The City of Manila was the fifth to declare Amadeus Fernando Pagente, popularly known as Pura Luka Vega, persona non grata. Vega then tweeted, “Tell me EXACTLY what I did wrong.” I explained through a Facebook post where he went wrong, and I want to expound them further.
Pura Luka Vega became more famous after a video of him singing a rock remix version of “Ama Namin” went viral. The issue is not the song itself but the act, the setting, and the fact that he wore a costume imitating the Black Nazarene of Quiapo Church in Manila City, Philippines.
As expected, the drag queen received overwhelming criticism, not only from Catholic leaders and believers but also from non-Catholic Christians, Muslims, LGUs, and Philippine Senators. The reason behind this, which I shortly discussed on my Facebook Page, is due to disrespect for religious beliefs and practices.
However, Vega reasoned that his intention was not to mock or demean religion. He further explained, “I did that intentionally to challenge our notions of how we worship or how we sing our praise.”
This is where the discussion of religious and individual freedom comes in and how to identify the limitations of freedom.
Religion, Drag Art, and Confusion
Pura Luka Vega is a Roman Catholic himself, but he claimed to be non-religious and preferred to use “they” and “them” as someone who identifies himself as close to non-binary.
Nonetheless, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines considered his performance as “bordering” profanity, blasphemy, and sacrilege. CBCP also reiterated its stance that religious symbols and imagery are not for entertainment purposes.
I explained in a post that when you adopt and embrace a particular religion or belief system, you must adopt how that belief is being practiced by the believers. To say that you “intentionally” want to “challenge” praise and worship through drag art is putting religious and individual freedom in conflict.
Drag art is a strange practice in the Christian realm, whether Catholic or not. It’s not a common practice of Black Nazarene devotees to wear the same costume and sing a remix version of “Ama Namin” (a Filipino version of the Lord’s Prayer).
Art has been an essential part of religious expression. The Vatican itself is glamoured with art, but drag art is a different thing. It’s an “art” common in the LGBTQIA+ communities, not in religious communities. They are two conflicting entities.
Injecting a practice into another is not art; it’s a craft that creates confusion. You must know when to be a drag queen and when to be “religious.” You cannot combine two practices strange from each other.
Blasphemy, Sacrilege, and Religious Freedom
Balancing freedom of expression (using drag art in this case) with respect for deeply held beliefs is a delicate and often contentious intersection.
From a religious perspective, what Pura Luka Vega has done is seen as sacrilege and blasphemous however he wants to explain it.
If you are new to the terms, blasphemy and sacrilege historically refer to actions or expressions deemed disrespectful or offensive to religious beliefs and practices. Blasphemy involves showing contempt towards a deity or sacred entity, while sacrilege encompasses disrespecting religious objects, spaces, or rituals.
Dissenting voices and “artistic creativity” want to challenge these established concepts, like what Vega is trying to do. He used “religious symbols and imagery” to challenge an established belief. In addition, Vega also considered drag art as a political statement. Indeed, aside from religion, politics is a critical subject among bloggers and influencers in the Philippines. Especially in our modern times where many individuals and groups want to normalize things outside tradition.
Freedom of Religion and Individual Freedom
The case of Pura Luka Vega shows the intricate tapestry of human rights in which the concepts of freedom are woven together, creating a complex web of rights and responsibilities. Among these, the notions of freedom of religion and individual freedom stand out as crucial pillars of a just and equitable society.
Religious freedom, as we know it, is a cornerstone of democratic societies, granting individuals the right to practice their faith without discrimination or coercion. It ensures the diversity of beliefs and fosters a pluralistic environment where various religious perspectives coexist.
Individual freedom, on the other hand, encompasses a range of rights that allow individuals to express themselves, pursue their goals, and make choices about their lives. This includes freedom of speech, association, and personal autonomy.
Vega is confused about how to use his freedom as a drag artist with his freedom to express his belief as a Roman Catholic. He thinks that “intentionally challenging” the norms in praise and worship could be nonconsequential, given that his freedom to express himself is respected. It is similar to how many liberals and leftists think they are entitled enough to change things based on their perception.
Limitations of Freedom
Both religious freedom and individual freedom are NOT absolute. Religious freedom is limited to prevent harm to others or to protect public order, ensuring that the exercise of someone’s religious beliefs does not infringe upon another’s rights.
With that same thought, individual freedom has its boundaries as well. Individual actions that harm others or violate societal norms may be subject to legal and ethical constraints.
Freedom of religion and individual freedom are fundamental rights, but limitations are necessary to maintain a harmonious balance between different aspects of freedom.
A person can’t do or insist on whatever he or she wants in the name of freedom, whether religious or personal. It is crucial to recognize that no freedom exists in isolation. As someone claiming to be Catholic, Pura Luka Vega needs to adopt and embrace the beliefs and practices of the church. Intentionally challenging the church is going the boundary of individual freedom.
Congress and Conservative Reactions
The people of Congress, not just the public, also found the act of Vega offensive, blasphemous, and disrespectful.
Even Bataan Representative Geraldine Roman, the first transgender lawmaker in the Philippines, considered the imitation of Jesus while singing the Lord’s Prayer is not right.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, the main contender for SOGIE Bill, said, “As a woman of faith, I admit I personally find this regrettable. I know many members of the LGBTQIA+ community, persons of faith among them, find this regrettable.”
Eventually, the Bill of Rights protects religious practices and expressions. The thing is that drag art is not considered a religious art, let alone a Christian art, being practiced by believers.
This is one of the reasons why Filipino conservatives, like me, are against the SOGIE Bill that could be used to justify such an “art” against religious practices. Moreover, SOGIE might put selective individual freedom over religious freedom and empower purported “human rights” over religious rights, which I discussed above.
Well, Vega has the freedom to use “drag art,” but he can’t impose such freedom on a community where it doesn’t belong: a religious or Christian community in that case.
Just to reiterate, when you join a particular community, you must be ready and willing enough to follow the culture, beliefs, thoughts, and practices of that group. It is where the laws of the land come in. Rules and regulations define the scope and limitation of someone’s freedom to act, not just as an individual with personal prejudices but as an individual that belongs to society and the institutions where that person moves and lives.
The limitations placed on someone’s freedom serve as safeguards to prevent abuse and protect the common good.
Declaring Pura Luka Vega Persona Non Grata
Pura Luka Vega was declared persona non grata in General Santos City; Floridablanca, Pampanga; Toboso, Negros Occidental; Bukidnon Province; and Manila City.
Vega allegedly violated Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) and Republic Act 10175 or Cybercrime Prevention Act. For your information, Article 201 penalizes individuals who engage in “indecent or immoral” actions, whether in live performances or on film, that is offensive to any race or religion.
Being declared persona non grata means going beyond what the place could tolerate for a person to act. If they find the actions “indecent or immoral,” they have the freedom to protect their constituents from anything or someone offensive to their general beliefs and practices.
Vega tweeted, “You judge me yet you don’t even know me.” Well, it’s nothing about judging him for who he is at all. It’s about making him responsible and accountable for his actions, which are considered offensive, disrespectful, and blasphemous.
Indeed, striking a balance between individual rights and the broader societal context requires ongoing dialogue and a commitment to mutual respect. As societies evolve, so too must our understanding of these freedoms and the boundaries that help ensure a fair and just coexistence for all.
If you can’t respect what the general public accepts to be moral (especially with the faith to which you assume to belong to), how can you expect to get the same respect for your personal judgment of what is good and evil; what is favorable and offensive; and what is moral and immoral?