Thursday, September 11, 2008

STOP THIS OBSCENE BILL. The Anti-Obscenity and Pornography Senate Bill No. 2464

by John L. Silva

In July of this year, the Anti-Obscenity and Pornography bill of 2008 was introduced in the Senate for deliberation by Senator Manny Villar. The bill 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.

The bill 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 violates 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 the bill are any objects or subjects from film, tv shows to 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 draconian features of this bill is in the penalties and punishment imposed. 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.

In two weeks, for instance, there will 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 females 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 have nude drawings, paintings and sculptures by various artists, some by national artists. These artists, numbering in the thousands are now open to obscenity and pornographic charges and liable for punishment.

The painter get the stiffest sentence of 6 – 12 years and up to 1 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 get the full brunt of the law.

In the performing arts, there are theatrical presentations and dance performances whose themes cover sexual expression and sensual vitality. Much of the musical compositions we listen to each day also contain or suggest sexual intimacy.

This bill would interpret such performances and songs as arousing prurient interest and therefore obscene and punishable.

The composers, the recording studios, the distributors, the music halls, the restaurants, the discos, the pubs, all are now liable for playing music “ that depraves the mind.” Deprave means making you wicked.

Publishers, printers and retailers such as National Book Store and smaller stores publishing or carrying titles that “arouse impure thoughts” are now liable for the stiffest sentences.

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


Advertising companies and their corporate clients are one of the more vulnerable sectors with this impending law. Their billboards, meters high, revealing significant flesh or posed in ways suspected of being immoral will be the first targets of this bill.

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

This anti obscenity and pornography bill can detour and go after organizations tangential to the bill’s focus. For example an organization promoting family planning, safe sex and condom use will be considered arousing prurient interest (meaning 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 good customs, and whose religious beliefs and principles and doctrines are we favoring? There are organizations that do not subscribe to that culture such as indigenous people’s organizations, minority religious organizations, organizations promoting alternative lifestyles such as gay and lesbian organizations and organizations espousing radical and or socialist ideas . Their beliefs can now be deemed contrary to the 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 will be sterile and not saleable.

Suspected books and the printed media will be banned and the publishing industry will teeter and collapse. The manufacturing sector involved in the selling of goods whose advertising pitch depends on exalting the human form will suffer financial loses.

The broadcasting media, the film and video industry and the internet industry, dependent on unfettered information will be curbed and subject to financial ruin.

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

If this bill passes, the Philippines will be made a pariah in the international community akin to North Korea, and in violation of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights of which this country is a signatory to its principles.

While former authoritarian regimes have long awakened to the benefits of a freer market society, like the People’s Republic of China, our Congress and now the Senate is contemplating the retrogressing 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 are inserted in the bill to make an obscenity or pornography charge unassailable. For example, an obscenity charge can be made on anyone “regardless of the motive of the producer.” This means if an artist draws nudes to simply learn how to draw anatomy, the government can dismiss his motive outright and declare the drawing obscene and pornographic.

In the proposed bill, the following government agencies are deputized to be arbiters of good taste and must duly inform the law enforcers on people committing immoral acts. They include the Philippine Information Agency, the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, the Optical Media Board, the National Telecommunications Commission, the National Youth 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 as the 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 in removing illegally placed billboards on our highways but they don’t have the 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? If anything, given their track record, the public wonders about these legislators’ own impure thoughts, their erotic feelings and the corruption and depravity many of them have been involved in. In a word, the public would like to know what right and qualifications does Senator Manny Villar who introduced the bill, to pontificate and judge what we should draw and paint, read, listen to, watch, google, and send at any time?

This Anti-Obscenity and Pornography Act of 2008 violates the Philippine constitution, whose basic tenets are freedom and democracy. The bill 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 are “essential for the enjoyment by all the people of the blessings of democracy.” “All” includes people who hold divergent views on what constitutes obscenity and pornography. And in this country, a significant part of this population will take exception to those definitions.

The bill violates Section 6 which states 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 the separation clearly stated in the constitution.

Section 17 reads 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 fall under this rubric. This quest for human liberation may be considered obscene in some quarters but is covered, protected and guaranteed by the constitution.

