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Nora Aunor among 8 new National Artists of the Philippines

12 June 2022

By The SUN 

Aunor came to HK in 2013 to receive the best actress award in the Asian Film Awards 

The Philippine government, through the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), has conferred the National Artist award to eight Filipino icons who have made significant contributions to the development of local arts.

Eight years after being bypassed for the country’s top award for the arts, actress Nora Aunor has been named National Artist for Film and Broadcast Arts. She shares the recognition for the same category with scriptwriter and book author Ricky Lee; and the late movie director, Marilou Diaz-Abaya.

The other awardees are: poet Gemino Abad, National Artist for Literature, soprano Fides Cuyugan-Asensio, National Artist for Music; choreographer Agnes Locsin, National Artist for Dance; the late stage director and theater actor Tony Mabesa, National Artist for Theater; and the late fashion designer Salvacion Lim-Higgins, National Artist for Fashion.


The awarding ceremony is expected to be held sometime next week, before outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte steps down from his post.

The Order of National Artists is the highest national recognition given to Filipino individuals who have made significant contributions to the development of Philippine arts in the field of music, dance, theater, visual arts, literature, film, broadcast arts and architecture and allied arts.

Previous awardees for film include actor Fernando Poe, Jr. and directors Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal. Significantly, Bernal was the director of “Himala,” which was written by Lee and is widely regarded as Aunor’s best movie. It was voted as the Best Film of All Time in the 2008 CNN Asia Pacific Screen Awards.  

National Artists all: Lee, Brocka, Bernal and Abaya in an undated photo 

Lee and Abaya also collaborated on a number of widely acclaimed movies, including “Brutal,” “Salome,” “Moral” and “Jose Rizal.”

Aunor, dubbed the “Superstar” of Philippine cinema, has received numerous awards in a career that spans more than five decades. She is the recipient of multiple best actress awards from Famas, Urian, Film Academy and the Metro Manila Film Festival; an Asian Film Festival award, another from the Cairo International Film Festival, and the Gawad CCP para sa Sining for Film and Broadcast Arts by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in 2015.


Lee is known to be the most sought-after screenwriter in the country, but what many do not know is that he was an orphan who managed to have his first article published when he was just 16 years old, then went on to win the prestigious Palanca award for best short story two years in a row.

A brilliant student, he managed to get into the University of the Philippines where he was getting top marks when martial law was declared. He was arrested, along with many student activists at the time, and was held for years as a political detainee. After his release, he started focusing on scriptwriting and became so successful at it that the free workshops he has been giving since the ‘80s have attracted people from all walks of life, including movie stars and journalists.

In recent years, Aunor and Lee had been to Hong Kong in line with their work. Aunor, to receive her best actress award for the film, “Thy Womb” in the Asian Film Award in 2013; and Lee, to attend the Hong Kong Film Festival in 2018, and on the side, to hold a scriptwriting workshop for Filipino migrant workers.

Cuyugan-Asensio is a coloratura soprano, actress and librettist known for being a staunch proponent of opera in the Philippines. She was chair of the UP College of Music for Voice and Music Theater from 1988 until her retirement.

Abad is a renowned poet, editor, and literary critic. He still teaches at the UP Department of Comparative Literature at UP Diliman where he has been conferred the title of Professor Emeritus at the College of Arts and Letters.

Locsin is considered as the most creative among modern choreographers in the country for her ability to blend native Filipino movement and thoughts into her dance. She used to teach at Ballet Philippines and Ballet Manila.


Mabesa, who passed on in 2019, was dubbed “the Lion of the Theater” as he lorded supreme over Dulaang UP and the UP Playwright’s Theater, the university’s foremost theater groups which he founded. Apart from acting and directing stage plays during his seven-decade career, he also starred in movies and TV dramas.

Lim-Higgins is a legend even among the top couturiers in the country. She and her sister founded Slim’s in 1960, and it became the training ground for thousands of local designers. She particularly inspires awe for her classical and timeless designs for the terno, the country’s national costume for women.

Lee (in pink) with the mostly OFWs who attended his scriptwriting workshop in HK in 2018

Apart from the incomparable prestige that comes with the award, the National Artists will also enjoy a monthly pension for life of no less than Php50,000, and a lump sum cash payment of at least Php200,000.

They will also receive medical and hospitalization benefits, life insurance coverage, a place of honor at national state functions and recognition at cultural events, and upon death, a state funeral and burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

For those posthumously awarded, their legal heirs will receive a one-off payment of no less than Php150,000.

The new set of National Artists is only the second set of awardees named by President Duterte who is about to step down after six years at the helm. His first was in 2018.

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