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Categorized | Politics

"Sleeping with the Enemy": A Conversation with Armida Siguion-Reyna.

Digging through my portfolio, I unearthed this interview with Armida Siguion-Reyna, done for Preview Magazine in October 1998. This was during the Estrada Presidency, where Armida’s reign as the Chair of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) was just about the only good thing that ever came out of his administration, in this writer’s opinion.

The MTRCB has always been controversial – its potential as an empowering agency for a particular segment of society is constantly prone to being taken over by short-sighted individuals who seek to use this government agency for their own ends, usually to promote their own brand of morality at the expense of free expression.

The interview may be thirteen years old, but I think much of it is still relevant today – Siguion-Reyna believed that her role as MTRCB chair was not to serve as a guardian of morality, but as a guide to help the movie industry mature and provide better quality output. In this view, sadly, Armida is in the minority. The MTRCB fell back in the hands of the morality-police after Estrada’s ouster, and some would say it’s stayed there ever since.

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In the bloody battle between the censors and artists, film producer Armida Siguion-Reyna gets the last laugh


It’s funny, the tricks life plays. One moment you‘re a distinguished producer and anti-censorship activist, the next you’re chairperson ofthe censorship board you’d battled so fiercely in the past. For Armida Siguion-Reyna, former producer of Reynafilms (responsible for Ligaya ang Itawag mo sa Akin) and present chairperson ofthe Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), the joke never ceases to amuse her.

Assisted by a new Board composed mostly of showbiz people, she aims to guide MTRCB away fiom its arbitrary stance as guardian of public morals to its real function as a transitional body to help the movie industry towards self-regulation and artistic growth. The editing-room scissors, for instance, will be given back to the producers; less arbitrary guidelines on classification are implemented; and stricter discipline is imposed on errant production outfits and theaters. Preview dropped by her windowless, cramped government office that comes with the controversial, often-difficult job. To laugh with her.

How did a fighter against censorship end up as Chairperson ofthe MTRCB?

Well, I`m still fighting censorship. I accepted this job so I can push for amendments to PD 1986. The spirit and intent of PD 1986 is for MTRCB to be a transition body to eventual self-regulation, once the industry has proven it can self-regulate. How can you prove that unless we are given the chance? This is the chance. I don`t think there will be another movie personality made Chairman ofthe MTRCB ever again. If we can`t make it now, we can’t make it at any other time.

With you at the helm of the MTRCB, who do you see as possible opponents to amending PD 1986?

Last year, the MTRCB [Board members] were the main opponents. They felt na mawawalan sila ng power because there will be a Cinema Evaluation Committee that will rate films, similar to the Film Ratings Board noon. And the members will also be from the industry–so kaya pala nilang mag-self-regulate! They saw that. so they really fought it with all their might. This time. I`m not going to tight that bill. l’m helping it! Me, after l push those bills, ayoko na. This room looks like a morgue! Walang bintana!

What kind of work do you see you have ahead of you?

Yung self-regulation it may take long. Aher 68 years of censorship, you cannot just clean that up in one day. The artistic growth of the   people, nai-stunt ‘yon. Unti-unti mo na naman iyon palalaguin. lt may take three, five years. Dalawa naman ang interest ko dito, eh. To effect self-regulation. And the bills. Pag-a-amend na ‘yung PD, kahit magsabay-sabay maupo sina Etta Mendez, sina [Manoling] Morato, at Jess Sison, hindi na agrabyado ang industry! Of course. you have to have members who will understand not only filmmaking, but also what life is all about.

And that was an insight the old Board lacked?

It’s terrible! They`re so arrogant. Ang tingn kasi nila sa sarili nila, guardians of public morals. That they can tell your children what to do, what to see, what to read. Bale wala na ang mga parents. But the ones who make the final decisions on what the children will watch are the parents! You cannot relegate that to the church or the school or the govemmgnt. Eh kung gusto ko ba papanoorin ang anak ko ng In the Realm of the Senses kahit I2 years old siya, ano’ng pakialam mo? Nowhere in PD 1986 does it say that this board is a guardian of public morals.

Critics say that the viewing public isn’t ready for films like Miguel/ Michelle, Pusong Mamon

When will they be ready kaya? l‘ve heard that line from way back. Martial law pa. “Let`s take care of these babies, kasi they`ll never be ready.” Now, it doesn’t mean that anything goes. As a matter of fact, we`re very strict on rules and regulations. To teach the industry how to professionalize. Bahala ka kung playdate mo bukas, ngayon ka lang nag-present lor review. Tatlong nakapila diyan, eh di umiyak ka! [laughs] Hindi ka naman mamamatay kung iiyak ka lang. eh. Pumila ka ulit sa dulo.

