MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) has asked its founder, Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, not to accept the National Artist title because it is tainted with controversy. In a statement dated August 21, PETA accused President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of abusing her powers and dividing the Philippine arts community.
This year’s National Artists Awards caused an uproar after Arroyo dropped composer Ramon Santos from the shortlist submitted to her and naming four of her own choices instead – Alvarez, who is executive director of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and presidential adviser on culture, komiks writer and “massacre movie” director Carlo Caparas, fashion designed Jose “Pitoy” Moreno, and architect Bobby Mañosa.
“We join our fellow artists in the condemnation of President Arroyo’s abuse of her so-called prerogatives and her utter disrespect for a selection process that has served the awards program well. During the term of President Aquino, that prerogative was already in place, but in contrast to President Arroyo, Cory had the grace and wisdom to entrust the selection to the legally appointed bodies. President Arroyo’s elimination of one legitimate nominee and her insertion of four persons without the benefit of the rigor of standards and scrutiny that the awards deserve have debased the National Artists Award,” the statement read.
Like others who have protested Arroyo’s choices, PETA also said Alvarez, as an officer of the NCCA, should not have been eligible for the honor and questioned the “prudence” of those who suggested her inclusion and “decided to bypass the rules of the selection process.” “Finally, President Arroyo sanctioned this violation when she offered to elevate Cecile Guidote-Alvarez to the status of National Artist,” it added.
At the same time, PETA said it maintained the highest respect for Alvarez. “It is precisely because of our respect, admiration and affection for her that we request her to decline the award at this time as it is sadly tainted. We believe that the award will be much more meaningful for her if it is granted the benefit of the rigorous scrutiny, and endorsement of her peers,” it said.
“Her work, especially in the first five years with PETA, created a spirit that until now animates parallel cultural movements and initiatives. Her legacy has been greatly expanded and enriched by wave after wave of PETA members but her original vision and mission remain: theater can be a force to educate, to mirror and forge our cultural identity, and to break the culture of silence,” it said. “It is in the same spirit that we have chosen to speak now and in this manner. This is especially important at a time when the nation is suffering from so much loss of public trust, in government, and in ourselves, as a people,” PETA added.
The respected theater group said it decided to release a statement because “the issue of the National Artists Award is a national issue. It affects us as individual artists because the award symbolizes the best in us. It affects the whole country because these artists, once given this honor are transformed into examples, beacons, and icons for our country. It defines all Filipino artists and all Filipinos. To surrender the power to one person to declare who among us should be considered exemplary is not acceptable. That is not the President’s prerogative!”
It lamented that “the culture of insensitivity and disrespect for due process, spawned by eight years of absence of transparency and accountability of the Arroyo administration has finally reached our gates.”
“Art is the last of the few independent refuges of freedom, and when this refuge is breached, all freedom is utterly lost,” it said. “We join the arts and culture community in condemning this administration’ s abuse of power that threatens the freedom of the arts. We artists, performing the sacred role of committed citizens, will be standing as one to defend this refuge – vigilant and courageous in the pursuit of genuine democracy,” PETA said. (Dateline Philippines)