FOR 2003 National Artist for Literature Virgilio S. Almario, the role a National Artist is a challenging task.

“…Kapag tinanggap mo ang karangalang Pambansang Alagad ng Sining ay kailangang umasta kang isang Pambansang Alagad ng Sining. Isang haligi, isang bahagi ng pambansang sining, at isang huwarang mukha ng sektor na ating kinakatawan (When you accept the National Artist Award, you have to embody being National Artist. A pillar for national arts and role model to the sector we are part of),” Mr. Almario said, citing his experience at being tasked to make a speech at events (while wearing the heavy gold medallion), having his name announced on plane rides, and media or teachers asking questions or looking for his opinion on current issues.

Dapat mong isipin na hindi mo dadanasin ’yun kung hindi ka National Artist. Bahagi iyong pagdangal sa iyo ng bayan... (You should think that you would not have such encounters were it not for your recognition as a National Artist. It is part of the nation’s praise for you),” he added.

Mr. Almario was speaking at the Main Theater of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) where on May 16, seven individuals who were named National Artists in 2018 were given a tribute.

The newest National Artists are cartoonist Larry Alcala (who was represented at the event by his wife Guadalupe Alcala), architect Francisco Mañosa (represented by wife Denise Mañosa), Hiligaynon writer and historian Ramon L. Muzones (represented by son Rex Muzones), writer and historian Resil Mojares, filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik, theater advocate Amelia Lapeña Bonifacio, and composer Ryan Cayabyab.

CCP Chairperson Maria Margarita Moran-Floirendo described the 2018 National Artists as individuals who have “promoted creative expression” and “helped develop our national cultural identity.

“Through their distinguished body of works that consistently displayed artistic excellence, they have forged new paths in directions for the future generations of artist while at the same time, preserved and enhanced our rich heritage. They have embodied the country’s highest ideals in the humanities and aesthetic expressions,” Ms. Moran-Floirendo said in her speech.

“Thank you for reminding everyone that are endless possibilities and opportunities in the field of arts. And for telling the people that there is more to arts than meets the eye, that art is more than just a hobby. It is a passion. It is a way of life,” she added.

During the tribute, the artists were honored through performances of their own works, such as Ms. Lapeña Bonifacio’s puppet play Sita & Rama: Papet Ramayana by Teatrong Mulat ng Pilipinas; Mr. Cayabyab’s song “Paraiso” as sung by Esang de Torres and the Ateneo Chamber Singers; a dance performance of the “Cordillera Suite” by the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group; and a staged reading of a scene from Ramon Muzones’ Margosatubig by Audie Gemorra, Bong Cabrera, and Shiela Valderrama-Martinez.

In 1972, the Order of National Artist or Orden ng Pambansang Alagad ng Sining was established “to give appropriate recognition and prestige to Filipinos who have distinguished themselves and made outstanding contributions to Philippine arts and letters.” The nominated artists shall meet criteria which included “Artists who through the content and form of their works have contributed in building a Filipino sense of nationhood.”

In his speech, Mr. Almario noted that the recognition as a National Artist comes with great responsibilities.

Mapanubok ang ating kasalukuyang lipunan at panahon… Hinintay tayong magpatunay sa ating kakayahang para umambag sa pagkakaisa at kaunlaran ng lipunang Filipino (Our current society and period pose challenges… They await our contributions for the unity and development of the Philippine society,” he said. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman