EDITORIAL: Pornography and democracy

SHOOTING STRAIGHT - Francis Joseph A. Cruz - The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL: Pornography and democracy
Of all the bigger problems this country has, why has the government focused on banning porn? We think we know why — and we damn hope we’re wrong. Illustration by Patrick Dale Carrillo

(The author is a noted film critic and lawyer — Ed.)

MANILA, Philippines - There is probably only one way to separate a man from a good slice of grilled beef — and that is sex. Or, as this week showed us, the threat of being deprived of seeing sex.

It was a Saturday evening. I was out with friends for a well-deserved meal of all-you-can-eat beef, and in the middle of the meal, a friend who was busy swiping around his smartphone announced the news that the government is now blocking porn sites across the country. The natural reaction was, of course, disbelief. How can a country with a world record on porn viewership be stripped of one of its citizenry’s most prized delights? The friend checked if his favorite website was still working on his phone. It was. A collective sigh of relief. There are still ways around the ban. There are still roads to private pleasures.

But, first, let’s be very simplistic about it: Pornography is illegal in the Philippines. The Revised Penal Code — and here you see how archaic it is – penalizes the selling, giving away, and exhibition of films, prints, sculptures, and literature which are offensive to morals, or those that serve no purpose but to satisfy the market for violence, lust or pornography. In addition, there are more specific crimes like the Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009. In a way, the government has all the reason to ban pornography; and in a way, Internet service providers have reason to be afraid, as they can be held liable under the law for being conduits for the exhibition and distribution of the objectionable materials.

But these laws are out of touch with the citizenry. They attempt to shape society with antiquated concepts of what is right and moral, and no matter how much they try, they won’t ever keep up with the public’s demand for sexual relief.

Pornography is that guilty pleasure Filipinos can never live without. Even with criminal laws prohibiting it, it will always find a way to come out, whether through the carefully wrapped Hustlers we did in our Trapper Keepers back in high school or the super secret folders with nondescript titles that we meticulously manage on our laptops. The Internet has only allowed Filipinos to be franker about their desires. Porn is our open secret, part and parcel of contemporary life. Within our own circles, and in the years we’ve spent growing up, we know that our friends enjoy watching it as much as we do.

‘The Internet is for Porn’

Pornography is an adjunct to the freedoms that the Internet has provided. It has allowed shy boys and girls to come of age; to be at peace with their fantasies behind closed doors; to exercise in imaginary conquests; to assume their identities away from a real world that is just full of judgments. Put this way, the Internet is sacred soil. So when the government decides to strip the Internet of one of the freedoms it offers, it can only cause pain.

What makes the recent bans sting even more is that pornography isn’t even the biggest Internet-related dilemma the Philippines has. We have a shit-storm of other issues — from insane Internet costs to lousy speeds to fake news to virtual bullying to scandals to scams to spying.

So why is it that the government has decided to concentrate on pornography? I hope I’m wrong, but perhaps it’s because pornography is an easy enemy — an easy obstacle to knock away, on the state’s road toward ‘Big Brother’ censorship. Ban porn now, and the country will start getting accustomed to having information being filtered by the powers-that-be. Other things will follow — political opposition, satire, arts, discourse. If there is one to be learned from our country’s relationship with pornography, it is that it is easy to simply be desensitized. The most dangerous thing here is for us to be desensitized to certain freedoms being snatched away.

At the end of the day, however, porn is juvenilia. The ban may make us fume on Facebook for a while, but it will not rile us enough to make us fight back. We may even begin to ignore that this is happening, and pay no mind to the creeping dissipation of our rights and freedoms, to the state invading on our collective privacies, to dangers of censorship sucking away our democracy without us even knowing it. Why should virtual meat matter when in the real world, those who can afford it can eat all the meat they can?  Why should virtual meat matter when in the real world, those who can’t afford it end up as road kill with cardboard placards tied around their necks?

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Tweet the author @oggsmoggs.


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