MANILA, Philippines - "Schindler's List" is causing a sensation here, but the expressions of shock, horror and outrage that have swirled around the Oscar-nominated film have nothing to do with its depictions of the Nazi Holocaust.
Rather, Filipinos are abuzz over sex. Specifically, a lovemaking scene involving the film's protagonist, Oskar Schindler, and a mistress, plus a couple of bedroom shots of a woman's breasts.
An official board of movie censors ordered the offending scenes, about 30 seconds' worth, cut from the highly acclaimed Steven Spielberg film before its scheduled premiere last Wednesday. Spielberg refused.
The opening was postponed, but President Fidel Ramos stepped in and overruled the board, deciding that the movie could be shown without cuts to anyone over 15. It is now scheduled to open today.
The matter has not ended there, however. A senator has called Ramos' move a "dangerous precedent" and urged him to rescind it, while others have demanded the abolition of the censorship board. Meanwhile, exchanges of insults and abuse by Filipinos on both sides of the debate continue to fill the nation's airwaves and newspaper columns.
Behind the squabble is this country's odd mixture of prudery and permissiveness. A former Spanish colony that came under American dominion during the first half of this century, the Philippines is the only predominantly Roman Catholic country in Asia. Wags have summarized these influences as "300 years in a convent, 50 years in Hollywood."
The fuss started at a special advance screening of "Schindler's List" on Feb. 27. Organizers announced that the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board had insisted on censoring parts of the film. Since Spielberg would not agree, the audience was told, the movie would not be released to the public after that screening. To enforce the censors' decision, a representative of the board sat in the projection room and blocked the offending scenes by putting a hand over the lens as the audience booed loudly.
The board explained that it was not objecting to the nude scenes in concentration camps, but to three short "bed scenes" involving "double breast exposure" of women. Worse, it said, one of the scenes - Schindler in bed with a mistress - showed sexual movement, followed by "orgasm."
Henrietta "Etta" Mendez, the head of the review board, said: "I don't care about artistry. What I care about is the showing of the sex act in public. It is immoral and not within the culture of Filipinos."
Commentators quickly weighed in. "Schindler's Lust," one newspaper dubbed the affair.
Teodoro L. Locsin Jr., publisher of the newspaper Today, had a somewhat harsher prescription. "Gas Etta," his column was headlined Friday. The review board, he said, has elaborate standards for censoring movies. Showing one breast is OK, for example, but two is a no-no; hence the board's references to "double breast exposure."
Locsin professed puzzlement. "From my limited experience in the matter," he wrote, "when you see one breast, you've seen both."
Manuel Morato, the chief censor for six years before Mendez took over, sprang to the board's defense and was promptly accused of ignorance and bigotry.
"If we shall allow ourselves to be cowed by an American Jew film director-producer, then to me this is the worst case of American imperialism," he said in a statement. "This Spielberg is attacking our moral fiber. Can we allow only one American Jew to dictate on us (sic) and to disregard Philippine laws?"