Five out of 8 National Artists for 2022 are from UP

Written by Celeste Ann Castillo Llaneta

From left to right: Gemino “Jimmy” Abad, Fides Cuyugan-Asensio, Agnes Locsin, Antonio “Tony” O. Mabesa and Ricardo “Ricky” Lee.

Malacañang named eight new National Artists for 2022 on June 10. Of these eight, five are the University of the Philippines (UP) community members— Professors Emeriti, former faculty members, former students, and alumni.

The new National Artists from UP are: poet-critic Gemino Abad, National Artist for Literature, for providing future generations with a “comprehensive view of the landscape of Philippine poetry and fiction”; soprano Fides Cuyugan-Asensio, National Artist for Music, for contributing to a “Renaissance of classical musical theater in the country”; choreographer Agnes Locsin, National Artist for Dance, for spurring a “growing interest in neo-ethnic style among young artists”; actor-director Antonio “Tony” O. Mabesa, National Artist for Theater, for his contributions to the “growth and diversity of Philippine theater”; and, screenwriter Ricardo Lee, National Artist for Film and Broadcast Arts, whose filmography includes iconic films such as The Flor Contempacion Story and Sa Kuko ng Agila.

Gemino Abad, National Artist for Literature

Photo by JWP Capili (UP MPRO)

Poet and literary critic Gémino Henson Abad hailed from Cebu, Philippines, but later moved to Manila. In 1963, he earned his Bachelor of Arts in English, magna cum laude, from the UP College of Liberal Arts in Diliman, and his Masters of Arts and Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Chicago in 1966 and 1970, respectively. He taught English, comparative literature, and creative writing in UP Diliman for many years and served UP in various capacities, including as Secretary of the University, Secretary of the Board of Regents, Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Director of the UP Institute of Creative Writing.

Abad co-founded the Philippine Literary Arts Council (PLAC), which published Caracoa, a poetry journal in English. His other works include Fugitive Emphasis (poems, 1973); In Another Light (poems and critical essays, 1976); A Formal Approach to Lyric Poetry (critical theory, 1978); The Space Between (poems and critical essays, 1985); Poems and Parables (1988); Index to Filipino Poetry in English, 1905-1950 (with Edna Zapanta Manlapaz, 1988); and, State of Play (letter-essays and parables, 1990). He edited landmark anthologies of Filipino poetry in English, among them: Man of Earth (1989), A Native Clearing (1993), and, A Habit of Shores: Filipino Poetry and Verse from English, the ’60s to the ’90s (1999).

He was elevated to the rank of University Professor by UP Diliman, the highest honor awarded by the University to an exemplary retiring faculty member. He was a visiting professor at three foreign universities. Abad earned numerous awards, prizes, and literature and creative writing fellowships. He received: the Palanca Awards for Poetry, Philippines Free Press Awards for Literature; the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Award for Poetry; National Book Awards from the Manila Critics’ Circle; and the Asian Catholic Publishers Inc. Catholic Authors Award. In 2009, he became the first Filipino to receive the coveted Premio Feronia in Rome, Italy, in the foreign author category.

Fides Cuyugan-Asensio, National Artist for Music

Fides Belza Cuyugan-Asensio, born on August 1, 1931, in Lucena, Philippines, is a Filipino coloratura soprano, actress, director, librettist, translator, and teacher. She earned two Bachelor of Arts degrees at the Philippine Women’s University, one in English, specializing in drama, in 1950, and the second in Music, major in voice and minor in piano, in 1951. Her graduation recital in 1951 earned her effusive praise from The Manila Times and, at that time, the foremost Filipino opera singer, Jovita Fuentes.

After graduation, Cuyugan-Asensio received a scholarship from the Curtis Institute of Music in Pennsylvania. She graduated in 1955 with an Artist’s Diploma, majoring in voice with special studies in stage movement and eurhythmics. She quickly became one of the leading performers and producers of opera in the country, making her operatic debut in 1955, singing as Adele in Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. She has also performed in many world premieres of Filipino operas, such: as Ramon Santos’s Mapulang Bituin; Eliseo Pajaro’s Binhi ng Kalayaan; Lucrecia Kasilag’s Dularawan; and, as Sisa in Felipe de Leon’s Noli Me Tangere in 1957. She has also sung lead roles in Menotti’s The Telephone; Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor; Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail; Verdi’s La Traviata; Britten’s Turn of the Screw; and Debussy’s L’Enfant Prodigue. and more. She also directed productions of several Filipino and Western operas.

