Those who have dismissed the furor over that “Kinse Anyos” ad as of no moment, the great issue of the time being who (or what) will be President of the Republic come June this year, should think twice.

The controversy is growing as the irresistible force of public outrage meets the immovable object called the profit motive. The more the controversy grows, the more is it inviting responses one can truly describe as exaggerated. As the water’s roiled and muddied by the day, the possible end result could be the issue’s being buried under such a ton of irrelevant debris it will be business as usual for Distileria Limtuaco and its ads. Should that happen, the prospect could be more rather than less sleaze in the already sleazy and sexist world of Philippine advertising.

One response that belongs in the exaggerated category is that of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), which has summoned representatives of the Distileria Limtuaco to appear before an MTRCB adjudication committee. MTRCB Chair Marissa Laguardia said in her memorandum to the company that the ad, with its now notorious line “Nakatikim ka na ba ng kinse anyos?” is “obscene” and “pornographic.”

For those who’ve been in hibernation somewhere, or who arrived in this magical country only yesterday, Distileria Limtuaco is one of the country’s oldest companies, and has been recently selling something called “Napoleon Brandy” by asking potential customers if they’ve tasted (“Nakatikim ka na ba…”) a fifteen-year old (“ng kinse anyos?”).

The double meaning is evident even in the English language, and doubly evident in Filipino, a language teeming with innuendo and double meanings in apt reflection of the sexual repression rampant in the culture from which it springs.

The use of Filipino (the language) indeed serves at least two purposes: it contextualizes the leer in that question in the violent sexism of lower class culture, and it associates the act of drinking a purported brandy with sex as entertainment and macho achievement. I will not argue the point, made by some women commentators, that it also appeals to the alleged preference of old men for young flesh, sex with the latter being, in certain Asian cultures, supposedly rejuvenating. The bottom line is that the question sounds far more salacious in Filipino, and no ad executive who’s honest—although it’s not beyond some lawyers—will argue that only the malicious will read two meanings in that question.

But the MTRCB goes further. “Your advertisement,” Laguardia told Distileria Limtuaco, “constitutes obscene publications or pornographic materials, which are offensive to morals and serve no other purpose, but to satisfy the market for lust and pornography.”

The “Kinse anyos” ads have appeared on giant billboards in metro Manila as well as over radio. Although this columnist and some of his equally assiduous TV watcher friends have not seen it, I presume that it also has a version for television. MTRCB would not have jurisdiction otherwise, its mandate being limited—if that indeed is the word—to television and film, and related publicity materials.

Assuming that what it has in mind for adjudication is a TV version of the ad, and that it has jurisdiction, what could be at issue is whether offending as is indeed “obscene” and “pornographic” or simply callous, irresponsible and in the worst of taste.

MTRCB’s record in deciding what’s obscene and what’s not is not encouraging. Past Board memberships have decreed any form of skin exposure obscene, among them the naked bodies of Jews on their way to the ovens of Buchenwald in Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List. In case after case, the MTRCB has de-contextualized movie scenes, wrenching them out of the whole of which they’re a part, and reducing everything to the intent to “satisfy the market for lust and pornography.”

It’s not that market—properly the realm of the raunchy tabloids and their glossy upper-class counterparts that call themselves “men’s magazines”—the ad is addressing, but the market for cheap liquor. Sexist the ad may be, but what the MTRCB should get right from the very beginning is that while commerce is the great god the ad is serving, what it’s selling is not sex but alcohol.

The ad is indeed using sex to sell alcohol, despite the absence of naked or scantily-clad bodies, just as far too many ads use sex to sell legions of products ranging from car paint to power tools. Distileria Limtuaco, for one, has persistently done so—used sex and women to sell alcohol—for decades, its advertising for its White Castle Whiskey brand having featured bikini-clad women on horseback for so long it’s become part of the media landscape of billboards and TV and print ads.

As awful as those ads have been, the difference this time is that it’s not just sex and not just women it’s using to sell alcohol—itself a product of doubtful value—but children, specifically 15-year old girls. That is outrageous enough in itself without anyone’s getting into the question of obscenity and pornography, which are extremely problematic concepts, and extremely difficult to prove.

An MTRCB ban on whatever version for TV the “Kinse Anyos” ad has would be a resolution I’m sure many would welcome. But such a ban would fail to do two things: make it clear that what it’s all about is not “pornography” or “obscenity” as the MTRCB has defined both in the past, but about using children for no purpose nobler than the marketing of a cheap “brandy” (a designation that by the way can only be applied to an alcoholic drink fermented from distilled grapes). Neither would such a ban include—unless the MTRCB is now into radio and print censorship–the radio and billboard ads Distileria Limtuaco has refused to withdraw.

What it would do, on the other hand, is add one more precedent that can be cited in support of the loose definition of obscenity and pornography that among others has led in the past to the police’s burning publications without the benefit of a court decision, and to the banning of films on the basis of scenes wrenched out of context.

If MTRCB involvement in the manner to which it is accustomed won’t be of too much help to the children the Kinse Anyos ad has put in danger (it presumes them to be fair game), opposition senatorial candidate Alfredo Lim’s campaign to deface the ads on the other hand undermines the self-regulatory regime that’s supposed to be in place in advertising.

Distileria Limtuaco has sued Lim for an amount (P26 million) equal to the exaggeration of his response, which is to cut out the word “Kinse” from the billboards. (I wonder what he’ll do for radio—blip out the same word so the questions comes out as “Nakatikim ka na ba ng… anyos”?)

This is vintage Lim vigilantism, a la his spraying the houses of suspected drug dealers with red paint. In the end that didn’t help the anti-illegal drug trade much, and it’s not likely that this latest Lim tack will help prevent similarly sexist and anti-children ads in the future. What it will help are the vigilante instincts of certain groups, whose pet peeves may not be as irresponsible and as in bad taste as the “Kinse Anyos” ads.

Thankfully we have the women’s and other groups (GABRIELA, the Catholic Bishops Conference, the Ecumenical Woemn’s Forum and the Association of Major Religious Superiors) that are campaigning against the ad. They have remained focused on the ad’s sexism and its leery insinuation that children are fair game, and have taken that campaign to the streets and to where it hurts business most, the market.

The aim is to convince Distileria Limtuaco that it’s not only in bad taste to use girls to sell anything, but that it’s also bad business, and to voluntarily withdraw the ads. That, far more than an MTRCB ban or Lim antic, would be more educative for the country’s businessmen and their ad agencies.

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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