Muzones brought about its most radical changes while ushering in modernism. His literary career spanned 53 years (1938-1990).
“Mula sa hapong ito, sila ay ating ituturing mga bayani ng bayan, bayani hindi dahil sa pakikipagdigma lamang kundi bayani sa pangangalaga ng pamana, paglikha at pagtataguyod ng kagalingan para sa lahat (From this afternoon on, we regard them as heroes of the country, heroes not only because of going to war but heroes in caring for heritage, creating and upholding of excellence for all of us),” Almario said.
“Inaalay nila ang kanilang panahon, lakas at buhay sa kanilang bisyon, sa pagpapakadalubhasa, sa haraya. At dahil sa kanilang pagpupunyagi, lahat tayo ay lalong yumaman (They dedicated their time, energy and life to their visions, to honing their expertise, to imagination. Because of their perseverance, we all became richer).”
“Tayo ay nagpapasalamat sa kanila. Obligasyon na natin ang pangangalaga, pagpapalaganap at pagpapahalaga ng kanilang pamana (We thank them. It is now our obligation to care, promote and value their legacies),” he concluded.