Posts Tagged ‘Carlos Conde’

The board, in other words, should have no place in a democratic society. But the Philippines pretends to be a democracy, so the board exists — and offends our intelligence.

By Carlos Conde of Dateline Manila
Aug. 23 2010 – 06:30 pm

The Philippine movie industry is experiencing another one of those “golden ages,” this time propelled by the emergence of independent filmmakers who are making their mark not only locally but internationally. It seems to me that there’s no other way for Filipino filmmaking to go but up.

There are obstacles, of course. There’s the fact that not too many of these independently produced films are shown publicly, thanks to a cartel dominated by multiplexes such as SM Cinema and other mall-based theater chains. And there’s the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), the albatross around the neck of Filipino filmmakers.

Don’t be fooled by this board’s name. It does not merely review and classify – it censors, period.

Filipino filmmakers have tussled with the board on many occasions but it somehow managed to survive all these years, in spite of the fact that its raisons d’être – to protect “public morals” – is as laughable as the idea that the exposure onscreen of one female breast – even just one — constitutes an offense, perhaps because two breasts would be superfluous, thus excessive, in the eyes of some members of the board.

The board, in other words, should have no place in a democratic society. But the Philippines pretends to be a democracy, so the board exists — and offends our intelligence. For example, it X-ed a film, thus effectively banning it, just because one scene shows a newspaper with the photo of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo being used to wipe human feces. That scene, the board ruled, “undermines the faith and confidence of the people in government.”

The inimitable Armida Siguion-Reyna, the doyenne of Philippine cinema, theater and the arts, has circulated last week an open letter to President Benigno S. Aquino III about the MTRCB. This letter was first published in her column in the Daily Tribune.

Read and weep:

Our Excellency, Mr. President,

I had promised to conform to the traditional 100 days honeymoon between media and the newly elected to the highest office of the land, so this is nothing personal, sir. It’s about the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB).

Others will tell you I am angling to be put back in the office I held under President Joseph Estrada — please do not believe them. At 79 years, I’m a little too long in the tooth for the job. I also believe that the best thing to do with the MTRCB is to totally and completely abolish it in favor of a voluntary ratings and classification system similar to that successfully practiced by the Motion Picture Association of America since Jack Valenti put it up in 1966, upon orders of then US President Lyndon B. Johnson. If I may be brazen, I admit the establishment of a similar body is what I truly want, and I hope you create a Task Force to study its possibilities.

Meanwhile, talk is circulating about the reappointment of Ma. Consoliza Laguardia as MTRCB chairman. While to my knowledge Chairman Laguardia has never been linked to corruption or to wheeling and dealing for material benefits, her weaknesses have had gravely to do with allowing her members’ cavalier approach to film classification and permitting them to impose judgment according to the political convenience of powers-that-be, in complete disregard of the constitutional provision on freedom of expression.

Please be informed, Mr. President, that in October of 2008, under Ms Laguardia’s tenure, the MTRCB through a first review committee composed of Amalia Fuentes, Ros Olgado and Fr. Nick Cruz “X”-ed Lav Diaz’s Death in the Land of Encantos after seeing only 30 minutes where a pair of female breasts and a vagina had been seen. They may have perhaps based their decision on board Implementing Rules and Regulations that explicitly banned breasts and vaginas from screen exposure, but still. A clarification was in order, and no one in the MTRCB — certainly not Laguardia — ever denied if Fuentes and company actually watched only 30 minutes of the internationally acclaimed material.

Mr. President, Presidential Decree 1986, the law which created the MTRCB, stipulates that “films screened in government offices be exempt from censorship.” The Film Center, now under the ambit of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, is also supposedly under the same censorship-free status, and the University of the Philippines, which upholds academic freedom in its charter. The Laguardia MTRCB sought to countermand these exemptions, and sometime in 2009 sued the UP Film Institute for exhibiting Diaz’s …Encantos, Adolf Alix’s Aurora, Alejandro Ramos’ Butas, and 2009 Cannes Film Festival Best Director Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay.

Again, Mr. President, during the campaign period of this election, still under Ms Laguardia’s helm, the MTRCB “x-ed” two short films in the ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) AmBisyon 2010 series: Jeffrey Jeturian’s “Ganito Kami Noon, Paano na Tayo Bukas?” and Mendoza’s “Ayos Ka.”

To refresh your memory, Sir, ANC put up the series to help people come up with the correct choices for the election, “in the name of public interest, to offer a nation on the verge of a critical election the chance to focus on issues, not personalities… Twenty of the country’s most powerful voices in cinema… offered their talents gratis to each create a short film on a chosen issue… scheduled to screen at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on April 6, and in a five-episode weekly series over ANC and Studio 23 beginning April 9.”

ANC’s synopsis noted: “Jeturian’s film focused on the state of the economy. His camera follows a newspaper from the time it is delivered to a homeowner to when it is used to wipe feces from the foot of a cart-pushing vendor… (using) a newspaper printed with the same controversial advertisement that came out in early January trumpeting the administration’s economic successes… (ending) with President Arroyo’s photo on the crumpled newspaper.”

Laguardia’s MTRCB rated the Jeturian short “X” for “undermining the faith and confidence of the people in government.”

The ANC described the world-famous Mendoza’s film, “a music video whose hopeful soundtrack is a stark contrast against images of poverty, prostitution, drugs and murder.”

But Laguardia’s MTRCB deemed it “injurious to the prestige of the Republic of the Philippines and its people.” And likewise, “X-ed.”

The two shorts were eventually approved for screening as ABS-CBN refused to give up. Others before them were not so lucky, among them Joseph Estrada’s “Ang Mabuhay Para sa Masa” in 2006 and in 2007, all of 13 short films in RIGHTS, a collection put together by the Southern Tagalog Exposure with assistance from the human rights NGO Karapatan, to support the Free Jonas Burgos Movement’s campaign for the immediate and safe release of Burgos and all other victims of enforced disappearances in the term of the usurper Gloria Arroyo.

To reappoint Laguardia to the MTRCB is cause for apprehension, to say the least. The latest reason for fear has to do with the “on-hold” rating given by her board to Muli, featuring Sid Lucero and Cogie Domingo, yet another Adolf Alix film, based on Jerry Gracio’s Palanca Award-winning screenplay about the closet-gay relationship of an underground activist and a lawyer.

The Laguardia MTRCB suggested the shortening and deletion of some scenes; the director wanted an R-18 rating, strictly for adults, with no cuts. “They had a film review. They wanted to cut, actually to shorten some scenes in the beginning. But I told them that I didn’t want to cut the film. Why shorten a 44-second scene? When you shorten it, 22 seconds or 30 seconds, it’s still the same. They told me after their deliberations the rating is on hold and they will do a second review. It’s the first time that they have issued an on-hold rating,” Alix told media.

As I write this, Mr. President, Muli was scheduled on second review; the second review’s been moved to tomorrow. No one knows how long the rigodon will last, the joke is that the Laguardia board first wants to see where you stand as far as censorship is concerned, and that they are prepared to be as conservative or as liberal as you are. As has been said, weder-weder lang iyan.

Our local film industry we sadly acknowledge is gasping for breath. Help us bring it back to its feet and nurse it back to health. Give us an MTRCB chairman who has roots in the film industry, an insider who knows well enough not to be manipulated by the unscrupulous among us but at the same time knowledgeable and inspiring. We cannot afford an MTRCB Chairman who lets whimsy overrule the Constitution.

Please, Mr. President.

Thank you very much.

Armida Siguion-Reyna