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Sex and the Censor in the Philippines

May 7, 1991

MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Margarita Holmes will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about sex, at the very least, and her fans aren’t afraid to ask.

In newspapers and television shows, she addresses the universal preoccupation with wit and enthusiastic detail. When Mrs. Holmes is finished with a fantasy, there is nothing left to fantasize.

Her answers are direct. Someone asked if it was OK to do a certain thing underwater. Sure, she replied, if there are ″no unusual circumstances, like piranhas″ around and if it’s shallow enough ″or you can swim awfully well.″

Admirers think Mrs. Holmes is wonderful. Detractors generally rate her graphic approach on a scale from scandalous to disgusting.

Her television appearances and the advice column ″BodyMind,″ which appears six days a week in the nationally circulated Manila Times, have made a national figure of the 40-year-old psychologist.

″BodyMind″ is believed to be among the most avidly read in the Philippines, where columnists have large and loyal followings.

Mrs. Holmes’ racy and witty comments arouse the ire of Manuel Morato, chief of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, who has threatened legal action against Mrs. Holmes. His mandate does not extend to newspapers, but Morato considers himself the keeper of the national morals.

″Basically, there’s nothing wrong when you talk about normal sex and you educate the public, but with restraint,″ Morato said. ″The problem is, this woman flaunts sexual perversions and aberrations in a medium too public for comfort.

″She’s been using very lurid, vivid and very descriptive terminologies that are only used in the privacy of a clinic or in a medical journal.″

Efforts to tone down her style and threats to cancel her two television programs if she oversteps censorship rules may lead to a legal case that could test the limits of freedom for the region’s freest media.

Mrs. Holmes said she had received five letters complaining about topics she discussed, but no threats of court action other than Morato’s. Obscenity and pornography offenses are punishable by up to 12 years in prison.

According to Mrs. Holmes, Filipinos read her columns because they generally would rather consult books, journals or newspapers than ask psychologists, doctors, priests or relatives for advise on sex.

″It’s difficult for Filipinos to admit to somebody else that there is something wrong with them,″ she said. ″But when you come for counseling, I know how you look, I know how you smell, I know how you talk and I know who you are.″

She receives about 50 letters a week, even some from Filipinos working abroad, and does not require their real names if they are too shy to identify themselves.

Before beginning the column in 1989, Mrs. Holmes had years of experience as a clinical psychologist.

She earned a doctorate in psychology at Ateneo University, a Jesuit institution, and has a master’s degree in sex therapy from the University of Hawaii.

Morato accuses Mrs. Holmes of using her academic background as a ″mantle of authority″ for ″irresponsible″ advice to unsuspecting readers that results in illegitimate pregnancies.

″I think I’ve been typecast,″ Mrs. Holmes said, acknowledging that readers and listeners remember her sex tips more than the advice on marital problems, parent-child relationships and other problems.

The censor said he would support anyone who filed obscenity charges against Mrs. Holmes, but would not file them himself because court hearings would distract him from his job.

Although his censorship powers only cover television and movies, Morato said, people write him to complain about indecency in newspapers, videotapes, radio, theater and live shows.

He cannot stop the newspaper columns, but said he is empowered to cancel permits for her midday talk show and her late-night sex advice program if they violate obscenity guidelines.

He claims some of the letters to Mrs. Holmes are manufactured. She denies faking letters, but admits there is no way of determining whether all are authentic.

A collection of her columns called ″Life, Love and Lust″ is in its third printing and a second volume is scheduled for publication this month.

Mrs. Holmes said she has reduced her practice as a clinical psychologist because of demands on her time. She now sees 10 clients a week, compared to about 40 before she started writing in 1989.

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