The Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) pushed back against the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) saying it has no mandate to halt the distribution of music following its proposal to ban the streaming of Shanti Dope’s new song.
PDEA sought to ban the newly released single “Amatz” for allegedly promoting the use of marijuana.
The lyrics of the song can be interpreted in many ways, the local group of artists noted, but it’s not PDEA’s responsibility to do so.
“One thing, however, is clear: it is not PDEA’s job to be a music critic. Neither is it mandated to promote censorship and the suppression of artistic expression,” the group said in a statement on Facebook.
“The discourse of drug use and addiction is best debated in an atmosphere of freedom, honesty, and interdisciplinary cooperation. With this move tantamount to censorship, PDEA actually runs the risk of degrading the quality and integrity of the national conversation on the subject,” they added.
PDEA should leave the role of making music reviews to the public, particularly to people in the music industry, it said.
“We warn the PDEA: Leave the cultural commentary to the musicians, the fans, and the public at large. Instead, focus on your mandate to jail the big druglords who still roam free,” the group said.
Aaron Aquino, director general of the drug agency, perceived that the term “amats” in the rap song was referring to the effects of marijuana in people.
Aquino cited the part of lyrics, “Amat, dapat ka nga ba dinadama? / Dapat ka nga ba minamata,” as “humanizing” drug users’ experiences.
“It appears that the singer was referring to the high effect of marijuana, being in its natural/organic state and not altered by any chemical compound,” Aquino said.
The director further emphasized the agency’s opposition to musical pieces that encourage drug use.
“We respect and appreciate our artists in the music industry. However, we strongly oppose the promotion of musical pieces or songs that encourage the recreational use of drugs like marijuana and shabu,” Aquino said.
The group of artists, however, questioned why PDEA is putting its focus on rap songs rather than apprehending big drug lords.
“No less than President Rodrigo Duterte and the Philippine National Police admitted in recent statements that the country’s drug problem has “worsened.” Why is the agency wasting the taxpayer’s money picking on a rap song, instead of reeling in the big fish?” CAP said.
They also cited part of the lyrics in their statement: “Di bale nang musika ikamatay, kesa pera’t atraso, bala ng amo.”
Meanwhile, the management of Shanti Dope, whose real name is Sean Patrick Ramos, also said that what the authorities did, that is, judge only a part of the song that they found offensive, is wrong and unfair.
“To take apart a song and judge it based on certain lyrics that offend us is unfair to the songwriter; to presume that our reading of a song is the only valid one is offensive to an audience that might be more mature than we think,” they said in a statement.
They also explained that “amats” refers to the sentiments a person feels when listening to music and not in using illegal drugs.
“By the time we reach the song’s chorus, ‘amatz’ already refers to precisely the music through which the persona found his identity – not any form of drugs, but the natural high of creativity and knowing he is the only one who knows to do what he does,” they explained in a statement.
This is not the first time government agencies attempted to change works of art for their own preferences.
In 2018, the Philippine National Police sought to stop the airing of ABS-CBN’s “Ang Probinsyano” as the narrative that time featured bad cops.
Works of art are generally subjected to artistic license.
Reference website ThoughtCo defines artistic license as “accorded leeway in his or her interpretation of something and is not held strictly accountable for accuracy.”