Get to know the Philippines’ 8 new National Artists

The life and contributions of these great Filipino artists

It’s been 50 years since visual artist Fernando Amorsolo became the first National Artist of the Philippines. Since 1972, the Order of National Artists of the Philippines has been regarded as “the highest national recognition given to Filipino individuals who have made significant contributions to the development of Philippine arts.” Today, we celebrate a new roster of esteemed Filipino artists as the Malacañang Palace declared its National Artists for 2022.

On June 10, the Palace, together with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), officially announced eight new National Artists by virtue of Proclamation no. 1390.

Let’s get to know the life and contributions of these great Filipino artists.

NATIONAL ARTISTS 2022 From left: Salvacion Lim Higgins (Photo from @slimsfashion); Ricky Lee; Agnes Locsin (Photo by Jojo Mamangun from Facebook); Gemino Abad (Photo from Facebook); Marilou Diaz-Abaya; Fides Cuyugan-Asensio (Still from CCP Youtube channel); Tony Mabesa; and Nora Aunor

DANCE: Agnes Locsin

Born on Sept. 28, 1957, Agnes Locsin came from a family of dancers. Her mother Carmen Dakudao, the wife of Jose Severino Locsin, is among the pioneering ballet teachers in Davao. She finished her degree in English at the Ateneo de Davao University in 1979 and went on to pursue a master of arts in dance at the Ohio State University in the US in 1981.

Agnes is known for her “neo-ethnic” movement in dance, having produced pieces that celebrate Filipino heritage—traditions, beliefs, and rituals—in a contemporary manner. Among her award-winning works are “La Revolucion Filipina,” a 1996 piece about Apolinario Mabini, and the 1987 “Igorot,” which was performed in Amsterdam in 1987.

Throughout her career as a noted choreographer, Agnes became the artistic director of Ballet Philippines and a dance consultant to Tanghalang Pilipino and the Philippine Educational Theater Association. Today, she continues to share her knowledge of the craft through her mother’s studio, the Locsin Dance Workshop in Davao City, one of the oldest dance schools in the country.

DESIGN (FASHION): Salvacion Lim-Higgins

While Cristobal Balenciaga and Christian Dior revolutionized fashion in the ’50s, in the Philippines, it was Salvacion Lim-Higgins who was breaking away from tradition by introducing experimental design, details, and silhouettes. Famously known as Slim, she was among the many Filipinos credited for making the terno a work of art.

“Her designs could rival the haute couture coming out of Paris in the ’50s and ’60s,” CITEM executive director Pauline Juan once told Manila Bulletin Lifestyle. “Slim was a designer in the truest sense, who drew the most exquisite clothes and knew exactly how to cut and construct them.”

Born on Jan. 28, 1920 in Legazpi, Albay, Slim continues to influence Philippine fashion through the Slims Fashion and Arts School. According to Philippine Fashion Coalition’s Jackie Aquino, she is the only Filipino designer whose dresses are part of the collections of the Smithsonian and Victoria & Albert museums.


Nora Aunor is known for many names, including Guy in the entertainment industry and Nora Villamayor in real life. But to her staunch supporters, she is the one and only Superstar of Philippine cinema. Born in Camarines Sur on May 21, 1953, Nora is a premier actress with performances seen on film, TV, and on stage.

First discovered as a champion of nationwide singing competition “Tawag ng Tanghalan” in 1967, Nora went on to become an award-winning actress, with Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS), Gawad Urian, and Philippine Movie Press Club (PMPC) awards under her belt. Her works have also been recognized in international film festivals like the Cannes Film Festival, Berlin Film Festival, and Cairo International Film Festival.

Nora has bought to life many roles on the big screen. Her most notable cinematic performances can be seen in Lino Brocka’s “Bona,” Ishmael Bernal’s “Himala,” and Brillante Mendoza’s “Thy Womb.”


Born on March 19, 1948 in Camarines Norte, Ricardo “Ricky” Lee is known for his works as a screenwriter, fictionist, and playwright. But prior to becoming the master writer that he is today, Ricky did a number of odd jobs to save money, which he used to finance his education at the University of the Philippines (UP). During his college days, he became an activist against the dictatorship of former president Ferdinand Marcos Sr., and never finished his English degree at the university.

