The obscene Senate Bill No. 2464

By John Silva
First Posted 12:17:00 09/15/2008


In July this year Senator Manny Villar introduced the Anti-Obscenity and Pornography bill of 2008 for deliberation in the Senate. It has a lofty preamble about the state valuing the dignity of every human person and safeguarding the moral, spiritual and social well being of its youth and women from “the pernicious effects of obscenity and pornography. “ After that sentence, the bill goes downhill.

It defines obscenity as anything indecent or offensive to good customs, religious beliefs, principles or doctrine that will “deprave the human being…excite impure thoughts, or violate the proprieties of language and human behavior.” Specific examples include the showing, depicting, or describing sexual acts, sexual organs, the female breasts, and nude human bodies. Any writings describing “erotic reactions, feelings, or experiences on sexual acts” or performing live sex acts were also included.

Pornography in this bill includes any objects or subjects in film, TV shows, photographs, music, paintings, advertisements, literature and others found in every form of medium from digital to video to film, TV shows, electronic media, print, outdoor advertising and broadcast media that “excite, stimulate or arouse impure thoughts and prurient interest.”

The bill imposes draconian penalties and punishment. The live sex act performer gets 1 – 3 years in jail and from 100,000 to 300,000 pesos in fines. There are intermediate level punishments for writers but the stiffest is reserved for the artist, painter or producer of any artistic work, getting 6 – 12 years in prison and from 500,000 to one million pesos in fines.

Given the bill’s limited definition of obscenity and pornography, the following events and material may now fall under these categories:

There will soon be a major retrospective of National Artist Fernando Amorsolo’s works to be exhibited in seven museums including the National Museum. Many of Amorsolo’s works are female nudes with exposed breasts. If the bill passes, they shall be deemed obscene and the show organizers liable for punishment.

Many museums and private galleries also have nude drawings, paintings and sculptures by various artists, some of them National Artists. Numbering in the thousands, the artists are now open to obscenity and pornographic charges.

The painter gets the stiffest sentence of 6 – 12 years and up to a million pesos in fines. National Artist Bencab’s nude paintings recently shown at a private gallery makes him, the gallery owner and the gallery staff liable for prison terms and could suffer the full brunt of the law.

In the performing arts, theatrical presentations and dance performances whose themes cover sexual expression and sensual vitality are also vulnerable.

This bill could interpret a song as arousing prurient interest, and therefore obscene and punishable. The composers, recording studios, the distributors, the music halls, the restaurants, the discos, the pubs, will all be liable for playing music “that depraves the mind.” (Deprave means making you wicked.)

Publishers, printers and retailers of suspect titles and material that would be liable for the stiffest sentences would include National Book Store and smaller stores carrying titles that “arouse impure thoughts.”

The movie and the indie video industries have made and still make films exploring sexuality. They too will get the maximum sentence.

Advertising companies and their corporate clients are among the more vulnerable sectors. Their outdoor billboard presence, meters high and revealing significant flesh or posed in ways considered immoral, will be the first targets of this bill.

The print media, the broadcasting sector and those engaged in TV productions, with their scantily clad girls on noontime shows and overwrought telenovelas, will also fall under the scrutiny of this bill.

This bill can also detour and go after organizations tangential to the bill’s focus. For example, an organization promoting family planning, safe sex and condom use can be considered as arousing prurient interest (i.e. an excessive interest in sex) and can be hauled to jail.

Obscenity is defined as anything against good customs, religious beliefs, principles and doctrines. But who decides which good customs, and whose religious beliefs and principles and doctrines are to be favored? There are organizations that do not subscribe to the censoring culture, such as those involved with indigenous peoples, minority religious groups, or those promoting alternative lifestyles of gays and lesbians and those espousing radical and or socialist ideas. Their beliefs can now be deemed contrary to prevailing customs and punishable.

The bill’s assault on basic Filipino liberties and rights will have serious cultural and economic implications. Arts and Culture deprived of creative expression could also become sterile and not saleable.

Books and the printed media could be banned and the publishing industry could go bankrupt. The manufacturing sector involved in the selling goods whose advertising pitch depends on exalting the human form could suffer financial loses.

The broadcasting media, the film and video industry and the Internet industry dependent on unfettered information could also be curbed and subjected to financial loss.

