‘Why is Nora Aunor named National Artist?’ and other FAQs

Filipinos were abuzz on social media on news that President Rodrigo Duterte named his second (and final) appointees for National Artists (Orden ng mga Pambansang Alagad). This year’s new names are the following:

  1. Antonio “Tony” Mabesa (Theater, posthumous)
  2. Fides Cuyugan Asensio (Music)
  3. Ricardo “Ricky” Lee (Film & Broadcast Arts)
  4. Gemino Abad (Literature)
  5. Marilou Diaz Abaya (Film & Broadcast Arts, posthumous)
  6. Salvacion Lim Higgins (Fashion)
  7. Agnes Locsin (Dance)
  8. and the Superstar, Nora Aunor (Film & Broadcast Arts)

Congratulations to the new National Artists!

National Artist for Film Nora Aunor

To help readers know more about how and why National Artists are named, we would like to offer this brief primer:

What is the Order of National Artists?

The Order of National Artists (ONA) is an order, an honor, a rank, and a title that is bestowed on a Filipino who has made significant contributions to the arts, usually in the classical fine arts. This usually means literature, music, dance, theater, architecture and the visual arts (like painting and sculpture), but historically the ONA is also given for contemporary arts like film/cinema, fashion design and even comics!

It is a permanent honor that cannot be revoked; once given to a person, a National Artist keeps the title until his or her death. (There was one notable exception in 2009, which we will discuss later.)

It may be awarded to a creator (e.g. writer, composer, painter) or a performer/practitioner (like a singer or an actor). For example, the Music category includes not just composers like Ryan Cayabyab, but also singers like Atang de la Rama, Jovita Fuentes and this year’s nominee, Fides Cuyugan Asensio; and a conductor like Andrea Veneracion (the founder of the Philippine Madrigal Singers).

Because it’s recognizes an artist’s body of work, a nomination to the ONA is like a lifetime achievement award, and much more. It comes with some prizes and privileges.

The Order of National Artists is not the only award given for a cultural or scientific achievement. Similar awards include the Order of Lakandula, Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan, Order of National Scientists and Order of National Social Scientists.

Can a National Artist be named for one category only?

Nothing in the law or NCCA rules prohibits a person from being named National Artist in more than one categories. Examples:

  • Lamberto Avellana is a National Artist for Film and Theater
  • Rolando Tinio is National Artist for Literature and Theater
  • Levi Celerio is National Artist for Music and Literature

Just to get this out of the way… who are the National Artists for Film?

Because, of course this is an entertainment website 😉 our National Artists for Film are:

  • Lamberto Avellana
  • Lino Brocka
  • Ishmael Bernal
  • Manuel Conde
  • Gerardo de Leon
  • Fernando Poe, Jr.
  • Eddie Romero
  • Eric de Guia (Kidlat Tahimik)
  • and this year’s new nominees, Ricardo “Ricky” Lee, Marilou Diaz-Abaya and Nora Aunor

These are our official National Artists for Film. But other National Artists have also worked in cinema (in front or behind the camera), although they were officially recognized in another field. Examples include Rolando Tinio (Literature), Honorata “Atang” de la Rama (Music and Theater) and Daisy Hontiveros-Avellana (Theater), who acted in films. Levi Celerio, Ernani Cuenco and, of course, Ryan Cayabyab, wrote music and songs for different movies, some of which remain classics on their own.

National Artist for Film Fernando Poe Jr.

Is a National Artist an award? Do National Artists win that title?

The Order of National Artists is not an award. Because of this, a National Artist does not “win” or “get awarded” the Title, but is nominated and appointed to the Order. Thus, at a ceremony held in Malacanang, they are conferred (or formally bestowed) the title of National Artist.

If a person is posthumously named National Artist (as with the case of Mabesa and Abaya this year), they shall be represented by their heirs at the conferment ceremony. However, the heirs are not allowed to wear the medal; the National Artist medal is presented to them in its opened case box.

Who was the first National Artist?

The Order was created by Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1972. The first person to be named National Artist was the painter Fernando Amorsolo (posthumous).

Are there National Artists who are related to each other?

Yes. Two husband-and-wife pairs are also National Artists:

  • Lamberto Avellana (Film) and Daisy Hontiveros Avellana (Theater)
  • Amado Hernandez (Literature) and Atang de la Rama (Theater and Music)

Why are Jose Rizal and Juan Luna not National Artists?

Because the original criteria for the Order stipulated that only those Filipino citizens who were alive from the time of its establishment in 1972 onwards (or who died after 1972) may be eligible to receive it. So under this criteria, all Filipino artists who died before 1972 are not eligible to be even submitted for consideration.

This does not demean the great work that the likes of Rizal and Luna have done; rather, the intent of establishing the Order of National Artists is to honor contemporary artists and their work, ideally during their lifetime.

How does a person get named National Artist?

Under the current rules of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA), it is awarded every three years; the years between each announcement is spent deliberating on the candidates for the Order.

The NCCA accepts nominations for National Artists (the application form can be requested from the NCCA); proponents are asked to provide the NCCA with a comprehensive CV that also describes the nominee’s body of work, besides making strong pitches in support of the candidate.

The NCCA and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) receive the nominations and screen the list to come up with a longlist . The process usually involves a long period of deliberation and consultation, to help narrow down the longlist and retain only the deserving candidates. These deliberations are done under strict confidentiality. The NCCA and CCP’s then present the shortlist to the President of the Philippines for consideration.

