THE guardians of the country’s morality have spoken.
In a June 22 ruling received by GMA 7 Network yesterday, the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) judged the “i-Witness” episode, “Lukayo: Hindi ito Bastos,” to have “offensive content” and suspended the award-winning documentary program for two weeks.
The controversial episode, aired in May, featured the women of Kalayaan, Laguna who perform a nearly 200-year old ritual that consists of playfully parading and displaying wooden phalluses during weddings. The ritual celebrates marriage and binds communities.
Ramon Obusan, the 2006 National Artist for Dance who was featured in the “i-Witness” documentary by Howie Severino, says that the ritual also allowed the women taking part to “assert their independence” and to mock male power, which the phallus represents.
But the MTRCB said that featuring the ritual in a television program was contrary to its rules and could not be considered acceptable for general viewing “applying contemporary Filipino values and good customs as standards.”
“The Board does not pass judgment over the culture or tradition of indigenous communities, nor does the Board abhor their centuries-old rituals,” said the MTRCB ruling, contained in a letter written by MTRCB chair Ma. Consoliza Laguardia to Severino and GMA 7’s program management head Jose Mari Abacan. “But when these rituals, which you yourself consider as ‘obscure,’ are shown on television, it is the primary duty of the Board to protect the viewing public, since there may be offensive contents in these little-known traditions.”
GMA 7 has no official position yet on the matter and has yet to decide whether to appeal the ruling. Some “i-Witness” staff, however, feel that it may be best to comply with the MTRCB’s decision. “We have to deal with the MTRCB everyday, but in the meantime, the controversy has alreaday generated a great deal of discussion on what is and what is not acceptable.”
Among the things the MTRCB objected to was a video clip filmed by Obusan in Cagayan province. The footage showed men holding wooden phalluses strung around their waists. The MTRCB believes the men were shown in the act of masturbation. But Obusan explained that the men were dressed up as Judas characters and the ritual was performed during Holy Week.
In an affidavit he submitted to the MTRCB, Severino also explained that the “Judas characters are not engaged in an act of masturbation but waving their wooden phalluses. It is primarily a flagellation ritual that has nothing to do with sex.”
In a hearing on June 6, Obusan and the “i-Witness” producers tried to explain the “phallic tradition” in Philippine culture to the MTRCB committee headed by lawyer Manuel Cases. They said that intent of the program was to show a litte-known aspect of Philippine culture, one that has roots in the country’s pre-Hispanic and Hindu-Malay past.
MTRCB members, however, insisted that the scenes shown in the documentary were distasteful and offensive. “The problem,” said Cases, “is how the show was presented. Sure, it is their tradition — they want to play with dildos. That’s what it is. To me, that’s how it looked, they like to play with dildos…But we have to see this in the context of the law and the viewing public. This should not be shown to young people. They will not understand.”
The hearing ended after two hours, during which it became clear that the MTRCB members failed to appreciate the cultural context and importance of the ritual that the “i-Witness” program had documented.
“The discussion was getting absurd,” said Severino.