Censorship in the Philippines | Opinion of the applicant

Coming from a generation known as the “martial law babies,” I remember what it was like to live with censorship in print, TV, and movies. “Voltes V”, my favorite Japanese anime, was banned for violence. My career took off after 1986 when freedom of the press was restored and the media mushroomed. Although there was no longer censorship, my column was tolerated because the story was considered “safe” until I realized that sometimes I could comment on the present using the past tense. Then came the internet and social networks which opened the floodgates of information, delivered at a speed and in quantity that we are all humanly incapable of digesting. Created with all good intentions, who knew the internet would be weaponized using fake news, conspiracy theories, “alternative facts” and more. A tsunami of misinformation online continues to challenge those who aren’t critical enough to sift facts from lies. Short of censorship and fact-checking, what can we do to stem the tide?

The first step would be to write a history of censorship in the Philippines that dates back to the Comision de Censura in the Spanish colonial era. The first stop should be the primary sources housed in the National Archives of the Philippines where the relevant material is organized into bundles marked “Censura”. The documents and notes Wenceslao E. Retana used for his 1908 book “La censura de imprenta en Filipinas” (Censorship of Printing in the Philippines) are held at the New York Public Library. Then there was the Catholic Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books) first compiled in 1557 by Pope Paul IV which was abolished in 1966 by Paul VI.

The Catholic Index was used by the Comision de Censura to determine which books could be printed or imported into the Philippines. The Manila censors were so strict that they even confiscated math books and dictionaries from the Aduana or the Customs House until someone competent enough (or patient) came to examine and clean the books. for publication. Aside from Rizal’s books, would you believe “Robinson Crusoe” was suspicious? The late Bienvenido Lumbera said that Filipinos were not allowed to own Bibles or read them unsupervised for much of the Spanish colonial period because it was feared that the natives might misunderstand or misinterpret the text. A 19th-century travelogue from the Philippines said Customs inspections in Manila were tied to concealed weapons and Bibles smuggled into the country.

World War II period books sold at Recto dealers and Ermita antique shops usually had a red stamp on the flyleaf or title pages attesting that they had passed the scrutiny of the Japanese military administration. . In these books, American icons such as the Stars and Stripes or the face of George Washington were covered in black ink. In the library of San Beda College, I was surprised to find issues from the 1950s of National Geographic where ethnographic photos of bare-breasted tribal women were decently covered in virgin ink. The practice continued until the late 1990s, when the Librarian also downgraded GQ and other magazines. I caught the attention of librarians and reminded them of their duty to make information accessible rather than censoring what they deemed inappropriate. Their polite response was, “If we don’t cover these hot ladies, some boys will rip them out of the magazines and bring them home.” Now that Internet porn is readily available, librarians have hopefully stopped censoring magazines.

Censorship is fascinating as a reflection of the times – what people found objectionable yesterday is acceptable today. Filemon V. Tutay, in the 1933 Philippines Free Press, reported that deleted footage from the film “Ligaw na Bulaklak” had been saved, but the producers planned to recycle them for the sequel “Lantang Bulaklak”. Seven hundred feet of film were cut from “Satanas”, a film about medical misconduct. Then there was the censorship of “Dalaga”, not for its sexual content, but for being “harmful to government policy”. All the deleted images pasted together were kept in the Censors Board vault which was destroyed in the Battle of Manila in 1945. A great loss for the still unwritten history of censorship in the Philippines.

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