Jai De Los Santos
In the beginning…
Drag Den Philippines Season 1 contestant and prolific Filipino drag performer Pura Luka Vega is alive and kicking after pledging freedom last October 7 after arrest with photos of un-uniformed policemen from their home in Sta. Cruz, Manila issued by the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 36 and detained in the Manila Police District 3 with a 72,000php-worth of bail.

The drag queen had paid their fees after a surge of assistance from the queer community mainly mobilized on X (Twitter) by Pura Luka Vega’s co-performers from Drag Den: NAIA Black and Lady Gagita to name a few. Accordingly, many other artists took the initiative for an artist’s bazaar-drag show NKKLK (nakakaloka) as a fundraiser for their bail led by Drag Race Philippines S1 winner Precious Paula Nicole with 43 other queens last October 8. Drag Den’s host/producer and international Filipino drag icon Manila Luzon also brought about global light in their X account to show support.

Book I: The Leon(a Lewis), the Drag, and the Wardrobe

Prior to the apprehension, the drag queen, stylized shortly as Luka, visited the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) prosecutor’s office last September 8—as the Catholic community celebrated Virgin Mary’s nativity—to face legal battles after their artistic performance of prayer ‘Ama Namin’ remix last July after a viral video. Luka returned to the office on multiple occasions thereafter during the lawfilled cycles; in the queerest, gayest drag OOTDs of course.

On another overarching plot, after 17 declarations of persona non grata in 17 areas arrived at the performer’s stage noted with online ostracisms from Philippine senators, death allegations, and the case in alleged violation of Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code (amended by Presidential Decree Nos. 960 and 969), Luka continues to stand for freedom in religion practices, performance, and provocative art.
While many will remember them as a ‘blasphemous’ queer or blasphemous and queer, Amadeus Fernando Pagente had always been loud and colorful in pushing the boundaries of gender and religious expression and criticisms. The drag queen first gained public spotlight as a performer in their lip sync performance of Leona Lewis’ Bleeding Love in 2019 dressed in corseted wedding gown paired with a sheer veil, fully bearded and mustachioed, while spilling fake blood in their chest during the first chorus.

BOOK II: The Priest and his Placard

Luka’s aesthetic of Roman Catholic campiness marked with queer aura has always been their branding. And while not the first entity to creatively use religion and criticize human faith through art, how was this drag queen singled out and threatened of existence when many notable artists, from literature to theater to film, have always provoked critical points, digressing and even being bluntly against Jesus H. Christ?

Let’s take a look at a few remarkable acts of ‘blasphemy’ in the past and where humanity draws the line:
Exhibit A: Carlos Celdran’s Damaso and the Black Silicone Dildo
MANILA - Performance artist and cultural activist Carlos Cedran’s short documentary on protesting against the Catholic church in the Manila Cathedral in 2010 and its stance against the then Reproductive Health Bill in the Philippines was marked with Jose Rizal’s Catholic representation of abusive faith.
Prior to the 2010 event, Celdran was a frontliner in Philippine blog-posts with notable pieces circling cultural and religious criticisms like his more recent ‘The Hacienda World As We Know It’ in 2017. This writing followed a creative lunge of fictional Iñaki Yxturralde of Makati to criticize the Filipino upper class, their riches, addictions, and facade of religiousness through his Christmas in Alabang extravaganza. The short read included an iteration of a black silicone dildo and some other sex toys under a crucifix with Iñaki snorting a ‘copious amount of cocaine’.
MADRID - Celdran passed away in 2019 of natural causes but was most proud in his interviews that his black suit and canvas inked with ‘DAMASO’ on the cathedral’s pulpit helped propel the Philippines’ consciousness on reproductive health and women’s freedom. With a year in prison after the protest in 2010, Celdran moved himself to Spain due to the ‘aggressive political climate’. Extending Noli Me Tangere’s narrative, Padre Damaso’s fate ended after being reassigned to another town after being revealed as Maria Clara’s father and rapist of her late mother, Donya Pia Alba.
But of course, Carlos Celdran was cisheteronormative-passing and masculine-expressing, thus, treated differently from a drag queen who had their online images mutilated. Nor his life status heeded a fact-check article by Rappler after multiple YouTube content-creators called them dead.

Exhibit B: Nora Aunor’s Elsa in Himala

“Walang himala! Ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao, nasa puso nating lahat! Tayo ang gumagawa ng himala. Tayo ang gumagawa ng mga sumpa at ng mga Diyos… Walang himala!”
OCCIDENTAL MINDORO - Ricky Lee’s Himala in 1982 starred a young Nora Aunor following the true-to-life events of young schoolgirls in Lubang, Occidental Mindoro who experienced Marian apparitions or alleged appearances of the Virgin Mary.
The adaptation premiered and won Best Film in the Metro Manila Film Festival of that year. It peaked as one of Nora Aunor’s moments of stardom after the “Walang himala” speech from religious hysteria that showcased the eerie oddity of apparitions delivered with the feminine rage of being unheard and mocked as an impoverished woman. She also bagged the Best Actress Award from the film body that year.
Aunor’s creatively dry delivery was a wakeup call that the entire plot’s revolution on the Virgin Mary was all made up and that Elsa was not conceiving a child from the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, her point being, our humanity created the gods and miracles— or lack thereof— and despite such, it is still honorable to simply exist with belief in humanity nonetheless and that miracles are, simply, acts of kindness.
Himala, 1982 was a deadlock of the two prickly ends of the religious-secular spectrum. The ontological argument ‘Do we exist because of gods or do gods exist because of human imagination?’ is a juxtaposition that had asked itself rigorously in many pop culture channels long before Himala, even until today, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and Atsushi Ohkubo’s Fire Force (2015).

