Tag Archive | "Mideo Cruz"

Inquirer’s Conservative Catholicism Deserves Greater Public Recognition


Recently, our own Marguerite de Leon challenged the Philippine Daily Inquirer to explain itself for putting a puff piece on Pedro Calungsod as its editorial. De Leon also noted the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s recent history of innuendo against “unrepentant” secularists and liberals. In de Leon’s original open letter, she questioned the editorial, which fawned over “a story that is not based on a shred of evidence and is only sincerely believed by some people.” She was referring to a 2002 story of the revival of a clinically dead woman, whose recovery was attributed to the long dead man, Pedro Calungsod (1654–1672). Despite the lack of evidence for the story (such evidence would surely merit at least a passing mention in a medical journal), the respected broadsheet peddled the event as fact and elevated it into its editorial.

For de Leon’s trouble, the Inquirer editorial team’s response was one sentence: “We suggest that De Leon read the editorial more closely for its main message.” And, she did. She wrote a response reiterating her questioning of the lack of evidence for the event in the original editorial asking, “What other evidence-less things do you not only take for granted, but are more than willing to broadcast to the public as the ‘truth’?”

The Inquirer’s editorials have often been suspiciously reminiscent of conservative Catholic talking points, such as when it drew the ire of the art community for comparing Mideo Cruz’s Poleteismo piece to “terrorism.” In this piece, the editorial went so far as to explain the theological distinction between veneration and worship, as if to avoid for itself the common accusation by non-Catholics against Catholics of “worshipping saints.”

That the Inquirer spends so much ink on Catholic diatribes isn’t a surprise as it is a frequent winner of Catholic Mass Media Awards (the Inquirer won 3 this year). However, it is curious that even with the seasoned experience for pro-Catholic bias of the editorial team of the Inquirer (including its anti-RH propagandist, Jess Abrera), they couldn’t find any rational response against De Leon’s queries.

The first letter to the editor they published since De Leon about the matter praised the Inquirer for “reporting about Catholicism as it should be.” Interestingly, the author of this letter was herself a contributor to the Inquirer. A commenter on the online version of the letter pointed out that the writer commended the Inquirer for explaining the doctrine of canonization to “our readers”—a telling slip-up.

Just today, the Inquirer published a second letter to the editor, billed as a “rejoinder” to the first one. The letter lauded the Inquirer for helping “bring the Filipino martyr to the attention (and awareness) of many Catholics in the country (and perhaps in other parts of the world)”—at the expense of non-believers of Catholic doctrine. Not surprisingly, this writer has had a writing relationship with the Inquirer, writing twice for Youngblood.

It does seem rather peculiar, but not impossible, for two people with established relations with the Inquirer to selflessly defend the paper of their own volition—saving the Inquirer from getting its hands dirty. Though, the matter of the possibility of more underhanded motives is at least worthy of noting here.

Now, of course the Philippine Daily Inquirer is free to take any position it desires. It is, however, not free to make up its own facts (especially those of a medical nature, which people might take as serious advice to pursue supernatural cures). It is only fair to us non-Catholic paying customers of the Philippine Daily Inquirer for it to finally respond to De Leon and either confirm or deny if it should be more aptly considered as the proud “Catholic Inquirer.”

Image credit: Dance journalists dance!

Posted in ReligionComments (108)

Blasphemy and the Right to Blaspheme

A couple of weeks ago, actor-director-advocate Mae Paner (a.k.a. Juana Change) assembled a tremendous panoply of talent to produce the video you see below. For some reason, she also invited me, but anyone who can see past the travesty of my accent will surely enjoy and be challenged by the ideas contained herein. I firmly believe that pieces such as this embody what the artists’ community meant by utilizing the religious conservatives’ bullying and politicians’ opportunism as an opportunity to educate citizens of all ages.

Religious conservatives don’t belong to just the Catholic faith. In September 30 2005, an artist in Denmark published a cartoon that caused Muslim conservatives to call for his death over blasphemy. Join the international community in marking September 30 as “International Blasphemy Rights Day.” With the CBCP actively trying to create a blasphemy law despite the UN Human Rights Commission declaring that blasphemy is a human right, this day is highly relevant to the Philippines.

