In an interview with PEP (Philippine Entertainment Portal), veteran actorErnie Garcia described the problems that he and some of his movies had withstrict 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 saibang grupo," he recalled with a tinge of nostalgia.Ernie, who was known in the ‘70s as a sexy actor, wasunconvinced with the way some of his films were screened to determine whetherthey were "unfit for public viewing" or not. He argued that some of the complainants neitherwatched his sexy films nor saw the execution of the "daring" scene.
"'Yong iba, hindi naman nila napanood and akala naman garapal na ‘yongmga eksena pero hindi naman. May isa lang na mag-reklamo and ayon, madami ngmakikisali," he said tersely.
Even as Ernie now enjoys a serene lifestyle as an artist, the problemshe and his peers encountered before are the same ones faced by the TV and moviestars of today.
MTRCB THROUGH THE YEARS. After the Philippines declared independence forthe second time (the first was on June 12, 1898, against the Spanish regime) onJuly 4, 1946 (after U.S. colonization), our lawmakers enacted Republic Act No.3060, creating the Board of Censors for Motion Pictures (BCMP), which had ahold on television programs as well.
In 1965, Ferdinand Marcos was elected president. Gradually he altered andstrengthened the powers of the censorship board on his way to declaring MartialLaw on September 21, 1972.
Escalating the power of the censors coincided with Marcos's desire tomonitor and restrict films, shows, and even theater performances that carriedsocio-political themes attacking his administration. He replaced the BCMP withthe Board of Review for Motion Pictures and Television (BRMPT).
On October 5, 1985, Marcos abolished the BRMPT and formed the Movie andTelevision Regulation and Classification Board (MTRCB), fully establishing thescope and jurisdiction of censorship in the country.
According to the MTRCB preamble, the organization was formed around the needto introduce "innovative and fresh ideas toward the improvement anddevelopment of the film and television industry," and to "improve,upgrade and make viable the industry as one source of fueling the nationaleconomy."
But it mentions nothing about "setting standards for culturalrefinement of the movies and television." Nor does it give the board theresponsibility "to keep society's moral balance."
Throughout the history of MTRCB, its critics have noted that the standards andqualifications for its rulings depend on the personality, character and moralstance of whoever is the incumbent chairperson.
THE MORATO REGIME (1986 - 1992). Manuel Morato assumed the MTRCBleadership after Marcos's ouster in the historic 1986 EDSA Revolt.
As a strict moralist who proclaimed the value of celibacy, Morato quicklyearned the ire of the movie industry with his iron-fisted rule.
Morato's primary concern was the youth and their "preservation ofmorality"—which didn't sit well with producers, directors, and liberal-mindedartists.
Under his stewardship, the MTRCB did more than just classifying films; the boardwielded absolute authority by censoring and deleting scenes deemed violent andsexually explicit.
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), MartinScorsese's adaptation of the controversial novel of the same title by NikosKazantzakis; and the locally produced films Dear Uncle Sam and LinoBrocka's Orapronobis (1989),which tackled human rights issues.
The Last Temptation of Christ was aNo-No because of its alleged anti-religion theme; Dear Uncle Sam, forits opposition to the Clark and Subic militarybases 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 wasconstantly under threat by coup attempts. This motive of the censors becameobvious when the board rejected the public exhibition of Gringo Honasan'sdocumentary. Honasan was the touted leader of several attempted coup d'états tooverthrow Pres. Corazon Aquino.
MENDEZ FOLLOWS SUIT (1992 - 1994). Picking up from where herpredecessor 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 berampant. The Mendez-led board prided itself as society's guardian of moralityand exercised complete power by deleting scenes or banning a movie altogether.
But unlike Morato's time, Mendez's leadership saw the emergence of theAppeals Committee under the Office of the President. The committee wasestablished to conduct its own review of the films initially turned down by theMTRCB, and to determine whether to uphold, alter, or completely overrule the board'sdecision.
The formation of the Appeals Committee encouraged film producers to make boldmovies laced with socially relevant themes.
Mendez's leadership became notorious for disapproving Steven Spielberg'sholocaust movie, Schindler's List (1993),because of a humping scene and some nudity. The decision was later overturnedby the Appeals Committee and rated PG-13, citing the historical merits of thefilm.
After Schindler's List came ClintEastwood's Bridges of Madison County (1995). Mendez wanted to delete a scene where Meryl Streep'spubic hair appeared for a few seconds, as her character Francesca wasrediscovering her sexuality.
Local artists and other personalities joined hands in denouncing what theyviewed as a ridiculous and hypocritical judgment by the MTRCB head.
Feeling the heat, Pres. Fidel Ramos pulled out Mendez from the MTRCB toplacate the public uproar.
SISON OF TRIALS (1995 - 1998). Writer Jess Sison assumed the postprematurely vacated by Mendez and inherited all the pressure that drove hispredecessor out of office.
Wanting to create a strong impression, Sison immediately made knownhis three objectives:
(1) To encourage the production of more films that depict the innate heroismof the Filipino;
(2) To search for ways to install a self-regulatory framework for the filmindustry, where the MTRCB and industry leaders will call upon their colleaguesto exercise responsibility in movie making; and
(3) To confer a "developmental dimension" to the work of the MTRCBso that it will go beyond wielding the censor's scissors and gain a spadeworkimage in the public eye.
