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Atomic bomb, Pura Luka Vega, and Veritatis Splendor

A group of Philippine Christian church leaders led by a Catholic bishop who filed suit against Amadeus Fernando Pagente a.k.a Pura Luka Vega, made news. Pagente’s online drag performance resembling the Black Nazarene while lip-synching to the “Lords Prayer” was labeled by the group as “terribly blasphemous, offensive, disrespectful … and outrageous to the Christian religion and belief for it devalues and projects a negative image of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Pagente is charged under the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 (Republic Act 10175 signed by President Benigno C. Aquino III) because of the online publication, and for Article 201 violation of the Revised Penal Code (Presidential Decree No. 960 signed by President Ferdinand E. Marcos). Article 201 is the meat of the charge because of “Immoral doctrines, obscene publication, and indecent shows.”

During the RA 10175 senate deliberations, Sen. Teofisto Guingona who opposed the bill, warned that users of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, are vulnerable. “What if you Tweet or reTweet, are you liable? What if you share or “Like” as in Facebook, are you liable? Sen. Guingona took issue with the law’s implementation where the Secretary of Justice (Leila De Lima at that time) was given powers to block or restrict access to Internet data without oversight.

He was not alone. He was joined by civil society and journalists who protested the insertion of libel in the law. The Cybercrime was written vaguely and couched under the pretense of targeting identity theft, hacking and child pornography. In the Marcos decree, he was clearly trying to stifle freedom of speech in the guise of “films which tend to incite subversion, insurrection or rebellion against the State, among others.

The presidential decree clearly survived the People Power because that very same article is what being cited by the church leaders along with Aquino’s Cybercrime Law that Pagente’s drag performance on Twitter was “blasphemous, offensive, disrespectful, insulting, unacceptable, and outrageous to the Christian religion and belief, it also causes a devalued and negative image of the Lord Jesus Christ, which Christians hold in the highest veneration.”

As a side note, the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was a copycat of a U.S. Congress bill called “Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that was trashed by lawmakers following massive protests from various groups. It was, however, picked up by Philippine legislators, passed, and Aquino signed into law right after the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona. As a side note, it was Sen. Vicente Sotto who inserted the word “libel” into the bill after being embarrassed by internet bloggers who exposed his plagiarism of Sen. Robert Kennedy’s speech.

Karma is a bitch. Two years ago, under President Rodrigo Duterte, Maria Reesa was convicted of cyber libel based on an article she wrote and published in Rappler. The verdict that was also upheld by the Court of Appeals found that her article libeled businessman Wilfredo Keng when she linked him to Chief Justice Corona and his alleged ties to illegal drugs.

Civil society and international groups of journalists were aghast by Ms. Reesa’s conviction. They pilloried the verdict as a setback to press freedom.

Here we are today with the case against Pura Luka Vega, a Filipino drag performer who is trying to make a living as a contestant in drag competitions. Vega’s online Twitter drag performance snippet has been viewed by over 20 million people. The new publicity will probably crank it up further. Pagente’s defense is that she intended “to embody a version of Christ that is one with the queer audience.”

Okay, isn’t this a bit of hypocrisy if not a case of double standard? The educated elites defended Ms. Reesa to the hilt and bedeviled the former president. Here, a case involving an aspiring actress who happened to be gay and had the audacity of wearing a look alike of the Black Nazarene. Where’s the outrage?

Church leaders argued that Pagente’s act “devalued and (created a) negative image of the Lord Jesus Christ, which Christians hold in the highest veneration.” Perhaps this is part of the problem. Jesus Christ will not be in the courtroom to corroborate their statement. When are they going to mature in faith beyond the images?

The season finale winner of Drag Den Philippines, crowned Drag Supreme’s winning answer, “It is freedom of expression, and I can’t be happier to be here. I hope that my story inspires young queer artists who are afraid of putting themselves out there because I was afraid. But thank you, Manila, for giving me this platform because I was able to prove that growth is what you need to become the next drag supreme,” she added.

On another subject highlighting religious hypocrisy, is about the movie Oppenheimer that hit Manila theatres last month. The movie “Oppenheimer” is about the agony of the man who created the atomic bomb and how it was used. Clearly a box-office hit that has already raked in hundreds of millions of dollars. There was no protest or denunciation from church leaders about a movie glorifying genocide.

Incidentally, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan will commemorate the 78th year since the bombing on August 6 and 9, 1945, respectively. The bombing was justified as a preventive act “to prevent further deaths (well, by Americans) if a ground conventional war was pursued against Japan. Is the use of nuclear weapons ever justified?

I’ve been to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is filled with harrowing images of civilians – young and old – eviscerated by the bomb and those who survived, their lives were disrupted and altered forever. Their stories have been told and retold but the Americans who lived near the Alamogordo Bombing Range in New Mexico where the bomb was tested are yet to be told. Many have suffered or died from cancer related radiation exposure and are yet to be compensated.

Incidentally, Veritatis Splendor (VS) will celebrate its 30th year on August 6. Published after the Hiroshima bombing, VS reminds us that nuclear weapons are incompatible with peace more so with Russia’s Vladimir Putin threat to use such weapons in Ukraine. “The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is unjust,” said Pope Francis in his encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti” (All Brothers). He also alluded that the bombing of Hiroshima was “immoral.”

The moral and ethical question that faced J. Robert Oppenheimer then is the same one facing mankind today. “Blood is in my hands,” said Oppenheimer to then President Harry Truman days after the bombings. Veritatis Splendor tells us that the gift of the Holy Spirit is the source and means of moral life. The purpose of the Church is to promote and preserve such life. The suit filed against Pura Luka Vega exemplifies how far we have strayed from such moral truth. Article 12 of VS says unequivocally, “Only God can answer the question about the good because he is the Good.”


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