Our tourism industry will suffer considerably. If our society loses its unique tourist branding as one of the freest and most liberal in Asia and becomes a monastic authoritarian state, who would come and visit a poor version of Saudi Arabia?

Passing this bill would make the Philippines a pariah in the international community akin to North Korea, and in violation of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights to which this country is a signatory.

While former authoritarian regimes like the People’s Republic of China have long awakened to the benefits of a freer market society, our Congress and now our Senate are contemplating the retrogression of a democratic Philippines to a backward and repressive society like Burma or Iran.

One might question the doomsday scenario I’ve painted. Surely, no reasonable mind would think of an Amorsolo nude as “stimulating impure thoughts.”
Unfortunately, insidious wordings in this bill make an obscenity or pornography charge unassailable. For instance, an obscenity charge could be made on anyone “regardless of the motive of the producer.” This means that if an artist draws nudes simply to learn how to draw anatomy, the government could dismiss his motive outright and declare the drawing obscene and pornographic.

In the implementation, the proposed bill would deputize the following government agencies to be arbiters of good taste and must duly inform the law enforcers on people committing immoral acts: the Philippine Information Agency, the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, the Optical Media Board, the National Youth Commission, the National Telecommunications Commission, the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.

Except for the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board or (MTRCB) (who style themselves moral guardians of our society by getting aggrieved over swear words and jiggling breasts), the rest of the agencies have no experience whatsoever as to what constitutes pornography. The DPWH can be commended for its efforts to remove illegally placed billboards on our highways, but have no wherewithal to pass judgment on their contents.

How did these legislators in Congress, and now the Senate, become the judge of “impure thoughts,” “erotic feelings” and the corruption and depravity of the human mind? Given their track record, the public wonders about these legislators’ own impure thoughts, erotic feelings and the corruption and depravity many of them have been involved in. In a word, the public would like to know by what right and qualifications Senator Manny Villar, who introduced the bill, pontificates and judges what we should draw and paint, read, listen to, watch, google and send?

This Anti-Obscenity and Pornography Act of 2008 violates the Philippine constitution, whose basic tenets are freedom and democracy. It likewise insults the intelligence and judgment of the Filipino people.

The bill in particular violates Article II, Section 5 stating that the protection of our liberties is “essential for the enjoyment by all the people of the blessings of democracy.” “All” includes peoples who hold divergent views on what constitutes obscenity and pornography. A significant part of the Philippine population would take exception to those definitions.

The bill also violates Section 6, which states that the separation of church and state shall be inviolable. “Inviolable” means “never to be broken or infringed.”
This proposed bill is clearly the agenda of a religious right in this country and if passed, will make this government a handmaiden to the church rather than honor the separation clearly stated in our constitution.

In addition, Section 17 states that the state must among other things give priority to education, arts, culture, and, “the total human liberation and development” of its people. The expanding and unleashing of creative expression, from the arts to culture to sexuality, falls under this rubric. This quest for human liberation may be considered obscene in some quarters but is covered, protected and guaranteed by the constitution.

The proposed also bill violates Article III, Section 4 that enshrines our Bill of Rights: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press.” This passage, found in the constitution of the United States and many other civilized countries, has been the bulwark against every failed attempt to impose similar draconian anti-obscenity and pornography laws in their countries.

More, Section 5 states that there will be no law made to highlight one religion and allows the freedom of worship to other religions without discrimination. The current definitions of obscenity and pornography are Judeo-Christian. You can find similar, if not exactly the same definitions in Catholic catechism books and the Bible. If this bill passes, the state codifies and implements the definition of only one religious sector.

What happens to Protestant denominations that are laxer about sexual practices considered sinful by current Catholic teachings, such as homosexual union or condom use? These denominations and even Filipino agnostics and atheists would be deprived of the free exercise of their beliefs, and is a violation of their rights.

The Philippine Constitution, a permutation of the American constitution through several conventions in the past 70 years, has become a mature Filipinized version cherished by its citizens. Inserted repeatedly and stressed in the constitution are the words ‘freedom,’ ‘democracy,’ ‘equality,’ ‘human rights’ and ‘the common good.’ These words may have had American antecedents reflective of their own history but we have now imbibed them into the fabric of our own society.

In comparison to our Asian neighbors, these words give us a vigorous democracy, a relatively free press, wide latitude in divergent thinking and expression, and a liberal society with access to information and ideas envied by our neighbors.

