Funny how in a single week two definitions of defilement came into focus amid the frenzy of overcrowded news.
There was this whole brouhaha about the works of a visual artist in an exhibit at the Main Gallery of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Then there was the euphoria of the Philippine Dragon Boat team bringing home five gold medals and a couple of silvers --- suddenly doused with such insensitive, downer comments from an official of the Philippine Olympic Committee.
Whereas the accusations of desecration and blasphemy sent the Legion of Holy Warriors and the Army of the Morally Upright into their own version of a jihad against Mideo Cruz and everyone at the CCP who has got anything to do with the Kulo exhibit, the artistic community also banged their drums --- reacting to what was institutional pressure being exerted.
Then came that phone call from the highest of the executive offices in that palace by Pasig River --- which, of course, ended all arguments. The exhibit was shut down days ahead of its appointed deadline for supposedly reasons of security or perhaps just to make everybody shut up once and for all.
But that wasn't the case. Days later, the officers of the CCP found themselves as respondents to criminal charges against specific Republic Acts in cases filed by religious group in the Office of the Ombudsman.
This did not fair well with the artistic community that felt betrayed because: a) this felt like another case which should have required dialogue between the artists and the protesters rather than to use institutional bullying especially from the Church and its cohorts, b) this was a violation of the independence of the CCP from censorship and c) this was curtailing the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution.
Arguments and debates can go on and on and on ... and it is as if this was the very first time that the freedom to say what one feels and thinks in a manner the artist wants to say it and make others feel it went into a head-on collision with the ultra-rightists, the conservatives, and the fundamentalists.
Now even those indulging legalese are saying that the Cultural Center is meant to celebrate the best in Philippine culture --- and has no room for so-called artists who make collages out of posters, tear sheets from magazines and images of Jesus Christ mixed with condoms and penis wood carvings. The legal eagles are saying that whatever is housed at the CCP should reflect the philosophy of the government and therefore should reflect appropriate discrimination. We certainly hope that is not tantamount to saying that the only exhibits and performances allowed in that sacred venue are those that celebrate the good, the true and the beautiful. Ooops! Are we back in that era again?
Then came that whole mess about a certain Mr. Tamayo of the Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) literally belittling the Philippine Dragonboat Team after the group returned from Florida with a trunk full of gold and silver medals and euphoric honor to the country.
Let us paint the objective picture: a) the Dragonboat team is no longer a recognized official Philippine team ... which meant that it did not get government support and had to scrounge funds to participate in the world competition, b) upon their return, the POC still refused to recognize the team ... much less, the honor they brought home to the country, c) instead, Mr Tamayo belittled the victory of the group saying that the group won all those medals because they were overqualified to join that contest and their participation was already questionable if not unfair and d) Mr. Tamayo also pointed out that the Dragonboat team members were all old and comparable to brittle ampaw and needed to retire to give way to the next generation of paddlers.
Uhm, that's a Filipino appointed to the Philippine Olympic Committee? That official is supposed to encourage and foster Philippine athletes to achieve world class caliber and to bring their level of performance to exemplary sportsmanship? That is an official who is supposed to embody a sense of pride in being a Filipino ... and to push one's self to the limits to show the greatness in our race? Something is very, very wrong here. The words muttered in a television interview did not only reverberate condescension: it was downright defilement, desecration ... and worse, a celebration of bitter crab mentality at its best.
Perhaps like Mr. Tamayo was very much like Mideo Cruz: he was exercising his freedom of expression. He was verbalizing his opinion, despite shortness of thought and definitely a glaring lack of sensitivity. Yes, we agree that in a democracy --- you can say whatever you want as long as you are responsible and accountable for it. And if Mr. Tamayo feels that he has done far greater accomplishments than the Dragonboat team, then that is his prerogative.
It is also the choice and prerogative of people to react to his statements, to condemn him for his lack of appreciation for what others consider as heroic accomplishments of these men and women --- and, worse, to question his credibility to be part of the Olympic Committee considering his disposition, attitude or simple lack of verbal competence.
Unlike Mideo Cruz who violated the sensibilities and sensitivities of the Roman Catholics, Tamayo was not making any real statement --- except carping against athletes that he should have honored and acknowledged for their unique accomplishments. It was Mr. Tamayo's job to encourage --- and not to defile or belittle. It was his mandate to inspire --- and not cackle just because the POC had absolutely nothing to do with the acquisition of those medals.
Mideo Cruz' installations were meant to shock ... and shock he did. It was also his freedom to put together those images to create some sensory frenzy to anyone who viewed the mind boggling juxtaposition of images of the sacred and what others consider profane. But the fact that he did it was because he had a distinct purpose. And together with that purpose is the accountability and responsibility to stand by what he has created. That is the measure of his caliber and dignity as an artist.
I am not a fan of Mideo Cruz' works and I was also stunned by his visuals BUT that does not give me any right to deprive others to admire, feel revolted, argue or even experience his work. If anyone cannot stand what Mideo Cruz has to say, he or she has the option to look away and argue about the validity of his work as art. Feeling violated does not mean you should protect others from such an encounter by shutting down the possibilities of the experience.
Moreover, Mideo Cruz is only one of thirty-two artists --- all graduates of the Catholic University of the Philippines (University of Santo Tomas)--- who participated in Kulo. Politeismo is only one piece ... so why should all the other participants receive a collective condemnation by shunning their works from the public?
Mideo Cruz was out to shock with his thoughts of the sacred and the scandalous --- and he got public flogging for this. Mr. Tamayo was out to explain his concept honor and sportsmanship --- and earned the collective ire of so many Filipinos for manifesting one of the reasons why we have remained such losers.
Now one asks: who has done a much greater act of defilement?