A candid and personal examination of the Philippine comics scene from a social, cultural, economic and business point of view.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Comics Censorship in the Philippines: A look back in time

Even the concept and style of comics censorship prevalent in the United States during the 1950s, which was the banning of "horror, sex, and crime" comics was aped by the Philippine comics industry at the time.

The comics industry in the Philippines began in 1947 when ACE Publications owned by the late Don Ramon Roces, put out successful print runs of "Pilipino Komiks", "Hiwaga Komiks", "Tagalog Klasiks", and "Espesyal Komiks". ACE's editorial policy was guided by a so-called "Golden Code" established in 1955 pursuant to Executive Order 217 of the late President Manuel Quezon.

In 1959, the Association of Publishers and Editors of Philippine Comics Magazines (APEPCOM) was established in collaboration with the Catholic Laymen's Committee for Decency (later changed to the Knights of Columbus Good Press Committee). Its declared objective was to practice self-censorship within the industry by producing "only clean, wholesome, entertaining and educational strips" in order to promote the welfare of the komiks reading public. This was actually an adoption of ACE's "Golden Code" comics publishing editorial policy; the APEPCOM code was the Philippine equivalent of the American Comics Code Authority. Significantly, the APEPCOM was composed of Tony Velasquez, Angel Ad Santos, Clodualdo del Mundo and Ramon R. Marcelino. (Source: History of Komiks of the Philippines and other Countries, Islas Filipinas Publishing Co., ed. by Ramon R. Marcelino, 1985 ed.)

Another more practical purpose for the establishment of a censorship body, was to help perpetuate ACE's editorial policy of publishing "clean, wholesome, entertaining and educational comics" which not surprisingly, was also the preferred taste of the religious Knights of Columbus. In other words, this particular "conservative" taste and preference was being imposed upon the general komiks reading public by the Roces comics publishing monopoly and the Roman Catholic Church.

So extensive was Don Ramon's growing power and influence that in 1960, then President Carlos Garcia lauded Don Ramon for his contribution to the "generation" of business and industry in the Philippines. He was consequently made an honorary lifetime member of the Management Association of the Philippines for fostering "high level" management in the country by conducting workshops and seminars to speed-up management know-how and giving due recognition and awards to executives who excel in their respective fields. Tony Velasquez, APEPCOM member President, creator of Kenkoy, and trusted right hand man of Don Ramon, was one of those executives. (Source: "Garcia lauds Roces, Wilkman", Bulletin Today newspaper, May 16, 1960).

Is fair and honest business generated when one businessman imposes his company policies on another? Some would answer in the negative for this not only unduly promotes the business interests of the monopolist at the expense of another, but also compromises the rise of innovation and quality by inhibiting the freedom of expression of a competitor businessman.

Don Ramon's ACE Publications was the publisher of "Hiwaga Komiks" which specialized in supernatural, horror and "weird" stories, albeit in watered-down "wholesome" versions. Yet, through the APEPCOM, other comics publishers intent on putting out the same kind of horror, supernatural and "weird" comics format were kept at bay. This double standard is all the more evident when we look at the following 1961 news article:

"The APEPCOM approved an all-out campaign against stories of the horror and weird types in their latest meeting held at the Philippine Columbian House.

Member-managers were enjoined to devote at least half a page for editorials addressed to parents, as a regular feature.

The editorials will be illustrated and will have such subjects as "Weird Stories Wean Scary Children", "Don't Raise Weak-Hearted Children", "Superstitions that lead to Perdition", "Life Among the Supernaturals", and such similar subjects which over-imaginative comics writers utilize to the detriment of young minds.

An APEPCOM member had been ejected from the Association for devoting one of its magazines wholly to weird stories. Also a target of the campaign is a non-member that specializes in horror and crime stories.

A new seal for the use of qualified members has just been released. APEPCOM members are: ACE Publications, Liwayway Publishing, Bulaklak Publishing Inc., Mission Publications, Co., and Benipayo Press, Inc.

The APEPCOM campaign for clean and wholesome comics has been supported for the last six years by the good press committee of the Kngihts of Columbus under the direction of Fr. George F. Willman." (Source: Ban Horror Comic Books, Manila Bulletin newspaper, September 13, 1961).

The expelled APEPCOM member was none other than GMS (G. Miranda and Sons) Publishing Corporation, publisher of LAGIM Komiks, a Filipino comic that was devoted to the horror and supernatural format. APEPCOM's "members in good standing" at the time were: ACE Publications (naturally), ABC Publication, Benipayo Publication, Liwayway, and Mission Publication Company (of the Knights of Columbus). The APEPCOM practiced monthly self-censorship of all comics magazines published by its members. (Source: "Comics Association expels Member", Manila Bulletin newspaper, June 12, 1961).

Later however, the censoring body was unable to control the rise of new players into the market (i.e., CRAF Publications, Extra Komiks Publications, Mapalad Publishing Corporation, Bulaklak, Soller Press, PSG, Gold Star and others) who, though short lived, gave Don Ramon a run for his money, especially with the arrival of the bomba "sex" comics of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was only in 1972 when martial law was declared that the APEPCOM through a new reformed body known as the Kapisanan ng mga Publisista at mga Patnugot ng mga Komiks Magasin sa Pilipinas (KPPKP) began to flex its muscle as a censor body under the guidance of the military dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Comics publishers were required to post a yearly P10,000 bond (a huge amount at the time) which would be confiscated to the government if their titles were found to have deviated from the KPPKP censorship code. But this is another story best saved for another time.

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