And because we have endured a period of repression that violated individual rights, our present definition of freedom and human rights has evolved to an even more sophisticated level than that of the American constitution. The words ‘freedom’ and ‘human rights’ take on greater personal meaning and substance to our generation who suffered much without them.

Pornography in Indonesia and the Philippines

Now what about the basic issue of pornography, the depiction and exploitation of women and children in pornographic materials, which may have been the genesis of this bill?

The Philippines earns one billion dollars yearly in pornography revenues, making it number ten among all countries earning from pornography. Civil libertarians like myself acknowledge this as a serious problem and cite a similar experience in Indonesia.

In 2003, a stringent anti-pornography bill was introduced to protect Indonesian youth from websites deemed pornographic. But the bill included prohibitions like kissing in public, the wearing of tight clothing, the exposure of any body parts and the banning of artistic shows containing nudity and sexuality.

Fundamentalist Muslims, some of them linked to extremist Al Qaida groups, were among its proponents. The bill created uproar in the moderate Muslim majority, the Hindu population in Bali, and other non-Muslim minority groups. The bill was stalled for years and in March of this year, a watered down alternate anti-web porn bill was passed to filter pornographic websites in public school computers with Internet access. All the other concerns that would have violated individual rights were not included.

The Indonesian bill was severely criticized by former president and religious leader Gus Dur and his wife Sinta Nuriyah. They said that rules determining morality only aided Muslim fundamentalist groups and did not help in the creation of prosperity. In fact they saw the bill as funny and recommended that the parliament cancel it. Sinta Nuriyah added that there were more important issues to address, such as domestic violence, discrimination against women, maternal death and illiteracy, all root factors that lead to the exploitation of women in pornographic materials.

The exploitation of women, men and children by pornography boils down to poverty; they subject themselves or are coerced into this business for basic human survival.

The Philippine bill originally meant to combat the exploitation of women and children in pornographic materials has also mushroomed into a much broader, all- encompassing measure that now infringes on the basic constitutional rights of all.

If the legislators are truly serious about combating pornography victimizing women and children, they should instead enforce existing laws – like Article 201 of the Penal Code – and mount a public information campaign on the ill effects of pornography. Stiffer penalties should be imposed on those involved in it. That we have a one billion-dollar pornography industry but have had only a dozen arrests and trials says a lot about the lack of law enforcement in this country.

The religious right and what to do about Senate Bill 2464

Philippine Senate Bill No. 2464 has been sent to the Committee on Justice and Human Rights chaired by Senator Francis Escudero. The other members are Senators Benigno Aquino III, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Juan Ponce Enrile, Gregorio Honasan, Ramon Revilla Jr., Rodolfo Biazon and Jamby Madrigal.

It’s time to realize that a bill like this overturns and undoes the struggles of our heroes and ordinary citizens in pursuit of the freedom to be, and the freedom to express.

Remember how Jose Rizal’s novels were considered obscene by the Spanish colonial government because they were contrary to Spanish principles and “corrupted the human mind”? His books were banned and anyone possessing them sent to jail.

Rizal’s most ardent foes were the friars who hated his membership in the Masons, an organization that challenged the Catholic version of God’s supremacy, belief in miracles and aversion to scientific inquiry and alternative thinking. Even today, the Catholic Church bans its members from being Masons, punishable by excommunication. Until recently, reading Jose Rizal’s novels was not allowed in some Catholic schools.

The current religious right in our country are descendants of the old colonial order of friars and conservatives who see their version of obscenity and pornography everywhere and are attempting to re-impose their convictions by employing this government to violate the constitutional mandate on church/state separation in pushing for this bill’s passage.

But this bill insults Jose Rizal and all other libertarians that have fought for our individual rights. It violates the Philippine constitution and will be used to impose a repressive fundamentalist state. It is also anti-art and demeans the whole notion of sexuality. It is not the answer to the exploitation of women and children in pornography. Its full contents are in Senate of the Philippines website. Click to download and read it. If you’re opposed to this bill, please call, fax, text or e mail their offices, register your opposition, and ask them to cancel it in their committee deliberations.

The bill should be cancelled.(PDI)


My Take:Manny Villar’s real agenda here is to capture the votes coming from Catholics and religious conservatives.

This bill is a presidential move.  The man is really bent on getting that coveted Malacañan seat.

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