Producers to appeal MTRCB ‘X’ rating of human rights film

The producers and filmmakers behind “Rights” a collection of short films depicting their views on the Philippines’ human rights situation called the “X” rating given to their film “deplorable” and “an act suppressing freedom of expression.” They plan to file a motion for reconsideration.

The Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, a government agency that screens films and TV programs, earlier gave “Rights” an “X” rating. The film was to have been shown on Friday, September 21, the 35th anniversary of the Martial Law declaration of former President Ferdinand Marcos.

The “X” rating, however, prevents the film’s exhibition in theaters as well as over television. The producers and filmmakers wanted “Rights” to be aired over local television as advertorials. It was scheduled for premiere screening at the IndieSine in Robinson’s Galleria Friday, September 21.

According to the MTRCB decision, the film was given an “X” rating because the scenes “are presented unfairly, one-sided, and undermines the faith and confidence of the government and duly constituted authorities, thus, not for public exhibition.”

“Rights” was produced by the groups Free Jonas Burgos Movement, Desaparecidos, Karapatan and the Southern Luzon Exposure.

Sunshine Matutina, one of the filmmakers in the collection, said the MTRCB is being “unfair.”

“Each of the shorts reflect the sentiments of the filmmakers, the views are valid,” Matutina said. “Pinipigilan kami to express artistically.”

Movie director Carlos Siguion Reyna, a longtime critic of the MTRCB, traces the problems stemming from the agency’s decisions to what he calls the “ambiguity” of Presidential Decree 1986, the law that created the MTRCB during the Marcos administration.

Siguion-Reyna repeated his call for a review of the presidential decree for purposes of changing the MTRCB mandate from censorship to mere classification.

The award-winning director said the short films in the collection “are personal editorials; no different from editorials in newspapers and current affairs programs on television.” Siguion Reyna said nothing in the short films were seditious and the themes covered had been reported in the newspapers and TV news.

The film was submitted for review two weeks ago but it was only on Wednesday night that the filmmakers received the MTTRCB ruling.

“There is something sinister here,” said Bonifacio Ilagan, playwright and activist. “As an artist, I protest that one agency will tell the public what is fair and one-sided.” Bonifacio pointed out “It is significant that this act happened as we commemorate the anniversary of martial law.”

When then President Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972, radio and television networks and newspapers were shut down by military authorities.

From then on, mainstream Philippine media outlets could only operate under the supervision of government censors. It was only in 1977, when journalist Jose Burgos, Jr. and his wife put up the independent newspaper WE Forum, that readers had a chance to read news stories that reflected views and reported stories outside government control.

Burgos is now credited with starting the independent press movement in defiance of the Marcos regime. WE Forum and other independent publications that criticized the Marcos government despite the dangers of imprisonment, torture or death, were referred to collectively as “the mosquito press”–small independent presses that had a stinging “bite.”

Ironically, Burgos’s son Jonas was abducted three months ago and has been missing since. Jonas Burgos’s family and friends accuse military officials as having masterminded the abduction.

“I remember that my father, Jose Burgos Jr, fought for freedom of expression,” said JL Burgos, one of the producers and filmmakers.” I thought we have it now.”

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