MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/18 August) —  Criticisms against the work of artist Mideo Cruz which was displayed at the Cultural Center of the Philippines centered on two main points: 1] the work disparaged the Christian (read: Roman Catholic) religion; and 2] corollary to the first, the right to freedom of expression, including artistic expression, is not absolute. Not content at hurling verbal attacks against Mr. Cruz, the art work itself was vandalized. One Mr. Manny Andrada admitted on national TV that he was responsible for the vandalism and added he would physically harm Mr. Cruz if by chance he saw him.

Not one official of the Roman Catholic Church censured Mr. Andrada for his very Christian act and pronouncement. The appalling silence could only mean an implied approval of Mr. Andrada’s violent response. And unfortunately, an editorial of one national broadsheet described the violent outrage as “understandable”. I had wrongfully thought that clerico-fascism is a term as outdated as its practice.

I haven’t seen the art work that has generated so much controversy and even hatred from people like Mr. Andrada whose view of things flows mainly from the putrid veins of dogmas that have become irrelevant and passé. But regardless of how the art work actually looks, I would say that the adverse reactions mirror the general intolerance toward ideas that challenge our own realities and identities. It’s so sad indeed that many people would choose to dwell in the convenience of parroting ideas fixed by blind faith instead of subjecting each human experience to critical self-examination.

Most people, including the Church officials who raised a furor over the art work, have reduced the controversy to the issue of whether Mr. Cruz has crossed the limits of the right to freedom of expression. Of course, the priests and bishops will say that he did go beyond what the law and sense of decency dictate.  While the artists on the other hand will always try to stretch the meaning of artistic freedom to an extent limited only by their own imagination.

This poses a problem because the priests and bishops tend to stick to rigid institutional wisdom in contrast to the artists whose views are as dynamic and evolutionary (if not revolutionary) as the human relations that define them and their works. It is thus pointless to debate on the legality of the issue, as even the Constitution itself does not – and cannot possibly – set clear-cut boundaries for the right to freedom of expression.

And so, instead of haranguing Mr. Cruz and the Cultural Center of the Philippines officials and arguing on the supposed legal points, it would be more fruitful to subject his work to a critique without having to resort to intimidation and imposition of dogmas that are not shared by all. If the Church officials wish to discredit the art work, they would have done better by posing engaging questions like “Is it really an art work?” That would have sparked healthy debates instead of an exchange of ad hominems and the violent outburst of a good Christian named Mr. Manny Andrada. (MindaViews is the opinion section
of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])