‘Blasphemous’ artist cleared of raps
Saying the artwork in question could not be considered obscene, the Office of Ombudsman has dismissed the criminal case filed against controversial artist Mideo Cruz in connection with his allegedly blasphemous collage titled “Poleteismo” which was part of the “Kulo” art exhibit organized by the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) in 2011.
In a joint resolution and joint decision signed on Feb. 28, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales said there was no probable cause to hold Cruz and 10 CCP officials criminally liable for violating Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code or the law which penalizes offenses against decency and customs.
At the same time, she noted that there was no substantial evidence to hold the CCP officials administratively liable as well.
Charged along with Cruz were CCP board of trustees members Emily Abrera, Raul Sunico, Florangel Rosario-Braid, Jaime Laya, Isabel Caro Wilson, Zenaida Tantoco, Maria Cristina Turalba, Antonio Yap, Carolyn Espiritu and CCP Visual Arts and Museum Division head Karen Ocampo Flores.
Poleteismo—a collage showing religious statuettes, religious icons, graduation photos, calendars, maps and images of actors, politicians, sports stars and pop celebrities—was part of the Kulo art exhibit that featured the work of 30 artists in June 2011 until an outcry from some conservative groups led to its closure nearly two months later.
Center of controversy
Some Catholics protested in particular Cruz’s decision to mix religious images with phallic symbols, a condom and Mickey mouse ears, leading them to file cases against him and the CCP officials.
Saying that Poleteismo could not be considered an “obscene” exhibition, the Ombudsman said that censoring offensive artwork was a form of prior restraint prohibited by the Constitution and did not fall under the limited exceptions rule where an expression such as pornography may be subject to prior restraint.
“The artwork neither depicts, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct nor appeals to the prurient interest. Nor was it found to be lacking in serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value as to remove it from the ambit of constitutionally protected expression,” it added.
In resolving the administrative cases, the Ombudsman said that violation of the norms of conduct under the law does not make a public officer or employee administratively liable per se.
It cited the ruling in the Domingo v Ombudsman case that the law does not provide penalties or sanctions for failure to observe those norms although it could be used as a basis for the granting of rewards or incentives.
Since the officials concerned had no legal duty to prohibit the exhibit which was not found to be obscene, the element of clear intent to violate the law or flagrant disregard of established rule was not present in the case, thus, there was no grave misconduct committed on their part, the Ombudsman said.
It also stressed that the Constitution mandates the state to remain neutral in its acts which should neither advance nor inhibit religion.
The Ombudsman further said that Poleteismo—as part of the Kulo exhibit which was aimed at showcasing artists’ contribution to the discourse on art and social reality in line with Jose Rizal’s 150th birth anniversary—was intended to provoke thought and discussion on the perception that society had been adoring the gods of money, personalities and sex.
As such, the exhibit was not for profit or commercial gain, since the artworks were not for sale and no entrance or venue fees were collected from the public or participating artists, it added.
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