Amadeus Fernando Pagente, a 33-year-old Filipino drag queen known by the stage name Pura Luka Vega, has found himself in legal trouble after his rock version of the Lord’s Prayer during a Pride event in Manila triggered outrage.
The artist, under the country’s strict obscenity laws, faces potential imprisonment for up to 12 years on charges of “immoral doctrines, obscene publications and exhibitions, and indecent shows.”
The controversial performance, which took place in June and featured Pagente dressed as Jesus Christ, has garnered criticism from various religious groups, notably the Philippines for Jesus Movement, a group of Protestant church leaders, and the Catholic organization Nazarene Brotherhood. Approximately 80% of the Philippines’ population adheres to Roman Catholicism, and the performance struck a chord with many.
Father Jerome Secillano, the spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, expressed the church’s concerns regarding the performance: “The religious elements or sacred elements of religion are not used for secular purposes. We saw in the dancing, merrymaking, performance, the people were screaming and taking videos. It’s bordering on profanity also and even blasphemous, sacrilegious. That is the prayer taught by Christ himself, so it should not be used lightly in dancing or entertaining people. Freedom of expression is not absolute. If you’re adversely affecting the other party, then you should tone down yourself.”
Pagente has since issued an apology to those who found his performance offensive but also defended his right to artistic expression: “I feel like they want me to apologize, but I apologize if it made them uncomfortable, but I really did that performance as a way for me to kind of heal the exclusion I have experienced as a Catholic, as a queer person being made to feel that I don’t really belong. I understand that people call my performance blasphemous, offensive, or regrettable. However, they shouldn’t tell me how I practice my faith or how I do my drag. That performance was not for you to begin with. It is my experience and my expression, of having been denied my rights.”
The controversial video of the performance, which was shared online, has since been deleted. However, the impact of the video and the ensuing legal proceedings have raised questions about the intersection of freedom of expression and religious sensibilities in the Philippines.
The Philippines, like many countries, grapples with the complex balance between individual liberties and religious sensitivities. Its strict obscenity laws aim to maintain societal values and protect religious sentiments. This case underscores the ongoing debate about where the line should be drawn between artistic expression and respecting religious beliefs.
Pagente’s case has generated significant discussion on social media platforms and among advocates for LGBTQ+ rights and freedom of expression. Many argue that artistic expression should be protected and that the legal proceedings against him raise concerns about potential limitations on creativity and self-expression, particularly within the LGBTQ+ community.
The outcome of this case remains uncertain, and the legal proceedings could have far-reaching implications for both the LGBTQ+ community and artists in the Philippines.