Amadeus Fernando Pagente, known as Pura Luka Vega in the drag community, found themselves in legal jeopardy after a performance that portrayed Jesus Christ reciting the Lord’s Prayer. The video of the act, which had garnered attention and sparked outrage from Christian groups in July, led to criminal complaints. Pagente, a 33-year-old artist, could potentially face a lengthy prison sentence of up to 12 years under the country’s obscenity laws, given that nearly 80% of the Philippines identifies as Roman Catholic.
The charges against Pagente include “immoral doctrines, obscene publications and exhibitions, and indecent shows,” as outlined in the arrest warrant issued by Manila police. In the video, Pagente, adorned as Jesus Christ, delivers a rock rendition of the Lord’s Prayer in Tagalog, although the video has since been removed.
This incident has not only resulted in legal action but also social repercussions. Various groups, including the Philippines for Jesus Movement and the Nazarene Brotherhood, filed criminal complaints, while several cities, including Manila, declared Pagente “persona non grata.”
Pagente’s case highlights a shift in the role of drag queens in the Philippines. Traditionally popular entertainers, many drag queens are now using their performances to advocate for their causes and challenge the boundaries of free speech. Pagente commented on the arrest, emphasizing the “degree of homophobia” in the country and asserting their right to express themselves through drag, despite the controversial nature of the performance.
Supporters of Pagente have rallied behind the hashtag #FreePuraLukaVega, arguing that “drag is not a crime” and questioning the fairness of the arrest compared to alleged murderers and sex offenders who remain at large. Human Rights Watch’s LGBT+ rights program specialist, Ryan Thoreson, also called for the charges against Pagente to be dropped, underlining the importance of artistic expression that may challenge religious beliefs while advocating for freedom of expression.