By Karl John C. Reyes
MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATED, 5:15 p.m.) The Cultural Center of the Philippines will continue to uphold freedom of expression, and its board of trustees will not resign due to the furor created by a controversial artwork in an exhibit it sponsored, CCP chairman Emily Abrera told the Senate hearing on Tuesday.
At the same time, Artist Mideo Cruz, whose “Poleteismo” installation stirred a religious hornet’s nest, will also not be subpoenaed to another hearing, as Tuesday’s hearing will be the first and last on the issue, said Senator Edgardo Angara, who heads the Senate committee on education and culture that called for the hearing.
Censorship of the controversial “Kulo” exhibit, particularly Cruz’s installation, violated the freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution, CCP officials and various artists who attended the hearing said.
To Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada’s “I stand by my call (for CCP officials to resign, Abrera said: “No. And I mean that with all humility.”
And Angara agreed that CCP officials and members of the board of trustees need not resign.
Abrera told the hearing held jointly with the committee on mass media and information that the CCP board makes decisions in a democratic manner, where all concerned parties are consulted.
“We put forth the responsibility to artists (for their artwork) but the CCP should uphold the artistic freedom,” she said, even as she admitted that Cruz’s installation shocked her too.
To the suggestion that CCP engage in self-censorship, Carolyn E. Espiritu, the newest member of the CCP board, said self-censorship runs counter to the value of freedom of expression.
“We should value freedom of expression in all forms of arts. If we only exhibit beautiful art as some suggest, that would be propaganda,” she said.
Cruz explains absence at Senate hearing
In a statement, Cruz said he did not attend the Senate hearing because he did not want to “feed my self-serving impulse to defend my work or my person to each query, insult, or threat being hurled at me.” He also apologized if his art offended people.
“My artworks are … my tools to reexamine our public morals and ideals. In the end, I assume that my audience would
exercise their logical decision-making to reject or accept the message or to sway them towards improving society,” Cruz said.
“I honestly believe that providing a space for a different voice is necessary for mature society,” he added.
Similar problem for Muslim artists
Dr. Abdulmarui Asia Imao, national artist for visual arts, said that the CCP should not be blamed for the Kulo exhibit.
“The CCP should not be blamed for that. Mahirap naman na total control sa kanila kasi mawawalan sila ng freedom (It’s difficult to have total control because artists will lose their freedom). And I articulate for artist, for more freedom. If he feels that he is right to do it, then he should do it,” he said.
Imao said he was in a similar position as Cruz when he painted a cross, which Islam forbids him from doing. But he said he continues drawing the sacred symbol of Christianity even it irks his Muslim brothers.
“The expression is more important to us more than anything else,” he said.
“We are dead without art. I am speaking for artists. And I am very proud that we have a lot of artists. That’s why we should be more tolerant and don’t scold the CCP too much,” Imao said in Filipino.
CCP as champion of artistic freedom
Another group, Palayain ang Sining (Free Art), which was recently organized after the closure of Kulo, and an anti-censorship alliance of artists from various disciplines, urged the CCP to become the champions of artistic freedom of expression.
“We call on the leadership of the CCP to once and for all protect its mandate as an institution for artistic freedom of expression and to reclaim its autonomy in terms of decisions against external forces and influences,” said Iggy Rodriguez, spokesman of Palayain ang Sining and among the participating artists in the Kulo exhibit.
“The closure of the exhibit is a curtailment of the freedom of artists to artistically express themselves, and prevents the people from seeing the Kulo artworks and objectively and independently deciding for themselves what they think of these,” Rodriguez added.
For its part, the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) also urged the Senate to uphold freedom of expression as enshrined in the 1987 Constitution.
“We would like to remind the honorable senators of their oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. We hope they do not use their position to bully and pressure other government institutions such as the CCP to succumb to their will. We also call on the CCP to stand firm on its mandate to promote and protect the artistic freedom of expression and reopen the exhibit,” CAP said in a statement.
Angara said he was awed by the quality of the resource persons who attended the hearing for education and vast experience in their individual expertise.
Aside from Abrera and Espiritu, also present during the hearing were CCP president Raul Sunico, and trustees Flor Angel Rosario-Braid, Arsenio Lizaso, Isabel Caro Wilson, Zenaida Tantoco, Cristina Turalba, and Antonio Yap.
Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines assistant secretary general Joselito Asis, and University of Sto. Tomas vice rector Pablo Tiong also attended the hearing.
Palma, vice president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), described Cruz’s work violent for portraying Jesus Christ in such a bloody manner.
Charismatic leader Bienvenido Abante said Cruz’s work was “extreme” and does not deserve to be shown in any venue.
No one informed UST of the exhibit, and if it had been told about it, the university would have objected to it, Tiong said.