She hosted musical TV shows and appeared in four films: Oro Plata Mata (1982), Niño (2011), Aparisyon (2012), and Mana (2014). In 1986, Asensio formed the Music Theater Foundation of the Philippines (MTFP). In 1988, she became Chair of the Voice and Music Theater Department in the UP College of Music, a position she held until she retired in 1997, after which the UP Board of Regents granted her the title of Professor Emeritus. She also served as the artistic director of the Opera Guild of the Philippines and, since 1987, MTFP president.

Agnes Locsin, National Artist for Dance

Photo by Dr. Michaelangelo Ebro Dakudao.

Born in Davao City on September 28, 1957, Agnes Dakudao Locsin finished elementary and secondary school at the Philippine Women’s University and graduated from the Ateneo de Davao University with a Bachelor’s degree in English. She earned her Master’s degree in dance from the Ohio State University in the US.

Locsin is known for developing the “neo-ethnic” Filipino dance choreography, which blends indigenous themes with Western classical and modern techniques, and includes immersion in indigenous communities where she interacts with and learns about their culture and traditions through dance. Among the works where she applied this choreography are: Encantada; La Revolucion Filipina; Sayaw, Sabel; and the four-part Alay sa Puno series. After earning her MA degree, she became the Artistic Director of the Locsin Dance Workshop in Davao City, which her mother founded. She also served as a faculty member of UP Diliman’s Dance Program and as the artistic director of the Ballet Philippines in the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) from 1989 to 1999.

At the 2nd Tokyo International Choreography Competition (1994), Locsin was the winner of the Silver Medal and the recipient of the Prince Takamado Award from Japan’s Imperial Family.

Around the 2010s, Locsin began doing choreography for environmentally-themed works, such as Agila and the Puno series. She has received various awards, including the Gawad CCP Award Para sa Sining in 2013; the Alfonzo T. Ongpin Prize for Best Book on Arts for her book, Neo-ethnic Choreography: A Creative Process; and the Gador Award from the CCP. The Davao City government also gave her the Datu Bago Award for her contributions to dance and culture.

Tony Mabesa, National Artist for Theater

Photo by JWP Capili (UP MPRO).

Stage director, film and television actor, and theater professor Antonio “Tony” Ocampo Mabesa was born on January 27, 1935, in Los Baños, Laguna. He finished high school at the UP Rural High School and earned his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from UP Los Baños (UPLB) in 1956. In UPLB, he also became an Upsilon Sigma Phi Fraternity member. He earned his MFA in Theater from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), in 1965 and an MA in Education from the University of Delaware in 1969, with further studies in dramatic literature at the University of Minnesota.

After earning his graduate degrees, Mabesa was offered a teaching position in the Department of Speech Communications and Theater Arts at UP Diliman. He pushed for establishing a Baccalaureate program devoted to Theater Arts, which began in 1978, and a Master of Arts in Theater Arts Program at UP Diliman. He founded Dulaang UP (DUP) in 1976 and the UP Playwright’s Theater in 1980. He directed and produced over 170 shows. He mentored many prominent artists in theatre, film, television, and the allied arts. UP Retired Professor of Theatre Arts Alexander C. Cortez, Tony and Obie-award winning designer Clint Ramos, playwright Nicolas Pichay, film and TV directors Dennis Marasigan, Rico Gutierrez, and Andoy Ranay, highly-acclaimed actors Shamaine Centenera, Irma Adlawan, Eugene Domingo, Frances Makil-Ignacio, Candy Pangilinan, Dolly de Leon, Harlene Bautista, JC Santos, and Neil Ryan Sese are just some of his students. In 1978, Mabesa served as Theater Director of the Manila Metropolitan Theater. In 2005, he founded the Angeles University Foundation Repertory Theater. He was named UP Professor Emeritus in 2002.

