Mocha, MTRCB, and cen­sor­ship

Manila Bulletin - - Views • Features - By TONYO CRUZ Fol­low me on Twit­ter @tony­ocruz and check out my blog tony­ocruz.com

NO one has so far come for­ward to for­mally ques­tion and ask the courts to stop Pres­i­dent Duterte’s ap­point­ment of Mocha Uson as mem­ber of the Movie and Tele­vi­sion Re­view and Clas­si­fi­ca­tion Board.

It could be done, es­pe­cially if crit­ics of both the Pres­i­dent and Uson could present ar­gu­ments and bases for her dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion and in­el­i­gi­bil­ity. They could even for­mally ap­peal to the Pres­i­dent first, if they are re­ally se­ri­ous.

But it is both dif­fi­cult and self-de­feat­ing for the crit­ics to make such a le­gal move, if it would be based on the ar­gu­ments and bases they have so far been able to present.

What would they say in the plead­ing? That the Pres­i­dent has “no right” to ap­point? That Uson is in­el­i­gi­ble and dis­qual­i­fied be­cause they per­ceive her to be noth­ing more than a “slut”? That there are “in­fin­itely bet­ter” artists to be ap­pointed as cen­sors?

They are too clever to ex­pose their hy­per­par­ti­san, sex­ist, and pro-cen­sor­ship selves be­fore the courts, and they could only make “pasik­lab” in their petty po­lit­i­cal theater.

Yes, the crit­i­cisms have only been dis­plays of hy­per­par­ti­san­ship, sex­ism, and small-mind­ed­ness, noth­ing more.

The trans­par­ently cheap at­tempt to di­vide the movie in­dus­try by pit­ting Uson against “more de­serv­ing” artists mag­nif­i­cently flopped. In show­biz par­lance, “ni­lan­gaw.”

They have not suc­ceeded be­cause the is­sue is less about Duterte and Uson. It is more about the MTRCB and cen­sor­ship. And it is an is­sue that a po­lit­i­cally cor­rupt op­po­si­tion can­not be­gin to grasp.

The great Lino Brocka, the fear­less Behn Cer­vantes, the Free the Artist Move­ment, and the Con­cerned Artists of the Philip­pines didn’t stand up to the Mar­cos dic­ta­tor­ship merely be­cause of the tyrant’s choice of cen­sors. They wanted a com­plete and to­tal end to cen­sor­ship.

It is this be­lief that only in an at­mos­phere of free­dom and with­out cen­sor­ship could the artists be true to them­selves, to their craft, to their com­mu­nity and to the au­di­ence. And it com­pelled them not only to make great cinema that was de­fi­ant, true, and beau­ti­ful. It re­quired the artists to take their place in the front­lines of na­tional strug­gle.

Through Pres­i­den­tial De­cree 1986, Mar­cos changed the name of the Board of Cen­sors to the seem­ingly harm­less MTRCB, but the ef­fect and ob­jec­tive were the same: to le­gal­ize cen­sor­ship, and to con­trol the tele­vi­sion and movie in­dus­tries.

The real chal­lenge here to Duterte has been the same chal­lenge to all postMar­cos pres­i­dents and the post-dic­ta­tor­ship or­der: To abol­ish the MTRCB, to stop cen­sor­ship and to free the artists.

Brocka him­self laid the con­sti­tu­tional foun­da­tion for such a positive change when, as a mem­ber of the Con­sti­tu­tional Com­mis­sion, he suc­ceeded in en­shrin­ing the right to free ex­pres­sion in the Con­sti­tu­tion.

But 30 years af­ter the adop­tion of the 1987 Con­sti­tu­tion, the MTRCB sur­vives, and the 2017 po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion is clue­less about an is­sue so sa­cred to the movie and tele­vi­sion in­dus­try work­ers. No sur­prise that the artists didn’t fall for their in­sipid pol­i­tics.

The artists are also am­biva­lent to Duterte, Uson and the “change” they sup­pos­edly rep­re­sent. As cor­rectly pointed out by more thought­ful re­portage, Uson as­pires to be a new “guardian of moral­ity” for prime­time tele­vi­sion, and seeks to pros­e­cute her own war on “soft-porn.”

For all his brav­ery, Duterte proves no dif­fer­ent from other pres­i­dents and the sys­tem he pre­sides by not be­ing ready for the change as­pired for by artists. The MTRCB sur­vives and would con­tinue to shackle the artists. For the not-so-dif­fer­ent op­po­si­tion too, it can­not bear to imag­ine a fu­ture with­out the MTRCB, along with their fan­tasies of a po­lit­i­cal come­back.

It is ironic that cen­sor­ship and self-cen­sor­ship have be­come both per­ni­cious and ac­cepted as a fact of post-Mar­cos life, even as we pro­fess to stand against his­tor­i­cal re­vi­sion­ism and any at­tempt to im­pose a new dic­ta­tor­ship. It is most painful to our artists.

Uson joins an MTRCB that has de­vised seem­ingly harm­less ways to keep movies and tele­vi­sion be­have ac­cord­ing to ac­cept­able for­mula. The clas­si­fi­ca­tion seems be­nign, but the ef­fects harm­ful and far-reach­ing. Clas­si­fi­ca­tions can make or break a movie, can com­pel the artist to com­pro­mise with a cut here or there, can pro­mote only the for­mula, can dis­suade the brave, and so on. For the artist, the MTRCB re­mains an in­stru­ment of cen­sor­ship, and the au­di­ence should only re­mem­ber the clas­si­fi­ca­tions for the MMFF 2016 en­tries to un­der­stand this.

True, many other artists have joined the MTRCB as chair, as vice chair or as mem­bers. But as his­tory teaches us, they fight a lonely fight from the in­side and out­side. Other forces, like faiths, al­ways seek to in­flu­ence its clas­si­fi­ca­tions, even if the artists would al­ways stand for the widest pos­si­ble of lat­i­tude of free ex­pres­sion per movie.

The fact re­mains that 30 years af­ter the over­throw of Mar­cos, the same 30-mem­ber pres­i­den­tial board of cen­sors con­tinue to ex­ist de­cide what is fit to be watched in the­aters and in tele­vi­sion, and by whom. It is an un­changed sit­u­a­tion that keeps artists and au­di­ence un­der a leash.

Fresh from the eu­pho­ria of the tri­umphant MMFF 2016, it is per­haps in­struc­tive and hum­bling to re­mem­ber the im­mor­tal words of Brocka, our na­tional artist for film: “The artist is al­ways a par­tic­i­pant. He tries to be true not only to his craft but also to him­self. For it is the supreme duty of the artist to in­ves­ti­gate the truth, no mat­ter what forces at­tempt to hide it. And then to re­port it to the peo­ple, to con­front them with it, like a whiplash that will cause wounds but will free the mind from the var­i­ous fan­tasies and es­capist fare that the Es­tab­lish­ment pol­lutes our minds with.”

Yes, like all artists, Uson can free her­self from the “pres­sure” of be­ing a cen­sor in the MTRCB, and stand in sol­i­dar­ity with all artists and the peo­ple against cen­sor­ship.

The is­sue is in re­al­ity about the readi­ness of Duterte, the op­po­si­tion and this sys­tem give up the power to cen­sor and to abol­ish the MTRCB. And about artists’ and our own readi­ness to claim the right to free ex­pres­sion which Brocka and other most bril­liant free­dom-fight­ers have long chal­lenged us to as­pire for.

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