Just a position

MY FOUR CENTAVOS - Dean Andy Bautista -

With the decision of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) board of directors to pull out the controversial exhibit involving “sacrileged” Christian images, the issue, using legal jargon, could be deemed “moot and academic.” But given the rumblings heard from certain artists’ groups crying censorship, let me give my four centavos on the matter.

At the outset, let me confess that as a teacher of Constitutional law, I have a soft spot towards the protection of individual rights foremost of which are the First Amendment freedoms of free expression and free exercise of religion. Unfortunately, these two rights are involved (albeit on opposite sides) in the current controversy. What is even more “unique” about this situation is that the Government (through the CCP) is the “speaker” and not just the regulator — it hosted an exhibit featuring images of Jesus Christ: a) with eyes blackened by ink; b) a red clown’s nose and Mickey Mouse ears; c) a wooden replica of the male genitalia; and d) wearing a condom.

I concede that freedom of thought and belief are illimitable. I can think of killing someone, but unless and until I act on those thoughts in a way that I begin to perform certain overt acts intending in and evidencing my single-minded pursuit of that direction, then there’s nothing that can stop me from thinking them. I can entertain even the most lurid and perverse of thoughts, but for as long as they do not escape my mind and make themselves manifest, then they need not subscribe to rules of decency or to be slotted into the greater marketplace of ideas.

Yet, not all forms of expression are Constitutionally protected. Obscenity, defamation, fighting words, advocacy of lawless behavior, and hate speech belong to the unprotected category. They are “unprotected” because, in the words of Professor Laurence Tribe, they can be viewed as “projectiles” whose effect cannot be prevented by more speech and do not contribute to a healthy exchange of ideas. From the looks of it, the pictures are a form of “hate speech” bordering on the obscene. And so, I query as to its contribution to a constructive dialogue of issues.  

Moreover, exhibits done at the CCP are an entirely different matter altogether. While “artistic merit” is better left to the sound and wise sophistications of our literati, culturati, and artistes, there is no debating as to the clear purposes behind the creation of the CCP, that is:

• To awaken the consciousness of our people to our cultural heritage, and to encourage them to assist in its preservation, promotion, enhancement and development;

• To cultivate and enhance public interests in, and appreciations of, distinctive Philippine arts in various fields;

• To discover, assist and develop talents, connected with Philippine cultural pursuits and create greater opportunities for individual and national self-expression in cultural affairs;

The bottomline being that the nature of the CCP is that it is and ought to be operated for the benefit of the Filipino people. Just as Mr. Cruz’ work is about the power of symbols, it is also important to recognize the symbolic and legitimizing function that exhibiting at the CCP provides. This is what makes the exhibition at the CCP a legally questionable act, that is: whether or not the exhibition is consistent with the purposes, objectives, and nature of the CCP.

That artists would die for their art is a testament to their artistic integrity. But when their “art” would agitate to the point of inciting harmful conduct, then state intervention becomes necessary.

An artist can, for example, think that Catholics are idol-worshippers. However, when an artist takes an image that is sacred or venerated by such Catholics, then he should be prepared for the torrential downpour of hatred. In fact, even without falling into discourses on religious sentiments (i.e. desecration), one could make a claim, for a more “secular” objection: vandalism. (To add another dose of irony, since the exhibit opened, his work has also been vandalized.)

One final point: on the word “tolerance.” Being “tolerant” is not always a good thing: to tolerate an alcoholic’s predilections is to enable him (who, himself, is a victim, partly, because of his “tolerance” for alcohol). There are those who would rather have “tolerated” this exhibit, with nary a peep, so as not to have drawn attention to the exhibit. That would have been far too convenient. Not expressing indignation, when the times call for them, is not an indication of “tolerance,” but of being a little dead on the inside.

POSTSCRIPT. True to the exhibit’s name (“Kulô”), Mr. Cruz’ part of the exhibition made a lot of people’s blood boil. The CCP’s Visual Arts director has taken the heat (or could not longer take it?) and has since resigned. Throughout this ordeal, it appears that the artist in question has decided to remain quiet and never mind that it was his “pakulô” that caused all of this. Oh, well. Juxtaposing these posturings, that’s the difference between him and the person whose image he opted to take artistic liberties with — the latter is still there and ever-present (whereas he has refused to take up his cross).

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Better late than never: Three centavos this week are given to FEU MBA-JD law professor and newly minted Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, III. The three centavos are awarded to honor the extraordinary perseverance and passion that he displayed to pursue his election protest. One centavo is donated to the current members of the Senate Electoral Tribunal which has resolved a case apparently for the first time in its history. Indeed, this is one of the weak spots in our electoral system: the inability of the agencies tasked to rule on electoral protests in an expeditious and fair manner. I hope that Senator Koko will devote the little time left in his term (i.e. the last two years) in trying to fix this perennial problem.

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 “Work for a cause, not for applause. Live to express, not to impress. Don’t strive to make your presence noticed, just make your absence felt.”   — Anonymous

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