Although used to the glamour, joys and attendant intrigues of public life, having been born and raised in a big family whose distinguished members include big businessmen, philanthropists, national politicians, diplomats and divas of the performing arts, Rachel Jimenez Arenas was still surprised when she was informed of her appointment as the Chairperson of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB).
After the initial thrill and shock, she woke up to the reality of her latest challenge, took her oath of office and settled down to work.
“I accepted the appointment because I saw it as another opportunity to serve my country,” explained Arenas, whom the Daily Tribune visited in her office on Timog Avenue, Quezon City.
Clarifying the challenges and responsibilities of the agency, she noted, “We regulate all the motion pictures. It’s quite difficult because we bridge the constitutionally-protected freedom of expression and the right of the state to regulate.
“Since the industry has evolved, the Filipino people’s outlook has also changed. At the same time, the composition of the board, basically, has also changed. From before, when it was called the Board of Censors, whose responsibility was to censor, what we now do is classify and rate motion pictures. This includes everything that you see on television or other mediums. All these pass through the MTRCB.”
A former Third District Representative of Pangasinan, current Governor of the Philippine National Red Cross, and volunteer social development worker since her youth, she has always “enjoyed public service, a field that I saw my maternal grandmother, Remedios Bosch Jimenez, and my mother, Rosemarie Jimenez Arenas, very much at home in.” Remedios, an operatic singer, sang in benefit concerts for various projects of the Catholic Church and her hometown in Pangasinan, while Rosemarie or “Baby” produced local shows of international artists, including tenors Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli, also to raise funds for various causes especially in support of sick and wounded Filipino soldiers.
After high school in Colegio de San Agustin, Arenas attended De La Salle University (Taft) where she majored in Political Science. Next, she took Negotiations and Dispute Resolution in Harvard for six months “because at that time, arbitration began as a legal means for resolving conflicts in the barangay. So, the courts don’t get flooded, you try to settle amicably on the barangay level. Then, I also took a campaign leadership seminar also in Harvard. Then I went to the Fletcher School of Law for my masters in diplomacy. So, it was about leadership, trade, diplomacy, it was all in one program,” Arenas shared.
Other than her impeccable credentials, Arenas brought to her office “the fact that I am a new face in the industry. I have a fresher perspective. Or I don’t have any biases. Because I see it as a person looking from the outside. I am also very flexible. I am more leaning toward being liberated. I am very patient.”
Her attitude has added to her ease in “dealing with board members. They’re mostly newly-appointed as much as I am too newly-appointed here. And I respect whatever decisions they make when they rate a motion picture. It’s not under my job description to rate a motion picture. The board members do that.”
She admits, though: “It’s been quite an interesting ride since this is a different sector.”
Daily Tribune (DT): Tell us about the specific functions of the MTRCB.
Rachel Jimenez Arenas (RJA): We regulate all the motion pictures. We classify them for the movies and for television.
DT: But not the radio?
RJA: Except if it’s tele-radyo.
DT: What is the role of the Chairperson?
RJA: The Chairperson is really for policy making.
DT: What were the President’s marching orders to you?
RJA: Actually, we just read between the lines what he wants. And that’s what we implement. He doesn’t like any form of special treatment for anyone, especially government employees and officials. So, if you know what he’s like, you will follow, because all he wants is you do what is right. That’s what we practice here.
DT: Was it a generally healthy office when you came in? Or did you inherit an office that had a lot of problems?
RJA: When I assumed office, everything was set already. Our IRR or Implementing Rules and Regulations have been updated already. So, we just needed to define some programs. And evaluate some, like should we make it better? We have a lot of memoranda of understanding with other agencies, so we reviewed these, if we were going to continue our relationship with them or whether we would have a holistic working relationship with all these agencies.
But the office itself and its programs were already set.
DT: What did you do with these programs?
RJA: We changed some a little. For example, we have this pilot program, Matalino at Responsableng Panonood (Intelligent and Responsible Viewing), and I said that we should probably bring it to the barangay level, because it was usually conducted in the metropolis or the big cities. So, I chose to bring MTRCB to the grassroots. We’ve been traveling for the past two years. The program started two or three years before I assumed office. We just refined it a little. What is important to the people in the barangay is that they eat three times a day. So, it’s important for us to make them realize how important the rating system of MTRCB is.
DT: How is the reception when you visit them?
RJA: Actually, they’ve been asking a lot of questions. First, we explain to them what the MTRCB does. And then we have a question and answer portion. They’re very responsive. They have a lot of questions.
Another thing, I said, ‘Let’s go to the universities.’ The students are very responsive. Moreover, the teachers are there, the parents are there. So, grassroots and schools are very important.
DT: How about the people in the industry? How is your relationship with them?
RJA: Very good. Actually, we deal mostly with the networks and the movie makers. But once in a while, we encounter each other. We’re very friendly to each other.
DT: Have you had to deal with controversies?
RJA: Not so much. Not like before. Like the ones given X ratings, which were actually very few. Usually, there are three board members who rate a film. If there is a movie that we rate as X, that can be appealed, but there will be a five-person committee to evaluate the appeal.
DT: Are you happy with the composition of the board?
RJA: Yes. You really cannot avoid that the members would sometimes differ from each other, or not agree with each other because that’s how it is in any organization. There will always be an occasional conflict or differences in points of view. But I tell them, you have to agree to disagree.
DT: What is your guiding principle in the performance of your duties?
RJA: To start with, we really must work with the industry, with our stakeholders. We’re not enemies. We have to collaborate. We have to cooperate with each other. It’s not like how it was before.
