Four bills prohibiting the publication, production, importation, distribution and sale of “obscene” and “pornographic” materials as well as the public performance of live sexual acts have been filed in Congress. A fifth bill would create a government body that would monitor publications and penalize those found to be “obscene”.

The five bills vary in their illiberality as well as literacy. But all share two assumptions. First, they assume and indeed argue that the Philippines is in a state of perdition, assailed by all sorts of immoral and criminal behavior– a veritable Sodom and Gomorrah. Second, they assume and indeed argue that it’s the proliferation of obscene materials and exhibitions that is its cause. All would also make it state policy to protect Filipinos from moral corruption by denying them access to pornography and obscene materials.

House Bill 2838, entitled “The Local Anti-Smut Campaign Act of 2004,” and introduced by Congressman Robert Jaworski Jr., would establish Local Print Media Monitoring Boards in all municipalities and cities of the Philippines “to prevent the proliferation of obscene publications.” The Boards would monitor all print publications in each city or municipality, and, among other powers, can recommend the suspension of the business permits of offending publications.

A bill introduced by Congresswoman Eileen Ermita-Buhain would prohibit the “publication, sale, distribution, importation and exhibition of obscene and pornographic materials and the performance or exhibition of indecent acts in public.” Buhain’s HB 2031 defines as pornographic and obscene pictures, descriptions, scenes depicting or describing homosexual, lesbian and heterosexual acts among others.

HB 445, reintroduced from the 11th and 12th Congress by Congressman Manuel E. Zamora, prohibits the publication of “lewd photographs and sex stories and articles in tabloid and broadsheet newspapers.”

It defines “lewd photographs” as including “all nude or scantily-dressed photographs of a woman or a man or two or more members of the same or opposite sex,” as well as photographs of various sexual acts. “Sex stories” include “all columns, narrative and illustrated stories and articles contained in newspapers graphically depicting” the sexual acts it enumerates.

Congressman Emmanuel Villanueva’s HB 1278 would prohibit “the publication, sale or distribution and exhibition of obscene and pornographic materials and the demonstration, performance or exhibition in public indecent and sexual acts.” It includes in its definition of pornography pictures and descriptions of sexual acts as well as of the body and of male and female genitalia.

All the above bills are interesting in the breathtaking way in which they would circumvent, mock and otherwise violate Section 4, Article III of the 1987 Constitution’s Bill of Rights (“No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press…”) through prior restraint, or censorship–a term which, incidentally, all four bills studiously avoid using.

But far more interesting than any of the above-mentioned four as a specimen of the thinking in the nether regions of Congress is the bill introduced by Congressman Bienvenido Abante. For one thing, the explanatory note of the Abante bill is distinguished by the prodigious use of CAPITAL LETTERS, its allusions to, and justifications drawn from, the Bible–and its unabashed use of “censorship” and justification for it.

Abante argues that, despite the Constitutional protection of press freedom and free expression, free speech and expression “may be curtailed under the police power of the state to promote the general welfare.” Further, Abante claims, “Censorship of immoral or indecent pictures is not a violation of such freedom.”

Ayatollah Abante, who has apparently only vaguely heard of Section 4 of Article III, seems not to have heard of the separation of Church and state either, much less the multi-religious character of this country, since he justifies his bill in purely religious (Christian) terms via generous quotations from the Bible.

“If indeed our country is the ONLY CHRISTIAN country in Asia,” sayeth Abante to the utter exclusion of non-Christian groups, “and if therefore we are TRUE BELIEVERS in Him, then we must submit to the Biblical injunction to GLORIFY GOD in our BODY and in our SPIRIT which are God’s…”

Abante goes so far as to suggest that all Filipinos “must abstain from FLESHLY LUSTS which was (sic) against the SOUL,” etc.etc. He then cites unnamed “studies” which he says show “that most sex offenders emulate the acts they saw (sic) depicted in pornography and they use pornography depicting sex (sic) to arouse them preparatory to seeking a victim.” (Who WROTE this bill, anyway, a high school drop-out?)

He also perorates against “ART,” which he says must be for God’s “HONOR and GLORY..” “Nude erotic poses of man and woman do not reflect ‘art’,” he continues. “There is no art in it.(sic) Such poses are in reality conceived of to arouse public interest and with a view to EARN.”

I don’t know how Abante intends to prevent the dying out of the Filipino nation once it abstains “from FLESHLY LUSTS,” but I do know that his definition of what constitutes true art would effectively exclude the Michaelangelo paintings that adorn the Sistine Chapel and even Jose Rizal’s sculpture on the triumph of science over death, a life-size copy of which adorns the main courtyard of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine in Manila.

His definition of “obscene” is as far-ranging. It includes anything that “is calculated to excite impure imagination or arouse prurient interest, or which violates the proprieties of language and human behavior, regardless of the motive of the producer, printer, publisher, writer, importer, seller, distributor, or exhibitor…” (Italics provided. If obscene materials are calculated to “excite impure imagination,” etc., wouldn’t those materials not intended to do what Abante says pornography does be excluded? )

HB 2887 goes on to specify that all those materials that show, depict or describe sexual acts, or human sexual organs and completely nude human bodies, erotic reactions, feelings or experiences would be obscene, thus putting medical books and journals including journals of psychiatry and studies on human sexuality in the same category as those preferred reading material of jeepney drivers, Bulgar and Banat.

As for the materials for whose publication, production, distribution and sale those responsible may be penalized with stiff fines (from P100,000 to P1 million) and prison terms (from four years to ten years), they would include newspapers, magazines, newsletters, “literature” (by which he presumably means works of fiction and poetry), photographs, drawings and illustrations; as well as CDs, DVDs, tapes, films and whatever else is in the power of men to put into palpable form.

I have no doubt that the Abante bill will be voted down by right-thinking members of Congress, among whom, I am sure, are some who don’t subscribe to the view that the reason why this country is in such a state is the “proliferation” of obscene and pornographic materials.

The country is indeed going to hell in a hand basket. But that has been demonstrably traced to bad governance and worse policies rather than to those cheesy photographs of scantily-clad women in the tabloids, or to the films of Carlitos Siquion- Reyna.

For the polices that have driven the country to perdition, the esteemed members of Congress are currently being blamed by their co-conspirator, the executive department, precisely because of the bills they haven’t acted on, among them those that will supposedly bail the government out of the fiscal crisis. Focusing on smut and pornography in these times must be the Philippine equivalent of fiddling while Rome burns.


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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