You’ve had to say that to old friends and colleagues in the business. How do they take it?

A:When I caught MAQ Productions with illegal insertions in a theater in Pasig, Mother Lily came here. “’Tita Midz,alam mo, I admit, it’s our fault.” Sabi ko, “I’m glad you admit it. We have to revoke the permit of that movie for five years.” Wala siyang magagawa. [The MTRCB] is a very powerful board. That’s why I say with the power of this Board, it should have been used a long time ago to professionalize the industry. Pero hindi. [PD 1986] is a very powerful decree, but it’s a Marcosian decree. During a dictatorial regme, you want to control the mind, di ba? Pero noong si  Cory na’ng Presidente, mayroong Constitutional guarantees on freedom of expression, bakit hindi sila nag-push for the amendment of PD 1986? Because they [the previous board] became so in love with the powers! They’re no different fiom Marcos.

Do you also assume a role in pushing for better-quality films?

You cannot legislate taste. Freedom must be enjoyed even by people who do not have taste. Guaranteed in the Constitution ang freedom of expression. However, in cases of movies like Ligaya, Curacha, siyempre nakakalamang kung maganda ang pagkagawa ng pelikula. Like Gangland. It’s a very violent film. It’s not my kind of film, but you cannot use that against the filmmaker. .You have certain criteria. You must first satisfy the jurors that your movie has artistic, cultural, scientific or literary merits. Kung wala lahat ‘yon at wala ring context, zero ka rin sa manner of presentation, sa intention, o sa culture, eh dapat talagang itapon sa kangkungan ang pelikulang ‘yon at i-X na ng todo, di ba?

How has your new position changed your working relationship with your son, Carlitos Siguion-Reyna (film director)?

But since day one, we’ve always fought! This time, when a movie directed by Carlitos gets reviewed, I have to step down from this chair. Delicadeza naman. Especially, if the movie is directed and produced by Carlitos for Reynafilms, I cannot take part at all.Two-thirds of the Board is made of the industry people–if anyone is involved in any capacity with the movie to be reviewed, he has to inhibit himself.

Did you let your children watch anything which the former MTRCB would disapprove of?

Ay, naku! I raised my children the way I‘m running the Board now. When you teach your children how to fight for their rights, you have to teach them to respect the rights of others. Walang bawal sa bahay nu’ng lumalaki sila. Nakakalat ang Playboy, ang Penthouse. Siyempre ang mga bata,very curious,‘di ba?Alam mo,they grew up mas conservative pa sa akin. Even Carlitos now, he gets embarrassed when I talk about sex.

So you want to free the public from censorship. How much damage do you think you have to repair?

Nobody forces anybody to go to the movies. Kung ayaw mong monood ng  Bomba Queen,nobody can force you to do that. So the choice is yours. What I’m saying is to give people the choice.I bought a nice book [Virtuous Reality by Jon Katz], it’s so nice. Ang sabi niya:

“lf l really want to protect my own children, I will make sure they have more, not less access to the world. I won’t ever call them stupid for watching things I don’t like. I don’t have to be at war with them. I can work out a social contract with my children that protects them, guides them through their new culture and brings peace and rationality to our home.”

Na-brainwash na kasi ng mga censors ang public na “Ay naku, it’s too bloody. Ay, naku, naghahalikan. Ay naku, nagsasampalan ang mag-asawa. Hindi dapat makita ng mga bata ‘yan.” Who are we kidding? Ang mga bata sa iskwater, naggaganyanan ang mga magulang nila, alam nila, dahil same room. So when you say, “Ay naku, makikita ng mga bata,’ they’ve seen it since birth. So anong hypocrisy yan?  Na-brainwash na tayo masyado ng censorship, para bang,“If you don’t go along with the idea  of censorship, you are immoral.” I admit that it’s very difficult to change that.

What would Lino Brocka or Ishmael Bernal do if they saw you here at this table?

Tatawa sila ng tatawa. My production people in Pagudpud, we would talk about censorship problems. Kaya nu’ng pumunta sila dito kanina, naku, ang una nilang ginawa ay tumawa ng tumawa. “O ano ngayon?”’ Sabi ko, eh di magtatrabaho tayong lahat.

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