Official statement of PETA on the National Artists Award controversy

Harvest time at Silang

It is perhaps unknown to the online world, that before I started blogging, I was in theater arts. It started in high school when I joined Teatro Artistico, the official theater arts club of Infant Jesus Academy, and within a year, I was elected as the Head Scriptwriter. My three years in the club were some of the best years of my life. It had a huge impact on what and who I am today.

Upon graduation from high school, I could not rest easy knowing that it was perhaps my last time in theater arts. So, along with new found friends and comrades, we founded a community-based, youth theater group in Silang, Sining Bayan.

Six years from then, I still refer to myself and struggle to become a better theater artists, though today I spend most of my talent and skills in its technical aspects, believing that theater arts could be used to continue the struggle in effecting positive social change and forging the Filipino cultural identity.

That is why when I heard of what Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had done with her usurped powers to the National Artists Award, I cannot help but be more furious with this administration. Everything it touches, simply becomes tainted and corrupted.

And I’ve been meaning to write a full-featured post on it but I feel that it will be equally good if I add more exposure to the collective voice of theater arts community in this country by sharing in full, the official statement of the Philippine Educational Theater Association or PETA on the recent controversy that has plagued the National Artists Award.

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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.

We question the prudence of those who nominated Cecile Guidote-Alvarez to President Arroyo, those who decided to bypass the rules of the selection process. They knew full-well that any member of the two selection bodies, NCCA and CCP, cannot be nominated for this honor. Cecile Guidote-Alvarez is the Executive Director of the NCCA and yet they still pushed for her inclusion in the roster. Finally, President Arroyo, sanctioned this violation when she offered to elevate Cecile Guidote-Alvarez to the status of National Artist.

We have the highest respect for Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, and even to this very day, decades after she has left PETA, we still owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude as our founder and original guiding spirit.

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.

Her vision and blueprint for a national theater was a masterplan which helped change the direction of Philippine theater in the 60’s. 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 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.

As PETA members, we are encouraged to express our opinions as individuals. On this issue however, we have deliberated as a body to formulate this statement. 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!

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.

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.

GMA has corrupted the arts, it seems that she is bound to corrupt everything in this country!

Thanks to Gibbs Cadiz for sharing.

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