Mabesa was also a television and film actor. His acting credits include roles in GMA 7’s Villa Quintana (1995-1997), Lino Brocka’s Macho Dancer (1988), Marilou Diaz-Abaya’s Jose Rizal (1998), Regal Films’ Mano Po series (2002 -2008), and Joel Lamangan’s Vietnam Rose (2005). Lamangan’s Rainbow’s Sunset, where Mabesa co-starred with the late Eddie Garcia, won Mabesa the Best Supporting Actor Award during the 2018 Metro Manila Film Festival and the Best Actor Award from the 52nd Worldfest Houston International Film Festival in Texas.

With a career in theater and the performing arts that spanned 70 years, Mabesa was considered one of the founders of Philippine university theater and one of the most prominent theater directors in the country. He was called the “Lion of the Theater” for his work.

Ricky Lee, National Artist for Film and Broadcast Arts

Photo by JWP Capili (UP MPRO).
Born on March 19, 1947, in Daet, Camarines Norte, Ricardo Lee completed his elementary and secondary schooling in the same town. He was an English major at UP’s Department of English and Comparative Literature. Later, he taught screenwriting at the College of Mass Communication, UP Diliman.

Lee was affiliated with Panulat para sa Kaunlaran ng Sambayanan (PAKSA, or Pen for People’s Progress) along with National Artist for Literature Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera and a fellow screenwriter, poet, and journalist, Jose “Pete” Lacaba. In 1973, Lee co-wrote his first screenplay, Armando Garces’s Dragnet.

During his career spanning over four decades, Lee wrote numerous short stories, plays, essays, novels, teleplays, and screenplays. Two of his short stories won first prizes at the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature two years in a row (1970 and 1971). His screenplay, “Salome/Brutal,” won the 1981 Philippine National Book Awards for best screenplay. In 2011, he garnered the Special Prize for a Book Published by an Independent Publisher for Si Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata, from the National Book Development Board and Manila Critics Circle’s National Book Awards. His two stage plays, Pitik-Bulag sa Buwan ng Pebrero and DH (Domestic Helper), played to SRO crowds. He has written more than 150 produced scripts, earning him over fifty awards from the Philippine film industry.

He was a staff writer for the Pilipino Free Press in the 1970s. Until the 1990s, he wrote features and interviews for the Asia-Philippines Leader, Metro Magazine, Expressweek, TV Times, Malaya Midday, The National Midweek, Veritas, and Sunday Inquirer Magazine. In 2000, he was one of the recipients of the Centennial Honors for the Arts from the CCP and the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas for Tagalog fiction from the Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas. His books include: Si Tatang at mga Himala ng Ating Panahon, Pitik-Bulag Sa Buwan Ng Pebrero, Brutal/Salome, Moral, Para Kay B, and, Bukas May Pangarap. Salome has been translated into English, published by the University of Wisconsin–Madison in the US, and included in its textbook on film studies. He has also published a screenplay manual, Trip to Quiapo, a required text in many Communications courses in college.

In 2015, UP awarded Lee the 11th UP Gawad Plaridel for Film.

Nora Aunor: 10th UP Gawad Plaridel recipient and National Artist for Film and Broadcast Arts

Photo from the UP Diliman website.
Aside from Lee, two others were conferred the National Artist for Film and Broadcast Arts for 2022: film director Marilou Diaz-Abaya and multi-awarded actress Nora Villamayor, more popularly known as Nora Aunor. In 2014, Aunor was the 10th recipient of the UP Gawad Plaridel, the highest award given by the University to an outstanding media practitioner, for her excellence in film and television.

Trailblazing fashion designer Salvacion Lim-Higgins, known as Slim, was named National Artist for Design (Fashion).

The announcement of the new National Artists came through Proclamation No. 1390, issued by Malacañang upon the joint recommendation of the National Commission for Culture and Arts (NCCA) and the CCP. Instituted as the Order of National Artists of the Philippines or Pambansang Alagad ng Sining ng Pilipinas was established under Proclamation No. 1001, signed in 1972, and is bestowed on Filipinos who have made significant contributions to the development of Philippine art. Visual artist and former UP Fine Arts Dean Fernando Amorsolo is the first recipient of the National Artist award.

The Philippine government has recently conferred the National Artist award to 81 Filipinos. Of this number, UP counts 44 as members of its academic community.