It was during Sison's reign that the MTRCB required all television programsbetween 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. to be rated for General Patronage (GP) orsuited 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, particularlywith three films: Priest, Ligaya Ang Itawag Mo Sa Akin, and AngLalaki 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 clothhaving an affair with a woman. But Sison's greatest battle would be withpopular 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 offendedas well by a scene in Selya, whichdepictedtwo men making love together.
After much public debate, the two movies made it to the theaters, albeitwith 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 Patikimng Pinya, and Daigdig ng mga Toro to Halimuyak ng Babae.
THE FEISTY SIGUION-REYNA (1998 - 2001). Being a film producer herselfand an advocate of freedom of expression, Armida Siguion-Reyna's appointment asMTRCB chief greatly bolstered the hopes of fellow liberal artists andfilmmakers.
Armida wanted to break the tag "guardians of morality" used by allthe other MTRCB heads in defining the organization under their stewardship.
Instead, what the new Board wanted to achieve was to be "a part oftransition process wherein the movie industry would eventually be given themandate to police its own ranks, to maintain its own standards, and to helpimprove the quality of movies offered to the public."
The Board members under Armida were all non-believers of censorship. Theywere 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 theArmida-led MTRCB of leniency in allowing "pornographic" movies andthose with suggestive titles to be shown commercially. They also reiteratedthat being a film producer herself, the MTRCB Chief had a conflict of interestand might be biased in favor of her own movies and those made by her producerfriends.
The feisty chief defended her turf by saying that her board had refused togrant permits to films whose content was purely sexual and only titillatedaudiences. She cited the films Laging Sariwa, Dugo ng Birhen, and Monay—allslapped with an X-rating for allegedly displaying sexual scenes not central tothe story.
Once again some sectors called for Armida's resignation, and at worst, thetotal abolition of the MTRCB. During a prayer rally held in November 1999, a 10-minuteprayer was summoned by the Jesus Is Lord Movement to "exorcise the boardof 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 hisusual prim and proper mien. He then unleashed the big one that would havewarranted that he be censored.
''If not for the prayers of Bro. Eddie Villanueva (Jesus is Lord Movementleader), 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 ofArmida's stint as chief of the MTRCB as well.
TIONGSON'S STINT. LikeArmida Siguion Reyna, film scholar Nicanor Tiongson implemented a liberal stylein reviewing and classifying films.
Unfortunately, this approach would cost him his job, even before he had warmedhis seat. Tiongson's anti-conservatism prominently surfaced when he allowed theexhibition of Jose Javier Reyes' realist-drama film, Live Show. Themovie depicted the plight of live sex performers in night clubs and theirinner struggles brought about by poverty.
Interestingly, Armida had disapproved LiveShow during her term. Then, themovie submitted to her Board for review carried a different title, Toro.
Director Reyes's unapologetic and straightforward treatment of the scenesangered the traditionalists in society, particularly the Catholic Church, whichbranded the film pornographic and gratuitous. Under Church pressure, Malacañangintervened and recalled the movie from theaters. The move prompted Tiongson toresign rather than sacrifice his principles and be used "as an instrumentfor the repression of freedom of expression."
Speaking in a rally staged to protest the ban and show support to the fallenMTRCB chief, director Joey Reyes defended the controversial film: "I amnot defending myself because my film is my defense. Live Show is not apornographic film but a movie that mirrors the real condition of our fellowFilipinos."
Upon the strong lobbying of Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Tiongson wasreplaced by National Artist Alejandro Roces, who immediately gave Live Showan X-rating.
LAGUARDIA'S TV EYE. Of all the MTRCB appointees of Pres. Arroyo,present Chairperson Consoliza "Marissa" Laguardia seems to enjoy thefull confidence of the chief executive.
Rather than channeling most of her energies into movie censorship, Laguardiaset her eyes on TV programs, networks, and their stars. This may be due to the factthat fewer sex-themed movies are being produced these days.
But that doesn't mean the mother of three would earn honor as the leastcontroversial censors chief. In fact, she might find herself one of the mosttalked about in MTRCB's history.
Laguardia has become notorious for implementing strict guidelines fortelevision programs. She has suspended and reprimanded several celebrities,including Asia Agcaoili, Rufa Mae Quinto, Lolit Solis, and has threatenedMTRCB'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 TheDa Vinci Code was shown last year (2006), Laguardia was firm in herdecision to let the film be shown in the country, despite the Churchhierarchy's protest against the movie's attack on the teachings and doctrinesof 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 countrieshave already reviewed this film and they have not banned it. So, are we justout of the stone age?" she said blithely.
On the other hand, Laguardia apparently prefers to be politically safe. Thiswas proven by her decision to stop the showing of former president Estrada'sbio-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 thrivingRastafarian culture prevalent among some youth groups.
Indeed, as history shows, judging the merits and morals of a film or of a TVprogram really depends on the person currently heading the censors' board,regardless of the MTRCB preamble. We often hear the critics say, "It's allvery subjective."
For now, people just let MTRCB do its thing. But the minute its decision seeminglybecomes moot, Pinoy viewers and the board's perennial watchers—the moralists,the Church, the film critics—are not likely to stay seated passively. MTRCB isno alien to ruffled feathers and public uproar.