(MALAYA) Controversy tainted the conferment of the National Artist title to five persons at Malacaņang's ceremonial hall yesterday.

The new national artists are Virgilio Almario and Alejandro Roces, literature; Salvador Bernal, theater and design; Jose Joya, visual arts (posthumous); and Eddie Romero, film and broadcast arts.

The controversy stemmed from reports that President Arroyo ordered the insertion of Roces in the final list of awardees after he was rejected in the initial deliberations of the selection committee.

In his acceptance speech, Almario took potshots at Arroyo and those responsible for Roces' inclusion in the awards. Roces was the first education secretary under the President's father, Diosdado Macapagal.

"Nagpapasalamat ako sa mga diyosa na may kakayahang magdagdag at magbawas sa kaligayahan ng araw na ito," he said in an extemporaneous speech delivered in poetic style.

Almario, former executive director of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, later refused to further comment.

It was not immediately known whether Almario's remarks were the reason Arroyo did not deliver her scheduled speech after the awarding.

Roces, in his acceptance speech, thanked Arroyo and said he would turn his short stories into musical comedies to prove that the Filipino national artist is of "international class."

Sources in the artists' community said Roces was included in the list after the final deliberations in the joint session of the boards of the NCCA and the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Arroyo disregarded the decision of the Council of Peers (COP), the academy of artists in charge of the selection process, sources said.

Nick Joaquin, also a national artist, reportedly nominated Roces in the first round of deliberations, but officials privy to the council's meetings said Roces was eliminated as early as the first round of deliberations.

The COP chose 13 nominees after the first round of deliberations, namely, Felipe Mendoza (architecture), Francisco "Koko" Trinidad (broadcast arts), Corazon Generoso-Iņigo (dance), Eddie Romero (film), Virgilio Almario (literature), Dr. Eliseo Pajaro (music), Salvador Bernal and Rene Villanueva (multi-disciplinary), Natividad Crame-Rogers and Cecile Guidote-Alvarez (theater) and Francisco Coching, Jose Joya and Mauro Malang Santos (visual arts).

After the second round of deliberations, the list was narrowed down to Mendoza, Romero, Almario, Crame-Rogers, Bernal and Joya.

Poet Alfred Yuson, who defended Almario's credentials before the joint NCCA and CCP board, said Roces was not included in the final selection process.

He said the board gave its nod to Almario, Bernal, Joya and Romero.

Sources said it took the Palace about two months to issue the proclamations for the national artists because Arroyo wanted to insert two of her personal choices, Roces and Zeneida Amador.

By that time, resistance to "insertions" was growing in the artists' community, including a text brigade about the Palace's "DNA" (Dagdag National Artist). The pressure reportedly prompted Arroyo to drop Amador's name.

Poets who attended the awarding ceremonies in Malacaņang said the protests were "too late" to reverse the situation.

This is not the first time that "presidential fiat" intervened in the selection of national artists.

During the Ramos administration, Malacaņang reportedly created the category of "historical literature" to accommodate biographer Carlos Quirino.

During the Estrada administration, Ernani Cuenco Sr. was proclaimed as a national artist ahead of the others.

Cuenco, President Joseph Estrada's bosom buddy, composed the melody for Estrada's poem "Kahit Magtiis."

National artists receive a gold medal, a plaque, P24,000 monthly stipend and medical and hospitalization benefits, a P100,000 cash prize, a place of honor in the functions they attend, and a state funeral. 

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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