Regardless of the motive

By Armida Siguion-Reyna – Mulling over the possibility of watching as much could possibly be seen in one sitting of Lav Diaz’s nine-hour “Kadaganan sa Banwaan Ning Mga Engkanto” (English title: “Death in the Land of Encantos”)” I hear it’s been rated “X” by the First Review Committee of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), courtesy of members Amalia Fuentes, Ros Olgado and Fr. Nick Cruz.

Apparently not caring about the rights of the Filipino movie-viewing public — the little that’s left — to see what won the Special Mention prize in the 2007 Venice International Film Festival’s Orizzonti (Horizons) section, the MTRCB banned it from screening because “The scene where the woman was shown in bed naked with her breasts and vagina (genitalia) are exposed is against the rules and regulations of the board — No exhibition of the genitals.”


A worldwide recession is looming. The once-mighty American economy is struggling its way past a fractious presidential elections. China is trying to recover from the melamine milk-scandal. And here in the Philippines, we’re still focused on breasts and vagina in a film that’s clearly nothing close to pornography.

As former chairman of the MTRCB, I know that PD 1986, the law that created the board, requires that all movies, barring none, be viewed before a decision can be reached regarding approval or disapproval, before a screening permit is issued. Even so I am able to judge this particular Diaz piece sight unseen, based on Diaz’s track record, his persona and the fact that there’s no international buzz about how salacious it is. It cannot be malaswa.

I mean, come on. A porno flick running close to half-a-day is bound to get talked about by a global media increasingly on the look-out for news to cushion horrific stories of crashing stock markets, ineffective bailouts and bankruptcies. Imagine just how many shots of insertions and pumping and close-ups of ejaculations can fit into nine hours, pag hindi naman nagkagulo ang buong mundo diyan. Except, ‘yon na nga, that’s not what “Encantos” is all about, as can immediately be gleaned from the first two paragraphs of the Variety’s International Film Festival review section last year, written by Ronnie Schieb:

“Lav Diaz’s latest black-and-white digital marathon, ‘Death in the Land of Encantos’ (clocking in at nine hours), unfolds in the devastated landscape left in the wake of Super Typhoon ‘Durian,’ the worst storm to hit the Philippines in living memory. Placing a threesome of fictional characters amid the rubble, Diaz measures the aftermath of this natural disaster within the larger trauma of the islands’ history. Plunging the viewer into an alternate time zone where distinctions between documentary and fiction, stasis and action slowly dissolve, pic confirms helmer’s status as a brilliant but consummately non-commercial artist.

“Unlike Diaz’s other works, which were carefully constructed over time (‘Evolution of a Filipino Family’ was nine years in the making — and 10 hours in the viewing), ‘Death’ sprang fully grown from the ravages of the typhoon in Bicol, where Diaz had lensed several previous films. Thus, the documentary elements could not be described as “interpolated,” but rather form the very clay from which the drama (if such slight strands of narrative can be so termed) is molded.”

Nothing there to foreshadow extreme close-ups of vulvas, arcs of semen spray and turgid penises, so why did it get an “X”? Just how completely awake the members of the Review Committee were when they “X-ed” it, is another factor to consider, but hala, sige, for the sake of the argument, I will presume they were wide awake and in full possession of their faculties.

Fr. Cruz is a Jesuit, like Gerald Healy, SJ, Professor of Moral Theology Emeritus, who had forwarded to us the Vatican position on context, manner of presentation, (filmmaker’s) intention and culture, as standards for film review and analysis, and which we forthrightly included in our Implementing Rules and Regulations during our tenure. Fr. Cruz was a member of the Estrada MTRCB. How could he have agreed to the “X-ing” of the Diaz movie?

Which brings me now to reminding all about the dangers of pending House Bill (HB) 3305, and known in the Senate as Senate Bill (SB) 2464: “An Act Prohibiting and Penalizing the Production, Printing, Publication, Importation, Sale, Distribution and Exhibition of Obscene and Pornographic Materials, and the Exhibition of Live Sexual Acts, Amending for the Purpose Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code, as Amended.”

I saw Tarlac Rep. Nikki Prieto Teodoro and lawyer Eric Mallonga of the MTRCB on cable TV the other day, lauding the bill and supporting its passage into law, failing to see that while it purports to “protect women and children from the pernicious effects of pornography,” it more dangerously seeks to strangle all forms of creativity with the operative phrase “regardless of the motive.”

“‘Obscene’ refers to anything that is indecent or offensive or contrary to good customs or religious beliefs, principles or doctrines, or tends to corrupt or deprave the human mind, or is calculated to excite impure thoughts or arouse prurient interest, or violates the proprieties of language and human behavior, regardless of the motive of the producer, printer, publisher, writer, importer, seller, distributor or exhibitor.

“‘Pornographic or pornography’ refers to objects or subjects of film, television shows, photography, illustrations, music, games, paintings, drawings, illustrations, advertisements, writings, literature or narratives contained in any format, whether audio or visual, still or moving pictures, in all forms of film, print, electronic, outdoor or broadcast mass media, or whatever future technologies to be developed, which are calculated to excite, stimulate or arouse impure thoughts and prurient interest, regardless of the motive of the author thereof.”

This bill becomes law and we completely slay the creative energies of the few remaining Lav Diazes. This bill gets passed, and gems where “…stark black-and-white digital compositions frame a landscape so bleak and boulder-strewn, so empty of habitation that it is hard to believe the land was not barren from time primordial. Painful flashbacks to the region’s past resurrect a lost Eden. The only thing more shocking than the extent of the damage is the ages-deep acceptance in the eyes of the survivors…” is forever judged in terms of breast and genital exposure, and filmmaking be damned.

I wonder what Amalia Fuentes feels, helping kill the industry that made her? The sell-outs of the movie bill we were lobbying for in the Ramos and Estrada presidencies willfully dropped the provision on censorship exemption, believing that only monies earned from tax rebates mattered. I wonder what they feel, now that major films cannot be screened?

Death in the land of the encantos, indeed. HB 3305 and SB 2464 is murder, regardless of the motives of its sponsors. It cannot be allowed to pass.

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