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Nora or Vilma? Three more lawmakers weigh in on National Artist drama

MANILA, Philippines – Three more lawmakers weighed in on the question of bestowing National Artist status on two of the country’s  most seasoned actresses, Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos.

Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero said on Thursday there is no need for  congressional action to name either actress or both as National Artist, as proposed in the House of the Representatives.

Senators Lito Lapid and Ralph Recto said both women deserve the honor.

Bacolod Rep. Anthony Golez Jr. triggered the discussions on Monday by saying Aunor, a talent of TV5, is a “national treasure” and her achievements and contributions to the Philippine movie industry are more than enough to qualify her as National Artist.

On Tuesday, Quezon Rep. and Deputy Speaker Erin Tanada said Vilma Santos, whose career started at about the same time as Aunor’s, deserved the status as well.

Malacanang Palace said any nomination of either artist for that exalted status would be given “serious consideration” by concerned agencies once these are filed. It refused to be drawn into a debate of who deserved the honor more.

On Thursday, Sen. Ralph Recto, Vilma’s husband, said in a text reply to reporters, “Both are deserving to be national artists. I thank all those who think my wife to be deserving.”

And Senator Lito Lapid, himself an actor-producer before joining politics, proposed that both actresses be given the highly coveted citation, attesting that “both are good because I was one of those honored to have worked with them in movie projects.”

He said the industry would not have been “that alive if not for these equally talented actresses who had their share of critically acclaimed performances in several award-winning projects.”

Another senator, however, had another take on the debate: “There is no need for a congressional action to name Nora Aunor or even Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos as National Artists since it was delegated to the chief executive who can issue a proclamation upon recommendation of various arts and culture bodies,” Senator Chiz Escudero said on Thursday at the Kapihan sa Senado.

He said so many things should be done by Congress after having piled up so much work backlog for the past three months when both Houses were preoccupied with the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

“That would be the job of the Executive, not by Congress which has been pre-occupied by the Impeachment trial, and there are so many pending bills that our people need,” Escudero said.

“Whether it is Nora Aunor or Ms. Vilma Santos, it is the prerogative of the chief executive to award them with such title,” Escudero added.

 “The Filipino people are now entangled in so many public issues like the seemingly uncontrollable rise of prices of fuel and commodities but we should not lose hope. There are a lot of things going for our country and the enshrinement of Ms. Nora Aunor as a National Artist is a sure feel- good thing that the Filipinos can hold on to,” Golez had said in the explanatory note of his House Resolution 2317.

For his part, Tanada said he will file a separate resolution urging the President to name the Batangas governor Santos as a national artist.

According to Golez, Aunor enjoys broad acceptance and recognition by her peers and critics and by the Filipino people.  She has received local and international recognition for her acting, and her works form an important part of Philippine culture.

In the past decade, Santos – now married to Senator Ralph Recto – had reinvented herself as a full-time politician. She first became mayor of Lipa, Batangas, before getting elected as governor of the entire province. For her part, Aunor has recently been working to revive her acting career. She signed on with TV5 in 2011 for a series of television and movie projects.

A few months back, Aunor starred in the lead role in the TV5 telenovela “Sa Ngalan ng Ina,” and has a five-year contract with the Kapatid network.

She received numerous Best Actress awards for her performances and was named one of the 10 Best Asian Actresses of the Decade in 2010.

The National Artist award is given by the President of the Philippines and is screened or recommended by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Cultural Center of the Philippines.