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Don’t wait until they are dead

/ 10:31 PM August 30, 2012

William Shakespeare was wrong when he made Mark Antony say in his “Friends, Romans, countrymen/lend me your ears” funeral oration for Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them/The good is oft buried with their bones.” In real life, it is the exact opposite, at least in the Philippines, as the recent outpouring of praise for the dead Jesse Robredo has shown.

I am not saying that Robredo has done evil deeds. Indeed, he has none, as far as anyone can say, including his political enemies. What I am saying is that in life, the Commission on Appointments did not even want to confirm his appointment as head of the Department of Interior and Local Government, but in death they gave it to him quickly. President Aquino awarded him the Legion of Honor, streets and cities and schools are to be named after him, and there are even proposals to make his widow, Leni Robredo, run for senator next year and to give his children scholarships.

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Except for the scholarships, what good will that do to Robredo now? Why did they not give these to him while he was alive so he could have enjoyed these?

I raise the point because Filipinos have a tendency to do good things too late and bad things too early. Another example: They made actor Fernando Poe Jr. a National Artist long after his death, when he could no longer enjoy it. The same thing with Dolphy. They want to make him National Artist only after he died. Why was this not done while they were alive?

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There are aging artists still alive today who deserve to be named National Artists but are not given the honor yet. I bet it will be done when they die. Just one example: Painter Malang has long deserved to be named National Artist and has been nominated several times but was bypassed because he was honest enough to criticize some sectors of the art community. Malang is a cartoonist, they say. True, but he is also now a painter, a very good one, as his many paintings show. Malang is now in his 80s and ailing, suffering from depression because of the death of his dear wife. Wouldn’t it lift him from the depths of depression if they give him the award now? Will they wait for him to die in misery before giving it to him?

Two of his contemporaries, Hugo Yonzon Jr. and Larry Alcala, also deserved to be named National Artists but were bypassed because of the “they are cartoonists” tag.

Yonzon was an accomplished cartoonist, it is true, but he was also an accomplished and prolific painter. He was one painter who supported his big family only from his paintings. His paintings are now much sought after by collectors. At the same time that he was producing his magnificent paintings, he was also drawing cartoons for the newspapers. What’s wrong with that? Why are they biased against cartoonists? If they have the temerity to name Carlo J. Caparas a National Artist (fortunately, it was protested by the public and not confirmed by the President), why not cartoonists? What’s wrong with cartoonists? They are also artists.

Fernando Amorsolo also drew cartoons in his younger days, as the illustrations in the textbook “Philippine Reader” show. But he blossomed into the painter of idealistic and romantic Philippine landscapes suffused in sunlight that we now know, and the award-givers immediately named him National Artist and everybody agreed with that.

Alcala is known chiefly for his cartoons, especially his comic strips and his full-page “Slice of Life” cartoons started by Weekend, the weekly magazine of the defunct Daily Express. Alcala also painted landscapes (I have one of his paintings), but fulfilling the numerous demands for his cartoons by many publications allowed him little time for painting. His cartoons are without a doubt first-rate until now, with so many other cartoonists doing their thing. They have captured the national consciousness more than the earlier “Kenkoy” cartoons of Tony Velasquez have. Alcala’s cartoons are art in themselves and their creator deserves to be named National Artist. If you can make movie directors National Artists, why not cartoonists?

There are other artists who deserve the honor, but I think the award-givers have a rule against posthumous awards (although they set it aside in the case of FPJ). It also has a rule against Filipinos acquiring foreign citizenship. Writer Bienvenido Santos and painters Anita Magsaysay-Ho and Romeo Tabuena are full-blooded Filipinos but Santos and Magsaysay-Ho acquired US citizenship. Tabuena lives and paints in Mexico. I don’t know if he is already a Mexican citizen.

All three of them are accomplished artists deserving of the National Artist award but this is denied them because they are allegedly “no longer Filipinos.” Yet we readily accept pseudo-Filipinos into our athletic teams. If a foreigner has even just one drop of Filipino blood in him and he is good in his field of sports, we readily claim him/her as our own. (They fail miserably in international athletic competitions.) The same with show biz personalities, cooks, politicians and other celebrities. It is as if we are so lacking in accomplished people that we readily claim accomplished foreigners as our own even when these celebrities insist they are American citizens and not Filipinos.

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Back to Robredo and the DILG. There is now a scramble by ambitious politicians to be named to succeed him as DILG chief. Yet the two most deserving of the position have expressed no interest in the position. They are Sen. Panfilo Lacson and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

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TAGS: dolphy, Fernando Poe Jr., hugo yonzon jr., jesse robredo, Larry Alcala, malang, national artist award, neal h. cruz
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