I was around 15 when the mecha anime series Voltes V went on air for the first time.
The year was 1978 and I was a rowdy sophomore at a local high school for boys. I remember huddling with friends and cousins each afternoon to watch the show. Five days into Voltes V’s first episodes, Mazinger Z hit the TV screens.
True in our household as it was, I suppose, elsewhere, it was routine to see two-to-three small TV sets placed side by side to watch several mecha anime programs all in one go.
It wasn’t my first taste of Japanese anime. The late ’60s and ’70s saw children like us scrambling each day to watch Gigantor. It was said to have been the animated adaptation of a manga created by Mitsuteru Yokoyama. Gigantor was a jet-propelled automaton run via remote control by the 12-year-old Jimmy Sparks.
With the remaining final four episodes promising totally dramatic scenes, the regime of dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, through a presidential directive made under martial law, banned Voltes V a little over a year after its launching for allegedly being “harmful to children”.
Apparently, Marcos did not take kindly to the show’s rather pernicious plot: an invading Boazanian empire facing five young but defiant pilots driving a super electromagnetic machine which can “volt in,” maneuver at top speeds, and wield advance weaponry.
In short, Earth’s rebellion against an alien tyrannical kingdom. That was the story. I understood what the ban meant not long after it was imposed. It was my first taste of state censorship and I didn’t like it one bit.
For years, many kids couldn’t get over the fact that it was taken off the air. The shock of the ban only proved disadvantageous to the martial law regime for reasons the State hardly expected: my generation remembered.
Of the many powers the government appropriates for itself, censorship must be one of few functions less likely to be dropped by authorities for one simple reason: it’s their best bet at managing and controlling what people think, say, and do.
Criticism, the raising of grievances, the struggle for just causes: these do not bode well for a dictatorship that was out to milk the state coffers for what it was worth. Crime thrives in silence, in the veneer of invisibility, more so the crimes of the State, with any and all attempts at exposure being deemed a terrorist act.
With laws insisting that a citizen should not possess more freedom than what is permitted by libel laws, to think and speak freely is now criminal.
I have long believed that censorship is the self-inflating assumption that the State has what it takes to dictate what we ought to read, think, and say. That government has the intellectual, psychological, even moral aptitude to discipline our thoughts as well as our actions by not only commanding, but commandeering how we must think and speak for ourselves.
That it would be to our best interest to leave it up to the State to decide the direction of either our present or our future. It does this by assuming that it knows what is right and wrong at our expense. And in being sure of what is right and wrong, it can chart a course using what would best suit its own interest, which, it again assumes, and this time rather grievously, as the interest of the rest.
While it’s never really hard to untie censorship’s philosophical knots (what with Immanuel Kant’s idea that freedom is the ability to govern one’s thoughts and actions on the foundation of reason, and not desire), what censorship really means is simply this: the theft of one’s ability to reason with himself, by himself, and for himself and others, more so if the same ability puts the State in the crosshairs of a restless, curious mind.
Censorship, therefore, is the systematic drive to turn us into the oppressor’s own image and likeness — to be forced to think and act the way it does without the freedom and ability to reason with and for ourselves, thus the inability to change or redirect our minds.
The classic authoritarian censorship was notorious for closing down news outlets, the burning of books, arresting, detaining, and killing writers, intellectuals, and journalists, all with the goal of taking full control of all information.
No independent journalism, no alternative media to fact-check the claims, none of the context which compels us to think twice before believing in anything. Just one source of information: the powers-that-be. This happened during Marcos’ martial law.
Today, we’re seeing a mix of the classic censorship and a subtler, more ‘spectral’ form where “fake” news is used to disable facts, discredit the journalist, and smear any form of proof and evidence which can expose the crimes of the State.
This led to the denial that censorship is alive and well in the country regardless of evidence. But then, how does one account for these?
As I write this, 23-year-old journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio remains in detention for trumped up charges.
Poet and playwright Amanda Echanis, daughter to murdered activist Randy Echanis, languishes in jail with her one-month-old son, baby Randall Emmanuel, since her arrest in Dec. 2020.
Lady Ann Salem of Manila Today was also arrested around the same time, and was released in early 2021.
Poet Kerima Lorena Tariman, died in an armed encounter with the Armed Forces’ 79th Infantry Battalion (IB) in Silay City, Negros Occidental. She was 42.
As of last count by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, there are 20 journalists who’ve been murdered since Pres. Rodrigo Roa Duterte took office in 2016. The murderers remain at large.
Hundreds more, including journalists on campus, have experienced harassment, intimidation, illegal surveillance, and even death and rape threats online and offline. Worst of these were the attempts to discredit and even detain the recent Nobel laureate for Peace, Maria Ressa, who still faces a number of charges — from cyber-libel to tax evasion.
In more recent times, a subtler move by the State forced the Kalinga State University and the Isabela State University to purge books in their libraries containing Leftist content.
So, the question is: how many more should suffer before we acknowledge that censorship and oppression are alive and well in this benighted country?
In the final analysis, censorship is proof that the State is much too insecure and much too weak to deal with opposing ideas. And all because many State players have only one goal in mind: to filch the coffers dry.
For what do avarice, corruption, and greed know of justice? Human dignity? Truth?
Voltes V was a dangerous trek into rebel territory, a risk no dictatorship in his twisted mind would take sitting down. It taught me and my generation that tyrants, dictators, and monsters, however powerful, always lose to children who know how to fight back.
Voltes V’s plot was a blueprint for dissent. And Marcos, being the coward that he was, took it to mean the end of his power-hungry schemes if he allowed to let the series slide sans notice.
Marcos was right. Voltes V was dangerous, but not to kids like me. It was dangerous to tyrants like him. Eight years later, in early 1986, the kids and teenagers who followed the Voltes V series, now all grown up and thinking for themselves, took to the streets and ‘volted in,’ in the millions, and deposed the tyrant at the Palace.
I was 23.