Why Apo Whang-Od is not eligible for the National Artist award

why apo whang-od is not eligible for the national artist award

Why Apo Whang-Od is not eligible for the National Artist award

Nominations for the new batch of national artists are now open.

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), along with the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), made the announcement on Thursday, November 23, 2023.

Read: Catriona Gray, pang-Miss Universe ang speech bilang arts ambassador ng NCCA

Established in 1972, the Order of National Artist (ONA) acknowledges Filipinos who made significant contributions to the development of Philippine arts and letters.

Past recipients of the honor include painter Fernando Amorsolo, writer Nick Joaquin musician Levi Celerio, actress Nora Aunor, fashion designer Salvacion Lim-Higgins, and filmmaker Lino Brocka, among many others.

In total, 81 individuals from various fields have been conferred with the prestigious honor.


Over the years, individuals and groups have pushed for personalities they felt were deserving of the honor.

In 2015, an online movement advocating for Whang-Od to be named a national artist went viral.

The beloved and popular tattoo artist from the Mountain Province is known as the oldest living mambabatok, the traditional way of tattooing in Kalinga.

Read: Ganda ni Apo-Whang-Od, napansin nina Halle Berry, Gigi Hadid, mga Hollywood celebs

Whang-Od’s crude method has not deterred people from all parts of the world from getting their tattoos done by the now 106-year-old artist.

Read: 5 Pinoy celebs lucky enough to get inked by Apo Whang-Od

Calls for Whang-Od to be at least nominated as a national artist continue to this day, with advocates citing her significant cultural contributions.

Better to give the honor, they say, while Whang-Od is still around rather than confer the recognition posthumously.

Read: Michelle Dee honors Apo Whang-Od with Miss Universe 2023 gown

According to NCCA Chairman Victorino Manalo, Whang-Od’s craft doesn’t fit the qualifications stated in the guidelines for choosing a national artist.

“Unang-una, ang artistic field ni Whang-Od ay hindi sa national artist papatak kundi sa GAMABA, Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan.

“Pero nagkaroon na nang discussion tungkol dun, hindi na-award si Whang-Od,” Victorino told reporters during a press conference at the NCCA office in Intramuros, Manila.

There are eight categories for the National Artist Award: Dance, Music, Theater, Visual Arts, Literature, Film and Broadcast Arts, Architecture and Allied Arts, and Design.

Victorino added, “Pang-GAMABA talaga ang kanyang field. Pero nagkaroon na ng discussion tungkol sa kanya and nagkaroon ng desisyon na hindi siya bibigyan.”

The GAMABA — also referred to as the National Living Treasures Award — is an honor given to an individual or a group of artists recognized by the Philippine government for their contributions to the country’s cultural heritage.

Whang-Od’s name as nominee and possible recipient of GAMABA has been floated around since 2015, with Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Nancy Binay, Loren Legarda, and Sonny Angara lobbying for the tattoo artist on separate occasions.

Whang-Od is currently in the running for the GAMABA, with deliberations by the committee still ongoing as of today.

Added Marichu Tellano, NCCA deputy executive director, “Actually, in the first place, we never had any nomination for Whang-Od for the national artist.

“The nomination we have had was really for the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan.”

She further stated, “Yung works niya kasi is really a reflection of the community that she belongs to.

“It is a work that symbolizes the tradition but there are a lot of things being considered as well with the council of the Gawad sa Manlilikha ng Bayan; it’s a long discussion.”

Those championing Whang-Od for the National Artist Award — a list that includes the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) and even former NCCA Chairman Felipe de Leon Jr. — argue that her work falls under the Visual Arts category.

The mediums currently recognized under the Visual Arts category are painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, installation art, mixed media works, illustration, graphic arts, performance arts, and imaging.

While body art and tattoos are traditional artistic expressions, it is not viewed the same way as the abovementioned mediums.

Categories, accepted mediums even, for the honor are of course subject to change, as seen when the NCCA added Design into the mix a few years back.

But as it stands, the chances of Whang-Od being named a National Artist in the foreseeable future are nil.

It’s worth mentioning, however, that the NCCA is very much appreciative of Whang-Od’s immense contribution to society.

The NCCA, in 2018, named Whang-Od as the recipient of the Dangal ng Haraya Award, an honor given to Filipino artists, cultural workers, historians, artistic or cultural groups, historical societies, institutions, foundations, and councils, for their achievements and impact on Philippine culture and arts.

She was also awarded the HIYAS Award for Indigenous Art by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in September 2022.

Read: Whang-od ginawaran ng 1st HIYAS Award for the Indigenous Art


Another issue being hurled against the NCCA is its perceived bias against female artists for the award.

Critics took note that the majority of the recipients were male, as only 16 out of the 81 awardees were female.

Victorino debunked such a notion, saying that discrepancies in the number of male and female awardees are purely coincidental.

Dancer, choreographer, and National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes doesn’t believe that male artists are being favored over their female counterparts in the selection process.

“It’s a very rigorous, very demanding, and highly participatory process,” said Alice, who was bestowed the honor in 2014.

Continued Alice, “But I don’t think gender was an issue. It was always [about the] body of works and the excellence of the work that has been shared and produced.”

The artists being considered by the committee, argued Alice, are not confined by “regional boundaries” and the gauge has always been about the work and its national importance.

“Of course, I’m always happy when women are fully empowered or doubly equal [with men]. But in talent, it’s genderless.”

To nominate and know more about the process, visit the website of the NCCA.

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