In an interview with PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal), veteran actor
Ernie Garcia described the problems that he and some of his movies had with
strict moralists and, of course, the powerful board of censors.
"Minsan, isang araw lang sa sinehan 'yong pelikula then ipu-pull out.
Naka-padlock na 'yong movie theaters kinabukasan, kasi may reklamo galing sa
ibang grupo," he recalled with a tinge of nostalgia.
Ernie, who was known in the ‘70s as a sexy actor, was
unconvinced with the way some of his films were screened to determine whether
they were "unfit for public viewing" or not. He argued that some of the complainants neither
watched his sexy films nor saw the execution of the "daring" scene.
"'Yong iba, hindi naman nila napanood and akala naman garapal na ‘yong
mga eksena pero hindi naman. May isa lang na mag-reklamo and ayon, madami ng
makikisali," he said tersely.
Even as Ernie now enjoys a serene lifestyle as an artist, the problems
he and his peers encountered before are the same ones faced by the TV and movie
stars of today.
MTRCB THROUGH THE YEARS. After the Philippines declared independence for
the second time (the first was on June 12, 1898, against the Spanish regime) on
July 4, 1946 (after U.S. colonization), our lawmakers enacted Republic Act No.
3060, creating the Board of Censors for Motion Pictures (BCMP), which had a
hold on television programs as well.
In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos was elected president. Gradually he altered and
strengthened the powers of the censorship board on his way to declaring Martial
Law on September 21, 1972.
Escalating the power of the censors coincided with Marcos's desire to
monitor and restrict films, shows, and even theater performances that carried
socio-political themes attacking his administration. He replaced the BCMP with
the Board of Review for Motion Pictures and Television (BRMPT).
On October 5, 1985, Marcos abolished the BRMPT and formed the Movie and
Television Regulation and Classification Board (MTRCB), fully establishing the
scope and jurisdiction of censorship in the country.
According to the MTRCB preamble, the organization was formed around the need
to introduce "innovative and fresh ideas toward the improvement and
development of the film and television industry," and to "improve,
upgrade and make viable the industry as one source of fueling the national
But it mentions nothing about "setting standards for cultural
refinement of the movies and television." Nor does it give the board the
responsibility "to keep society's moral balance."
Throughout the history of MTRCB, its critics have noted that the standards and
qualifications for its rulings depend on the personality, character and moral
stance of whoever is the incumbent chairperson.
THE MORATO REGIME (1986 - 1992). Manuel Morato assumed the MTRCB
leadership after Marcos's ouster in the historic 1986 EDSA Revolt.
As a strict moralist who proclaimed the value of celibacy, Morato quickly
earned the ire of the movie industry with his iron-fisted rule.
Morato's primary concern was the youth and their "preservation of
morality"—which didn't sit well with producers, directors, and liberal-minded
Under his stewardship, the MTRCB did more than just classifying films; the board
wielded absolute authority by censoring and deleting scenes deemed violent and
Consequently, local bold films, particularly the infamous "pene"
movies, went underground. These were replaced by a subdued genre labeled ST
(sex trip) movies.
Morato's MTRCB banned The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Martin
Scorsese's adaptation of the controversial novel of the same title by Nikos
Kazantzakis; and the locally produced films Dear Uncle Sam and Lino
Brocka's Orapronobis (1989),
which tackled human rights issues.
The Last Temptation of Christ was a
No-No because of its alleged anti-religion theme; Dear Uncle Sam, for
its opposition to the Clark and Subic military
bases in the country.
The ultra-conservatism of MTRCB during Morato's time, in the view of many,
was a way to safeguard the interest of the Aquino administration, which was
constantly under threat by coup attempts. This motive of the censors became
obvious when the board rejected the public exhibition of Gringo Honasan's
documentary. Honasan was the touted leader of several attempted coup d'états to
overthrow Pres. Corazon Aquino.
MENDEZ FOLLOWS SUIT (1992 - 1994). Picking up from where her
predecessor left off, Henrietta Mendez implemented the same Morato code.
During Mendez's time, MTRCB increased its anti-pornography campaign,
particularly in the provinces where "smut" violations were said to be
rampant. The Mendez-led board prided itself as society's guardian of morality
and exercised complete power by deleting scenes or banning a movie altogether.
