She breezed into a cozy QC resto dressed in a crisp white shirt with rolled-up sleeves, blue jeans, and a comfy pair of sneakers. With a warm smile, she greeted her handful of guests with a casual hello and proceeded to serve them from plates of pasta and pizza waiting at the main table.
As the small group of Entertainment editors and veteran columnists quietly watched their host in action, a colleague with whom she arrived whispered, “The chairman’s really like that. Even at the office, she makes sure to take care of everyone in whatever way she can.”
The chairman referred to above is Movie and Television Review and Classification Board’s (MTRCB) top lady, Rachel Arenas, who a year into her appointment to the regulatory agency is gathering feedback from various stakeholders on the work they have been doing so far.
Happy to hear approval from showbiz media stalwarts like Lolit Solis, Ricky Lo and Ronald Constantino, among others, over her board’s performance in classifying rather than censoring local and international movie titles [the bane of many filmmakers under more conservative MTRCB chiefs], Arenas thanked the group and reassured them, “Like I said before, my goal from the very start has been to implement the rules of the agency without stifling artistic freedom. And in terms of the programs I inherited from the past chairmanship, my mantra has always been, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Just continue, enhance and improve it.”
Over plates of more food [the chairman who happens to be the daughter of socialite and philanthropist Rosemarie "Baby” Arenas blushed and giggled as she caught herself ordering again, "Is it too much? I got my hosting skills from my mom!”], the chairman went into an animated account of how her team had taken former MTRCB chair and now senator Grace Poe’s “Matalinong Panonood” to far-flung areas across the country.
“We carried on from Sen. Grace and Chairman Toto [Vil[Villareal, her successor]reaching out to parents in barangays to help them understand the meaning of the ratings shown at the beginning of every program. Everyone has a TV these days regardless of social class, which is why it’s very important to guide the public choosing what their children should or should not watch,” Arenas explained.
“I guess the ways in which we’ve enhanced the program is really immersing ourselves in the communities we visit—something I’ve been used to doing in Pangasinan [as [as Representative of province’s 3rd district]as Red Cross governor. Several times, we held full movie showings in the barangays after finding out that many of them have never been to the cinema before. In a way, the movie showing is a little treat to them besides serving as the best example of the guidelines we teach in Matalinong Panonood,” she continued.
Then with a sheepish laugh, Arenas admitted, “Those who know me well can just imagine how talkative I am during these visits, checking up on everyone, asking them what they need in the barangay… One time, I even sent a wheelchair back to an old lady who needed help! But of course, it was done outside my capacity as MTRCB chair… I just felt the need to do it.”
Well aware that public service in this particular sense is outside the agency’s mandate, Arenas—whose name has been floated for the administration’s senate slate in 2019—acknowledged she sometimes feels limited by her office in pursuing the kind of outreach she is accustomed to. On weekends, when she is off as MTRCB chair, she rushes home to Pangasinan to join her mom, now Third District Representative, to fill her longing to be one with the people and see to their needs.
“I guess that’s why I’m always in rolled up sleeves and jeans like you noticed,” Arenas told The T-Zone who asked if her on-the-go get up constitutes her daily work wear. “I’m ready to get down on my hands and knees if the situation calls for it.”
This experience in public service—the way of life she embraced as a child—seems to be the reason why Arenas doesn’t shy in responding “yes” to the question whether she is indeed contemplating a senate run 2019. Her name has been floated as one of the possible candidates on the administration’s slate, but she is quick to clarify that she will, “only if the President asks me to.”
“To serve in an appointed capacity is a privilege, so as long as President Duterte believes I can do more as MTRCB chairman, I will stay in this position. If he believes I should run for higher office to be able to help more people, I will also accept his invitation,” she elaborated.
For now, with elections over a year away, Arenas’ plate is full as MTRCB chief and she is bent on leading the agency as best she can. She enjoys the challenge of leading a diverse board of 30 members, whom she says have settled down after all the appointments—controversial or otherwise—had been made.
“We’re now proceeding in a single direction, and the strength of this board is the very fact that iba-iba yung pananaw nila so we can continue to trust in a balanced review.”
Always willing to learn, Arenas is also active in exchanging ideas with her counterparts in the region. In fact, she had just returned from South Korea the week of this luncheon where she saw a much larger and very different model for regulation with multiple sub-committees.
“Besides movies and TV shows, they even rate video games in Korea,” she shared. “There was so much to take in especially in preparing MTRCB for the full impact of DTT [Dig[Digital Terrestrial Television]ere will be too many programs to rate by then, and with just a board of 30, we have to start thinking of ways under the law how to get it done. Just thinking aloud, maybe we’ll have to enlist the help of our deputies.”
Beyond the bigger picture, Arenas’ office also has to oversee to very specific mandates of the agency like making sure buses only show age-appropriate movies, or that clips that make up the songs in videoke joints are for general patronage too.
Specifically for movies, Arenas’ office has also been reputed as an ally following the 2017 Metro Manila Film Festival. Immediately after the awards were given out, effectively influencing the moviegoer’s choices, the chair worked over the holidays to issue permits for more cinemas to carry festival Best Picture “Ang Larawan.”
“Modesty aside, the swift issuance of permits caught the producers and cinema owners by surprise, which to me shouldn’t even be the case, because what’s the point in giving the industry a hard time when we’re all here to help each other out,” Arenas declared.
Chuckling, she rounded up, “The public may think all we do is watch movies, which would’ve been fun if it were true! But there’s always something to do at the MTRCB, and we’re always up to the task.”
There was indeed much to catch up on meeting Chairman Arenas anew, a year into her tenure. Fortunately, it was time well spent both ways for those who love the entertainment industry, and those tasked to ensure that its works are properly enjoyed by all.