Image from mattcbr.wordpress.com

Posted in Religion, Society, VideoComments (10)

On Dicks and Double Standards: Misplaced Reactions to Misplaced Phalluses

An artist puts a penis on a poster of Jesus and on a symbol of the Christian cross. A priest puts a penis inside the mouth and vagina of a 17-year-old girl. Which is more offensive? Which is more deserving of a Christian’s disgust and damnation?

When conservative Catholics learned of Mideo Cruz’s juxtaposition of Jesuses and phalluses in an art gallery in the Cultural Center of the Philippines, they were furious. They wanted heads to roll — at least Mideo’s — and heads to resign — whoever was in charge of displaying Mideo’s blasphemy.

They wrote and sent hate mail, hate text, and even death threats, harassing anyone who had the slightest thing to do with Mideo’s sacrilege. They created Facebook groups and pages to express their hate for Mideo and to get others to hate him just as much. They condemned artist and artwork, saying these were not artist and artwork, even lecturing experts on what it means to be both. They vandalized Mideo’s “artwork” and called the violence justified. They called for a Senate investigation and even a national Day of Penance, showing how the entire country should be angry at and sorry for what Mideo did to their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

But Mideo never really hurt anyone — Jesus least of all — with his work. The degree of hurt brought about by offense is debatable, but one thing is clear: he did not hurt anyone physically.

Compare that to what was done to a girl who was hurt so badly she now has to hide behind a fake name. “Leah” filed charges of rape, acts of lasciviousness, and child abuse against Fr. Raul Cabonce of St. Anne Parish in Tubay, Agusan del Norte.

If we’re to believe Leah, Fr. Cabonce forcefully molested her on several occasions, groping her private parts despite her protestations. Fr. Cabonce forced Leah to perform oral sex at least twice. He did this so violently that he made her gums bleed. The sexual harassment and assault eventually escalated to rape.

Talking about an experience like this would be difficult for anybody, but Fr. Cabonce made sure it would be torture for Leah. He threatened to curse Leah and her family if she told anyone. He also made sure Leah saw the guns in his room whenever he sexually assaulted her. Spiritual and physical blackmail.

For what he’s allegedly done, all that Fr. Cabonce got was a transfer to a different diocese, far away from his former servant and sexual object, safe and comfy in a Bishop’s palace.

How did conservative Catholics react to the news of Fr. Cabonce and Leah? What was the reaction of those who so furiously condemned Mideo and the CCP board? Did they send hate mail and death threats? Did they create Facebook groups and pages? Did they doubt Fr. Cabonce’s priesthood or question the authority of those who decided he could be one? Did they ask anyone to resign? Did they commit violence and call it justified? Did they call for a Senate investigation, Day of Penance, or even a public apology?

Mideo Cruz put phallic symbols on a symbol of Jesus and a symbol of his cross. None of the symbols refused. None of the symbols got hurt. Fr. Cabonce forced his actual penis into a living 17-year-old girl’s actual mouth. He eventually forced his actual penis into her actual vagina. In both instances, the girl refused. In both instances, the girl got hurt.

Which is more offensive? Which is more deserving of a Christian’s disgust and damnation?
image by frisno

Posted in Religion, SocietyComments (20)

God Goes to a Freedom of Expression Rally

To the protesters of the artwork “Poleteismo,”

The universe is composed of millions and millions of galaxies. Inside a single galaxy are millions and millions of solar systems. In one solar system, among millions, there is a star Earthlings call the sun. Around that sun are several planets. One of those planets is called Earth. The planet Earth has around 6.94 billion people.

The planet Earth has several continents. One of those continents is called Asia. Somewhere in Southeast Asia you can find a country called the Philippines. The Philippines has 7,107 islands. Sometimes it has 7,108, depending on the tide or depending on my mood. Those islands are divided into three areas – Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

In Luzon, there is a city called Manila. In that city, there was an exhibit. In that exhibit, one artist displayed an artwork that was blasphemous.

So fucking what?

Gentlemen, I run the universe. Do you really think I’d give a fuck about one artwork, by one artist, in one exhibit, in one city, in one country, in one continent, in one planet, in one solar system, when I have billions of galaxies to worry about?

I’m God, dude. Like I told you in my last letter to mankind, I don’t sweat the small stuff because I have important things to do: plagues, diseases, earthquakes, epic, shock-and-awe, apocalyptic, God stuff.

