Benigno Aquino

Aquino explains why he denied actress national award over drug conviction

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 July, 2014, 10:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 27 April, 2015, 5:21pm

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has defended a controversial decision he made to withhold a top award from one of the country's most accomplished film stars because of a drug conviction.

Last month's snub of multi-award-winning actress Nora Aunor sparked a nationwide furore, with millions of fans insisting no one deserved a "national artist" prize more than the 61-year-old fondly nicknamed the "Superstar".

"Ms Nora Aunor has been convicted for drugs and was punished for it ... By making her a national artist are we putting out the right message?" Aquino told a news conference broadcast on national television.

"I respect her and I recognise her body of work. But our message of zero tolerance against drugs takes priority."

The Order of National Artists award, issued by presidential proclamation, recognises a person's significant contributions to the development of Philippine arts and letters.

The honour includes a cash prize, monthly pension for life and a state funeral when the awardee dies.

Reacting to the snub, Aunor said on Sunday she was hurt by Aquino's action but overwhelmed by the public support.

Six awardees were announced, taking the total to just 66, including six in the film industry, since it was created in 1972.

From humble beginnings Aunor - born Nora Villamayor - burst onto the entertainment scene in the 1960s as a singer.

But her personal life has suffered several setbacks, including an arrest in the United States for illegal drug possession, and ties to various scandal-plagued Filipino politicians.