Vilma Santos on National Artist award: ‘If it’s meant to be, it will happen’

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Vilma Santos on National Artist award: �If it�s meant to be, it will happen�
Vilma Santos graces the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Cine Icons event at University of Sto. Tomas to lead the special screening of her restored classic film ‘Anak,’ which is directed by Rory Quintos and written by National Artist for Film and Broadcast Arts Ricky Lee (with Moira Lang)
STAR / File

Vilma Santos has shared her honest reaction on the clamor of fans that she be declared National Artist.

The Order of National Artist (ONA) is considered the highest prize bestowed on Filipinos who have made distinct and outstanding contributions to the development of the Philippine arts and culture. The nomination period for the next roster of National Artists is ongoing with the deadline for nominations set on June 30.

The topic was inevitably raised during the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Cine Icons event at University of Sto. Tomas on Tuesday, where Vilma’s restored classic film “Anak,” directed by Rory Quintos and written by National Artist for Film and Broadcast Arts Ricky Lee (with Moira Lang), had a special screening and talkback session with students.

“To those who are saying, ‘We want you to be the next National Artist,’ maraming, maraming salamat po, from the heart. Maraming salamat! But you know, I truly believe that if it’s meant to be, it will happen. If it’s not meant to be, hindi pa,” Vilma said in relation to a question from The STAR.

When she was asked why she thought she was deserving of such an honor, she said it was not her place to say it.

She explained that it has to come from those outside who see her work. “Hindi kasi sa akin manggagaling yun. I mean, kung meron man is yung mga taong nasa labas na nakikita ako,” she said.

She also noted that everyone has different tastes and strengths, so while some may appreciate her, others may not, and she would understand. “Again, if I may say, every individual is different so maaaring magaling ako sa iba, hindi ako magaling sa iba. May kanya kanyang taste. So, doon sa mga naniniwala maraming maraming salamat pero dun naman sa hindi, okay lang yon, yun ang opinyon nila.”

The Star for All Seasons is joined by Ricky Lee and ABS-CBN Film Restoration’s Leo Katigbak during the talkback session.

In a separate interview, the veteran actress, who’s dubbed as the country’s Star for All Seasons, reiterated her appreciation to fans who are pushing or calling for her nomination.

“Yun na nga, nagpapasalamat po talaga sa sobrang ginagawa niyo — mga Vilmanians — sobra, sobra. For that alone, panalo na ako nun. Sinabi ko na nuon pa, naniniwala ako na if it’s not meant to be, it will not happen.

(“I’m truly grateful for all that you do — Vilmanians — really, really. Just for that, I feel like I’ve won already. I’ve always believed that if it’s not meant to be, it will not happen.”)

“Kahit yung sinabi mong natalo ako nun, it’s not meant, it’s not for me. Kasi kung sa iyo yan, kahit anong gawin mo, sayo yan, it’s life. Parang a-attend ka ng awards night na sasabihin sayo, o Best Actress ka, pero ‘pag di ka umattend, ‘di ka mananalo.

(“Even if you say I lost before, then it wasn’t meant for me. Because if it’s yours, no matter what you do, it’s yours. That’s life. It’s like attending an awards night where they tell you, ‘You’re the Best Actress,’ but if you don’t attend, you won’t win.”)

“Sagot ko, kung deserve ko yun, kahit andyan ako or wala, you will give it to me because deserve ko. Ganun din yun. Kahit ano pa ang sabihin ninyo, kahit may bashers or what, may pabor sayo, may hindi pabor, kung akin yan, akin yan. Kung hindi akin yan, kung ano gawin niyo, hindi akin yan.”

(“My response is, if I deserve it, whether I’m there or not, you’ll give it to me because I deserve it. It’s the same thing. Whatever you say, whether there are bashers or what, if it’s mine, it’s mine. If it’s not mine, no matter what you do, it’s not mine.”)

According to the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Order of National Artists should be conferred every three years. The STAR previously reported that the selection normally goes through a tedious process of three rounds, which starts with a nomination. The third round features a voting panel consisting of the joint boards of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and the NCCA, plus all living National Artists.

As per NCCA, recipients are entitled to the following privileges: the rank and title of National Artist; gold-plated medallion minted by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and citation; and a lifetime emolument and material and physical benefits comparable in value to those received by the highest officers of the land.

Meanwhile, National Artist Ricky Lee likewise begged off from commenting on the ONA discussion as it might be misconstrued as an endorsement.

“Parang bawal sa amin na magsalita about that kasi baka they will take it as endorsement,” he said.

Nevertheless, as someone who had worked with Vilma in at least 10 films, he shared his observations on Vilma’s growth as an actress.

He recalled that their very first encounter was way back in 1976 when he became a juror of an awards-giving body that awarded Vilma’s “Burlesk Queen.”

“It became controversial but we really voted for ‘Burlesk Queen,’” he recalled.

After that, they went on to work together on the films “Miss X,” “Haplos,” “Alyas Baby Tsina,” “Relasyon,” “Anak,” and so on.

Said Ricky at the CCP Cine Icons event, “So through the years, nakikita ko rin at lumalaki yung mata ko sa paghanga kasi mula sa simula… kasi mahusay siya diba, parang nag-gu-grow siya ng nag-gu-grow.”

(“So through the years, I’ve seen and my admiration has grown because from the beginning... because she’s excellent, right, it’s like she keeps growing and growing.”)

“Then her nuances… she’s effective in delivering dialogue, she’s excellent at delivering lines, she knows where to pause,” added the screenwriter.

But at the same time, he pointed out, Vilma had a lot of quiet scenes where sometimes he would feel “the quiet scenes were even more effective because her character shines through... and yet, it’s not a show, she’s showing her soul.”

Vilma, meanwhile, is currently focused on her advocacy to support the struggling movie industry. This includes efforts to connect with younger audiences.

In the presence of students, who most likely weren’t born yet during the release of many or most of her films, Vilma expressed, “I feel so happy na kaharap ko lagi mga millennials and Gen-Zs, showing my movie.

“And hearing their questions, you could feel their enthusiasm to learn and to know about your origins, what entertainment really is, and for that alone, napakalaking fulfillment maybe also because of my ongoing advocacy, which is payback time. I want to share and I want them to know anong meron sa movie industry or in the arts. So to be in front of them, it’s heaven.”

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