With their impactful contributions to their respective fields in the country’s art scene, eight iconic Filipino personalities rose to the rank of National Artist this year
Former President Rodrigo Duterte conferred eight new National Artists, recognising the undisputed legacy they have left throughout the years in the shaping of the Filipino nation’s soul—the arts and culture. The living National Artists, representatives of those who were posthumously awarded, as well as their fellow “children” of the arts from various fields, companies and cultural institutions gathered at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ main theatre last June 29 to celebrate this momentous occasion. Filled with heart-warming speeches and performances giving tribute to the latest roster of Philippine art scene icons, the night dazzled with everyone’s love for the Filipino arts. “It is true that there are many Filipinos who are talented in the arts but only a few are worthy to be revered. Only a few pursue their noble mission as artists, which is to invaluably contribute to cultivating the country’s arts and culture. They shape the soul of the Filipino nation through their artistry. With their vision, creativity and imagination, they serve as pillars in oursociety,” CCP chairperson
Margie Moran-Floirendo said in her speech.
By virtue of the Presidential Proclamation 1390 signed last June 10, the following were declared National Artists:
DR GÉMINO H ABAD Literature
A writer, critic, scholar, literary historian and anthologist with numerous books and literary awards. From 1956 to 2009, his body of work included ten poetry volumes, nine volumes of literary criticism, two volumes on his own poetics, two short story collections, a five-volume historical anthology of Philippine poetry in English, and a six-volume anthology of Philippine short stories in English. Several of these books have received national literary awards such as: Gawad Dangal ng Lahi from the Carlos Palanca Memorial Foundation; the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for his poetry; the CCP Award for Poetry; the Ani ng Dangal Award of the NCCA; the UMPIL’s Gawad Alagad ni Balagtas for lifetime achievement in poetry and literary criticism; the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan sa Larangan
ng Panitikan from the City of Maynila; the Manila Critics’ Circle National Book Award for poetry, anthology and personal anthology; and the Philippines Free Press Literary Awards for the short story, essay and poetry.
NORA AUNOR Film and Broadcast Arts
Known in real life as Nora Cabaltera Villamayor, the widely acclaimed “Superstar” Nora Aunor has been in different fields for more than four decades—film, television, music and stage. Her journey to fame started when she joined and won a local amateur singing contest in a radio programme called Darigold
Jamboree. She came to be known as the girl with the “golden voice” in the late Sixties and onwards. It was Tower Productions that gave her the biggest break: the title role in D’ Musical Teenage Idols, opposite Tirso Cruz III. Sampaguita Pictures’ 34th-anniversary presentation was also a Nora-Tirso starrer, Fiesta
Extravaganza, and that was when people began referring to her as “Superstar”. Succeeding years would see her taking on a wide variety of movie projects, showing her versatility by making comedies, melodramas and musicals. Her extensive filmography with almost 200 films is not only matched but exceeded by the number of awards and citations she has received from local and international organisations throughout the decades. Most notable among her film roles was Elsa in National Artist Ishmael Bernal’s critically acclaimed film Himala. The film was written by Ricky Lee, her fellow 2022 National Artist recipient. FIDES CUYUGAN-ASENSIO
This professor emeritus has more than six decades of involvement in the art of opera and displays her dedication and passion for bringing Western opera into Philippine theatres for Filipino enthusiasts to experience and learn from. She has dedicated herself to opera and musical theatre, enriching the Philippine artistic scene. Her exceptional achievements in the field such as performing, teaching, producing and directing opera and theatre productions contributed to a Renaissance of classical musical theatre in the country. Her performance of Sisa in National Artist Felipe de Leon’s
Noli Me Tangere became a
“It is true that there are many Filipinos who are talented in the arts but only a few are worthy to be revered”
hallmark in the country’s musical theatre history.
MARILOU DIAZ-ABAYA Film and Broadcast Arts
She was a film and television director and screenwriter who began her career in the 1980s. She was the only prominent female director in the generation that defined what is today remembered as the “Second Golden Age of Philippine Cinema”. Among her notable works were Brutal (1980), which marked her as a bold experimenter of storytelling structure and a fierce creative protester of the harrowing plight of women in a male-dominated society; Moral (1982), a nuanced commentary on the expectations and burdens placed on women’s shoulders; Karnal (1983), where the perverse entanglement of paternalism, desire and drive for control results in a violent tragedy; Milagros (1997), an enigmatic exploration of feminine desire and innocence; Jose Rizal (1998), the multi-awarded biopic of the national hero; Muro-Ami (1999), which portrayed the lives of exploited children in the illegal practice of reef hunting; and Bagong Buwan (2001), a fair and informed story about war-torn Muslim Mindanao.
RICARDO “RICKY” LEE Film and Broadcast Arts
He is a screenwriter for film and television, journalist, playwright and multi-awarded fictionist who published several novels, plays, essays and short story collections along with his screenplays and screenwriting manuals. He has demonstrated a mastery of writing historical films, literary and true-to-life adaptations, political and courtroom dramas, and the stories of “outsiders” and marginalised figures such as labourers, prostitutes, rebels, migrant workers and gay people. He is acclaimed for his consistent elevation of various genres, from horror to tearjerkers to comedies. Lee emerged in screenwriting in the late Seventies as part of the generation of filmmakers who ushered in the “Second Golden Age of Philippine Cinema”.
SALVACION LIM-HIGGINS Fashion Design
She was known to the fashion world as “Slim” and was credited for innovating and transforming the look of the terno into a world-class silhouette by combining the elements of Philippine costume with European couture details and construction. She was known for her exquisite drapery, constant and evocative use of indigenous materials such as piña and jusi, referencing ethnic motifs in her modern dresses, and forwardlooking and cutting-edge approach to fashion. Lim-Higgins introduced draping into traditional costumes and developed “convertible ternos”. Filipiniana since then took a more nuanced look through the eyecatching costumes she had created for the Bayanihan Dance Company.
AGNES LOCSIN Dance
She is dubbed as one of the “most progressive contemporary choreographers in the Philippines”, for she distinctively–utilises Filipino beliefs, rituals and ethnic traditions in her choreographies, concepts and direction. This she was able to beautifully merge with her knowledge of Western dance techniques, resulting in what is now known as “neo-ethnic”. Among her successful works are Babaylan, which won second place in the Tokyo International Choreography Competition in 1993; Taong Talangka (man-crab); Salome, which won second place for dancer Camille Ordinario in the 1994 Concours International de la Danse in Paris, France; and narrative works like one on the life of the mythical hero Labaw Dungon in the epic Hinilawod from the island of Panay.
ANTONIO “TONY” MABESA Theatre
Known as the “Lion of the Theatre”, Mabesa was a director, actor and teacher who greatly contributed to the growth and diversity of Philippine theatre. His theatre teaching, formalism as aesthetics and methods of production have made an impact on his students. He was a much-loved professor, artist and mentor by many theatre, film and television actors today who remember him for his lessons on discipline, commitment and respect for theatre.