[PHOTO AT LEFT - NATION’S PRIDE: President Arroyo greets six of seven national artists (from left) Ildefonso Santos Jr. for architecture; Ramon Valera (posthumous) for fashion design, with the award received by his sister Lourdes Valera-Zulueta; Abdulmari Asia Imao, for visual arts; Binvenido Lumberia, for literature; Benedicto Cabrera, for visual arts; and Ramon Obusan, for dance, before the conferment ceremonies at Malacanang’s Rizal Hall yesterday. Photo By WILLY PEREZ]

MANILA, June 9, 2006 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - Despite the refusal of his widow to accept his posthumous award yesterday, movie actor Fernando Poe Jr. was among those honored at Malacañang yesterday as a national artist, along with six others who were chosen as the country’s "treasures" in arts and culture.

Poe was awarded for his contribution to the film industry, which long ago dubbed him "Da King" of Philippine movies, but organizers skipped the presentation of the gold medallion and the citation for Poe because nobody from his family — including his widow, actress Susan Roces — was present to accept on his behalf.

But a separate tribute for Poe and other awardees — Benedicto "BenCab" Cabrera for visual arts, Bienvenido Lumbera for literature, Ramon Obusan for dance, Ildefonso Santos for architecture, the late Ramon Valera for fashion design and Abdulmari Asia Imao for sculpture — was prepared by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines during a later celebration at the CCP main theater.

One Poe did grace the ceremony, though: the late actor’s apo.

Bryan Poe-Llamanzares, Poe’s grandson, and his mother Grace Poe-Llamanzares, attended the tribute late yesterday.

"It’s a great honor. My son will be representing our family," Grace told GMA-7 television. She had helped in developing the audiovisual presentation that was the CCP and NCCA’s tribute to her father.

President Arroyo, who was Poe’s main rival in the 2004 presidential elections, handed the citations to Cabrera, Lumbera, Obusan, Santos and Imao. Valera’s sister, Lourdes, received the award on his behalf.

The Order of National Artists is the highest national recognition given to Filipino individuals who have made significant contributions to the development of Philippine arts.

The recipients will have as privileges a cash award of P100,000 for living awardees and P75,000 for posthumous awardees, which will be given to their heirs.

They will also receive a monthly pension, medical and hospitalization benefits, life insurance coverage for those who are still qualified and arrangements and expenses for a state funeral.

The awardees will also get a "place of honor" at state functions and recognition at cultural events.

Widow’s sentiments

Malacañang said it would just have to respect the sentiments of Roces, who decided not to accept the award.

A close friend of the Poes, film director Eddie Romero, said Roces initially asked him to receive the citation for her late husband but subsequently changed her mind.

Romero, who himself is a national artist, was present during the ceremonies but said he could not accept the award for Poe without the family’s permission.

"A week ago she decided (to withdraw) my appointment (to receive the award). I don’t want to interfere with (her) sentiments. She just said, ‘I would rather that I have no representative.’ Of course, I would be honored" to accept the award on Poe’s behalf, Romero said.

He said he does not know what happened between a month ago and last week that led Roces to choose not to receive the award.

Roces had earlier accused Mrs. Arroyo of stealing the presidency "not just once, but twice," referring to Mrs. Arroyo’s assumption of office after former president Joseph Estrada was ousted in 2001, and her alleged role in rigging the 2004 elections to ensure her victory over Poe.

"I don’t think they would refuse to accept the award, they refused to be present (during the ceremonies). That’s her personal sentiment," Romero said.

He said the selection of this year’s national artists was above politics and they were chosen based on criteria followed by the concerned government agencies.

Rules to be modified?

NCCA executive director Cecille Guidote-Alvarez said they were ready to hand Poe’s award over to Romero in case Roces changed her mind at the last minute.

But Alvarez said Romero was no longer designated to accept the award.

"Traditionally and historically, the award is received by the recipient himself or the members of the family. If they cannot make it, somebody has to be officially designated to do it," Alvarez said.

"The most we can do was to announce the proclamation of the President that he is, indeed, one of the seven national artists," she added.

Alvarez said they were thinking of modifying the rules to make sure that those to be awarded would accept the citation along with their families.

"In some offices, as a matter of the fact, you have to sign if you’re nominated and if you win, you will attend. Maybe we can have the rules next time, because this is something that never happened before in history," she said.

Alvarez said they were saddened that this year’s awarding was tainted by politics, even though the selection process went smoothly and without controversy.

"There was no politics in this, it was a country honoring FPJ (Poe’s initials) and it was a historic moment you add on to the wealth of the country," she said.

CCP president Nestor Jardin said all the awardees were given tributes through video presentations.

"The one for FPJ will be a dialogue between him and some children asking him questions about film and the arts. It will be good," he said.

At the ceremonies in Malacañang, singer Bayang Barrios, who often performed on Poe’s campaign sorties, led the singing of "Tagumpay Nating Lahat" with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra and the CCP Chorale. The song was often played during Poe’s presidential campaign.

"He is still a national artist despite his absence. The President has proclaimed him and the President has no intention of withdrawing it," Jardin said. "This is above politics, in fairness to the President."

Open anytime

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Poe’s family can pick up the award in Malacañang anytime they wish.

