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[OPINION] Reviewing the reviewer: The MTRCB should keep to its name

By ERIC CABAHUG Published Aug 19, 2023 6:10 pm

Have you seen the latest infomercial of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), the one that plays in cinemas before every movie screening? In it, a family of four arrives at the multiplex and is greeted by movie posters of what’s showing.

The father instantly gets drawn to the “film” titled Tokwa’t Bad Boy. The male siga character featured in the poster suddenly comes to life and starts talking, telling the father his movie is not appropriate for his two young kids because of its violent content for which it has earned the R-13 rating (restricted to audiences 13 years old and older). The siga then suggests one of the other movies. But the young girl on the Alak Like Love poster, apparently a romantic film heavy on booze (she and her partner are shown each holding a bottle of beer in their hands), also says her film is not for young audiences; it’s rated R-16 because of themes and topics that need parental guidance for younger viewers. 

The lady in Hinog is next to talk. Dressed in a sexy, skin-baring white outfit and cupping two coconuts in front of her breasts, she says, in a come hither tone, “Pwede sana kayo dito kaso R-18 ‘to. Eighteen years old pataas lang ang pwede. Sayang.” The father and his prepubescent son sigh together, “Sayang!” Then the daughter animatedly points to the Aspin Tanods animated flick poster. The dogs don’t talk, though, but one of them blinks its eyes as the father tells the daughter the film is appropriate for them because it’s G. That would be General Patronage. However, the father tells the girl that it may be too much of a kiddie fare for her older brother. 

A fifth poster, D’Adventure, then comes to life. “This is a film for the whole family,” barks the adult lead star, garbed in a khaki-colored outfit and a brown leather hat, as the music swells with strains of the iconic theme from Indiana Jones. His young co-star enthusiastically agrees, noting the movie’s PG rating (Parental Guidance) which allows young viewers so long as they are accompanied by their parents. Technically, any older company, not necessarily parents.

“Alam ko na!” the dad responds with a big smile on his face. In a chorus, the mom and two children say, “Yes!” The actors all agree it’s a good choice. 

So far, so aligned with the MTRCB mandate of classifying films, even if the details are rather scant for a material that’s supposed to be loaded with information. Then again, most people already know these classifications, so there’s really no point belaboring them. But this particular video is not totally useless. The last portion is quite instructive: It plugs in viewers to what the Board, or at least the current leadership, feels its role is. 

“Mabuting nagkakasundo ang buong pamilya sa bawat pelikulang panonoorin,” incumbent MTRCB Chair Lala Sotto says after the fantasy sequence with the live movie posters that ends with the father deciding on what the family will watch. “Tandaan na ang MTRCB ay kaagapay ng pamilyang Pilipino tungo sa responsableng panonood.”

The advocacy for responsible viewing is well and good. It’s even laudable, but expressly championing family fare over other options, as the infomercial does, is a form of prejudice that’s best left to interest groups. 

The MTRCB advocates for #ResponsablengPanonood.

The MTRCB is a government movie and TV review and ratings board and should act accordingly and not like a parent-teacher association or a church council. 

Sure, there are movies and TV shows that venture into questions of im/morality, in/appropriate behavior, and in/decency—some by design, some inadvertently—but that’s what the ratings are for: They are meant to guide viewers. For example, a Parental Guidance label, such as the one given to noontime variety shows, alerts older viewers (parents, guardians, household elders) that some content may need explaining to younger viewers under their watch. 

But the present MTRCB administration feels it’s incumbent for them to take matters into their own hands and make a judgment on the icing-eating scene between Vice Ganda and Ion Perez on It’s Showtime. The decision: It was indecent.

Apparently, the Board did not even bother to double-check its own guidelines about sex, to wit, “Graphic depiction of sexual activity shall not be permitted. Sexual activity may be implied but with no details shown.” 

The act in question wasn’t even patently sexual. It was a romantic gesture many people do in real life, something most find to be a source of kilig. The only people who might find it indecent are homophobes. 

In the It's Showtime episode, Vice Ganda and Ion Perez were being sweet toward each other, with Ion holding a cake and using his fingers to taste the icing. Ion can be seen closing his eyes as he slowly licks the icing off his fingers. He then approaches Vice, who takes some of the icing from Ion's fingers with her own before tasting it.

What of the two other recent issues involving the use of a strong expletive in the noontime show E.A.T. and the movie trailer for Third World Romance? The MTRCB’s guidelines are quite specific on this matter: That kind of language is not allowed. No ambiguities can be settled with judgment calls. 

That being said, there remains the question of how legit the complaints are that prompt these cases. The one of Showtime is of particular interest because Sotto is the daughter of former Senator Tito Sotto, who is one of the hosts of the rival show E.A.T. 

Herein lies one of the biggest problems of the Board: It is often made up of “experts” and other political appointees who have conflicts of interest, being from the same industry as the people behind the movies and programs they are “policing.” And these same people make decisions on issues requiring deeper expertise in language, culture, psychology, morals, and communication than they have. 

Review and classify? By all means, MTRCB should continue. Those are necessary functions that the Board membership, as currently designed, has competence for. Beyond that, however, it should stop clutching its fake pearls as arbiter and gatekeeper of Filipino values.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of PhilSTAR L!fe, its parent company and affiliates, or its staff.