The Center for International Law (Centerlaw) said yesterday the dismissal by the Office of the Ombudsman of administrative and criminal charges against artist Mideo Cruz and 10 Cultural Center of the Philippines officials over the controversial Kulo exhibit should help clarify for Filipinos the value of free expression in a society anchored on “principled pluralism.”
“Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales deserves recognition for highlighting the importance of reasoned albeit impassioned discussion about the values that are important to our society,” said Centerlaw lawyers Harry Roque, Joel Butuyan and Romel Regalado Bagares, who represented Cruz and CCP Museum Division Head Karen Ocampo Flores in the proceedings.
The case arose from Cruz’s “Poleteismo” – a wall collage of conflicting and contradictory images of popular religiosity, politics and consumerism – that was shown in the Kulo exhibit at the CCP in 2011 along with 31 other art works celebrating the national hero Jose Rizal’s 150thbirthday and the University of Sto. Tomas’s 400th founding anniversary.
The exhibit, which opened on June 17, 2011, was prematurely shutdown by CCP authorities because of the controversies generated by Cruz’s installation, which, among other things, juxtaposed religious iconography with phalluses and other discordant symbols and images.
The lawyers said a society that respects principled pluralism should be able to yield space to controversial opinions, because it is at the heart of democratic deliberation, where the majority opinion is not necessarily shared by everyone and should not mean it should be accepted by everyone even without the benefit of discussion.
According to them, principled pluralism seeks to do justice to diverse religions and points of view and keeps the public square open to people of all faiths and points of view.
They said in their statement:
“Art calls for a democratic solidarity even in the face of an intense confrontation of values and perspectives because ultimately, if art is to exist in a society that promotes democratic principles it must sometimes be allowed to express even those thoughts and ideas that may not sit well with what the majority believes to be within the limits of acceptability.”
“Solidarity expects that a majority sure of their convictions should be able to take it in the chin when their cherished beliefs are put to question by a counter-cultural dynamic; it expects that in the face of intense questioning the majority, since they are sure of their convictions and are secure in their cherished doctrines, will be able to hold up on their own and offer a counter-argument in a dialogical manner that shows both grace and civility.
“Of course, this kind of democratic commitment requires a basic appreciation for the variegated function of art in society. Such an appreciation should be able to distinguish between what is shown at a rundown affair in a seedy part of town operated by criminal types, and an exhibit– albeit controversial because of the questioning it subjects society’s conventions to – set up at a government-run museum or cultural center.”
According to the lawyers, the alternative to a state and a society founded on principled pluralism is a return to a Christendom where the Inquisition was the order of the day for those who dared to cast a different vision of societal order.