March 21, 2001 02:33am
Top Philippines Movie Censor Quits
by: Adam Brown
(MANILA, Philippines) -- The Philippines' top movie censor resigned Wednesday after the president, under pressure from the Roman Catholic Church, threatened to fire him over an acclaimed film about sex performers.
Nicanor Tiongson, chairman of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, said he could no longer work amid church criticism of his approval of films considered risque for the predominantly Catholic nation.
``It is ironic that the freedom of expression that liberated us from a corrupt and incompetent government will become the victim of religious bigotry,'' Tiongson told reporters.
Tiongson came under fire by the church this month for the approval of ``Live Show,'' a popular Philippine movie about sex performers.
Directed by Jose Javier Reyes, chairman of the Directors Guild of the Philippines, the movie debuted at the Berlin Film Festival last year under the name ``Toro'' and has been exhibited in 12 other festivals in North America, Europe and Australia.
It was approved for release in the Philippines last year, under a previous censor, but was only distributed early this month. Tiongson said he refused the church's demand that he withdraw the movie from theaters.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (news - web sites), a devout Catholic, on Tuesday threatened to fire Tiongson for approving the film, which shows bare-breasted women. She accepted his resignation Wednesday.
It ``saddens me that Dr. Tiongson has to go amid the controversy generated by an (approved) film which drew much flak from parents, the clergy and the laity and the public in general,'' Arroyo said.
The government suspended showings of ``Live Show'' on Wednesday and called for censors to re-evaluate the film. The church, which played a major role in ousting former President Joseph Estrada (news - web sites) in January and installing Arroyo, called the film ``lewd.''
Estrada left office Jan. 20 as tens of thousands of protesters, backed by the church, the military and police, clamored for his resignation amid snowballing corruption charges.
Nudity in films became more common under Estrada, a former action film star, as the censor's job shifted from cutting scenes to mainly rating movies.
Philippine movies are tame by many international standards. Laws prohibit actresses from exposing two breasts at the same time and the government can cut scenes it deems unnecessary.
A previous administration drew ridicule and protest for moving to cut full frontal nudity in death camp scenes in ``Schindler's List.''
Tiongson also disagreed with the church's characterization of ``Live Show'' as a pornographic movie.
``If you come out of this film titillated you are a sick person,'' said Tiongson, a former literature professor at the University of the Philippines. ``This is not a cheap skin flick but a powerful expose of the way live sex performers are dehumanized by poverty, exploited by their own kin and kind and driven by desperation to seek a more humane life abroad.''
The church has repeatedly criticized a genre known as ``bold films'' in the Philippines for frequent partial nudity.
The films, mostly in the Tagalog language, have proven popular with the poor. Hand-painted, romance novel-style billboards featuring famous Philippine actors in romantic poses dot the landscape and highways of Manila.