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

In Section 5, it states there will be no law made to highlight one religion and it allows the freedom to worship other religions without discrimination. The current definitions of obscenity and pornography is Judeo-Christian based and you can find similar if not exact definitions in Catholic catechism books and in the bible. If this bill passes, the state codifies and implements the definition of one religious sector. What happens to Protestant denominations more laxed about sexual mores but still considered sinful to current Catholic teachings, such as homosexual union or condom use. These denominations and even Filipino agnostics and atheists will be deprived of the free exercise of their beliefs and is a violation.

The Philippine Constitution, a permutation from the American constitution through several conventions in the past seventy years is now 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 in the fabric of our own society. Because of these words we do have, in comparison to our Asian neighbors, a vigorous democracy, a relatively free press, a wide latitude in divergent thinking and expression, and a liberal society with access to information and ideas envied by our neighbors.

Our definition now of freedom and human rights has evolved to an even more sophisticated level past that of the American constitution because we endured a period of repression that violated individual rights. The words human rights and freedom take on greater personal meaning and substance to our generation who suffered without them.

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 1 billion dollars yearly in pornography revenues making it number ten among all countries earning through 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 they 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 the more extremist Al Qaida groups were one of the proponents. The bill created an uproar with the moderate Muslim majority, the Hindu population on 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 which will filter pornographic websites in public school computers with internet access. All the other concerns that would have violated individual rights were not included.

In the Philippines, if this bill is meant to combat the exploitation of women and children in pornographic materials, it has mushroomed into a much broader all encompassing measure which now infringes on the basic constitutional rights of all. If the legislators are truly serious about combating pornography with regards to women and children, then they should enforce the laws already present, like Article 201 of the Penal Code, and mount a public information campaign on its ill effects. Stiffer penalties should be imposed on those involved with this form of pornography. If we have a one billion dollar pornography industry and there have only been a dozen arrests and trials, it says a lot about the lack of law enforcement in this country.

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


The Indonesian anti-pornography 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 thought the bill was funny and told the parliament to 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 these root factors that lead women to being exploited in pornographic materials.

Right now the Senate Bill has been sent to the Committee on Justice and Human Rights chaired by Senator Francis Escudero. The other members include Senators Benigno Aquino III, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Juan Ponce Enrile, Gregorio Honasan, Ramon Revilla Jr., Rodolfo Biazon and Jamby Madrigal.

The full contents of this bill can be read by going to the Senate of the Philippines website and inserting Senate Bill No. 2464 in the appropriate box. If you are opposed to this bill, please call, fax, text or e mail their offices, register your opposition, and tell them to cancel it in their committee deliberations.

The Anti-Obscenity and Pornography Bill is the overturning and undoing of all the struggles fought by our heroes and ordinary citizens in the pursuit of the freedom to be, and the freedom to express.


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 were sent to jail. Rizal’s most ardent foe were the friars who hated Rizal’s membership to masonry an organization which challenged the Catholic version of God’s supremacy, the religion’s belief in miracles, and its aversion to scientific inquiry and alternative thinking. Even today, the Catholic Church bans its members to be masons with excommunication as punishment. And until recently, reading Jose Rizal’s novels were not allowed in some Catholic schools. The current religious right in our country are the descendants of the old colonial order of friars and conservatives who see their version of obscenity and pornography everywhere and are attempting to reimpose their convictions by employing this government to violate the constitutional mandate on church/state separation, and pushing for this bill’s passage.

This bill insults Jose Rizal and all other libertarians that fought for our individual rights. It violates the Philippine constitution and will be used to impose a repressive fundamentalist state. It is anti-art and demeans the whole notion of sexuality. It is not the answer to the exploitation of women and children in pornography. The bill should be cancelled.

Monday, September 01, 2008


This picture was taken by one of my museum guests, whose name I need to search. It's one of a pair of staircases on both of the entrance of the former Legislative Building now the National Gallery of Art. They are quite sensual as the float up the floors. The colonial era building is such an added bonus to my tour. Everyone likes to walk in buildings that have an old world charm.

Come on my tour. It's not just artifacts but architecture too.

Email me for the next dates or look for my posting in my blog that contains the dates.

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