When we go around the provinces, we come across these video bars that they sort of convert into movie houses. It has become a trend of sorts. So, we warn them that it’s wrong. But we help them to be able to process their papers legally. So, we just don’t shut them down. Or we warn them. If they don’t follow, we warn them again. We encourage them to work with us. ‘You work with us, and we will work with you. You register. You have to get a permit to show your film.’ We advise them about the process that they need to follow. We help them do that so they can operate legally.
DT: Do you have a personal cause that you brought to your office?
RJA: Well, I want people to go back to watching movies. It used to be that people looked forward to going to the cinemas on Sunday, eat popcorn and have lunch after. And I encourage them to do that again.
Another is to have movies that are of human interest. Because if there are good movies that appeal to them, the people will surely go to the movie houses. Of course, you cannot avoid that there are a lot of movies that you can watch on iflix and all these other service providers, but it’s still a different experience if you watch a movie on the wide screen. So, I want to encourage our viewers or our audience to go back to being movie goers, especially because it is also supporting the industry.
There are a lot of new filmmakers now, including regional film makers who are really excellent, and they just need to be given a chance. What happens is a movie is shown for two days, and if it doesn’t rate, it is pulled out right away. To give these new film makers a chance, I encourage everyone to go out and watch them.
DT: Are you happy with the level of professionalism of the industry people?
RJA: They are very professional. We give them our guidelines and we know our guidelines. And they work around the guidelines when they want to achieve a certain rating. In that way, I see them as very professional.
DT: Is the law that created MTRCB still relevant to this day?
RJA: Our law was created in 1985. Since the industry has evolved, there is already a need to amend the law. But if you look at the law that created us, and identified our responsibilities, it is very broad. It can encompass everything. There is a grey area. It says all the mediums.
Anything, as long as it is visual. But just so it wouldn’t be confusing, we could amend it a little. It used to be that there were only few television stations. Now, if we count all the cable stations, we have a lot much more. So, there’s really a need to amend the law because it was created when there were only five stations – 2, 4 , 7, 9 and 13.
DT: So, how are you coping with the volume of work?
RJA: Well, that’s why we have 30 board members. Sometimes they review 40 materials, even more, a day. Last year we reviewed about 194,000 materials. That doesn’t include cable content because we do post-review for everything on cable. We also encourage people to email us or to call us or to let us know if we should call the attention of the producers. We also respond to those complaints.
DT: It used to be that they could insert something that’s not supposed to be there. Does that still happen? It’s called “singit” or insert.
RJA: That’s why our board members, including myself, just enter a cinema if only to check if what is being shown is different from what we reviewed. But those inserts are seldom done now, if at all.
DT: If you go back to Congress, will you sponsor bills that have to do with the MTRCB?
RJA: If I go back to Congress, we can already amend the law that created MTRCB. We are doing a study already. As it is now, it is very broad. But it’s in a way simple na rin. It doesn’t complicate things. So, we’re trying to achieve an amendment that will not complicate things, and yet serve what we want to achieve.
DT: What can we look forward to next year where the MTRCB is concerned?
RJA: Actually, I really want to have a bigger space for us. Because with the DTT, or Digital Terrestial Television (DTT), we’re moving from analogue to digital. For example, if you have a movie shown in analogue that will be reviewed. Exactly the same movie that will be shown on DTT will also be reviewed. We have doubled the number of materials to review so we need a bigger space. That’s why we have to have a bigger theater for the movies that we review, sometimes including the MMFF movies, because the current theater is already breaking down.
So, I really want a movie theater for the agency because that’s what we do here. That’s the life of the agency, to watch everything on television and in the movie houses. That’s what I want to do in the coming year. We now have an approved project for renovation. It’s just that we have to retrofit our foundations. Which is cheaper.
DT: What is your long-term vision for MTRCB? Like what would you like it to become 10 years from now?
RJA: Of course, our duty is only to rate and classify and that is what our charter is all about. But what could there be more? I want the MTRCB to be able to contribute to society, to have its social responsibility programs. I hope there’s a part of the funding that could be used to help the people, primarily the needy families in the industry and the Filipino public in general because they are the audience of all these movies and teleseryes.
DT: What is your message to the people in the movie and television industry?
RJA: I am grateful to them for welcoming me to be part of the industry, and for the support that they continue to extend to me. That is a big help to me as I discharge my responsibilities. They can rest assured that the MTRCB will always be fair to them, and will always cooperate and collaborate with them.
DT: What is your message to the Filipino audience?
RJA: To the audience of Filipino movies and television shows, I ask you to help us bring to the rest of the populace, viewers like you, intelligent and responsible viewing. I hope that you observe our ratings and be responsible enough to guide our young ones especially because there are certain contents in these movies and shows that they may not yet be ready to watch given their age. Your guidance is therefore important in explaining to them what they cannot yet easily and sensibly comprehend.
DT: What do you pray to God for?
RJA: I pray for peace for this country. I pray for the marginalized that they have a better life. I pray that our children who are of the right age will be able to go to school and learn, and achieve their dreams. Of course, I pray for my family, I pray for the President of the Philippines, I pray for former President Fidel V. Ramos, I pray for wisdom always. And I pray for guidance. I always ask God to guide us as we serve our people.
DT: What is your personal Christmas wish?
RJA: I wish that every family will have food on their table for their Noche Buena. And I also wish that next year, the lives of the Filipino people will even be much better. And may you all reach your dreams, even if slowly and one step at a time.