Get to Know the Philippines’ 8 new Filipino National Artists

 Philippines Filipino National Artists
(Top Left to Right) Nora Aunor, Salvacion Lim-Higgins, Fides Cuyugan-Asensio, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, (Bottom Left to Right) Ricardo “Ricky” Lee, Antonio “Tony” Mabesa, Gemino Abad, Agnes Locsin. Photos from artists’ official pages, FDCP, UPD Department of English and Comparative Literature FB.

The Philippines has declared eight Filipino icons in dance, fashion design, film and broadcast arts, literature, music, and theater as the country’s newest National Artists.

The highest national recognition conferred upon Filipinos who have made distinct contributions to the development and promotion of the country’s arts and culture was given to three new National Artists for Film and Broadcast Arts: Nora Aunor, Ricardo “Ricky” Lee, and Marilou Diaz-Abaya.

Named among the eight were: Agnes Locsin (National Artist for Dance), Salvacion Lim-Higgins (National Artist for Fashion Design), Gemino Abad, (National Artist for Literature), Fides Cuyugan-Asensio (National Artist for Music), Antonio “Tony” Mabesa (National Artist for Theater).

Five of the new National Artists are members of the University of the Philippines community and were conferred the distinction for their achievements in the field of dance, theater, film and broadcast arts, literature, music, and fashion design are from the UP community: Agnes Locsin, Gemino Abad, Fides Cuyugan-Asensio, Antonio “Tony” Mabesa, and Ricardo “Ricky” Lee.

“Himala” movie scriptwriter Ricky Lee is joined by Philippine cinema’s Superstar Nora Aunor who starred in the acclaimed film.

Feminist filmmaker Marilou Diaz-Abaya also made the prestigious roster of National Artists.

Salvacion Lim-Higgins became only the second National Artist for Fashion Design after Ramon Valera.

The eight new National Artists were recognized for their contributions and were honored in a ceremony in Malacañang on June 16, 2022.

Agnes Locsin, National Artist for Dance

Born in Davao City, Agnes Dakudao Locsin is a Filipino choreographer, director, and teacher. Considered one of the most progressive contemporary choreographers in the Philippines, Locsin was honored for her work and achievements in dance which “spurred a neo-ethnic style among young artists”.

The dance icon is known for her work including “Babaylan,” which won second place in the Tokyo International Choreography Competition, “Taong Talangka (Man-Crab)”, and “Salome” which won second place for dancer Camille Ordinario in the 1994 Concours International de la Danse in Paris, France, among others.

Locsin served as a faculty member of UP Diliman’s Dance Program and as artistic director of Ballet Philippines in the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

Salvacion Lim-Higgins, National Artist for Design (Fashion)

Salvacion Lim-Higgins, known professionally as “Slim,” was an iconic fashion designer renowned for her elegant and dramatic terno designs that redefined Philippine couture.

The fashion icon is credited for innovating and transforming the “national costume into a world-class silhouette” and “inspiring generations of Filipino designers”.

Salvacion-Higgins founded a fashion school, Slim’s Fashion & Arts School in 1960, the oldest fashion institution in the country and now the only fashion institution founded by a National Artist.

The school’s alumni include notable names that have helped shape the Philippine fashion industry such as Joe Salazar, Oskar Peralta, Cesar Gaupo, Oliver Tolentino, Michael Cinco, and Joey Samson, among others.

Nora Aunor, National Artist for Film and Broadcast Arts

Nora Cabaltera Villamayor, more popularly known as Nora Aunor, is a multi-award-winning actress and singer who achieved fame in different fields over the decades, including film, television, music, and theater.

Philippine cinema’s Superstar was honored for depicting the everyday realities and “aspirations of the common man in some of the most important Filipino films” including “Himala,” among others.

Ricardo “Ricky” Lee, National Artist for Film and Broadcast Arts

Ricardo “Ricky” Lee is a screenwriter for film and television, journalist, playwright, and multi-awarded author who published numerous novels, plays, essays, and short story collections along with his screenplays and screenwriting manuals.

Lee emerged in screenwriting in the late 1970s as part of the generation of filmmakers who ushered the “Second Golden Age of Philippine Cinema.” The scriptwriter of “Himala” is also known for his other notable works such as “Salome” and “Brutal,” among others.

Lee was an English major at UP’s Department of English and Comparative Literature and later taught screenwriting at the College of Mass Communication in UP Diliman.

Marilou Diaz-Abaya, National Artist for Film and Broadcast Arts

Marilou Diaz-Abaya was an award-winning film and television director and screenwriter known for her works that formed part of the “Second Golden Age of Philippine Cinema“.

The Filipino filmmaker’s body of work probes “human experiences drawn from social conflicts” among characters of contradictory beliefs and value systems, and is most notable for feminist films such as “Brutal,” “Moral,” and “Karnal,” among many others. Diaz-Abaya also directed the critically acclaimed “Rizal” and “Muro-Ami”.

Gemino Abad, National Artist for Literature

Dr. Gémino Henson Abad is a writer, critic, scholar, literary historian, and anthologist from Cebu. He has written several books including poetry volumes, nine volumes of literary criticism, two volumes on his own poetics, two short story collections, a five-volume historical anthology of Philippine poetry in English, and a six-volume anthology of Philippine short stories in English.

Abad has won numerous national literary awards such as the Gawad Dangal ng Lahi given by the Carlos Palanca Memorial Foundation, the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for his poetry, the CCP Award for Poetry, the Ani ng Dangal Award of the NCCA, and the UMPIL’s Gawad Alagad ni Balagtas for lifetime achievement in poetry and literary criticism, among others.

Abad earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from the UP College of Liberal Arts in Diliman and taught English, comparative literature, and creative writing at UP Diliman. He also served 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.

Fides Cuyugan-Asensio, National Artist for Music

Fides Cuyugan-Asensio is a Filipino coloratura soprano, actress, director, librettist, translator, and teacher. Her involvement in the field of opera for many decades shaped the Philippine artistic scene and contributed to a Renaissance of classical musical theater in the country.

The opera icon served as the Chair of the Voice and Music Theater Department in the UP College of Music and was conferred the title of Professor Emeritus by the UP Board of Regents upon her retirement.

Antonio “Tony” Mabesa, National Artist for Theater

Antonio “Tony” Mabesa, known as the Lion of the Theater, was a director, actor, and, teacher whose work greatly contributed to the growth and diversity of Philippine theater.

Mabesa finished high school at the UP Rural High School and earned his Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from UP Los Baños (UPLB). He joined the Department of Speech Communications and Drama in UP Diliman and founded the Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas (Dulaang UP) as well as the UP Playwright’s Theater (UPPT).

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Margo is a voracious reader - some might even say she reads too much for her own good. She majored in BS Psychology and hopes to become a forensic psychologist one day. She’s also an aspiring writer, mental health advocate, and a staunch believer of equality.