Imagine a droplet of pee hanging at the edge of the rim of a random toilet bowl. Now, imagine that in that droplet of pee are millions of tiny little germs. Now, imagine that one germ from those million germs makes an artwork you do not appreciate. Are you going to go there and punish that germ?

You wouldn’t, right? Because the germ is so amazingly irrelevant, inconsequential, insignificant and unimportant to your existence that you would be embarrassed to even think of considering feeling even slightly bothered about some germ.

You know how you feel about the germ’s art? That’s how I feel about the “blasphemous” exhibit.

I am not offended.

In fact, I don’t care at all.

So, stop praying about how I should send fireballs from the sky and blow up some art because some dude put my image in vain. I told you, praying doesn’t work. I have a divine plan and my plan is divine so it’s better than your plan, so shut up.

I mean, seriously, do you think that the creator of the universe and a million galaxies would be “offended” by an artwork?

Just to show you how annoyed I am at these assumptions, I went out of my way and descended from heaven to attend the “free speech” rally myself.

I was there.

When I first got there, I was told that the march might not push through because of the rain. So, I was like, “Nah! I’ll handle that.” So, that’s me stopping the rain:

I was also introduced to Mideo Cruz. He was like, “I’m sorry if you were offended Jesus, there was a statement I wanted to make so I had to use your image in vain.” I was like, “Don’t worry about it, dude. Blasphemy is a human right.” So, that’s me forgiving Mideo Cruz:

That’s me NOT being offended:

That’s me being handsome:

That’s me having a little chat with Kenneth Keng. He’s like, “Hey Jesus, I’m a Christian.” I’m like, “Awesome, man. We’ll hang out later.” That guy on my left is Red Tani. He doesn’t talk to me. We will not “hang out” later:

I’m just kidding, people. I’m not really God.

I’m just some dude dressed up like this guy:

I seriously wanted to dress up like God, unfortunately, I didn’t know what God looked like. I’ve never seen Him before. Have you? See, when you accuse someone of using God’s image in vain, the premise has to be that you know what God’s image looks like, right?

So, tell me, what does God look like?

Posted in Humor, Religion, SocietyComments (6)

Filipino Freethinkers March in Solidarity with Palayain ang Sining


(August 21, 2011) Cultural Center of the Philippines, Pasay City – The Filipino Freethinkers marched with Palayain ang Sining to commemorate Kulo’s now-thwarted closing day, and to show solidarity with our country’s fearless and passionate artistic community. Filipino Freethinkers brought placards that, among other things, said the following:

One man’s belief is another man’s blasphemy.
“I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” – Voltaire
Censorship is so 12th century.
Censorship is offensive.
Censorship: protecting you from reality.
Blasphemy is a human right – United Nations
One freethinker marched in a Jesus costume and held a sign that said, “I am not offended.”

“The issue has definitely riled up individuals both in and out of the artistic community,” said Kenneth Keng, spokesperson of Filipino Freethinkers.

“It’s a reminder of our intrinsic right to freedom of expression,” said Keng. “In light of the UN’s affirmation that blasphemy is indeed a human right, it couldn’t have come at a more poignant time.”

Garrick Bercero of Filipino Freethinkers expounded on UN’s affirmation, at the same time reminding enemies of free speech of the resolution’s importance:

“It is encouraging that more enlightened bodies such as the Human Rights Council of the United Nations has released General Comment No. 34, which affirms the superiority of the right to free speech over the so-called right against blasphemy. Sorry, Atty. Imbong. General Comment No. 34 was put out by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which the Philippines is a member. As a signatory and ratifier, the Philippines is legally bound by international law to follow GC34.

“Members of the ICCPR are required ‘to guarantee the right to freedom of expression… This right includes… political discourse, commentary on one’s own and on public affairs, canvassing, discussion of human rights, journalism, cultural and artistic expression, teaching, and religious discourse. It may also include commercial advertising.’ The comment instructs members to embrace ‘even expression that may be regarded as deeply offensive….’”

For news coverage of the event, click here.

Image courtesy of GMA News

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Palayain ang Sining! A Solidarity March for Freedom of Expression

Calling all Freethinkers!

