Philippines President Benigno Aquino on Tuesday defended a controversial decision he made to withhold a top award from one of the country’s accomplished film stars because of a drug conviction.

Last month’s snub against 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 aired 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 Artist 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. Aunor said she was hurt by Aquino’s action.