MANILA, Philippines – In 2010, independent filmmaker Adolf Alix Jr. submitted a film called “Chassis” to the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board. Inspired by the real lives of women living in the port area, Chassis is the story of Nora, played by Jodi Sta. Maria, a prostitute who lives with her child by the pier under the chassis of an abandoned truck.
The film was screened to a three-person MTRCB review panel. Although technically under the administration of Aquino appointee Grace Poe, the panel was a carryover from the Arroyo administration. The panel rated the film X, not for public exhibition, due to a castration scene at the climax of the film. According to filmmaker Adolf Alix, the film depends on the castration. It is Nora taking vengeance on the men who have abused her and endangered her daughter.
A second panel reviewed the film a week later. Composed of five members, the panel was also an Arroyo carryover. The panel also rated the film X.
Poe believes that the film could have passed with the new Aquino-appointed board members. “Except for one reviewer, the panel decided to x the movie. Indie movies kasi tend to produce a new concept. It’s not so much the vulgarity but the realization of the reality. As in, “May ganun.” Sometimes it takes a while to accept a new idea even if it has merit. We have to educate ourselves and we are not perfect. Sometimes with the board reviewing it, you also can’t blame them for being shocked and awed by a particular scene. In fact, if I asked them to review Chassis now, it would come out approved, I think.”
According to MTRCB rules, a film is allowed two chances for review. If rejected a second time, a filmmaker has the option of submitting his film to the Palace for a third review. An appeals committee under the Office of the President then reviews the film. This year’s panel is composed of Atty Lesley Cordero, member of the Presidential and Operations Office, film director Mel Chionglo, entertainment journalist Jo-an Maglipon, and National Youth Commission representative for Mindanao Earl Saavedra. Although their powers are recommendatory, they can reverse MTRCB decisions with the backing of the President himself.
The board voted unanimously to rate Chassis R18 instead of X, recommending that the President allow its screening nationally for people aged over 18.
Cordero says there was no discussion of cutting the offending clip. “It is a very heavy film, for me. And true to form like most of the independent films, it talks about poverty, abuse—the hard core stuff. I didn’t feel anything malaswa when the penis was shown . It was part of the whole thing. It was needed.”
In spite of the recommendation from his own review committee, President Aquino banned the film from public screening. In a January 18 letter, the president’s Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr. said “the depiction of graphic masturbation and the exhibition of male genitalia are clearly concrete grounds for disapproval of the film for public viewing.”
The panel was surprised, and so was the MTRCB. Although the MTRCB rulebook does include a ban on genitalia, many films have passed to national viewership on the basis of context.
This is not the first time that the President himself has used his office to intervene in issues of free expression. In August 2011, the President called the Cultural Center of the Philippines and conveyed his disapproval of an exhibit called “Poleteismo” by mixed media artist Mideo Cruz. The display also involved an erect penis, this time a movable wooden cock placed on the same wall as Jesus Christ. CCP closed down the gallery the day after the president’s phone call.
Alix has the option for a second appeals review. Because the appeals committee already supports his film, he hopes the President will change his mind. If the film is banned yet again, he is willing to bring his case all the way to the Supreme Court. Rappler.com
(Video by Adrian Portugal and Charles Salazar. Editing by Patricia Evangelista).
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