August 21, Sunday, was supposed to be the last day of the Kulo Exhibit, but due to all the furor surrounding Mideo Cruz’s Poleteismo,it has been regrettably shut down. The issue has definitely riled up individuals both in and out of the artistic community, reminding them of our intrinsic right to freedom of speech and expression. And in light of the UN’s affirmation that blasphemy is indeed a human right(http://filipinofreethinkers.org/2011/08/14/un-affirms-blasphemy-as-a-human-right/), it couldn’t have come at a more poignant time.

In commemoration of Kulo’s now-thwarted closing day, and to show our solidarity with our country’s fearless and passionate artistic community, a march for freedom of expression will take place on the afternoon of the 21st.

Marchers will congregate at the side entrance of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (across the Harbor Square-side parking lot) at 1 PM, and will march up the center’s main ramp. Bring banners, placards, small artworks, and your own unique way of supporting the freedom of expression, and rejecting censorship and persecution. Please wear white.

For coordination, you can text Kenneth Keng at 09179681387.

We’ll see you there!

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EPIC Meetup Recap: The One with Karen Ocampo Flores, Mideo Cruz, and Carlitos Siguion-Reyna


The man on the left is visual artist Mideo Cruz, he of the hotly contested Poleteismo, and to his right is FF President Red Tani, he of the hipster glasses obviously stolen from the other dude. This photo was taken during the very epic FF meetup held last Saturday, wherein all three hours were consumed discussing the hoopla surrounding Cruz’s work, how people have been reacting to it, and what should be done to progress properly in light of the issue.


The mere mention of the CCP debacle on our meetup invite apparently piqued a lot of people’s interest. The entire second floor of Starbucks Ansons was packed. There were roughly 50 people in attendance, and the crowd was a great mix of regulars, newbies, and oldies back from the dead. Nowhere did we announce that Mideo and other folks involved more intimately in the issue would be present, so it was very heartening to see so many faces there purely out of the desire for discourse.


Nevertheless, we were extremely honored that several persons key to the issue were there to share their thoughts. As mentioned, the artist himself was there, and he disclosed to us the extent of the hateful threats he has received since the whole controversy began, as well as his insights into art-making and putting his pieces out for public consumption. Fortunately, he was quite adamant in standing by Poleteismo. 


Also present was Karen Ocampo Flores, the former Museum and Visual Arts Director of the CCP who resigned from her post due to this whole debacle (and whose reaction to the Dakdakan forum can be read here). A very important point she raised during the meetup was the media’s accountability in the issue. She said that the media’s oversimplification and sensationalism were quite detrimental to the whole debate, and drove home the point that Filipinos need to be better educated on the value of art and art appreciation in order for them to think for themselves.


Another very special surprise that day was the presence of renowned film director Carlitos Siguion-Reyna. Carlitos is currently working on a project greatly significant to the entire Poleteismo issue — the passage of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB)/Freedom of Expression Bill (you can join the FB group here), which aims to pry the Philippines away from the Dark Ages and better classify which films have true value and are fit for public consumption, and which films do not.


Working with Carlitos on the bill’s passage is Dino Manrique, who was also present. A familiar face in the local literary scene, Dino shared his thoughts on educating the masses regarding art, and how art critics could have had a more public voice in the matter to lend everyone a richer perspective.


Most of the meetup was thus a very engaging discussion on how art ought to be digested. Should artists be obligated to explain their work? To what extent are people responsible for informing themselves regarding the arts?  Suffice it to say that the topic was very refreshing and made for passionate discussion.

Again, we were thrilled that so many people took it upon themselves to come and participate in our latest meetup. We’d like to think that is a taste of things to come. Since the very first meetup in February 2009, the FF meetups have been venues for richer and richer discussions amongst an increasingly diverse group of people, and we look forward to seeing more of you in the next one.

Photos courtesy of Patrick Charles Rigonan 

Posted in Meetup, Politics, Recap, SocietyComments (5)

UN Affirms Blasphemy as a Human Right

A constant in the unfolding controversy regarding Mideo Cruz is the debate on the right to free speech. The Palayain ang Sining movement has insisted that this isn’t just about Cruz’s work but about the right to free expression. And, ultimately, it is. It doesn’t matter whether you do not find the work aesthetically appealing or even worthy of attention. What is at stake is the right of artists, of human beings, to speak out.