Ricky penned numerous screenplay, including “Brutal,” “Himala,” “Karnal,” and “Muro-ami.” He went on to write scripts for theater as well, among them is “Pitik Bulag sa Buwan ng Pebrero” and “Balisawsaw, Pusong Ligaw.” In 2008, he released his first novel, “Para Kay B,” followed by “Si Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata” in 2011.

He is also a decorated writer with accolades coming from the Carlos Palanca Foundation, Manila Critics Circle, Gawad Urian, FAMAS, and Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP). In 2019, he was conferred the doctor of humanities by the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. Today, he helps upcoming writers with his free workshop, The Ricky Lee Writers’ Studio.


A noted Filipino director and screenwriter, Marilou Diaz-Abaya used her craft to open Filipinos’ eyes to the truth of what is happening in society. Her career as a filmmaker soared with the film “Brutal” in 1980, depicting a story of a woman who killed her abusive husband, marking the beginning of her “feminist trilogy.” It was followed by “Moral” (1982) focusing on four female students of UP exploring taboo topics such as abortion, rape, and gender inequality. Finishing the trilogy is “Karnal” (1983), centering on a couple who moved to Manila in the 1930s, exposing the “violence wrought by the male chauvinism and despotism.”

During her career as a filmmaker, Marilou received numerous recognitions from Metro Manila Film Festival, FAMAS, and Gawad Urian, and a Fukuoka Prize for Culture and Arts in Japan in 2001. She had trained aspiring filmmakers with the establishment of the Marilou Diaz-Abaya Film Institute and Arts Center in 2007. She passed away on Oct. 8, 2012.


Being the son of noted writer Antonio M. Abad and Jesusa Henson, it was almost inevitable for Gemino Abad to also pursue a life in the literature field. Born in Manila on Feb. 5, 1939, he produced a number of poems, stories, and essays recognized by the Carlos Palanca Foundation, Manila Critics Circle, and the NCCA.

In 1992, he was cited in The Oxford Companion to the English Language and became the first Filipino recipient of the Premio Feronia of Rome, Italy in 2009.

A true master of his craft, with a master’s and doctorate degree from the University of Chicago, Gemino “holds the highest academic rank as university professor at UP, and its emeritus university professor of creative writing.”

THEATER: Tony Mabesa

An acting veteran with performances gracing TV, film, and theater, Antonio “Tony” Mabesa was dubbed the “Lion of the Theater.” Born on Jan. 27, 1935 in Laguna, the actor appeared in over 60 TV shows, 130 films, and became a part of 170 local and international productions. His theatrical career started at the UP Rural High School. During his time taking up agriculture studies at UP Los Baños, he was mentored by National Artist for Theater Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero, which led him to pursue a master’s degree in theater arts at the University of California.

In 1975, he returned to his alma mater as one of the faculty members of the then Department of Speech and Drama. A year after that, he became the founding artistic director of Dulaang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas (DUP). In 2002, he became professor emeritus of theater at the Department of Speech Communication and Theater Arts (DSCTA) at the UP.

His works were recognized by the Society of Philippine Entertainment Editors and Aliw Awards. His performance in the 2018 “Rainbow’s Sunset” earned him the Best Actor and Gold Remi awards at the Houston International Film Festival. He passed away on Oct. 4, 2019 in Quezon City.

MUSIC: Fides Cuyugan-Asensio

A singer, actress, director, and librettist, Fides Cuyugan-Asensio completes the list of the newly declared National Artists of the Philippines this 2022. Born on Aug. 1, 1931 in Quezon Province, Fides got her English degree from Philippine Women’s University in 1950. The following year, she studied music. And in 1955, she obtained an artist’s diploma, major in voice, from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.

With her vocal prowess, Fides is known as an opera singer and has performed in numerous operas and sarsuwelas, here and abroad. Apart from performing, she has also written some librettos, directed many operas, and honed some of today’s opera singers.

Fides was included in Victoria Paz’s 1999 National Centennial Commission book “Outstanding Women of the Philippines,” got a Pama-as Gintong Bai Award for Music Arts from the NCCA in 2005, and a Gawad CCP Para sa Sining in 2015.

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