Senators draw the line at 'Ama Namin' drag performance

Senators draw the line at 'Ama Namin' drag performance
Artist Pura Luka Vega's drag performance of Catholic Mass song "Ama Namin".
Twitter / Pura Luka Vega

MANILA, Philippines — Controversy stirred by a drag performance that used Catholic Mass song "Ama Namin" and featured a twerking Jesus has reached the Senate, with the chamber's leader suggesting criminal charges against artist Pura Luka Vega.

A member of the Senate minority meanwhile called the performance, clips of which went viral on social media, "regrettable" but cautioned against using the incident to deprive marginalized sectors like the LGBTQ+ their rights. 

"In my opinion, this is the height of the misuse and abuse of our freedom of expression that borders on criminal activity," Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said Thursday.

He said the performance "offends the sensibilities", demeans the faith of the Christian majority in the Philippines and "dangerously scales the boundaries of protected speech and expression."

Zubiri called on authorities to look into the matter and said Pura Luka Vega could be charged under Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code, which punishes offending a race or religion "in the performance of obscene or indecent plays, scenes, acts or shows."

In tweets on Wednesday, Sen. JV Ejercito said that the video was "blasphemy" and "went overboard" while Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian warned that "this is exactly what will destroy our society."

'No disrespect intended'

Religion is a prickly subject in the Philippines, where nearly 80% identify as Catholic and where religious leaders have influence on policy. Despite his popularity while president, Rodrigo Duterte earned faint rebuke from allies in the Senate for his remarks against the Church and for calling God "stupid" in 2018.

Gatchalian is quoted in a Rappler report as saying then that making negative remarks about God was "unthinkable", while Sen. Joel Villanueva said that "many individuals were offended" by Duterte's comments. Villanueva, now Senate majority leader, said then that he was praying for Duterte's enlightenment.

The Palace defended Duterte's comments as his personal opinion. 

In a separate statement on Thursday, Sen. Risa Hontiveros said that she — as well as members of the LGBTQ+ community who identify as Catholic — personally found the drag performance regrettable.

"However, I also caution against the use of the incident to deny rights and protections to a community that has long been marginalized and excluded," the female senator said.

"I wish for self-reflection, compassion and healing for both the religious and LGBTQIA+ communities," she also said.

Pura Luka Vega, in a statement published by ABS-CBN News, said the performance was not meant to be disrespectful.

"I was very intentional [in] using a specific song and the symbolism to relate the queer crowd with the intersection of queerness and religion," she also said.

Fr. Jerome Secillano of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines-Episcopal Commission on Public Affairs said that it will not pursue legal action against Vega's "Ama Namin" performance, despite accusations of blasphemy.

He instead called for prudence in using elements of religion in secular performances. "If not used properly, such actions border on mockery and profanity," he said. — Jonathan de Santos

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