Every conservative with one or two inches of column space has jumped on their rallying cry of “free speech is not absolute.” The claim that Cruz’s piece, which involved a penis on the image of a Caucasian Jesus Christ, was offensive to Catholics (they insist on “Christian” just to bump their numbers up) is being used by the personnel of the CBCP, such as Atty. Jo Imbong, in filing a suit against the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP).

What is hard to imagine is that something as essential to human rights as free speech even needs defending. It is as if the Catholics have forgotten that, once upon a time, their religion too was in the minority and was persecuted for heresies. The right to free speech is not absolute, yes, but it is abridged only by the risk of actual harm. Offense does not constitute real harm, according to our current understanding of the word. It is quite easy to pretend to be offended and even easier to organize an entire religion around the notion of offense.

This real harm is brought to bear by provable nonsense such as faith healing Masses that are regularly advertised on street banners. This real harm is caused by ex-gay clinics run by fundamentalist Christians. It seems clear that freedom of speech is only limited in the view of conservatives whenever it is convenient for them to curtail it. I wouldn’t be surprised if religious leaders cry persecution should the FDA start regulating these leaders’ therapeutic claims.

It is therefore encouraging that more enlightened bodies such as the Human Rights Council of the United Nations has released General Comment No. 34, which affirms the superiority of the right to free speech over the so-called right against blasphemy. Sorry, Atty. Imbong. General Comment No. 34 was put out by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), of which the Philippines is a member. As a signatory and ratifier, the Philippines is legally bound by international law to follow GC34. In the comment, it says that, “Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant….”

Members of the ICCPR are required “to guarantee the right to freedom of expression… This right includes… political discourse, commentary on one’s own and on public affairs, canvassing, discussion of human rights, journalism, cultural and artistic expression, teaching, and religious discourse. It may also include commercial advertising.” The comment instructs members to embrace “even expression that may be regarded as deeply offensive….” However, GC34 allows for laws against speech that could incite violence, discrimination, or hostility against a race, nation, or religion.

Certainly, there was no incitement of violence in Cruz’s piece against any person. If only the conservative Catholics offended by his work would extend the same courtesy. With death threats against Cruz and members of the CCP board, and threats against the security of the CCP, fundamentalists are keen on using their Constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech to the point of breaking. The fierceness with which they try to defend their sensibilities betrays insecurity, I think. It reveals a sliver of unsureness, that their beliefs aren’t capable of surviving criticism or a bit of reassessment.

With General Comment No. 34, the Philippine government may be compelled to repeal all the repressive and retrograde blasphemy laws we have in our books that the clerico-fascists keep dusting off and pulling out whenever society dares to go against their medieval aspirations.

The right to free speech protects not the pleasing ideas that we can all agree on, but the ones that we find most outrageous and unappealing. GC34 affirms that “Freedom of opinion and freedom of expression are indispensable conditions for the full development of the person. They are essential for any society. They constitute the foundation stone for every free and democratic society.” But the conservative extremists in the Philippines seem hellbent on eschewing democracy and liberty in favor of their own mangled notion of freedom.

It is not just the rights of Cruz and the CCP that the Church aims to restrict. It is the right of each and every one of us to hear what Cruz and what every other artist, every other person, has to say. And if what we hear is offensive, then we get to decide that, not the Church and certainly not someone who needs to preface every statement with “I’m a Thomasian.”

Image from new.exchristian.net

Posted in Politics, ReligionComments (13)

Comment on “Freedom from Offense is Offensive to Human Rights”

Why should the CCP be compelled to shut down an art exhibit simply because Mideo Cruz’s iconoclastic works are deemed by some religious quarters to be blasphemous and obscene? Why should religious beliefs be exempt from satirical criticism and be deemed worthier of respect than freedom of inquiry and expression, which is the lifeblood of democracy? The problem with the state’s accommodation of religious prejudices is that it dignifies a mindset that claims immunity from criticism and any obligation to prove its ideas to be true and thus worthy of respect. When the state indulges sectarian sensibilities to the extent of censoring criticism of sectarian prejudices out of fear that criticism might incite religious unrest, it reinforces religious fanatics’ sense of entitlement and emboldens them to engage in acts or threats of violence that would have incurred legal recrimination had they not been committed in the name of god and faith.

