“Live Show”: a mishandled affair

From the discussions that have attended the banning of the film “Live Show,” we have an idea of what is at issue here and what is not. The choice of subject is not an issue.  One cannot object to the depiction of poverty and its consequences on the ground that it creates the wrong image about the country.  In a free society, that is the prerogative of the author.

What the public may object to, however, is the intent and the manner of treatment and presentation of the subject.  Our laws do not encourage prior restraint, but offended parties may sue the producer and the director of an offending film in court.  There are enough obscenity laws to redress such grievances.

Is the separation of Church and State at issue here?  Maybe — if it can be shown that the State has taken orders from or given preference to one church.  At Edsa, a political event replete with moral messages, Cardinal Sin’s presence was welcome and taken for granted.  On an issue involving what is morally fit to be shown in movie houses, we ought to expect him to be even more vocal.  It is not for the Church to restrain its voice on moral issues; it is rather for the State to ignore it when it conflicts with the law.

Though the boundaries between Church and State have been fixed by law, in practice they constantly shift and remain hazy, partly as a result of our history.  We are a secular society, but the influence of the Catholic Church on many questions affecting our society is virtually unchallenged. Our legislators and policy makers tend to steer clear of issues that would antagonize the dominant Church.  We see this in the failure of government to craft a sensible population policy, a law on divorce, and indeed a law that gives clear substance to the constitutional guarantee of “a climate of free artistic and intellectual expression.”  But contrary voices are making themselves heard, and that is good.

The Catholic Church itself has not been an entirely immovable force in its dealings with society.  Like the community it shepherds, the Church has adjusted its views, albeit too slowly, on many questions. Where dogma used to be the sole basis of its judgments, today it shows openness to insights from the social sciences and progressive ideas from the literary arts.  One sees this change in the radical views of many Church people on vital social questions.  The results of the ongoing ferment are often reflected in various forms of activism in which Church people have been a welcome presence, and in the behavior of Church influentials themselves.

For instance, even as we see former MTRCB Chair Nicanor Tiongson as a victim of Church bigotry, we might also take the manner of his appointment as a sign of the Church’s attempt at openness.  Dr. Tiongson was one of the nominees of the artistic community, but he was also actively recommended by Cardinal Sin.  The Cardinal’s recommendation might have come as a pleasant surprise to Tiongson, for, unlike some people, he did not solicit endorsements to bag this appointment.  He did not seek the job; he was persuaded to accept it.  That he was the Cardinal’s choice may have dispelled some of his doubts about being able to deal with moral crusaders.

It was obvious that Cardinal Sin was concerned about the leadership of the MTRCB.  He could have lobbied for the appointment of Etta Mendez or Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, who led the crusade against pornography during the time of Joseph Estrada.  But the Cardinal may have thought that moral zealots cannot effectively serve the cause of morality.  After making his own consultations, he endorsed Nic Tiongson, whom he did not personally know.  President Macapagal was only too happy to appoint someone who was acceptable to the Church and the artistic community.

On hindsight, Nic Tiongson may have been too naïve to think that, after recommending him, the Cardinal would leave him alone to do his job as he saw fit.  As a public official, he could have ignored the Cardinal.  But the impulse to make him resign apparently originated from the President herself, not from the Cardinal.  Under the circumstances, he had no choice but to quit.

What happened is most unfortunate. The MTRCB chair is a difficult balancing job; Tiongson was the right person for it.  He knows aesthetics, he is a student of Filipino culture, and he enjoys the respect of the artists, the film producers, and the intellectual community.  And he had the support of the Cardinal.  He would have paved the way to the full self-regulation of an industry that has constantly oscillated between commercial opportunism and artistry, mediocrity and genius, even as it attempts to survive the competition from Hollywood.

A number of adult films like “Live Show” were approved for exhibition last year.  So as not to incite the same reaction that greeted “Scorpio Nights 2” and “Sutla”, their producers were persuaded not to release them while the moral advocates were up in arms. The authority to pull out a film previously approved for exhibition does not belong to the MTRCB Chair. President Macapagal herself should have requested the withdrawal of the film.

The producers may have thought that with a new government in place, it is the right time to test the waters again.  They have miscalculated the current mood.  Unless they go to the Supreme Court, it is doubtful they will be allowed to exhibit these films.  On the other hand, President Macapagal does not need this kind of confrontation with erstwhile political allies so early in her presidency. It deflects attention from the more urgent issues.  Power is always more productive when it is concerned with results than with proving one’s moral superiority.


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