Manuel Buencamino writes political commentary for the NGO Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad column of BusinessWorld, June 13, 2005 edition, p. S1/5 .

My favorite blogger posted a comment about a popular TV personality who had taken to endorsing men’s underwear. He was disturbed because the popular product endorser called himself “wholesome.” He thought it was unwholesome for anybody to call himself wholesome. I was disturbed, too. Actually, quite disturbed, but for a different reason. I was bothered by the fact that somebody wholesome was advising me on what underwear to use.

If I remembered correctly, the word wholesome refers to healthy, neat, clean-cut boys and well-scrubbed girls. Wholesomeness reminds me of nice things. It brings to mind people with drop-dead good looks and missing body parts, like Ken and Barbie dolls.

Let me illustrate: Try to picture a woman with an angelic face and a very sexy figure, or a handsome clean-cut boy with what Mae West used to call a “pistol in his pocket,” and describe that image as wholesome. You can’t. Sex and wholesomeness just don’t belong in the same picture. You can get away with “military intelligence,” but you will never get away with “wholesome sex.”

Take the Miss America beauty pageant as another example. Note that Miss America is a pageant, not a contest. Wholesome girls do not compete, they join pageants. Anyway, notwithstanding the fact that Miss America “candidates” parade in skimpy swimsuits, the pageant still carries a wholesome image. Why? Because those girls project an image that they are not fully functional. Remember Vanessa Williams? They took her title and crown away when someone published photographs that proved she had no missing parts. She was too whole to be wholesome.

Another thing about wholesome people is they just don’t produce unpleasant smells. If you ever encounter a wholesome person who smells or produces anything smelly, call me and I’ll send you a lifetime supply of deodorants and other toiletries of your choice. There is simply no such animal as a fully functional and smelly wholesome person.

What’s my point? Being wholesome is not quite as whole as it seems. And this brings us to what the Movie and Television Ratings and Classification Board (MTRCB) memo to “television station managers/ blocktimers/representatives” is all about.

MTRCB is the guardian of what is wholesome. It makes sure that nothing unwholesome gets printed or broadcasted, at least it tries and that’s commendable. However, protecting community standards in entertainment is one thing, but imposing standards on political discourse and the gathering and dissemination of information is an entirely different matter.

The MTRCB wants a prior review of “public affairs programs, news documentaries, sociopolitical editorials, and all other programs of the same category” because it wants to keep political discourse and information wholesome, something that’s becoming extremely difficult under this unwholesome regime.

Remember how the government tried to suppress unwholesome information in the last election? The Justice department and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) terrorized a TV station from conducting its own non-Namfrel (National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections) tabulation and Press Sec. Ignacio Bunye defended that travesty by explaining the Arroyo regime’s unique take on freedom of speech: “If you want to do your own private count, nobody is preventing you from doing that. I think it’s the publication which is being addressed by Comelec. We don’t believe that, in this particular case, curtailment took place.” See?

A year later, the Armed Forces of the Philippines deputy chief of staff wanted to punish members of the press for granting interviews to “terrorists,” and Bunye once again tried to sell information censorship, In Bunye’s words: A ban on interviewing rebel groups applies “on a case by case basis, depending on the interview’s content.”

Content. That is what the MTRCB memo is all about. Content, that is what this unwholesome regime fears most. That’s why the MTRCB exhumed a martial law decree that allows the government prior review of all broadcasted news and political programs.

The government can and will confine political discourse and news to only those topics it considers wholesome. That is, topics that do not threaten its security of tenure. And that, my friends, is why being wholesome is not as whole as it seems.
Certain political discourse and information are too whole to be wholesome for this unwholesome administration.

Now excuse me, while I go and find out if I can breathe in this tight underwear that the MTRCB is forcing me to wear.