Exhibit C: MET GALA 2018’s Fashion and the Catholic Imagination

NEW YORK - Arguably VOGUE Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour’s best idea of the gala that takes place annually on the first Monday of May. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Arts’ yearly fund-raising party aims to supplant the collections’ needs while also promoting wearable art following homage to VIPs of fashion, activism, and sociocultural criticisms.
In 2018, the MET was one of the year’s most iconic pop culture moment which delivered Rihanna as a Catholic bishop, Cardi B and Ariana Grande in cathedral motif, Katy Perry with a bleached pixie cut and angel wings, and Lana Del Rey as a seraphim with a heart of puncturing knives. But of course, people prefer the Catholic portrayal with opulence and luxury and haute couture.
On a further example, some other forms of protests like climate change activism (and other timely issues) have provided more commitment on atrocity and more grotesque ways to implore points. Last October 2022, two protesters splattered tomato soup cans on Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflower painting in the National Gallery in London in the name of stopping fossil fuel consumption.

Exhibit D: Dante’s Divine Comedy

9TH CIRCLE OF HELL - The Christian bible never indulged in hell as much as its heavenly counterpart was discussed to be the endgame Christians prefer but since Inferno’s completion in 1314, Dante Alighieri’s portrayal of a Christian journey through the nine levels of hell, albeit allegorical, had been discussed prominently in various academic and religious channels. Also probably because it was romantic that Dante was rummaging hell to find Beatrice’s soul to save her. And love was a scarce but effective narrative.
In all the bible’s glory and rewritten versions, purgatory is also never mentioned in the Christian holy scripture but somehow, cherry-picking which claims to extrapolate is Christian faith’s niche skill-issue. As if it is a jeepney terminal for the dead that could bring them to heaven but has to be paid in the first 40-days with prayers as tokens to the driver. Similar to the River Styx with the undead for an eccentric boat captain; but, mainly due to the comfort it brings to people’s unrest on the afterlife oblivion while also putting weight on church tithes.

BOOK III: The Drag Voyage of the Queer Teader

These questions, criticisms, and even the mere call to be critical of religious views have been constant since before the drag culture of the queer community and has been ressurging today. However, because Pura Luka Vega’s biz is built on being queer (and that they’re not hetero-passing as Celdran) and appearing differently to invoke conversations, the Filipino community is quick on their pebbles because it has been quite some time since someone was stoned to death.

Pork Barrel kickback receiver and present senator JV Ejercito pinged the drag queen’s video as  “blasphemy” and “went overboard” on X last July 12 that legally materialized with another charge for Luka under the Section 6 of Republic Act No. 10175.
Senator Win Gatchalian from the Gatchalian industrialist family of destructive mining and energy monopoly also warned that “this is exactly what will destroy our society” after Pura Luka Vega’s 40-second video of lip syncing to an Ama Namin remix inside a club— a musical arrangement of the prayer mixed by SoundCloud user Raphael Martinez in 2020 used rampantly through the TikTok hype by many other celebrities and content creators. But the point still stands: Pura Luka Vega in white robe and highlighted cheeks is where our community draws the line.
In the scandalous 2018 of former president Rodrigo Duterte with “...your God is stupid” on national media with all the intentions of mockery and blasphemy, a drag performance in a club meant for entertainment and bringing sectors of those unwelcomed by the churches is where a prayer is misplaced.
The drag queen reiterated to ABS-CBN that the performance was not meant to be ‘disrespectful’. Pura Luka Vega said, “I was very intentional [in] using a specific song and the symbolism to relate the queer crowd with the intersection of queerness and religion.” On Instagram last September 8, in purple and pink, they posted a photo along Quezon City Hall of Justice captioned with “Drag is NOT a crime” nor should the law be used against “unique cultural practices”.
Church leaders under the Philippines for Jesus Movement (PJM) filed a case against the drag artist while a number of priests affiliated to PJM also individually charged Pura Luka Vega with the same complaints under the Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code, which weighs 12 years of jail time, and the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012.
While taking offense is a human reaction to subjective disrespect, were all these that have taken place as fruits to a 40-second video respectful to Filipino issues that have been on the same degree— if not higher— that converged multiple dogmatic beliefs? Like 2020’s presidential pardon of then Rodrigo Duterte to Joseph Scott Pemberton who was convicted for murder of Filipino trans woman Jennifer Laude; or Senator Bong Revilla’s 225-million-peso kickback from Janet Lim Napoles who, after 4 years of imprisonment, still starring on GMA primetime slots; but of course, persona non grata labels are only applicable to drag queens and the unpliant performers and miscreants.
In the end, that one they call the Son in the trinity was also an activist who went to temples and destroyed tables of capitalists bearing bible verses and questioned the status quo and was nailed to a cross after digressing from religious leaders. But of course, Jesus was not gay in a club downtown singing to Leona Lewis was He?