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.”

Short film ‘Rights’ marked X by the MTCRB
Last updated 03:41pm (Mla time) 09/26/2007

RIGHTS is a collection of 30 second- to 2-minute advertisements showing and condemning extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other forms of human rights violations now widespread again in the Philippines.

As a response to the call of the victims and from various sectors to defend human rights, the films were contributed by various independent filmmakers, namely: Paolo Villaluna, Kiri Dalena, King Catoy, Anna Isabelle Matutina, Pam Miras, JL Burgos, Nino Tagaro, Sigrid Bernardo, Mike Dagnalan, John Torres, Jon Red, RJ Mabilin and Sigfreid Sanchez.

But we got this letter on September 19, 2007:

Ms. Kristine M. Kintana
Representative, Phil. Independent Filmmakers Cooperative
21 Kamias Road, Quezon City

Dear Ms. Kintana,

This is to inform you that your short film entitled “RIGHTS” was reviewed by the Board on September 18, 2007 and was classified “X”. Not for Public Exhibition, for the following reasons:

“Scenes in the film are presented unfairly, one-sided and undermines the faith and confidence of the government and duly constituted authorities, thus, not for public exhibition.”

You may appeal for a second review within five (5) days from receipt of this notice.

Very truly yours,
Chairman, Movie and Television Review and Classification Board

The MTRCB’s X rating on RIGHTS – a series of public service
advertisements on human rights – is a form of violation of freedom of
expression, validating the filmmakers’ opinion on the human rights situation in the Philippines.

The X rating on RIGHTS is not only an X mark for artist to express views and sentiments freely. Sadly, the MTRCB’s action is an X mark for the thousands of victims of human rights violations that cry for justice.

Despite the censorship, we, from The Southern Tagalog Exposure and the Free Jonas Burgos Movement will continue to reproduce and distribute copies of RIGHTS and will hold a series of public screenings for the benefit of the people’s right to know.

We pushed through the event entitled SHOOTING DISQUIET AND RAGE: Transgression and Transformation in Philippine Cinema
after the First Quarter Storm on September 21, 2007, Indie Sine, Cinema 3, where RIGHTS was originally set for launching.

We have also protested the censorship of the MTRCB in a press conference. This repression of freedom of expression and worsening human rights situation only gives us more reason to produce more films and actively participate in the struggle for justice and peace.

Watch the complete “RIGHTS” public service advertisement at:

If you want your name and organization to be counted as signatories of the unity/protest statement against the said decision, e-mail us at

Anna Isabelle Matutina
Coordinator/Filmmaker, RIGHTS Filmmakers initiative
Victor Tagaro, Overall Coordinator/Filmmaker
Free Jonas Burgos Movement

Rated X: MTRCB bans HR films

The Philippine Star

Filmmakers are up in arms against the latest decision of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), stopping the commercial showing of independently produced short films on human rights in the country and rating them “X.”

On Sept. 18, the MTRCB reviewed the 30-second to one-minute films, which tackle unexplained killings and enforced disappearances involving activists and journalists, among others.

The following day, the board informed the Philippine Independent Filmmakers Cooperative (PIFC) that the short films were rated “X”, which means they are unfit for public viewing.

“Scenes in this film are presented unfairly, one-sided, and undermine the faith and confidence of the government and duly constituted authorities, thus, not fit for public exhibition,” explained MTRCB chairman Ma. Consoliza Laguardia, in a letter addressed to Kristine Kintana, representative of the PIFC, dated Sept. 19.

The 13 short films contain excerpts from news video footage from the era of martial law, the killing of former Sen. Ninoy Aquino, and demonstrations during the Marcos administration, up to the killings of militant leaders, and the abduction of others, including Jonas Burgos.

The 13 short films titled “RIGHTS” were supposed to be shown yesterday at the Indie Sine cinema in a mall in Ortigas Center, in commemoration of the 35th anniversary of martial law and International Day of Peace.

Although the launching of the short films pushed through Friday afternoon, their public viewing was halted due to the MTRCB ruling issued on Sept. 19.

“We were shocked by the decision of the MTRCB,” noted Sunshine Matutina, one of the independent filmmakers who contributed a public service advertisement (PSA), which forms part of the awareness campaign of the Free Jonas Burgos Movement (FJBM).