After careful deliberation, the President then issues a proclamation announcing his choices; once proclaimed, they are already considered National Artists. They will then be invited to Malacanang for a conferment ceremony, which may also be attended by other fellow National Artists.

What are the perks and privileges of being a National Artist?

A National Artist does not merely receive a diploma and a medal (which they wear on official state functions especially at Malacanang). They are also entitled to:

  • cash award of one hundred thousand pesos (P100,000) net of taxes, for living NAs. If a National Artist is deceased, a cash award of seventy thousand pesos (P70,000) net of taxes, will be awarded to their family
  • monthly life pension
  • medical and hospitalization benefits
  • life insurance (if eligible)
  • a state funeral (and usually, a Parangal ng Bayan at the CCP). This may also include honor guards at the wake.
  • burial at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani. However, not all National Artists decide to exercise this privilege. For example:
    • Lucrecia Kasilag (Music) is buried at the Manila South Cemetery
    • Fernando Poe Jr., Juan Nakpil (Architecture), Amado Hernandez and Atang de la Rama are all buried at the Manila North Cemetery
    • Edith Tiempo (Literature) was interred in her hometown in Dumaguete. (However, her remains were flown to Manila for a day for her CCP Parangal)
  • a place of honor in national state events
  • in cultural events such as theater plays, movie premieres and government-facilitated gatherings. At the CCP, it is standard practice to announce the presence of a National Artist at the beginning of a program or concert, right before the singing of the Lupang Hinirang.
National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab

Why is Apo Whang Od not (yet) named a National Artist?

People do ask this a lot. I have personally seen this question as far back as ten years ago 🙂

Because the ONA is focused on the fine arts, one of the criticisms about it was that National Artists tend to be practitioners of classical (Western) arts, neglecting the traditional/folk arts.

In 1988, hoping to address this oversight, the Rotary Club of Makati-Ayala organized the National Folk Artists awards. In 1992, a law was passed to create the Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan (National Living Treasures Awards), which instititionalized an award similar to the Order of National Artists, but focused on honoring indigenous artists such as weavers, traditional wood carvers/sculptors and epic chanters. Like National Artists, Gamaba awardees are honored in a Malacanang ceremony and they’re also eligible for a state funeral.

Given the current selection criteria and the historical trend, it is very unlikely that the famous traditional tattoo artist Apo Whang Od would be named National Artist. However, this does not mean she does not deserve a national honor; the Gamaba is likely the more appropriate honor for her, and Whang Od’s supporters are free to nominate her for the award. (Here’s to hoping that she receives this honor while she is still alive.)

So…what happened in 2009?

Normally, once a President proclaims a set of National Artists, that proclamation is irrevocable.

But not in 2009.

In 2009, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued a proclamation which named, among others, movie director Carlo Caparas and theater veteran Cecile Guidote-Alvarez as nominees. However, this proclamation was challenged at the Supreme Court because of alleged irregularities. According to several accounts, GMA removed Dr. Ramon Santos’ name (for Music) and inserted the names of Caparas and Alvarez in her list (together with architect Francisco Manosa and designer Pitoy Moreno). There was also an alleged conflict of interest issue with Alvarez’s nomination, as she was also part of the screening committee.

A group of individuals, which included some National Artists like Eddie Romero (Film), F. Sionil Jose (Literature) and Ben “BenCab” Cabrera (Visual Arts) among others, challenged the petition at the Supreme Court. After a protracted legal battle, in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled to retract the nominations of Caparas, Alvarez, Manosa and Moreno. At the same ruling, the nominations of Manuel Conde (Film), Lazaro Francisco (Literature) and Federico Alcuaz (Visual Arts) were upheld, but not that of Santos.

However, the next year (2014), Ramon Santos was included in the list of new National Artists proclaimed by Pres. Noynoy Aquino. Meanwhile, Francisco Manosa, whose nomination was revoked by the Supreme Court, received the honor in 2018.

Ah…why is Dolphy/Susan Roces/<insert name of artist here> not yet National Artist?

Short answer: we don’t know.

Long answer: if their names were not submitted to the NCCA and CCP, then of course they can’t be considered. The NCCA and CCP does not nominate a prospective National Artist on their own. So a person’s supporters need to first file the paperwork nominating him or her for National Artist.

Now, if someone did file the required papers, it may be possible that their name was eliminated at each stage of the deliberations. But we’ll never know, because as a rule the proceedings of the NCCA and CCP are confidential, and the only time we hear about new National Artists is if the President publishes a proclamation. (The exception was in 2009, where the text of the Supreme Court ruling included the longlist and the shortlist in the footnotes. Thus far, it was the only time the entire process of naming new National Artists was publicly revealed.)

That said, it’s not really unusual for proponents to try and try again. In that 2009 SC ruling, it was revealed that (now National Artists) Ryan Cayabyab, Tony Mabesa, Larry Alcala, Francisco Coching, and Gemino Abad were included in that year’s original longlist. So: as long as people believe that Dolphy, Susan Roces or other people truly deserve to be National Artist, they can still keep trying.

One last question…why did it take too long for Nora Aunor to be named National Artist?

The short answer would probably be “we don’t know”, but rumors run fast that although the Superstar was shortlisted many times over, her name was allegedly struck out multiple times, for various alleged reasons like immorality or drugs. (Again: keep in mind that these were rumors, because no official statement confirmed or denied her name being in previous longlists or shortlists.)

But now those rumors don’t matter anymore. because it’s official: may himala, Nora Aunor is one of our National Artists!


@NCCAOfficial @TheCCPofficial @ccpfbnm #Superstar #NoraAunor


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s