Aunor, the ‘superstar’ of the Philippine entertainment industry, is famously remembered as the lead actress in the film ‘Himala’ (Miracle) which won the CNN Asia Pacific Screen Awards Viewers Choice Award for the Best Asia-Pacific Film of All Time in 2008. Another notable film is ‘Bona’, which was well received by many film critics around the world for its vivid portrayal of Philippine society.
The veteran actress topped the shortlist of nominations for National Artist drawn up by the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, but was disapproved by the president after the recommendation was forwarded to the palace.
The only reason offered by presidential spokesman Sonny Coloma for the exclusion is the president’s legal discretion to choose the rightful National Artist, a license that requires no further explanation.
That President Aquino did not offer any rationalization for the omission of Nora Aunor from the list of new National Artists only added fuel to the controversy.
Journalist Ellen Torsedillas said the president owes the people an explanation for the Nora Aunor fiasco:
Coloma should be reminded that Aquino is not a King who reigns without accountability to the people. The press secretary should also be reminded that Aquino won on the platform of transparency. He has time and again told the people, “Kayo ang Boss ko.” [The People are my Boss]. He now feels superior over his “Boss” that he does not have to explain his action?
Former legislator Teddy Casiño blogged that the incident is proof of the president’s low regard for art and artists:
I wouldn’t give a damn if this were all jut a matter of personal taste or preference. But you see, the national artist award is not about the President’s own artistic or political biases. The thing is, Aunor was recommended by three bodies tasked precisely to select the artist most deserving of the award. Surely the President unilaterally and arbitrarily ignoring the work of all these people, including millions of Aunor’s fans, is something that deserves at least an explanation.
Marya Salamat pointed out that many of Nora Aunor's memorable films dealt with social issues that ran counter to the policies of the present administration:
The Aquino administration has been aggressive in continuing with labor export and Nora once essayed the blockbuster role of tragic migrant worker “Flor Contemplacion”, who tragically was executed in Singapore for allegedly killing a fellow migrant worker; Aquino pushed for increased presence of US troops and armaments by signing the grossly disadvantageous US-PH Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement while Nora has once essayed the role of a sister craving justice for a brother killed by US troops after purportedly being mistaken for a wild pig.
According to Cultural Studies professor Joel David, Nora Aunor deserves to be National Artist for excelling not only as an actress, but also as a recording artist and film producer. “One might even be a serious observer of any of these fields of endeavor (as I have been) and assert that no one else comes close, although many certainly aspire to her level of achievement,” he wrote.
There are now proposals to amend the law that empowers the president to appoint National Artists. Many argue that this decision must not be given to politicians who have little knowledge about art. Meanwhile, Aunor's fans continue to press for the recognition of their idol as the country's National Artist.