Don Bosco Philippines South Province

Salesians of Don Bosco – Philippine South Province FIS

We Are Not Americans

The recent furor on the “provocative” exhibit hosted by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) brought to attention the fact, although in a negative way, that we are not Americans. The exhibit is from Mideo Cruz who expressed his messages by juxtaposing religious images with phallic symbols. I was personally offended by those works of art. Together with the other Filipino Catholics who felt the same, we see how much we differ culturally from the West.

The issue became a war between two good things: freedom of expression and social value ranking. As Fr. Dixie aptly placed it in his good night talk, “the West values more personal freedom and expression even at the cost of society, but we are Asians. Filipinos value more the group than the individual.” He couldn’t be more right. We see here how Western values brought by globalization collide with Cultural values and we know such collision is explosive.

It would also be improper if someone would comment that the reaction stems from a narrow view of conservative Catholics. To say that “we are not yet open minded” about these things is to be ignorant of Filipino culture and value system. The average Filipino simply has a different set of values than the average westerner. Does the statement imply that we are going to the path of being open-minded, whatever that is? Does this imply that the Filipino will in the future adopt foreign values at the sacrifice of his own?

Let me expose some of the collisions:

  1. Values. Filipinos put more value on religion than personal freedom of expression. This stems from the Asian heritage of group over the individual. A Filipino is more sensitive on how his speech would affect others than his freedom to say anything he wants.
  2. Law. The value ranking in the previous item is reflected in the country’s legislation. The 1987 Constitution protects personal freedom of expression: “no law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” (see Article 3 Sec 4). The Revised Penal Code however puts qualifiers for this: “those who shall publicly expound or proclaim doctrines openly contrary to public morals… those who, in theaters, fairs, cinematographs or any other place, exhibit, indecent or immoral plays, scenes, acts or shows, whether live or in film, which are prescribed by virtue hereof, shall include those which… offend any race or religion; …are contrary to law, public order, morals, and good customs, established policies, lawful orders, decrees and edicts.” (see Article 201). Why?
  3. Ethics. There is no such thing as absolute freedom of expression. No freedom is absolute, not in any law, not in any government. It is summed up by the often quoted saying by Justice Oliver Wendell, “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” But we cannot judge immediately from this. We must also note that it is also a question if Mideo Cruz has the intent to offend religion.
I believe one bishop was correct to say that the artist should have also have been extra sensitive to his audience with regards to the nature of his works. This issue is could not be restricted to offense against Catholic religious sensitivity. We can point out that any free man is expected to respect others and in particular the religious sensitivities of any group.
So, I am happy to say that we are not Americans. I am happy that we are still conscious of the values we hold as a people. And this event is an invitation for us to nourish that Cultural identity and protect it against the dangers of globalization (not globalization as a whole!).


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