THE nation rejoices in the announcement of the recipients of the National Artist Award this year. The Order of National Artists is the highest national recognition given to Filipinos who have made significant contributions to the development of the arts — music, dance, theater, visual arts, literature, film, broadcast arts, and architecture and allied arts.

The order is jointly administered by the National Commission on Culture and the Arts and the Cultural Center of the Philippines and conferred by the President upon the recommendation of both institutions. In sum, the rank and title of National Artist is conferred on Filipino citizens who have helped define our national identity.

Malacañang issued Proclamation 1390, declaring eight outstanding figures in Philippine culture and the arts as the country’s National Artists for 2022.

Literary critic and poet Dr. Gemino H. Abad of the University of the Philippines is National Artist for Literature. Abad edited monumental anthologies of Philippine poetry and short stories in English and has written major books of poetry and critical essays. His teaching and books have shaped several generations of writers.

Get the latest news


delivered to your inbox
Sign up for The Manila Times’ daily newsletters

By signing up with an email address, I acknowledge that I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Soprano Fides Cuyugan-Asensio is National Artist for Music. She is also an actress, director, teacher, librettist and translator. She wrote the librettos for several composers, among them Ryan Cayabyab, Lucrecia Kasilag, Francisco Feliciano and Rey Paguio, and has debuted several operas on the national stage.

Twice bypassed for the National Artist Award for Film, actress Nora Aunor finally joins the august list. Called “The Superstar,” Aunor used her own money to finance the production of the now-classic films: “Bona, Ina Ka ng Anak Mo,” and “Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos.” Along with “Himala” (chosen by CNN as one of Asia’s 10 best films), these films will endure.

Aunor was one of three named as National Artist for Film and Broadcast Arts, the other two being the late movie director Marilou Diaz-Abaya and screenwriter and novelist Ricky Lee.

Diaz-Abaya went to the London Film School and the Loyola Marymount Film School in Los Angeles. She learned the techniques that made her films polished, but back home, she studied the Filipino soul. The feminist impulse is shown in “Brutal, Karnal and Moral,” while her search for the Filipino identity is shown in “Bagong Buwan,” “Muro-Ami, Sa Pusod ng Dagat” and “Jose Rizal.”

The pioneering couturier Salvacion Lim-Higgins, known professionally as Slims, is this year’s National Artist for Design (Fashion). She founded Slims, the pioneering school for fashion design in the Philippines, and is mainly known for reinventing the terno (Filipiniana dress). In her hands, the bland terno assumed the form of elegant waves and had well-defined silhouettes.

Writer Lee crafted such masterpieces as the screenplay for “Himala” and was the favorite screenwriter of director Diaz-Abaya. His writing is marked by social engagement and complex characterizations. He also held free workshops for aspiring writers.

Choreographer Agnes Locsin was declared National Artist for Dance for her major works that “spurred a growing interest in neo-ethnic style among young artists.” Technically polished performances and native sensibility are the hallmarks of her work.

The late Tony Mabesa was a stage, film and television actor and director whose career spanned 70 years. He also taught at the University of the Philippines and was considered, along with Wilfrido Maria Guerrero, as one of the founding fathers of university theater, which honed the career of many of the Philippines’ best actors.

No National Artist Awards were conferred in the two years previous because of the pandemic; that’s why there are multiple winners in some fields this year. Some quarters raised the query, why is there no National Artist for Visual Arts? There are three stages of deliberations in the selection of the National Artist as outlined by the Supreme Court, and presidential discretion is no longer allowed. Word is that there were nominees for the visual arts, but they did not pass muster in the three stages of deliberations. They can be nominated again in two years’ time.

Like in many things in life, the devil is in the details: the nomination letters should show evidence that the nominee has indeed “helped forge in the smithy of his or her soul the uncreated conscience of the race.”