MANILA, Philippines – A group of artists in the Philippines have hit back at the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) for its call to ban a song by local rapper Shanti Dope.
On May 23, PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino released a statement, saying that Shanti Dope’s song “Amatz” promoted marijuana use.
He took issue with specific lines from the song including: “Lakas ng amats ko, sobrang natural, walang halong kemikal,” and “Ito hinangad ko lipadin ay mataas pa, sa kaya ipadama sa’yo ng gramo, ‘di bale nang musika ikamatay.”
Aquino also wrote to the Movie and Television Review Classification Board (MTRCB), the Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit (OPM), and TV network ABS-CBN to halt the distribution and promotion of the song.
MTRCB regulates and classifies what programs may be aired on televison, among others. OPM, meanwhile, is the country’s leading organization of professional singers.
In a statement posted on Facebook, the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), said they “find it ridiculous that the [PDEA] has the gall — and the time and resources” to write to the various organizations.
The group said that the song is open to interpretation, and opens a discussion on drug use. They also cited a part that they believe “hints at how music holds the potential to keep young people from addiction.”
“If any, the song humanizes drug users and their experience,” they said.
They said that while the song’s meaning can be interpreted in many ways, “One thing, however, is clear: it is not PDEA’s job to be a music critic.”
“Neither is it mandated to promote censorship and the suppression of artistic expression,” they said.
They equated PDEA’s move to “censorship,” and said that to ban the song risks “degrading the quality and integrity of the national conversation” on drug use and addiction.
The group left PDEA a warning to “leave the cultural commentary to the musicians, the fans, and the public at large,” and urged them to focus instead on apprehending high level drug lords.
“No less than President Rodrigo Duterte and the Philippine National Police admitted in recent statements that the country’s drug problem has ‘worsened,'” the group said. “Why is the agency wasting the taxpayer’s money picking on a rap song, instead of reeling in the big fish?”
“As long as the chief purveyors of illegal drugs remain, so will the culture of drug use and the social illness of addiction—and cultural expressions like music are mere reflections of this,” they said.
CAP was created in 1983 and co-founded by legendary filmmaker and National Artist Lino Brocka. The group includes artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers who promote “nationalist and people-oriented art and culture,” as well as defend the rights and welfare of artists.
Along with CAP, Shanti Dope’s management also slammed PDEA’s move, calling it a “brazen use of power,” and urging Aquino to listen to the song and not take “a few lines out of context.”
“While anyone is welcome to interpret a song or any cultural text, it is also clear that for an interpretation to be valid, it needs to have basis, and must be within the context of the cultural text as a whole,” his management said. – Rappler.com