"Let us no longer paint this with politics. No more, no more," he said, adding that the Poes can claim the award "anytime, it’s here with us, the more we talk about it, the more it gets politicized. It’s available here."

Ermita said all they want now is to congratulate Poe and his family for the award.

"I can only congratulate FPJ and the members of his family — the wife and the children. He really deserves that," Ermita said.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the absence of Poe’s family members at the ceremony does not in any way diminish Filipinos’ pride in the actor’s contributions to the Philippine movie industry, "for which the nation lends its fitting recognition and respect."

"We share the belief of millions of Filipinos that this award is truly deserved by all its recipients, in various fields of art and culture that speaks of the richness of our heritage," Bunye said.

National treasures

Cabrera — known to all as "Bencab" — is a noted painter whose early works included images of scavengers that reflected his childhood days. Later on, he showed interest in the Philippines’ colonial past. In 1960, he held his first exhibition in Ermita, Manila and later on moved to England and held various solo and group exhibitions all over Europe. Bencab has won numerous awards.

Lumbera is a poet, playwright, essayist and teacher. He earned his Bachelor of Literature in Journalism from the University of Sto. Tomas, and his master’s and doctorate degrees in comparative literature from Indiana University.

Lumbera served as the director of the University of the Philippines’ Film Center. He has received many citations for his work, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award for journalism, literature and creative communication arts. He has been a professor at UP’s Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature since 1976 and is currently the chairman of the Pambansang Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas.

Obusan is a well-known choreographer, dancer and scholar. He holds degrees in marine biology and cultural anthropology from the University of the Philippines and later taught at the Aklan National School of Fisheries. He became a dancer and researcher of the Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company. In 1971, he founded the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group and has since choreographed and directed for some 45 dance groups in the country and over 100 productions nationwide — dance, pageants, festivals, exhibits, competitions, television, movies and video-films.

Santos, for his part, pioneered landscape architecture in the country. He worked in various countries including the United States, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Guam, Thailand, Singapore and Bahrain. He was also president of the Philippine Association of Landscape Architects and was a member of the board of examiners for landscape architecture of the Professional Regulation Commission.

Fashion designer Valera has lived up to the motto: each dress is a masterpiece. His creations transcended the boundaries of Filipino fashion. The NCCA said he shocked Manila with his innovative pieces and that his "luxurious fabrics and skillful bead works set the stage for Philippine fashion design with his beautifully crafted and laborious handiwork."

"Valera, the high priest of local fashion and the dean of Filipino designers, dwelt where no one has dwelt before," the NCCA said.

Imao is the first Muslim to receive the award in almost three decades, according to Alvarez. He finished fine arts and also studied creative sculpture and ceramics. He also took up photography and documentary motion picture production and direction at Columbia University in New York City.

A sculptor, painter, photographer, professor, metal-casting consultant and cultural researcher, Imao draws his inspiration from the Tausug and Maranao artistic traditions.

He earned the name "Mr. Sarimanok" because of his works depicting the famous Filipino mythical bird with fish. Imao is the first Filipino to receive the Ten Outstanding Young Men award in 1968 for art and culture and the first Asian to receive the famous New York Museum of Modern Art Grant in 1963.

Poe, of course, was a show business superstar and a distinguished actor, producer and director. He started as a stuntman and got his first acting role in 1950. His biggest break came in 1956 with "Lo Waist Gang," which marked the local cinema’s shift from period productions to action movies. His first solo movie was "Tough Guy" in 1957.

Poe played lead roles, which depicted him as a peace-loving hero who is pushed against the wall by all sorts of antagonists before magnificently rising up as the victor of the oppressed.

He was cited by various award giving bodies and received the Film Academy of the Philippines Lifetime Achievement Award by his colleagues. Poe decided to run for president in 2004 upon the prodding of his friends and supporters. He suffered a stroke in December the same year and died shortly thereafter.

‘Don’t politicize award’

In a joint statement, pro-administration lawmakers Reps. Mauricio Domogan of Baguio City and Edwin Uy of Isabela yesterday assailed attempts to politicize Poe’s award, saying the distinction was bestowed on the actor by a grateful nation solely in recognition of his sterling achievements in film.

"We in the Igorot tribe are truly gratified by Poe’s award because we believe he deserves it. In deference to the late actor, let’s not politicize the issue just because (Mrs.) Arroyo, whom he ran against in the 2004 elections, approved the CCP and NCCA recommendation," Domogan said.

At the same time, he said everyone should respect Roces’ decision not to receive Poe’s award from Mrs. Arroyo.

"Though it would have been best for national healing for her to attend the ceremony, her decision does not make the award less honorable nor less meritorious. It’s the family’s right to decide whether to attend the rites or not," Domogan said.

Uy, however, said Roces’ statement that she did not want to be used by the Palace for "propaganda purposes" was most unfair and added to the controversy over the award.

"Susan was the one who said that, it wasn’t the President who chose FPJ as national artist but the commission, so why put ill motives on the part of the President when she’s just incidental to the award as final signatory?" he said.

Uy said the award "is never used for political leverage by the Palace, whoever is the sitting president. Let’s not cast intrigue on the President using FPJ’s national artist award."

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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