Aquino cites 'drug use' for Nora Aunor snub

MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III finally spoke out on the non-conferment of the National Artist title to award-winning actress Nora Aunor, citing her drug conviction as the reason for the snub.

The actress got a big number of votes from her peers in various artistic fields who participated in the rigid, 3-phase selection process, stirring controversy when Aunor was dropped from the list of awardees.

On Tuesday, July 1, Aquino explained his decision in response to questions at a news conference in Clark Freeport, Pampanga, saying he did not want to send a message that drug use is acceptable. (READ: NCCA puzzled by exclusion of Nora Aunor in National Artists list)

"My only problem – we all know I respect Ms. Nora Aunor – was her drug conviction," Aquino admitted. "She was convicted and punished, and the question here is: if we make her a National Artist, is there a message we are sending to the people?"

Watch this report below.

Aquino was referring to Aunor's arrest in 2005, when she was stopped at the Los Angeles International Airport for alleged possession of drugs paraphernalia and illegal drugs eventually identified as methamphetamine.

Contrary to Aquino's statements however, Aunor was eventually cleared in 2007, after she went through a rehabilitation program, and after her drug test came out negative.

Aquino said an award for Aunor may send a mixed message to the Filipino people.

"I don't want there to be a message that sometimes, llegal drugs is okay or acceptable. The message I want to send is it is always bad and illegal drugs do nobody any good," he said.

"We have zero tolerance for drugs. It is wrong all the time."

The President clarified he respects Aunor's achievements in Philippine cinema, even mentioning that his late father, former senator Benigno Aquino Jr, was a fan of the actress. Unfazed by critics, he also said had he awarded Aunor the prestigious honor, he would have been criticized by groups questioning her qualifications as a role model.

It is not the first time for Filipinos to question their President’s final decision on the roster of National Artists. In 2009, then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo removed musician Ramon Santos from the line-up of 4 nominees, and added 4 more names to the final list of National Artists: Cecille Guidote-Alvarez, filmmaker Carlo Magno Jose Caparas, architect Francisco "Bobby" Mañosa, and fashion designer Jose "Pitoy" Moreno.

This was brought to the Supreme Court, which unanimously invalidated Arroyo's decision in 2013.

The other 3 artists who were part of the original shortlist in 2009 were validated: Manuel Conde (Cinema), Lazaro Francisco (Literature), and Federico Aguilar Alcuaz (Visual Arts).

The National Artist title is a special rank conferred on Filipinos in recognition of their significant contributions to the nation’s culture and the arts in various categories, including “Music, Dance, Theater, Visual Arts, Literature, Film and Broadcast Arts, and Architecture or Allied Arts,” according to Gov.ph.

The nominees are prepared by the NCCA and CCP, then approved and signed by the President, who confers the honors via presidential proclamation. – Rappler.com