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Tampering with the evidence |

Arts and Culture

Tampering with the evidence

PENMAN - Butch Dalisay -

Along with many other friends in the arts community, I was elated to receive the news last week that the Supreme Court had issued an order restraining the Palace from conferring the National Artist Awards until it had decided on our petition citing an abuse of presidential prerogative in the matter. Since that case is now in court, I’m not going to comment on it any further (didn’t I say that last week as well?), happy to leave things to the wisdom of our Justices for the time being; in truth I’m just as weary of the dagdag National Artist controversy as you are, and I wish I could move on like I promised to more congenial chit-chat about social networking, gangster movies, and Vietnamese rice noodles.

But hold on: someone at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) seems to be trying to pull a fast one — again. To put it mildly, I don’t think it’s very sporting of that someone to do this — effectively tampering with the evidence — while the case is being looked into by the Court.

When I looked up the National Artists page on the NCCA website (, the rules had suddenly changed — now there was a mention of Executive Order 236 empowering an Honors Committee to make up its own list of NA nominees to the President. That wasn’t there before the recent DNA scandal blew up — neither the rule nor the role of the committee in the NAA process.

Now that the case is before the High Tribunal to be sorted out, how fair is it to try and pull the rug from under the feet of those of us who’ve been arguing that the Honors Committee never figured in the selection process before, by sneaking it into the rules posted on the website?

What are they going to call this — a regular update, for something that hasn’t been touched in years? Or do they actually expect the honorable Justices and other observers to believe that the revised rules had been there all along?

Unfortunately for whoever ordered the NCCA webmaster to monkey around with the rules page, I saved it — Web-archived it, to be more precise, preserving the full contents and appearance of the page — as soon as the scandal broke a month ago. Pardon my suspicious mind, but I had a funny feeling this would happen. So I’ve uploaded this file onto my Website for anyone who wants to see what the NCCA rules originally and always were. You can access that file here: (As soon as you’ve downloaded it, manually remove the .html tag from the filename then click on it to see the page in its original state.)

To whoever may be calling the shots these days at the NCCA, a friendly appeal: stop this silliness, play fair, and do the right thing — restore that page to what it was four weeks ago. And please remember that things work differently on the Internet, where everything you do or say leaves a digital trace behind, no matter how hard you try to cover up your tracks. Not only does it not pay to lie; worse, it just doesn’t work.

* * *

Let me take this opportunity to mark and to lament the recent loss of two members of our writing community, both apparently from prolonged and catastrophic illnesses. The first was former journalist and fictionist Letty Salanga, whom I will choose to remember as the bright, laughing woman of her best days; the second was the very young Mae Astrid Tobias, my former student, also very sharp and talented, a writer of stories for children. We will miss them both, and my deepest sympathies to their families.

* * *

It seemed just like yesterday when we were snotty kids in shorts kicking a football around in the dusty grass of the PGEA compound along Quezon City’s Elliptical Road — behind a creaky building that a sign hopefully identified as the Philippine Science High School. But a message reminded me the other day that it’s been 40 years since that place opened.

Aside from producing hundreds if not thousands of scientists as it was mandated to do — many of whom now lead the Philippine S&T effort, doing pioneering research in engineering, agriculture, and medicine, among others — the strongly multidisciplinary school has also graduated the likes of Mapua president Rey Vea, Palace stalwart Jun Esperon, model Anna Bayle, composer Joel Navarro, Congressman Jun Abaya, writer Jessica Zafra, and filmmaker Aureus Solito (who immortalized teenage angst, PSHS-style, in his movie Pisay).

This Saturday the 5th, the PSHS — which has since moved to more modern but also aging digs on Agham Road not too far away — will celebrate its 40th Foundation Day with the usual homecoming. Not so usual will be a couple of innovative projects advanced by the jubilarians, the Class of ’84.

Batch busybody Yeyet Ongchangco-Diaz wrote me to say that “My batch is putting up the Pisay alumni hub, a web-based portal that works much like Facebook but is less complex for now, but which will be upgraded in the months following.  PSHS has never really had a useful and updated alumni database, and every time there is a need to round up information about PSHS alumni, we go into a mad scramble to put together bits and pieces of data from all sources available. We are hoping to put an end to that with this hub. 

“Also, part of the evening’s highlights is an auction of school needs. Here’s how this goes: there will be photos of rundown (almost all, actually) rooms, ceilings, labs, roofing, equipment; the auctioneer will ‘sell’ the item on the floor to any bidder. Say a room needs repainting; if the estimated cost is P20,000, it will be cut up into chunks of P5,000 each (so it’s easier to sell) until the P20,000 is completed. The PSHS Alumni Association will take care to follow through on these pledges. All unsold ‘items’ will be featured on the website for online ‘purchases.’”

Terrific idea, Yeyet — and let’s all go there and pitch in, my fellow nerds, especially those of you who haven’t done too badly since your agawan-base days. You have nothing to lose but your loose change and your guilt.

* * *

E-mail me at, and visit my blog at

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