Today, Gerry Alanguilan wrote down his reasons why he stands in protest against the proclamation of Carlo J. Caparas as a National Artist for Visual Arts and Film.  I believe that as a comic book illustrator, collaborator, and artist, Mr. Alanguilan is far more qualified than I am to reject and protest this decision by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.  As such, I can only write this as a reader of komiks, as an avid viewer of Filipino film, and – as a writer – an artist in my own right.

The criticism and the appreciation of art is subjective.  Sucks, but there is some truth – at least in the case of writers and poets – to the belief that people who read books write books, people who make paintings appreciate paintings, and people who write and sing songs are at the forefront of praising and lambasting songs.  Yet that does not mean we cannot appreciate and criticize art from the objective position: art, as they say, for art’s sake.  People read komiks, read books, and listen to songs without having to make them for a living like we do.

I do not know Carlo J. Caparas personally to pass judgment upon his person, but I believe that within the bounds of the fair and the just, I am free to criticize his art.  From what I do know, he is not an illustrator: he is a collaborator.  All art may be collaboration, but I believe it is dishonest and disrespectful to his collaborators to award the distinction of National Artist to him and him alone.  More than that, though, I believe that even the most postmodern of art must have respect for tradition.  Before Caparas, there were the likes of Mars Ravelo, Larry Alcala and Francisco V. Coching who have built the foundation of Filipino komiks; the very hallowed ground where Caparas and every komikero now stands on.

On that ground, I protest the seeming disregard for tradition by the NCCA.

Carlo J. Caparas is being commended for his achievements in film.  I will not claim to have watched every Carlo J. Caparas movie, but since the National Artist distinction is an honorific for achievement, let us settle on that.  A National Artist for Film should be rewarded and recognized for his or her cinematic achievements: the corpus of cinematic work that Caparas has under his belt is a laundry list of massacre movies and komiks crossovers.  It pains me, in more ways than one, that this year’s National Artist for Visual Art and Film is responsible for movies that fail at every trope and level of production, writing, research, and execution (an example: “Tirad Pass: The Story of Gregorio del Pilar”).

On that ground, I protest the seeming disregard for artistic value by the NCCA.

On the one hand, we can believe that the distinction of National Artist is a titular distinction on a piece of paper.  We can believe that the distinction of National Artist is not necessary to create good art.  We can believe that we have too many honorifics for artists in this country.  Yet I believe that in a nation where artists receive so little in the way of compensation and fulfillment, where art is magic but its practicality is tragic, the National Artist distinction should serve as an example of the quality of our artistic achievements.  We may disagree on the theories of what makes art “art,” but the existing list of National Artists, while lacking, should stand as a standard of our artistic achievements as a people.

I am not a komikero, and I may have yet to establish my credibility as a writer, but the small voice that I have in the realm of art in the Philippines should stand with the movement started by Mr. Alanguilan.  That within my Constitutionally protected guarantee as an artist to stand with the State to protect free expression through the arts and letters, I strongly disagree and stand in protest of Caparas as a National Artist.