But unlike Morato's time, Mendez's leadership saw the emergence of the
Appeals Committee under the Office of the President. The committee was
established to conduct its own review of the films initially turned down by the
MTRCB, and to determine whether to uphold, alter, or completely overrule the board's
The formation of the Appeals Committee encouraged film producers to make bold
movies laced with socially relevant themes.
Mendez's leadership became notorious for disapproving Steven Spielberg's
holocaust movie, Schindler's List (1993),
because of a humping scene and some nudity. The decision was later overturned
by the Appeals Committee and rated PG-13, citing the historical merits of the
After Schindler's List came Clint
Eastwood's Bridges of Madison County (1995). Mendez wanted to delete a scene where Meryl Streep's
pubic hair appeared for a few seconds, as her character Francesca was
rediscovering her sexuality.
Local artists and other personalities joined hands in denouncing what they
viewed as a ridiculous and hypocritical judgment by the MTRCB head.
Feeling the heat, Pres. Fidel Ramos pulled out Mendez from the MTRCB to
placate the public uproar.
SISON OF TRIALS (1995 - 1998). Writer Jess Sison assumed the post
prematurely vacated by Mendez and inherited all the pressure that drove his
predecessor out of office.
Wanting to create a strong impression, Sison immediately made known
his three objectives:
(1) To encourage the production of more films that depict the innate heroism
of the Filipino;
(2) To search for ways to install a self-regulatory framework for the film
industry, where the MTRCB and industry leaders will call upon their colleagues
to exercise responsibility in movie making; and
(3) To confer a "developmental dimension" to the work of the MTRCB
so that it will go beyond wielding the censor's scissors and gain a spadework
image in the public eye.
It was during Sison's reign that the MTRCB required all television programs
between 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. to be rated for General Patronage (GP) or
suited for all ages, while shows falling under the 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
timeslot be classified for Parental Guidance (PG).
Sison's leadership also figured in a number of controversies, particularly
with three films: Priest, Ligaya Ang Itawag Mo Sa Akin, and Ang
Lalaki Sa Buhay ni Selya.
MTRCB caved in to the pressure exerted by the Catholic Church to turn down Priest, a film about a man of the cloth
having an affair with a woman. But Sison's greatest battle would be with
popular sexy actress Rosanna Roces and her films.
Rosanna Roces's loud moans during her sex scenes in Ligaya had the Board members squirming in their seats. They were offended
as well by a scene in Selya, which
depicted two men making love together.
After much public debate, the two movies made it to the theaters, albeit
with some scene restrictions.
Sison was also very particular with the movies carrying suggestive titles: Basa,
which the board asked to be changed to Basa sa Dagat; Tikim to Patikim
ng Pinya, and Daigdig ng mga Toro to Halimuyak ng Babae.
THE FEISTY SIGUION-REYNA (1998 - 2001). Being a film producer herself
and an advocate of freedom of expression, Armida Siguion-Reyna's appointment as
MTRCB chief greatly bolstered the hopes of fellow liberal artists and
Armida wanted to break the tag "guardians of morality" used by all
the other MTRCB heads in defining the organization under their stewardship.
Instead, what the new Board wanted to achieve was to be "a part of
transition process wherein the movie industry would eventually be given the
mandate to police its own ranks, to maintain its own standards, and to help
improve the quality of movies offered to the public."
The Board members under Armida were all non-believers of censorship. They
were the ones who turned up dust on the streets during the reigns of Morato,
Mendez, and Sison, protesting what they viewed as tyrannical censorship.
But not everyone was happy with Armida's tolerance. Critics accused the
Armida-led MTRCB of leniency in allowing "pornographic" movies and
those with suggestive titles to be shown commercially. They also reiterated
that being a film producer herself, the MTRCB Chief had a conflict of interest
and might be biased in favor of her own movies and those made by her producer
The feisty chief defended her turf by saying that her board had refused to
grant permits to films whose content was purely sexual and only titillated
audiences. She cited the films Laging Sariwa, Dugo ng Birhen, and Monay—all
slapped with an X-rating for allegedly displaying sexual scenes not central to
Once again some sectors called for Armida's resignation, and at worst, the
total abolition of the MTRCB. During a prayer rally held in November 1999, a 10-minute
prayer was summoned by the Jesus Is Lord Movement to "exorcise the board
of demons," as they called it.
