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EXPLAINER: What happens if a person is declared 'persona non grata' in the Philippines?

By Melanie Uson Published Aug 15, 2023 7:38 pm

In a span of nearly three weeks, drag artist Pura Luka Vega has been declared persona non grata in several municipalities and provinces, including Laguna, Nueva Ecija, and Cagayan de Oro

Before this, she was also deemed persona non grata in the city of General Santos and the municipality of Floridablanca, Pampanga for her “blasphemous” act of singing to a punk rock version of The Lord’s Prayer—the central prayer of the Catholic Church—to a cheering crowd at a bar, while wearing an outfit portraying Jesus Christ.

Vega was not the first one to be declared as such in the country as various local and international actors were also viewed as unwelcome in specific provinces and cities, like Ai-Ai delas Alas in Quezon City and Ramon Bautista in Davao City. Foreign actors such as Alec Baldwin and Claire Dane were deemed unwelcome from entering the country, too.   

But what does persona non grata mean? And how will it affect the declared person or group? Here’s what the lawyers said. 

What does it mean if you are declared persona non grata? 

Atty. DJ Jimenez, a 2023 Gawad Manilenyo awardee, told PhilSTAR L!fe that the declaration of persona non grata, which directly means “unwelcome person,” is more of a “political statement” of the city.  

Meaning, this does not entail that the declared person will be prevented or arrested while visiting the specific city where they were declared as “unwelcome” unless they are found committing a crime with an issued warrant of arrest. 

This was seconded by Atty. Richard Tenorio of Tenorio Law Offices, adding that being declared as one does not mean that a specific LGU could legally force the person to leave the premises. 

“In the case of Pura, without a valid Warrant of Arrest, Pura may not be legally arrested nor escorted out,” he told L!fe. “To do so would be violative of Section 6, Article 3, Bill of Rights of the 1987 Constitution in relation to a person’s right to travel,” he added. 

As of writing, Vaga has been declared persona non grata in eight cities and provinces across the country. Atty. Jimenez, however, stressed that it may have no legal effect on her as a citizen.  

“I think this is more of a political statement over her actions. But legally, it may have no legal effect. It can only be a declaration of the city. In her case, the criminal case that [was] filed against her is one that we have to see if it will prosper at all,” he said.  

Atty. Jimenez further shared to L!fe that the drag artist’s right “may only be restricted by a court order or in some cases, by a conviction that is one that is protected by the bill of rights under the constitution.” 

“Kasi in constitution, hindi naman namimili na relihiyon. So, we have this bill of rights that sets the restriction against government abuses, and one of these rights that must be respected is the right to travel,” he added. 

Despite all this, Vega stands firm with her actions, defending that it is her way of expressing her art. 

“I understand the sentiments, and I think they’re valid but as an artist, the perception of my art is beyond my control. However, my intent is clear and does not mean to offend," she previously told L!fe

"It’s my way of expressing my faith, odd as it may seem. I deliberately chose Ama Namin for the message—a message of hope for the oppressed, particularly the LGBTQIA+ community," she added. 

She also reacted to the recent declarations, standing firm with her intent. 

“Tell me exactly what I did wrong. I’m open for a dialogue and yet cities have been declaring persona non grata without even knowing me or understanding the intent of the performance. Drag is art. You judge me yet you don’t even know me,” she wrote in X (formerly Twitter). (with reports from Brooke Villanueva)