Words by Andrea Isaac.
Eight names have been officially conferred to the Order of National Artists (Orden ng mga Pambansang Alagad ng Sining) last June 10, 2022, by the Malacañang Palace. Since 1972, the National Artist award is the “highest national recognition conferred upon Filipinos who have made distinct contributions to the development of the Philippine arts and culture” (NCCA, 2022). The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) have jointly recommended five living artists and three artists posthumously for their contributions to the history and development of Philippine arts and culture. Let’s better know the life and careers of these awardees.
Agnes Dakudao Locsin for Dance
Agnes Dakudao Locsin (b. 1957, Davao City) is the 6th National Artist for Dance, recognized for her groundbreaking work in neo-ethnic dance choreography (MindaNews, 2022). She was the Artistic Director for her mother’s Locsin Dance Workshop in Davao City, faculty for the University of the Philippines Dance Program, and led the artistic direction of the Ballet Philippines in the Cultural Center of the Philippines from 1989 to 1999. Locsin actively collaborated with various other musicians, artists, and writers when devising her choreographies. She is best known for Encantada (1992), La Revolucion Filipina (1996), and Igorot (1987). She received the Gawad CCP Award Para sa Sining (2013) and Ateneo de Manila University’s Gawad Tanglaw ng Lahi award (2014). Her book Neo-ethnic Choreography: A Creative Process won the 2013 Alfonzo T. Ongpin Prize for Best Book on Arts.
Salvacion Lim-Higgins for Design (Fashion)
Salvacion Lim-Higgins (1920-1990, Legazpi), also known as Slim, is recognized for her revolutionary Philippine dress styles that converge the avant-garde and traditional. Ramon Valera was the first to receive the award for fashion design in 2006, making Lim-Higgins only the second National Artist for this discipline. She studied fine arts at the University of Santo Tomas, and ventured into fashion design after the war. Lim-Higgins founded the Slim’s Fashion & Arts School in 1948 with her sister Purificacion Lim Zurhorst, teaching the “Slim’s Method” of fashion design and dressmaking (Business World, 2022). She was known for her technique of creating more modernized ternos and traje de mestizas, interested in bold silhouettes and form (Tatler Asia, 2020). Salvacion finished her final collection for a magazine and lifetime award days before her death on September 15, 1990.
Nora Villamayor a.k.a Nora Aunor for Film and Broadcast Arts
The multi-awarded Filipino actress Nora Villamayor (b. 1953, Iriga), also known as Nora Aunor, is the first female actress to be named National Artist for Film and Broadcast Arts. Her five decade acting career garnered over 200 local and international acting nominations and awards, earning her “Superstar” status in the country. She is best known for her roles in Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (1976), Minsa’y Isang Gamu-gamo (1976), Himala (1982), Bulaklak sa City Jail (1984), The Flor Contemplacion Story (1995), and Thy Womb (2012). Villamayor was nominated 17 times at the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) Awards, and in 2015 the Cultural Center of the Philippines granted her the Gawad CCP for Film and Broadcast Arts.
Ricardo “Ricky” Lee for Film and Broadcast Arts
Ricardo “Ricky” Lee (b. 1948, Daet) is the first screenwriter with the honor of National Artist. His works contributed to the “Second Golden Age of Philippine Cinema,” most notably Himala (1982), Karnal (1983), Macho Dancer (1988), José Rizal (1998), The Flor Contemplacion Story (1995), and Anak (2000) (Philippine Star, 2022). In 1981, his work Salome/Brutal won the Philippine National Book Awards for best screenplay. Lee also wrote essays, novels, and plays. He won first prize for two short stories at the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature (1970 & 1971, consecutively). Lee garnered three life achievement awards from the Cinemanila International Film Festival, the Gawad Urian, and the PMPC, as well as the 2011 Manila Critics Circle Special Prize for a Book Published by an Independent Publisher.
Marilou Diaz-Abaya for Film and Broadcast Arts
Marilou Diaz-Abaya (1955-2012, Quezon City) is the first female director to be awarded National Artist for Film and Broadcast Arts. Diaz-Abaya founded the Marilou Díaz-Abaya Film Institute and Arts Center, and her TV and film direction contributed to the “Second Golden Age of Cinema,” with works such as Moral (1982), Karnal (1983) and Alyas Baby Tsina (1984). She would also go on to direct Jose Rizal (1998), Muro Ami (1999), and Bagong Buwan (2001). Diaz Abaya was recognized and awarded by the Metro Manila Film Festival, the FAMAS Awards, the International Federation of Film Critics Award (FIPRESCI), and the Network of Pan Asian Cinema Award (NETPAC).
Gemino Abad for Literature
The National Artist Award for Literature is given to Gemino Abad (b.1939, Manila), renowned poet and critic. He is recognized for his poems and critical essays found in Fugitive Emphasis (1973), In Another Light (1976), The Space Between (1985), and Poems and Parables (1988). He was awarded the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas from Unyon ng mga Manunulat ng Pilipinas (UMPIL), the UP Gawad Chancellor Best Literary Work, and three Palanca awards for poetry. Abad was a member of the UP Writers Club and co-founded the Philippine Literary Arts Council (PLAC), which has published the poetry journal Caracoa since 1981, and earned professor emeritus status.
Fides Cuyugan-Asensio for Music
National Artist for Music Fides Cuyugan-Asensio (b. 1931, Lucena) is a renowned opera soprano, librettist, actor, and teacher. She performed in operas, zarzuelas, and plays around the country and the US, most notably in Die Fledermaus, Mapulang Bituin, Noli Me Tangere, Binhi ng Kalayaan, and The Magic Staff, and acted in films such as Oro Plata Mata (1982) and Aparisyon (2012). Cuyugan-Asensio formed The Music Theater Foundation (MTFP) in 1986 and taught voice at the University of the Philippines from 1988 to 1997. Fides was awarded the PAMA-AS Gintong Award for the Musical Arts by the NCCA in 2005 and the Gawad CCP Para sa Sining Award in 2015.
Antonio “Tony” Mabesa for Theater
A pioneer in Philippine university theater, Antonio “Tony” Mabesa (1935-2019, Los Baños) is now a National Artist for Theater. In his 70-year career, he directed over 170 local and international productions and performed in nearly 200 films and television shows such as award-winning Rainbow’s Sunset (2018), Villa Quintana (1995-1997) and Vietnam Rose (2005-2006) (Rappler, 2019). Mabesa founded the Dulaang UP in 1976, the UP Playwrights Theatre in 1986, and the Angeles University Foundation Repertory Theatre in 2005. He was faculty of the Department of Speech Communication and Theatre Arts (DSCTA) at the UP College of Arts and Letters in 1975, becoming professor emeritus in 2002.
No awards for the Visual Arts and the Architecture and Allied Arts categories were conferred this year. National Artists are awarded with cash awards and various privileges, including material and physical benefits, a state funeral and burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, and a place of honor at national functions and cultural events (Official Gazette). The official ceremony to confer the Order of National Artist was held on June 16, 2022 at the Rizal Hall of Malacañang Palace (NCCA, 2022).