But the shocker during the rally came from former MTRCB king Manuel Morato.
"Armida disgraced me," said the ultra-conservative Morato in his
usual prim and proper mien. He then unleashed the big one that would have
warranted that he be censored.
''If not for the prayers of Bro. Eddie Villanueva (Jesus is Lord Movement
leader), I would have wanted to rape all of them at the MTRCB,'' boasted Morato,
to the cheering followers.
Joseph Estrada's abrupt ouster in 2001 as president signaled the end of
Armida's stint as chief of the MTRCB as well.
TIONGSON'S STINT. Like
Armida Siguion Reyna, film scholar Nicanor Tiongson implemented a liberal style
in reviewing and classifying films.
Unfortunately, this approach would cost him his job, even before he had warmed
his seat. Tiongson's anti-conservatism prominently surfaced when he allowed the
exhibition of Jose Javier Reyes' realist-drama film, Live Show. The
movie depicted the plight of live sex performers in night clubs and their
inner struggles brought about by poverty.
Interestingly, Armida had disapproved Live
Show during her term. Then, the
movie submitted to her Board for review carried a different title, Toro.
Director Reyes's unapologetic and straightforward treatment of the scenes
angered the traditionalists in society, particularly the Catholic Church, which
branded the film pornographic and gratuitous. Under Church pressure, Malacañang
intervened and recalled the movie from theaters. The move prompted Tiongson to
resign rather than sacrifice his principles and be used "as an instrument
for the repression of freedom of expression."
Speaking in a rally staged to protest the ban and show support to the fallen
MTRCB chief, director Joey Reyes defended the controversial film: "I am
not defending myself because my film is my defense. Live Show is not a
pornographic film but a movie that mirrors the real condition of our fellow
Upon the strong lobbying of Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Tiongson was
replaced by National Artist Alejandro Roces, who immediately gave Live Show
LAGUARDIA'S TV EYE. Of all the MTRCB appointees of Pres. Arroyo,
present Chairperson Consoliza "Marissa" Laguardia seems to enjoy the
full confidence of the chief executive.
Rather than channeling most of her energies into movie censorship, Laguardia
set her eyes on TV programs, networks, and their stars. This may be due to the fact
that fewer sex-themed movies are being produced these days.
But that doesn't mean the mother of three would earn honor as the least
controversial censors chief. In fact, she might find herself one of the most
talked about in MTRCB's history.
Laguardia has become notorious for implementing strict guidelines for
television programs. She has suspended and reprimanded several celebrities,
including Asia Agcaoili, Rufa Mae Quinto, Lolit Solis, and has threatened
MTRCB's recent favorites, Joey de Leon and Willie Revillame with suspension.
Laguardia also figured in some controversies involving films.
When director Ron Howard's film adaptation of the groundbreaking novel The
Da Vinci Code was shown last year (2006), Laguardia was firm in her
decision to let the film be shown in the country, despite the Church
hierarchy's protest against the movie's attack on the teachings and doctrines
of the Catholic faith.
"The movie would be a test of faith for many people in the Philippines,"
she stated with conviction. "But it has to be shown. Thirty-six countries
have already reviewed this film and they have not banned it. So, are we just
out of the stone age?" she said blithely.
On the other hand, Laguardia apparently prefers to be politically safe. This
was proven by her decision to stop the showing of former president Estrada's
bio-pic, a short film about the tragic Guimaras oil spill, and the airing of GMA-7's Reporter's Notebook's documentary feature about an indigenous tradition of giant wooden phalluses and the thriving
Rastafarian culture prevalent among some youth groups.
Indeed, as history shows, judging the merits and morals of a film or of a TV
program really depends on the person currently heading the censors' board,
regardless of the MTRCB preamble. We often hear the critics say, "It's all
For now, people just let MTRCB do its thing. But the minute its decision seemingly
becomes moot, Pinoy viewers and the board's perennial watchers—the moralists,
the Church, the film critics—are not likely to stay seated passively. MTRCB is
no alien to ruffled feathers and public uproar.