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Anti-drag efforts don’t just attack Pura, so broaden the narratives and change the approaches

#dragisnotacrime continues to trend on social media platforms following the arrest of drag performer Pura Luka Vega. But, technically, drag was never a crime; instead, it is offending the feelings of the faithful. So shouldn’t we also be demanding the repeal of Article 201 and Section 133 of the Revised Penal Code?

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Shouldn’t the battlecry be #RepealArticle201 or #RepealSection133?

Here are some points that need to be emphasized when talking about movements:

  1. There are systemic injustices we all (need to) deal with – e.g. supremacy of religious sensitivity over freedom of expression (exemplified by Section 133 of the Revised Penal Code).
  2. Almost always, there’s a person, a “case” if you will, that will highlight these systemic injustices – e.g. arrest of drag performer Pura Luka Vega for offending the sensitivity/feelings of “Christians”.
  3. Dealing with the individual cases is necessary (Duh!), but doing so will not make the systemic injustices disappear.
  4. So that the individual cases will never happen again, there is a need to deal with the systemic injustices themselves.
  5. And yes, both can be done at the same time.

This has been nagging at me since the arrest of Pura Luka Vega (assigned name at birth: Amadeus Fernando Pagente) in relation to their viral “Ama Namin” (The Lord’s Prayer) remix performance.

As background: In July, while wearing a Black Nazarene-inspired costume, Pura danced to a remix of the religious song. A video taken during the event “leaked”, so that “Christians” (including religious “leaders” and politicians) expressed their dislike of the performance that was branded as blasphemous and disrespectful to their religion. Pura was eventually declared as persona non grata in various localities (e.g. Manila, Laguna, Nueva Ecija, Cagayan de Oro City, Bohol, Bukidnon, General Santos City, Floridablanca in Pampanga, and Toboso in Negros Occidental).

And then Pura was charged with criminal cases initiated by the Philippines for Jesus Movement, and then by the Hijos del Nazareno. Cited as among the laws Pura supposedly violated are: Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code, or for “Immoral doctrines, obscene publications and exhibitions, and indecent shows”; the Cyber Crime Prevention Act; and Section 133 of the Revised Penal Code, which prohibited performing acts “notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful”.

Pura was then arrested and jailed.

With the drag scene mobilized, #FreePuraLukaVega and #AcquitPuraLukaVega surfaced. But it is worth noting that not everyone is on Pura’s side… even those coming from within the LGBTQIA community.

And at least here, let me focus on three things that touch on why – for the LGBTQIA movement in the Philippines – what is happening really needs to be dissected.

Deal with the individual cases.

In truth, Pura is just one case. This is NOT to belittle what’s happening to them; but the Article 133 of the Revised Penal Code (i.e. offending religious feelings) was used before – e.g. in 2013, when Carlos Celdran was charged and then found guilty of hurting the “feelings” of the Roman Catholic Church faithful.

As FYI: For this crime (sorta “desecrating” a place devoted to religious worship or during the celebration of any religious ceremony by performing acts that could be deemed offensive to the faithful), the penalty is arresto mayor in its maximum period, or prision correccional in its minimum period.

As Celdran’s case was worth highlighting then, so is Pura’s case now.

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But we have thousands of names of victims of injustices.

EJKs, which happened during the reign of former Pres. Rodrigo R. Duterte, surfaced the names of Kian Loyd Dogillo delos Santos, Myca Ulpina, Carl Arnaiz, and Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman, among others.

And for crimes against members of the LGBTQIA community, the names of Jennifer Laude, Mary Joy Añonuevo, Estee Sayen, Robyn Jang Lucero, Donna Nierra, and Tatiana “Tats” Tumicad quickly come to mind, also among others.

All these people mattered. And they still matter.

As such, all of their cases need to be resolved.

Don’t forget the big picture.

But beyond these individual cases are the social injustices that made these happen in the first place.

And here, in what’s happening now re Pura, #FreePuraLukaVega or #AcquitPuraLukaVega may be an important step, but it is not, should not be the end of this particular fight.

Note two things here:

  1. #dragisnotacrime continues to trend on various social media platforms; but – technically speaking – drag was never a crime. Pura’s “crime” was not doing drag; it was that their drag performance offended fanatics (sadly, let’s reiterate, laws exist allowing for the filing of a case re this).
  2. Considering the above, it is interesting to note that I have yet to encounter hashtags demanding the repeal of Article 201 and Section 133 of the Revised Penal Code. I have yet to see drag performers tackle or even just touch on this… which is surprising, if not sad. Because this is the “big picture” here; this is the law that, if not abrogated, can still be used against any of us in the future by those who hold us in contempt solely because of our being LGBTQIA.

Neither exists in a vacuum.

Fighting for Pura, or for specific aggrieved persons/cases, and fighting for the systemic injustices that allowed for these cases to exist in the first place do not have to be done separately. One caused the other, after all.

But this also highlights how this is NOT about just one personality. Instead, that what happened to any personality can also happen to you, to me, to all of us. Because we are all at risk simply because we’re LGBTQIA; our very existence is an affront to zealots. And so this isn’t about just any one person; it’s about us all.

In truth, dissecting through writing what happened to Pura ought to take longer than many people may be willing to allocate time reading. Because – also in truth – we may actually also need to touch on (and among others):

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  • the failed guarantee of the Constitution for the separation of State and Church
  • power of religious fanaticism even over those who may believe differently, or do not believe at all
  • “othering” of the LGBTQIA people
  • control of the LGBTQIA body
  • absence of an anti-discrimination law that continues to allow the violation of the human rights of LGBTQIA Filipinos
  • elitism within the LGBTQIA community
  • internal disagreements in the LGBTQIA community that have grave implications on the fight of various sectors (such as the drag community) within it
  • et cetera

But at least for now with this shortened version, let’s highlight that the anti-drag movement is bigger than Pura or any one person. So yes, start discussing this as an issue affecting all of us. This is what will save us all in the long run…

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan completed BA Communication Studies from University of Newcastle in NSW, Australia; and Master of Development Communication from the University of the Philippines-Open University. Conversant in Filipino Sign Language, Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, and research (with pioneering studies under his belt). He authored "Being LGBT in Asia: Philippines Country Report", and "Red Lives" that creatively retells stories from the local HIV community. Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism, and Art that Matters - Literature from Amnesty Int'l Philippines in 2020. Cross his path is the dare (guarantee: It won't be boring).


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