We in the Artists’ ARREST Alliance join our fellow artists in the Neo-Angono Artists Collective in their outrage over the defacing of a press freedom mural they did for the National Press Club (NPC). At the core of this unfortunate and utterly reprehensible development lies not only the total absence of respect for the integrity of the work of art and the artists who went through the difficult process of creation to produce it, but also the issue of censorship.

However hard the NPC may try to hide behind its lame excuse that the changes made are “temporary,” as so eloquently elucidated by Joel Sy Egco, one of its directors, the censorship is evident in the alterations that were made, to wit:

  • In the newspaper read by the mural’s central figure, the replacement of a statement by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) on the potential dangers of the Human Security Act (HSA) with an illustration of what Neo-Angono has described as “a hideous bird-monster in a cage”;
  • In another newspaper, held by Jose Rizal depicted as a man on the street, the replacement of the headline “Press Freedom Fighter’s Son Abducted” with “Press Freedom Fight is On,” together with modifications in the likenesses of abducted activist Jonas Joseph Burgos, son of press freedom hero Jose “Joe Burgos, Jr. and his mother Edita;
  • The painting of a red heart pierced by an arrow over the Alibata “K” tattoo, symbolizing kalayaan (freedom), on the arm of Andres Bonifacio depicted as a cigarette vendor;
  • The erasure of the initials of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) from the streamers of the protesting journalists, as well as the alteration of the “Stop Killing Journalists” slogan on another streamer;
  • The lengthening of the hair and moustache of academician-columnist Randy David, depicted as a construction engineer, and the adding of a goatee to his face;
  • The change in the hair color of columnist and Martial Law detainee Juan Mercado, depicted as a pugo and balut vendor, from white to black and the adding of a moustache and a goatee to his face.

The intention in these alterations is clear: to remove any references to issues that take to task the Arroyo regime, as well as to deface or altogether eliminate the likenesses of personalities and organizations known to be sharply critical of the ruling political clique. This is censorship, however the NPC may try to slice it.

Freedom of expression is not only the lifeblood of artists and writers and journalists, it is a sacrosanct right that lies deep in the foundations of any country like the Philippines which claims to be a democracy. Without it, the powers that be enjoy boundless impunity.

Censorship is, then, a crime not only against freedom of expression but against democracy itself.

Artistic freedom and press freedom are both facets of the freedom of expression. Any attack on artistic freedom must enrage not only artists but also writers and journalists, as any attack on press freedom must enrage not only writers and journalists but also artists.

It is thus doubly despicable that the NPC, which claims to be a bastion of press freedom, has allowed itself to be a party to such a brazen travesty of artistic freedom.

The NPC has not contented itself with sinking lower than imaginable by embroiling itself in racketeering scam after racketeering scam and election scandal after election scandal within its ranks: it has sunk even lower down the rut by instigating the defacement of a mural that depicts press freedom struggles in the Philippines within the context of the Filipino people’s struggle for sovereignty, democracy, and justice.

This is a disgrace to the historical legacy of the NPC as an institution that once took a stand against the forces of tyranny, and to the memory of all Filipinos – journalists and non-journalists alike – who gave their lives that genuine sovereignty and democracy and justice may one day reign in the Philippines.

The Artists’ ARREST Alliance supports the Neo-Angono Artists Collective in their fight against censorship and for the integrity of artistic creation. We urge our fellow artists and the people to take similar stands in the defense of the freedom of expression, as well as the arts.

Artists’ ARREST
(Artists’ Response to the Call for Social Change and Transformation)

November 6, 2007

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