In the late 90's, I was sent by the Baguio Arts Guild as a representative to the National Artist Award pre-selection process. I liked the idea of having artists determine who deserves the award. There were dozens of us artists, cultural workers, representatives of various art institutions and others invited as individuals. We were grouped according to our respective art fields.
Our group, theater, deliberated for hours to come up with a shortlist of theater artists whom we believed deserved the award. The other groups representing the different art fields came up with their own shortlist of candidates coming from their field of expertise.
Then each group presented, and defended their respective candidates in front of all the members of the pre-selection panel. The government can only give the award to so many artists at a time, so the goal of the presentation was to further trim down the shortlists, each containing an average of five or six names, to the least number possible.
The result of the deliberations was one master shortlist of artists, which would then be forwarded to Malacañang for the President's confirmation. The idea was that the President can either confer the award to everyone in the shortlist, or choose some, or none, from that list. He is not supposed to confer the award to any artist who was not endorsed by his peers.
And there lies the anomaly in the way Caparas received his award - he was not endorsed by the panel of artists in the screening process, administered jointly by the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the National Commission on Culture and the Arts. This process is enforced to avoid, or at least minimize politicizing the award, the highest given by our government to artists. Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo apparently didn't think much of, in fact spat on, the artists' opinion when she inserted her own set of candidates.
The following are the criteria to become a National Artist:
- Living artists who have been Filipino citizens for the last ten years prior to nomination as well as those who have died after the establishment of the award in 1972 but were Filipino citizens at the time of their death;
- Artists who have helped build a Filipino sense of nationhood through the content and form of their works;
- Artists who have distinguished themselves by pioneering in a mode of creative expression or style, making an impact on succeeding generations of artists;
- Artists who have created a significant body of works and/or have consistently displayed excellence in the practice of their art form, enriching artistic expression or style; and
- Artists who enjoy broad acceptance through prestigious national and/or international recognition, awards in prestigious national and/or international events, critical acclaim and/or reviews of their works, and/or respect and esteem from peers within an artistic discipline.
These criteria serve as a guide for the CCP and NCCA-led screening process. Perhaps Caparas' string of massacre films "helped build a Filipino sense of nationhood," or earned for himself "awards in prestigious national and/or international events," or "critical acclaim and/or reviews of their works," but the fact remains: he was not nominated by his peers during the screening process. In the case of one of Caparas' co-awardees, Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, it was not just about the nomination, she was then the chair of one of the institutions tasked to oversee the screening process, the NCCA. Delicadeza must not be in their vocabulary.
Caparas, in a live face off with National Artist Virgilio Almario on television, dismissed the Supreme Court decision and said that at the end of the day, he's still more famous and better known by Filipinos than Almario.