Luminare Awards: The shady side of honoring ‘excellence’ exposed

The buzz surrounding the alleged P15,000-per-award scheme of the Asia Pacific Luminare Awards makes us rethink how we approach recognition and award-giving bodies.

The 8th Asia Pacific Luminare Awards (APLA) have now become—in true Filipino humor and social media fashion—the stuff of criticism and memes ever since details of its questionable standards were revealed.

An “Outstanding Broadcast Company in Ethical Journalism” award was given to SMNI or Sonshine Media Network International, the broadcasting arm of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ (KJC) led by Filipino televangelist and religious leader Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy who, in 2021, was indicted by a federal grand jury in a California US District Court for conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking by force, fraud and coercion and sex trafficking of children. SMNI is also known for red-tagging activists or a far-right coverage of “news.” Luminare Awards’ “pay-per-award” setup was also revealed in a Facebook post by veteran photojournalist Jimmy Domingo.

APLA’s Facebook home page is just the tip of the red flag iceberg.

First off, for all the superlatives that APLA can afford, isn’t it weird to hold an awarding like this more than once a year? The 7th APLA took place just last May 2023. Or are they saying that the 8th is a spillover of awards from the 7th?

Second, while a Google search locates their office in Filinvest, Alabang, plotting the address on their Facebook page on Street View reveals that the supposed location of APLA’s “headquarters” is in an area like what’s shown below.

Also, APLA uses what seems to be a personal email for inquiries. It’s also odd to have “luminareawards2018” as your address, considering that, well, it’s already 2023. 

Where are we? This is what appears on Street View when you plot APLA’s address.

Even more sketchy (and absurdly humorous) are the oddly specific awards that seem to be made especially for the awardees. We’re talking about awards laden with superlatives and lofty descriptors like “Asia Pacific Promising Young Singer & Runway Kid Model of the Year; A Certified Masterpiece Talent” and “Asia Pacific Most Remarkable Mud Shadow Artist of the Year.” Granted, we can recognize talent where it’s due, but isn’t it quite strange to confer an accolade that’s almost tailor-fit to the awardee, especially if the title is as niche as it gets?

Scanning the awardees reveals there are a few notable names on their roster: celebrities, social media influencers, and politicians being recognized as excellent, most inspiring, and a whole new host of superlatives. The other awardees, meanwhile, seem to actually be doing impressive work within their spheres and communities. Maybe there is some merit to some of these awards?

There are personalities, businesses, and other groups that are virtually unknown. Placing their photos alongside the superlatives, on top of the “Asia” or “Asia Pacific” modifier elicited more questions than admiration: who are these people? Who else was nominated? How were they selected for these awards? 

This brings me back to Domingo’s Facebook post. It is unfair to assume that all the winners paid for the awards, but it is safe to say that a good chunk of them did. And if so, it makes us ask: why bother shelling out five digits for a questionable award? 

Recognition feels great, but will it still bear some weight if you paid for it?

It’s true that recognition feels great. Awards validate one’s efforts, impress others, and boost our chances at opportunities in life. Don’t we love brandishing awards or certificates whenever we apply for jobs? Even if we say otherwise, don’t we crave the slightest bit of recognition after a bout of hard work? And besides, who are we, ordinary folk behind a screen, to take away the significance of these accolades from their respective awardees?

Yes, it seems that the APLA carries (or carried) some weight. Or perhaps these awardees were not aware of the award-giving body’s shady practices—or maybe they just turned a blind eye. 

I point this out because the official websites of some of these awardees (or the organizations that they are affiliated with) have published messages of gratitude toward APLA for recognizing them. We’re talking state universities (see here and here for more examples) and local government units, for instance. 

Even major media outlets have previously reported on the awards won by certain celebrities in APLA. That this award-giving organization made the rounds on official platforms seemingly unscathed (until recently) casts a shadow of doubt on how awardees and their affiliated organizations actually screen and scrutinize accolades being conferred unto them. Are they complicit to this economy of recognition, or are they just unaware?

The nail in the coffin was the questionable award for SMNI (as of writing, the Facebook post announcing this has been put down). To this point, I think it was just “bad” timing (for APLA, at least), because the media network has apparently already won something from them back in 2022. 

Moreover, SMNI also won awards from a similar award-giving body: the Asian Sterling Awards (what’s with the fascination with Asia?). The parallels are uncanny—an award for SMNI (this time, their coverage of the presidential elections was recognized), another round of insanely specific awards (and a new set of superlatives), major sponsors as awardees, and several red flags in their official channels (typographical errors, superfluous mission/vision statements, and the like). Several internet users have also pointed out that the award-giving body follows the “pay-per-award” setup.

There’s also an interesting clause in the Asian Sterling Awards’ website: “All winners shall be presented with advertising opportunities on top of using the official Sterling Awards Seals with exposure on Traditional and NonTraditional Media, Digital Media as well as Public Relations.”

In short, publicity for its own sake. The awards are just a means to get some publicity and a gateway toward possible greater exposure. Where’s the spotlight on actual merit?

The home page of the Asian Sterling Awards.

Has APLA cheapened recognition and awards? Globally recognized award-giving bodies, seemingly credible as they are, are not free from bias or criticism either—one only needs to look at Hollywood and the conversations about race and gender once awards season approaches and concludes. 

Or maybe we should rethink how we approach and treat awards. There is a case to be made against chasing accolades for its own sake, but it can’t be helped when we’re trapped and are often complicit in a system that elevates or opens more opportunities to people who are given undeserved merit and recognition.

It’s gravely naive to think that one’s hard work and raw talent are enough to land us opportunities or propel us further in life. But those who aren’t privileged do value and use such accolades as a stepping stone toward greener pastures and a better life.

We cannot take that away from them. 

The new lifestyle.