WHAT JUST HAPPENED. Tuesday, May 16, 2023, photos of Joy Dacoron, Binibining Plipinas contestant from Cebu Province wearing a costume that strongly resembled the vestment of Senyor Sto. Niño were posted on the Facebook page of Bb. Pilipinas.

The image of a grown woman in Sto. Nino attire, presenting herself as a boy child, was something new for beauty competitors from Cebu, although an Eastern Samar contestant in 2022 wore a “Virgin Mary-inspired” costume, which also drew flak in the social media.

There were more criticisms than praise in Dacoron’s way. Local film director and publicist Sam Costanilla posted the comment that it was “in bad taste” and “a blasphemy.” Atty. Regal Oliva, president of Cebu Lady Lawyers, Inc., called it a “cheap rehash” of the image millions of Catholics pay homage to and saw no “creativity” in the effort, recalling last year’s aping of the “Virgin Mary” look. Others were just as blunt: “Nganong kana man.” “Di na insakto.” ”Wa gyud ni nama-o.” “Sa langub imong gipuy-an imo kaming panabangan,” a response line in a prayer for the dead.

Read: Official statement of Augustinian friars of Basilica del Sto. Niño

WHAT AUGUSTINIAN FRIARS THINK. An official statement of the Augustinian friars of the Basilica del Sto. Nino didn’t explicitly and directly castigate the wearing of the Sto. Nino garment by Joy Dacoron. Instead it reminded devotees “to keep in mind the appropriateness of our actions.” “As Cebuano Catholics, the Sto. Nino has a profound religious and cultural importance to us.” The Augustinian friars urged that we “approach the Sto. Nino with reverence and respect... to avoid conflict and misunderstanding.” “As one Catholic community, let the Sto. Nino be our source of peace in our walk of faith.”

The first part of the statement talks of people’s devotion to the Holy Child, citing among the demonstrations of faith “the dressing of children as Ninos.” The Augustinian friars called the wearing of the Sto. Nino vestment by children “one of the expressions of faith by parents n order to help them understand and grow their faith to the Child Jesus.”

So the Basilica keepers expressly approve of children being made to wear Nino garments but don’t endorse their wearing by grown-ups although the friars stop short of condemning Joy Dacon’s fashion statement.

DACORON’S MOTIVE. Unsurprisingly, critics haven’t left Joy Dacoron’s personal motive alone. They say Joy Dacoron wanted to catch media attention and stir controversy.

Dacoron has not been heard from, since her Tuesday post, thanking Bishop Ruben Labajo and others who allowed the shooting of photos at the church. The Bb. Pilipinas FB page no longer shows the montage of photos led off by the sole image of Dacoron in full Sto. Niño regalia but Niño-costumed photo was taken outside the church, not inside it.

Bishop Labajo, auxiliary bishop of Cebu, corrected in a statement the impression that he gave permission for Dacoron to use the vestment of Sto. Nino as national costume. Her request was to have churches in Cebu as the background for the photoshoot. He didn’t know, Bishop Labajo said -- much more (“labaw pa”) the Augustinian friars -- that it would be used to promote the Sto. Nino vestment.

WOULD THE CHURCH MIND? Interestingly, the Cebu Archdiocese, through spokesperson Joseph Tan, according to news reports, no permission was needed for Dacoron and her team to use a vestment of Sto. Nino as pageant costume. The Archdiocese wasn’t consulted, he said, but no permission was necessary.

While the auxiliary bishop, Bishop Labajo, was concerned about the question of the Church allowing, or being seen to approve, the wearing of the Sto. Nino vestment, the spokesperson, Fr. Tan, seemed not to worry about that. If the Cebu Archdiocese had been asked, would it have expressed a stand, or would it have kept its hands off it?

The Augustinian friars are not being direct and clear, categorical only about children being dressed up as Niños. About grown-ups like Joy Dacoron, the Basilica priests are speaking only of the Sto. Nino’s place in the hearts of Cebuano Catholics and of “reverence and respect” to the Holy Child, and the need of “appropriateness” in devotees’ actions.