Friday, August 12, 2011

Reflection on the Controversial Exhibit by CCP Trustee, Fray Paulo Casurao




I am writing this reflection as a response to Dr. Florangel Braid’s observations on the forum which occurred shortly after the CCP Executive Board Meeting on Friday, August 5, 2011, convened by Dr. Raul Sunico, CCP President, to discuss the brewing controversy spawned by the exhibit KULO, and also to reiterate some points I raised during the said meeting.

Present in that meeting were Dr. Raul Sunico, CCP President, Mrs. Emily Abrera, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, the Trustees Dr. Florangel Braid, Mrs. Isabel Caro Wilson, Ms. Nedy Tantoco, Ms. Carol Espiritu, and myself. I was provided a copy of Mr. Nick Lizaso’s letter of objection to the exhibit and Mr. Antonio Yap’s email with the same objection. Mr. Nick Lizaso called me earlier to remind me to put his objection on record, which I did, at least, two times during the deliberations. To my recollection, there were six trustees who were opposed to the exhibit: Dr. Raul Sunico, Ms. Nedy Tantoco, Mrs. Isabel Caro Wilson, and I, who were present, and Mr. Nick Lizaso and Mr. Antonio Yap, who sent their objections by email. Those who were in favor of the exhibit were CCP Chairman Emily Abrera, Dr. Florangel Braid, and Ms. Carol Espiritu.

At the end of the meeting, the presiding office, Chairman Abrera, said she was not calling for a vote, but only to consult with the board members, and that the exhibit could not be closed due to the contract that provided for the use of the venue until the third week of August.

Of course heated exchanges were made during the board meeting. I, for one, restated my own expression of freedom of speech, which I sent by email at the very start of the uproar occasioned by the exhibit, in an equally dramatic fashion: May the families of those who rejoice in the insult against heaven be cursed for seven generations and may their households be consumed with misery for the same length of time. I added that it should not disturb those who do not share my faith and should it ever happen, they can shrug it off as mere coincidence, since the connection cannot be proven empirically.

The Plenitude of Life - John 10:10

I subscribe to the Liberal Humanism of Pope John Paul II, of revered memory, specifically with regards to culture and the arts. The gospel passage “…they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,” has always been the reference of my involvement in cultural work since the 1970s as we battled Martial Law through theater and all through the years, even as a founder of one of the first arts councils affiliated to the CCP from 1988 onwards. That the CCP has accorded us, the Ibabao Arts Council of Calbayog, Inc. the PILAK HONOR in 2004 is a distinct recognition of our enduring work in the cultural transformation of our country. I believe this is also the principal reason why I was appointed to the CCP Board of Trustees in 2009.

The freedom that must come from this frame of reference is the freedom of expression with an important caveat - it must not harm others. That freedom is based on one preeminent task, as secular humanism would passionately argue - the founding of a just and peaceful society.

I submit, therefore, that the exhibit “KULO” is an incendiary attack against Christian Faith, as whole, and the Catholic Church, in particular. As all art exhibits are founded on the so-called creative intent of the artists, the counter-discourse cannot be dismissed by the claim to the so-called freedom of expression and hide behind the perceived constitutional guarantees, for the freedom of religion is also a paramount guarantee of a civilized constitution. The unjust vexations suffered by Christians, Catholics in particular, occasioned by the exhibit at government-funded Cultural Center of the Philippines might even give the wrong impression that the ruling political powers have let loose their hounds against the Catholic Church.

Into the “Devil’s Labyrinth”

In the debate that ensued during the CCP Executive Board Meeting, I asked the presiding officer, whether she would allow an exhibit that would feature a frame of the president treated in the same way at the debauched face of Jesus Christ in the exhibit. She answered that the President Benigno Aquino’s effigy has been burned in the street. I said that I am not referring to anywhere else but the CCP. I asked the question again whether she would allow an exhibit, at the CCP, of the President’s image being defaced in the same manner. Yes, she said. Then, I wondered aloud: How would the Aquino family feel if there was an exhibit at the CCP that defaced Cory Aquino?

When the officer in-charge of the Visual Arts was invited in, I asked her if she would have allowed another exhibit, God forbid, that blasphemed the revered Islamic prophet. She could not answer. She found the question difficult to answer; but, she seemed not to have any qualms about giving permission to an exhibit that mocked Christianity.

It was suggested that the exhibit also referred to the National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, who was a UST student and who attacked religious institutions. I protested that Rizal never hurled an insult at God. He was not expelled by the Dominicans from the university. To connect the exhibit to him is to abuse and dishonor his memory.

When Ms. Espiritu wanted to dismiss the voices of protest as coming only from the Catholics, I told her that no God-fearing Christian will not consider the exhibit offensive - Catholic or not. I hastened to remind her that the CCP is funded by taxes which Catholics also pay. A trustee retorted that the Bishops do not pay taxes. I argued that millions of Catholics like me pay taxes, directly or indirectly. At that point, I realized that the debate was pointless, even as Dr. Braid and I concluded that the debate at large on the matter should continue. I felt that the prejudice by some trustees against the Catholic Church precluded any further discussion.