Who is the offended party in the case of a painting of a long-haired and bearded man, with a wooden penis attached to his face where his nose should be? Does the figure represent any real person, living or dead, which warrants the flak that Mideo Cruz received? Knowledgeable scholars such as archaeologist Israel Finkelstein and bible experts Robert Price and Bart Ehrman have produced volumes of evidence that cast doubt on the historical authenticity of biblical figures such as Abraham, Moses, and even Jesus of Nazareth. The fact that Jesus has been portrayed in varied and often conflicting ways with cherry-picked bible verses – as a preacher of prosperity by dollar-waving evangelists, as a Che Guevara-like revolutionary by liberation theologians, as a miracle-working mystic by Pentecostals, and as a pleasure-hating moralist by conservatives, etc. – should prompt Christians of all sects to critically examine their faith and to observe prudence when their most cherished beliefs are challenged. The “blasphemous” works of Mideo Cruz are no more an excuse for a faith-driven riot by Christian fanatics than the portrayal of Batman and Robin as gay lovers are an excuse for superhero fans to lynch the spoof-makers.

Am I trivializing the anger and pain felt by those offended by the “blasphemous” exhibit? Let it be so! Had I the talent of a Michelangelo, I would have done a wall painting of the 4th century C.E. Alexandrian philosopher Hypatia, a heroine for the cause of reason and secularism. Hypatia was murdered by a mob of Christian fanatics who, at the agitation of Bishop Cyril of Alexandria, dragged her from her chariot, and repeatedly stabbed and cut her up with oyster shells, for her criticism of religious dogmatism and advocacy of separation of secular and religious authority. There would be two images of Hypatia – one at the bottom featuring her mutilated body, over which her murderers gloat and brandish the symbols of their faith, and the other one on center top, with the transfigured body of the resurrected Hypatia being surrounded by historical figures known for their advocacy of freedom, reason, justice and universal fellowship such as Giordano Bruno, Rosa Luxemburg, Emma Goldman, Helen Keller and the like. The heroes of the painting would be set against the background of varied images suggesting humankind’s struggle for progress in science, economy, politics and ethics, reminiscent of Diego Rivera’s wall painting. Hypatia’s torturers would resemble John Paul II, Benedict XVI, Mother Teresa, Aloysius Stepinac, Escriva de Balaguer, Pat Robertson, Osama Bin Laden, Ayatollah Khomeini and other modern-day theocrats. Though the theocrats would be set against the background of a pit with fire and brimstone, they would be unaware their infernal predicament and would even appear to be reveling in it. The principal villains will be surrounded by a supporting cast of cheerleaders that includes Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Tito Soto, Manoling Morato and other religious hypocrites attired in miniskirts and with matching pompoms. The victims of theocracy will be depicted at various phases of their emancipation – some enduring torture, others discarding their burqas or breaking their chain-like rosaries, and the rest of them climbing out of the infernal pit to take part in the ascent of human progress.

Image taken from womanastronomer.com

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Conservative Catholicism as Absurdist Art

I recently had the pleasure of watching the absurdist play HARING +UBU-L XXX staged by the Sipat Lawin Ensemble at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Surprisingly, the content of the play wasn’t the most bizarre and surreal part of my day hanging around the CCP. At the open forum held on the Kulô exhibit and Mideo Cruz’s controversial Poleteismo, Catholic conservatives composed of priests, businessmen, and anti-choice activists lectured artists on what art is, in CCP. Apologies to the Sipat Lawin Ensemble but even their hilarious avant-garde piece couldn’t possibly compete with the sheer audacity of these conservatives.


What the conservative Catholics kept braying about during the forum was that Cruz’s piece offended the majority of Filipinos, which is still dominated by the Catholic Church, just going by the numbers. They still seem unable, however, to fathom the possibility of dissent among their ranks by naively assuming that every person baptized in the Catholic Church as a baby agrees with their single-minded cause of suppressing individual freedoms.

Yolly Gamutan, National Secretary of the Catholic Youth League of the Philippines, should be commended for saying something in the forum that every other conservative has been thinking these past months but was never brave enough to voice out. She said that “…to be Catholic, we cannot be independent in our thinking….” This brief moment of sincerity perfectly frames all the culture war issues in the Philippines right now—from divorce to the ever-contentious RH bill.

