US movie ‘Plane’ stirs controversy over south Philippines militia

MANILA, 22 Feb 2023:

American film Plane, starring Gerard Butler in a leading role, has triggered a controversy in the Philippines with several lawmakers calling for the movie to be banned as it portrays a “negative” image of the country.

The controversy stems from scenes in the movie taking place in Jolo island, southwestern Philippines, where a plane carrying the protagonists crashes and they find themselves in a territory under the control of insurgent militia with no signs of the Philippine Army or government institutions.

The Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), the institution that regulates movie screenings in the Philippines, said in a statement yesterday that it is “committed to” banning the movie.

However, the board has not directly confirmed a ban yet.

Senate president Juan Miguel Zubiri and senator Robinhood Padilla spoke against the film during a house debate last week.

Padilla insisted the reputation of the country is at stake and while it is okay for Filipinos to discuss the problems of their own nation, others should be prevented from painting a bad image of the country.

He stressed the Philippine army is not present in the movie.

Although the Filipino government controls a major part of Jolo island, home to about 530,000 people, the area still harbours camps of Abu Sayyaf – an Islamist militant group linked to the Islamic State, according to the US Department of State.

Senator and ex-chief of the Philippine National Police, Bato dela Rosa, spoke along the same lines and argued the image portrayed by the film could negatively impact international tourism.

Amid the nationalist rhetoric of some politicians, the Directors’ Guild of the Philippines, Inc (DGPI), opposed censoring the film in a statement released Monday, saying “agency and free choice must remain with the public, rather than imposed by politicians.”

“If the state can tolerate free expression for trolls, fake news, and historical revisionism without worrying about their effect on the country’s prestige, then the state can do the same for a work that members of the foreign press have regarded as mindless B-movie entertainment rather than a reliable commentary on our country’s affairs,” the statement read.

The movie, directed by Jean-François Richet, was released in the US on 13 Jan 2023, but does not have a release date for the Philippines yet.