Aftermath: You Reap What You Sow

If we argue for freedom of expression by allowing the “blasphemous” exhibit at the CCP, do we have the right to deprive those who were aggrieved or maligned by it to express their indignation as passionately and as strongly as the artists by their “artistic expression.” Are we not guilty of bigotry, if we want the Catholics to shut up because they are just Catholics. Would such attitude invite the millions of Catholic faithful to take us to task?

It seems that it is now “open season” against the Church that paved the way for another Aquino to ascend the presidency via the much televised funeral where he was endorsed by his younger sister to the grieving nation. It is ironical that the Church that offered sanctuary to Mrs. Corazon Aquino, in life and in death, should be the object and subject of attack by those who want to curry favor with the presidential palace.

The tragedy is, that in allowing an exhibit that would occasion such repulsion, the more important discourse on Art and National Transformation, as Dr. Braid would suggest, or Culture and National Development as I would advocate, has been overshadowed along extemely “partisan” lines.

Dr. Florangel Braid, who holds my utmost respect, even wrote in her e-mail: “I was just wondering that while we are witnessing many abuses of human rights (on children, vulnerable minority groups, etc.), which certainly are more shocking, these holy defenders of our morals have gone out of their way to spew insult to "betrayers of public trust" like us who certainly had no malicious intent. They even showed distrust by saying that this may have been timed with the Reproductive Health and Divorce bills. Which is farthest from the mind of Karen and our board...(I just wanted to get this out of my system too). .”

The inference that the Church has been remiss in fighting for human rights is unfair and cannot be sustained, considering the broad-involvement and advocacy by Church people on social issues. Lay people and priests have lost their lives in standing up for their commitment against human rights violations and even in campaign to save forests. (I also want to get this out of my system, too).

The greater tragedy is the chasm between the Church that stood-up against Martial Law and the Liberals who would want the Church to gobble-up whatever is served to it. The recent abuses heaped upon the Church by the operatives of the “Liberal” agenda now encourages disengagement from cooperation with government and distance from greater dialogue with liberal humanism, which is an essential element in the pursuit of the so-called UN Millennium Development Goals.

UNESCO Director General Irina Bukova, during her address at the dinner in the San Agustin Church grounds, hosted by the NCCA and the ITI Philippine Center in her honor, reasoned for what she called as “New Humanism.” The “Kulo” affair hardly contributes to this cause.

Redress of Grievance

I concurred with the lawyer present that the matter should go to court, so as to define the limits to the constitutional guarantee on the freedom of expression. I also told the trustees present that I would counsel the Catholics to write to their House Representatives and the Senators to voice out their concern regarding such policies by the CCP, which is a government institution. Furthermore, I said I would to bring the matter to Civil Service Commission so that accountability by civil servants, in this case those in the CCP, could be determined.

Other recourses can include a boycott of companies and products that sponsor CCP programs and events. These recourses are more preferable to other more violent responses that the fanatic may have in mind.

On my part, I am tempted to take the challenge to every parish and in every church of the Catholic faith in this country and bring the discourse to the attention of every tax-paying Catholic to the Chair that our Catholic voices matter and that the President of this Republic would do well to continue securing the cooperation of everyone, Catholics included.

There is an intensified clamor for the CCP Chair and Board to resign. Perhaps, it is the more honorable and decent way to deflect the arrows that will be aimed at the Presidency; an institution we are duty-bound as citizens to uphold and preserve whether we sympathize with the current occupant or not.

Even if I was indignant and opposed the exhibit, I have no qualms about resigning my CCP seat since I also feel marginalized as an appointee of the past administration. I spend congregational money when I have to travel from Cebu to Manila and back to attend the monthly board meetings. I have refused the paltry honorarium given to trustees. I even refuse the food served during meetings, hoping that I might be able to contribute to the Outreach Division that have been apportioned an almost token budget. I have been slandered too as every man and woman of good will and dedication to the welfare of this country have been slandered and maligned by their mere association with the past president.

The CCP that I have served, largely for free, since 1988 as a cooperator and advocate from the regions, has taken from me an enormous amount of joy in recent memory.

Fra. Paolo Maria Diosdado Granados Casurao, CSFP
CCP Trustee

Chairman, Pasundayag Cultural Network
Chairman, Institute of Drama for the Development of Peoples
Executive Board Member, ITI International Monodrama Forum
Executive Board Member, ITI Philipne Center
Chairman, Dulaang Laksambayanan
Chairman, Alsa Balutan Monodrama Festival

Copy furnished:

The President of the Republic of the Philippines
The Senate of the Philippines
The House of Representatives
The Papal Nuncio
The Catholic Archbishop of Manila
The Catholic Archbishop of Cebu
The UNESCO Director General
The Franciscans at the United Nations
The Conferenza Francescana Internazionale
The Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines

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