The underlying idea being fought over via church bulletin boards, bumper stickers, and Facebook walls is the seemingly novel concept of freedom. In this issue, the CBCP and its cohorts seem unaware that the concept of free expression is meaningless if it were meant only to protect the agreeable but not the offensive. And it appears that the word “freedom” means entirely different things depending on whether a conservative Catholic says it or whether a proponent of free speech says it.

To the conservatives, freedom is simply the “freedom” to act according to God’s will. This Bo Sanchez-esque cliché pervades each and every action the CBCP and its front organizations present to the public. The whole notion of self-determination and the freedom to act according to one’s own independent thoughts and beliefs is alien to them. The clerico-fascism that is the spirit of our times is crusaded for by the Church under the guise of well-meaning and an honest belief that they know better than everyone else. They’re only suppressing liberties because they know for a fact that people couldn’t possibly willfully disobey God or freely choose to go to hell.

Another absurdity proudly flaunted by the conservatives during the open forum was their call for relying on a so-called “absolute universal standard for art”. Instead of progress and a sign of maturity, they see the acceptance of new things as a sign of relativism, which is a mortal sin. The call for universal standards for art itself betrays a sense of crippling self-doubt on the part of the conservatives that the brain their Creator made for them is incapable of reaching its own conclusions. This Creator who is apparently so thin-skinned that even though he is able to create supernovas and black holes, he is still insecure enough to be insulted by what some insignificant creature built in some tiny planet. I am amazed at the gall and bravado of these mere humans who claim to speak for the feelings of an omnipotent deity, saying that God is offended by some art installation no one else would have seen had they not raised a stink about it. And they say it is the atheist who is arrogant and self-possessed.

Children, as expected, were used as arguments against Cruz’s work. Think of the children who would see such obscenities and sex-related imagery! But, I think I understand now who the children they keep referring to are. It is the conservative Catholics themselves who are the children—incapable of deciding for themselves what is right, impotent in the face of nuance, and unable to comprehend that other people exist and that they have their own wills and minds.

They called Cruz’s piece “trash” and “pornography” while unwittingly involving themselves in what is itself art—the unending discourse of what art is. And I should love to see a reenactment of the farce that occurred that Friday at the CCP. No avant-garde movement could ever challenge the sheer bombast and ludicrousness of the Catholic Church and the people who speak for it.

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This is Not a Church?

The following is a note on the forum entitled Dakdakan: Kulo, which was held last August 5 at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Main Gallery regarding the controversy surrounding Mideo Cruz’s artwork. It was written by the CCP’s Visual Arts Officer-in-Charge Karen Ocampo Flores, who has permitted us to publish it on the site. 

Maraming salamat.  I’m certain there were true believers there who simply came to express their reactions.  This forum was formed to hear you out.

Maraming salamat, artists, students and other supporters.  Your presence helped achieve balance.

Kaso, SIMBAHAN PALA ITO! It wasn’t about art.  It wasn’t about religion.  It was really about politics.

We expected devotees coming in with their grievances.  But this group was something else. They came ready, they were organized (clapping cues included) and they are well-honed bullies.

I agreed with Precious Leano, our moderator, that to prevent tensions, she will regulate the forum by allowing only one-way talks by each speaker.  The rule was: no responses, no debates, no profanities.

Even with that, we were surprised by the first burst of rudeness. We were in effect told to shut up as we opened the forum with slides about “Kulo” and some points on the VA policies for exhibit proposals.  We shouldn’t make them wait.  Did I say, “Ayaw nyo ba ng forum?”  They were eager beaver for it.   “This is about that work, anyway” one began impatiently, pointing to “Poleteismo.”

Thus the Mideo-bashing and all the horrors and sins of the work in question began. They had their statements in print (same things they’ve been giving out in media). And they were performing to the cameras.  Fire, brimstone, ice, meron ding boses na matubig, na malumanay.  They worked with every ingredient laced with intimidation.

Good thing, I could hardly speak anymore (dry mouth and sore throat had set in).  Good thing, Precious was an assertive moderator.  It was so hard to follow the rules.

