Press Release
October 3, 2006

Drilon slams MTRCB for being GMA's 'censorship body,'
cites triple X rating on Erap bio-epic

Former Senate President Franklin Drilon, now chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, today slammed the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) for acting as the Arroyo administration's "censorship body" instead of merely performing its functions of classifying local films and TV shows as provided for in its mandate.

Grilling MTRCB chairperson Maria Consoliza Laguardia when the board's proposed 2007 budget was up for Senate scrutiny Tuesday, Drilon deplored that the standards by which the board classifies which movies and television shows were fit for public viewing were tantamount to "martial law."

Drilon, who is also Liberal Party (LP) president, cited the alleged arbitrary "Triple X" rating that the MTRCB gave to a video movie on the life of deposed president Joseph Estrada.

"How did the Erap (Estrada) film get a triple X?" Drilon asked Laguardia during the Senate hearing. Nag burles ba si Erap dito (Did Estrada strip naked here)?"

Laguardia replied by citing the provisions of Presidential Decree 986, which created the MTRCB, enumerating the eight standards the body uses for classification: Whether a film or program contains gratuitous sex and violence; lewd, offensive, and demeaning excretion and sex acts; attacks race, creed, or religion; encourages use of illegal drugs; undermines duly constituted authority; glorifies criminals and condones crime; is libelous to the living or the dead; and touches on sub judice matters and invites contempt of court.

Laguardia explained that the "triple X" rating meant three members of the MTRCB gave the Estrada biopic an X, making it unfit for public viewing. "The three members of the first committee that viewed (the movie) X'ed it. That's how it got a triple X rating," she said.

Laguardia said the biopic underwent a second review, during which four of the five members of the second committee again gave it an X rating.

But Drilon appeared unconvinced by Laguardia's explanation and noted that the standards cited by the MTRCB chief make for censorship, not classification, which is the MTRCB's mandate under the law.

"This is a martial law issuance. I strongly suggest you review your standards because you are in effect are censors, not simply a classification board," Drilon told Laguardia.

Interviewed by Senate reporters later, Drilon explained the circumstances how the MTRCB was created during the regime of then strongman president Ferdinand Marcos.

"The agency was created under a regime of Martial law. Therefore, if you follow strictly the powers granted to them, they will in effect be a censors board, which to me, is contrary to the freedom of speech enshrined in our Constitution," Drilon said.

"For example, they can ban the viewing of a film, which contains alleged libelous content. In media, you cannot censor on the basis of libel. You can be liable for libel but you can not say "don't air that or don't view that because it's libelous," he added.

In his talk with reporters, Drilon also said the Estrada camp could contest the "triple X" rating given by the MTRCB to the Erap video documentary before the Supreme Court.

"I am confident that if it reaches the Supreme Court, this classification will ultimately be reversed as being prior censorship. I am confident about that. I am certain that the decision will be reversed," Drilon said.

Drilon added that the MTRCB's guidelines, particularly those on supposedly undermining duly constituted government authority, constitute prior restraint.

"These guidelines, if strictly enforced, constitute prior restraint. For example, under the regulation, those which tend to undermine the faith and confidence of the people in their government and the duly-constituted authorities can be banned. When you listen to radio, view television and read the newspaper, a lot of comments can be considered as tending to undermine the faith and confidence of people in government," Drilon explained.

"If you apply this standard to the movies being reviewed, then you will be exercising prior censorship, which to me has no place in a democratic society," he said. "There are other standards there, which on ground of public policy and in the exercise of police power can be exercised, like the involvement of excessive nudity or explicit sex. Those are different matters because you can really rely on the police power of the state in order to prevent the viewing of such films. But in other areas, such as allegations of libel, or that it allegedly undermines the faith of our people in our duly-constituted authorities, that to me would be prior censorship."

During the Senate hearing, Laguardia debunked suggestions that Malacañang could have tried to intervene in the rating of the Estrada biopic. This prompted Drilon to quip, "Of course, you will deny."

Laguardia later told Senate reporters that the Estrada biopic was being reviewed by an ad hoc committee created by the Office of the President but added that the X rating stays as far as MTRCB was concerned. "Only Malacañang can reverse the decision" of the board, she said.

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