02C28: Pura Luka Vega

Thursday - Pura Luka Vega on Drag Den

While hackers have released stolen PhilHealth data (which may or may not be limited to employee data) on the dark web and other shenanigans continue in the country, drag queen Pura Luka Vega was arrested yesterday on the same day as the finale of the second season of Drag Race Philippines. The policemen who came to arrest them were not in uniform and the charge was for Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code "immoral doctrines, obscene publications and exhibitions and indecent shows." This all stems from a now-controversial performance of "Ama Namin" while Pura Luka Vega was dressed as Jesus.

Beyond last year's debut season of Drag Den, I've never seen Pura Luka Vega perform in person. We were connected as mutuals on Twitter for a time, but this was well before they rose to greater prominence as a drag queen. We didn't interact much, which is why I eventually disconnected. But like with other drag artists, I've generally appreciated their dedication to their craft and their particular focus on playing with gender norms by maintaining a beard while in drag. 

While I don't necessarily appreciate everything that Pura Luka Vega has done as a drag artist, I respect their artistic intent and their willingness to push boundaries and challenge certain norms. But being so forward, even when it comes to art, is not without consequences. I do not agree that anything they've done as a drag performance constitutes a criminal act, it was fairly inevitable that they'd run into trouble with the many conservatives (or even just the very loud conservatives).

The Philippine legal system is a complicated one but also one that can seem very simple when you have sufficient resources to muster. And an independent drag artist is hardly a person of significant wealth, especially in a country like the Philippines. Pura Luka Vega is already facing several cases in different cities and with the NBI and it will take time (and quite a bit of money) for Pura to respond to all these charges should the different courts find sufficient merit. Someone like Pura Luka Vega may lose in the long run by default should they run out of resources or willing supporters. And trials don't run short he either, so it becomes more like a marathon than a series of sprints.

This (first?) arrest is particularly troubling since it involves a case in Manila that Pura Luka Vega claims they never received the subpoenas. If true, it is most troubling that the Manila Prosecutor's office had such trouble getting the subpoenas for two separate hearings in the hands of Pura Luka Vega but had no issues with finding their home in order to arrest them this week. Already we can tell that this is just the beginning of a larger mess of complexity. Pura Luka Vega faces many trials ahead - both literal and figurative. And all because their art often rubs people's sentiments the wrong way.

The way Pura Luka Vega has responded to their performances in recent months has been less than ideal, admittedly. A lot of what has been said was clearly inflammatory and only encouraged their detractors to escalate things to where they are today. But at the same, it was totally within their rights to do this and certainly none of this properly constitutes as being criminally dire in nature. But the matter is already being brought to the courts and no matter the outcome, the community loses a bit in all this. But that should not deter us from standing for what is right - and that means standing up in solidarity with this drag artist and doing our best to help ensure that this does not become the first case of many. We cannot let this sort of narrow conservative thinking win out. These are the kinds of incidents that can lead to the gradual and systematic whittling away of our rights and freedoms as part of the LGBT community as engineered by those who find our very existence to be "obscene" or otherwise "morally" indecent.

This fight has been going on for some time. The fight continues on. And it is the obligation of the community to come together and ensure that no further injustice is done.

Pura Luka Vega is still in jail. And no one deserves that for expressing themselves through their art, no matter how controversial the subject matter or performance.