But some people seemed to be very used to these people’s (because they keep calling us ‘you people’) antics.  Thank you for coming, Filipino Freethinkers, you helped meet the first barrage.  Thank you, Concerned Artists of the Philippines for reading your statement of support.

So why did this forum turn into a tacit skirmish?  Because it was for them a takeover.  They ARE really telling us what to do.  It’s not a debate about art, it’s not a debate about religion: it’s about imposing their power on the CCP.  Mandates on art and culture, easy enough to subject to their virtuous interpretations, then yup, dig up an old 70s law.  Same with VA policies replete with niceties– oh yes, so bad of us not to be so nice to 85%  majority.  There, may the fear of prision mayor or the ombudsman be with you for risking the rights and welfare of the dominant religion.  CCP is fair game for their strategies to frame the RH stance within this great drama about art attacking religion.

We have seen riskier art with religious images at the CCP and other galleries;  people complained, but never at a scale such as this.  Why?  Because back then only the artist gains from the attention.

Now they have a big stake once they establish that the CCP as a government institution made a mistake in the same way that RH should be a big mistake.  So that’s why we keep getting that from out of the blue; that’s why they keep insisting that we’re doing RH even if it was an exhibit that identifies with Rizal’s conflicts with the UST.  If we were presenting RH, we would say so.

Hence the ultimatum was not simply to stop the exhibit.  They kept repeating the need for amends, for apology; that we should admit we made a mistake.  They didn’t need that from Mideo.  They want it from CCP.  And good old CBCP need not even make a statement.  It simply had to take the artist’s hand gently and ask him: why?

Am I offending a religion?  Oh, I was simply reflecting on a forum.

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Republic of the Philistines

This article was written prior to the forum held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) regarding the controversy over Mideo Cruz’s artwork, which was conducted last August 5, 2011. 

For a reaction to the forum by CCP’s Visual Arts Officer-in-Charge Karen Ocampo Flores, click here.


I must admit to writing this out of anger and out of fear. Just this morning, two individuals walked into the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ gallery housing the exhibit Kulo and proceeded to do the following:

The culprit/s wrote in BALLPEN on portions of the artworks, a pedestal, and walls, “EMEDEO [sic] SUMPAIN KA! BAKLA!” And then on another (unfortunate) artist’s work that had the word “MOVE,” he or she wrote, “TO HELL.” The culprit/s also hacked off the wooden penises from the cross installation.

– Tony Perez, via Facebook

This is the very same exhibit which the CBCP and its ally Pro-life Philippines’ President Eric Manalang demanded the closure of. When the CCP organized an open forum to discuss the matter with him and the museum going public, he proceeded to threaten to file a lawsuit against them the day before the forum.

I am deeply angry at the barbarians who perpetrated this shameless act of vandalism against public artworks, and I am afraid at the lengths to which people like them are willing to go for their so-called loving faith. If the CBCP or its allies fail to do anything less than totally condemn this barbaric action, then it will confirm my worst fears about how little value they put not only on freedom of expression, but on basic respect for other people’s lives, livelihood and property.

UPDATE: Ah. Color my fears confirmed, then:

Atty. Jo Imbong on CCP vandalism: “Now we see how a disordered act like an exhibit like that can fuel other disorders. Evil leads to more evils in its wake.” Imbong is from a Catholic lay group filing charges against the CCP and the artist. – Jeff Canoy over twitter (continuation)

Despite every effort made at civil accomodation, the CBCP and Pro-life Philippines have shown through their actions that they do not want discourse or discussion; they only want their demands met and their dictates obeyed.

The CCP has made a call for ‘respect and sobriety’, the full text of which can be found here (Facebook link). For this I am thankful, as it reminds me that there are still even-tempered, well-intentioned individuals who are willing to take a step back and consider the consequences of their actions and who those actions might hurt. I am thankful that through all this, there are those that still understand the value and meaning of respect.

It’s because of people like these that I can believe we do not quite yet live in an actual Philistine Republic, though it seems increasingly apparent that that is exactly the sort of country that the CBCP and its allies wish us to become. For what else would their current strategy of promoting anti-intellectualism through throttling free expression be good for, if not to bring about a society where no one may think or dare to oppose them?

(Image taken from here)

Posted in Religion, SocietyComments (7)