“These series (of short films) are valid sentiments of filmmakers, we should not be repressed.  These short films are reflections of what we are seeing around us, of what is happening (in the society) right now,” she also said.

The PIFC submitted “RIGHTS” for review by the MTRCB two weeks ago, since it is supposed to be launched and shown commercially in a cinema.

Jose Luis Burgos, younger brother of Jonas, an activist/agriculturist believed abducted by alleged government agents and missing since April 28, expressed disappointment over the MTRCB ruling, saying it stifles the freedom of speech and expression.

Local human rights watchdog Karapatan called the MTRCB ruling “prior restraint” as it is also a violation of people’s right to information.

Burgos lamented that though his family has sought help from the different institutions of the government, they have yet to be enlightened over the sudden disappearance of Jonas.

He pointed out that almost five months after Jonas disappeared, the CHR has yet to release its findings on the case; the PNP seems to be not even vigorously investigating the matter; and the AFP has yet to release its Provost Marshall report, which the family believes could shed light on the disappearance of the 37-year-old Jonas.

“And now the MTRCB is telling us that scenes in RIGHTS are unfair, one-sided, and undermine the faith and confidence of the people in their government and/or duly constituted authorities?” he asked.

Burgos said they would file a motion for reconsideration before the MTRCB, and hope that the board would change its mind regarding its classification of the human rights advocacy plugs.

The MTRCB gave the petitioner five days to file their appeal for a second review.

Multi-awarded filmmaker Carlitos Siguion-Reyna of the Directors Guild of the Philippines Inc. (DGPI) and Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) said the MTRCB decision against the showing of the “RIGHTS” is indicative of “an abusive law”.

“We also denounce this latest decision by the MTRCB because the Board should supposedly only classify and not censor films.”

According to the filmmaker, a PSA is “simply a personal editorial” that is no different from editorials in the newspapers.  He also said that a PSA is a legitimate medium to air grievances, which should be allowed by the government.

Julie Po, board member of the CAP, likewise criticized the MTRCB for it decision against “RIGHTS”, noting the Board could have been using the wrong reason for issuing an “X” rating for the short films-cum-advocacy plugs.

She stressed that the MTRCB should realize that a film is always one-sided because a film is a reflection of an artist’s conviction about a certain topic.

Filmmakers slam review board’s X-rating for ‘Rights’ film

Media group joins condemnation of ‘censorship’

By Jeannette Andrade
Last updated 07:52pm (Mla time) 09/21/2007

MANILA, Philippines — Two men struggle through tall grass, running away. The unseen man with the camera, trailing the other in red, prods: “Takbo, Juan. Takbo [Run, Juan. Run]!”

They run to a clearing, gunshots ring out. Juan falls on the ground. The unseen companion desperately shouts: “Huwag kayo magpaputok [Don’t shoot]!” as he runs towards his fallen comrade.

Again gunshots, and the unseen cameraman falls. His last vision, Juan’s red shirt before the screen blackens and is replaced by the glaring words: “Stop the killing of activists and journalists.”

A crooning Jose Maria Sison, featured on a skewed screen, and the message that everything depends on how people perceive things. Flashes of torture and other forms of human rights violations committed by persons in authority.

All these earned 13 independent filmmakers an X-rating from the Movie, Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) for their collection dubbed, “Rights” with the short film creators insisting that they were simply presenting facts that do not deserve censorship.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) joined its voice to the filmmakers’ in condemning the MTRCB’s “move to censor” the short films , with secretary general Rowena Paraan urging “our friends in media two protest this violation of the constitutionally guaranteed right to free expression.”

Among the banned shorts, said Paraan, is “The Good News,” which is about press freedom.

Acclaimed director Carlito Siguion-Reyna on Friday expressed support for the independent film makers, calling for the amendment of the law creating the MTRCB, Presidential Decree 1986, which he claimed is a remnant of martial law.

“X is simply censorship. They are hiding behind the semantics of classification,” Siguion-Reyna said of the MTRCB.

“There are no visible acts of violence. They are all criticism of government policy. This is a form of legitimate airing of grievances. They [independent filmmakers] should be given the same space as any editorial in the newspaper,” he pointed out.

Independent film maker Sunshine Matutina said: “Our attempts to effect change should not be curtailed. The MTRCB is preventing us from expressing artistically how we feel about the situation. It is wrong that there is this body who can tell people that it [a film] is not for public viewing.”