In a country where the “word” and “will” of the Roman Catholic God are popular buzzwords and points of deference that transcend profession and social and economic class, it has always been one of modern societies’ biggest ironies that gigantic billboards exhibiting scantily clad models pitching skin whiteners, body sprays colognes, and mobile devices stand as ubiquitous features in most of its cities. Despite virtually every Filipino predisposed to wistfully invoking “God’s plan” for their fortunes when uncertainty looms or a moment of self-doubt strikes, we find hordes of adolescent Filipinos sporting — and expressing over social networks — senses of entitlement to the latest branded gear and gadget that would make most marketing professional salivate.
There is nothing inherently wrong with showing a bit of skin (or, for that matter, even all of it) or wanting the latest thing (or for that matter, everything). But Roman Catholic dogma is quite clear on where it stands with sexual permissiveness and materialism. It does not tolerate either. Yet what can be readily observed in contemporary Philippine society is pretty much the antithesis of everything Catholic.
The trouble is, Filipinos make a big show of being “good” Catholics. The Philippines is renowned for its authentic crucifixions during the Easter season, is known for its Churches bursting at the seams with people every Sunday, is abuzz with loud talk about attending simbang gabi night masses during the Christmas season, and celebrates champion boxers who kneel in prayer before their God before a bout so that may be granted the strength to beat the living daylights out of their opponent in the ring.
What then can we make of the brouhaha over the bikini-clad girls of the good Catholic school of Saint Theresa’s College (STC) of Cebu City? For allegedly posting photos of themselves wearing bikinis, these girls were barred from attending their graduation rights. For allegedly downloading these pictures and making them public, their parents sued the school. And for allegedly being “bad parents” the school sued the parents.
Holy situation comedy Batman!
If anyone who’s been watching bemused as this drama makes lucrative television news fodder hasn’t noticed yet, the Philippines is already a failed Christianic state. Much of what ails the Philippines today and makes its people hopelessly ungovernable is an outcome of a convolutedly tangled up moral fabric that centuries of Roman Catholic “guidance” delivered by celibate clerics seemed to have not ironed out. As Charlene and Stevie Wonder once sang…
The kids are wild we just can’t tame ‘em
Do we have the right to blame them;
We fed them all our indecisions
We wrecked their minds with television.
The real issue is quite clear — at least to those who use their heads instead of their prayer beads.
And yet the elders of a 79-year-old Catholic institution of learning and the parents of these kids and their lawyers stand locked in a laughably pointless but escalating legal battle. To an outsider who routinely regards the overarching moral and ethical wasteland that is Philippine society from a high vantage point, this little peacock pageant merely entertains.
The fact is, Philippine society runs on a cultural framework that has already overspilled the old Tradition-Religion Complex that guides managers of schools like the STC and is rapidly spreading in an unstructured manner – in other words chaotically (which is why we find so much difficulty making heads or tails of these cultural issues). To the typical Filipino philandering male for example, there is no conflict between his regular church attendance and the harem of mistresses he maintains. He absolutely loves and adores his religion and complies faithfully with its dogma but at the same time he is aware of the reality of the moral ambiguousness of the society to which he belongs.
To this day in the Philippines the topic of sex, when raised, will most likely elicit snickers, jokes, and blushes in most Filipino adults or expressions of indignation and disgust. That its discussion is often suppressed and at the same time made the object of childish giggles shows just how uncomfortable most Filipinos are with a biological process that is otherwise practiced so liberally.
In her article “Between Sensationalism and Censure” (Philippine Journalism Review, April 2002, pages 35-37), Diana Mendoza observed how the bizarreness of Filipinos’ regard for sexuality is reflected in Philippine cinema. Her observations are gleaned from among others, comments made by sociology professor Michael Tan of the University of the Philippines in the Sixth International congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific held in Melbourne, Australia from the 5th to the 10th October 2001:
Commenting if the Philippines could be at the forefront of education on sex and sexuality Tan said no, because “media have very sensational coverage but they still have this patina of moralism which is strange.” He said this brims over to the film industry that churns out movies carrying the “crime and punishment” theme — for instance, movies with pots of adultery that run steamy sex scenes but which towards the end, mandate that the adulterer, who is always the female, gets shot or imprisoned.
“With these endings, movies become a morality play after two hours of titillation,” he said.
Tan said Filipino movies also carry the “crime and redemption” theme, in which a sex worker eventually realizes there is a better life outside prostitution, but only after the audience [have] been treated to several sexual episodes.
This is the sort of environment Filipino kids like the STC bikini girls grow up in today. Indeed, we do not have the right to blame them. And that is why the lawyers have been unleashed by both STC Cebu and the girls’ parents. There is only one another — their parents, and their schools — to blame.