Service Without Limits
BY HELEN HERNANEPALAPAG
MTRCB CHAIRPERSON LALA SOTTO-ANTONIO HAS ALWAYS BEEN DETERMINED TO SERVE THE PUBLIC, EVEN WHEN IT MEANT SHE HAD TO PAVE THE WAY HERSELF.
When Diorella Maria “Lala” Sotto-Antonio walks into the room, her striking appearance reels in everyone’s attention. But while this is what people first notice, what they remember most when she leaves is her passion for service. In the short amount of time she spent with LEAGUE, Sotto clearly displayed her dedication to her position as chairperson of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) and to her advocacies.
Sotto is not new to public service, and with her last name and family background, it is no wonder that she has been continually exposed to governance. Her father is former Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III and her mother is actress Helen Gamboa. Currently, her brother Gian Sotto is Quezon City’s (QC) vice mayor, while her cousin is Pasig City’s Mayor Vico Sotto.
However, her first foray into politics was thwarted by none other than her own father. While she was taking up Consular Diplomatic Affairs at De La Salle University (DLSU), Sotto wanted to run for QC councilor and naturally, sought her parent’s approval.
“I begged my parents to let me run but my father was hesitant. He’s always been very strict and overprotective and didn’t want me to enter the world of politics,” Sotto reveals.
SERVING IN ANY WAY
Her father’s disapproval only further fueled her deep desire to serve the people, leading her to start her own foundation— the Samahang Kasama ng Kabataan (Kasama) Foundation. Sotto approached her professors and classmates who pushed her toward this endeavor, knowing her capabilities and passion. She shares that she saved up her allowances and eventually, the foundation was launched. Its aim is to help underprivileged groups in society.
“During that time, we would help the people near [DLSU], around Taft Avenue in Manila, sometimes going all the way to Batangas. Today, Kasama Foundation has over 10,000 members. While it started with the mission of keeping children away from drugs, it eventually branched out to also help women,” Sotto adds.
Kasama Foundation’s initial focus was providing financial assistance and scholarship programs. Later on, medical missions and special activities during holidays, such as Christmas, were added. When the foundation had more women members, they also held livelihood training and seminars.
With the success of Sotto’s philanthropic endeavor, she finally earned her father’s blessing to enter politics. Without hesitation, she immediately seized the opportunity to make an even bigger difference in her community. In 2001, she became a Quezon City councilor—a position she held for six terms or a total of 18 years. During this span of time, Sotto served the city’s 6th and 3rd Districts, helming several committees such as the Committee of Cultural Affairs and Tourism; Health and Sanitation; Education, Science and Technology; and Public Works and Infrastructure.
Sotto made great use of her time as councilor, launching dozens of programs and projects which helped thousands of people in her districts. Aside from these, she also authored pieces of legislation that continue to benefit the city until today.
“During my time in the city council, I learned how to formulate policies and create programs and projects that became very beneficial to QCitizens and my constituents in the districts I served. Now, in MTRCB, I’m able to apply these policy formulation and project execution [skills] to create programs that would benefit our stakeholders,” Sotto explains.
WISDOM FROM AND BEYOND EDUCATION
While her bachelor’s degree undoubtedly proved useful when it came to dealing with her colleagues and stakeholders, the young councilor also sought added education to further enhance her skills in governance. She took a crash course at the University of the Philippines (UP) titled, “Quezon City Executives and Legislators Planning Course (QC EXCEL)” and also studied “Applying Behavioral Insights to the Design of Public Policy” at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Still, much wisdom could be gained from experience so it’s not surprising that Sotto turns to her parents for guidance when it comes to politics or even other matters.
“With regard to politics, a few of the many things that my father taught me are to practice humility and always find ways to humble myself. He also taught me to be courageous and learn how to shut out the ‘noise’ and not let it get to me,” Sotto shares.
Especially in the age of social media, nobody is spared from criticism, least of all our government officials. The chairperson says that there will always be people who will disagree or not like her, which is where her father’s advice comes in.
“Another lesson I’ve learned is to be sensitive to the needs of others and to empathize [with them]. ‘People have so much hope when they come to you for assistance, that’s why you have to do everything [you could] to help them,’ my dad would say,” she adds.
Despite her famous last name and family, Sotto reveals that she felt no pressure when she stepped up to the plate and became involved in politics herself. With over two decades of experience in public service, she has developed her own leadership style which distinguishes her from the other Sottos in government. Above all, she stresses, she has always sought the Lord’s guidance.
THE BIG LEAGUES
With her stellar record, Sotto caught the attention of the national government and was appointed as MTRCB chairperson. The announcement came at the wrong time, however.
“When I received the text message asking me to attend an oath-taking to be the new MTRCB chairperson, I was sleeping because I was sick with COVID-19. [The announcement] was that simple. But I had to call [the Presidential Management Staff] and apologize, explain my situation and that I had to finish the quarantine period. They were able to set another time for my oath-taking before President [Marcos],” Sotto shares.
And she hit the ground running when she started a year ago. Her biggest challenges include debunking misconceptions regarding the MTRCB, expanding the board’s jurisdiction, empowering parents when it comes to responsible viewing, and developing partnerships with online streaming platforms.
First, when their agency is mentioned, the word “censorship” often comes to mind. Its history may have something to do with this misunderstanding as the body was first known as the Board of Censors for Motion Pictures in 1912. It was then changed to the Board of Review for Motion Pictures and Television (BRMPT). In October 1985, President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. abolished the BRMPT and established the MTRCB.
“In our charter, we have a developmental mandate which states that we must initiate plans and cooperate with the industry to improve, upgrade, and make the industry viable. While it’s true that the board issues an ‘X’ for those not suitable for public viewing, we are transparent with the producers and they are allowed to apply for a second review. Also, we are not in charge of handling piracy issues, that [task] falls under the jurisdiction of the Optical Media Board (OMB). Lastly, the MTRCB is not turning a blind eye regarding public complaints regarding online streaming content,” Sotto explains.
She reveals that the board is already in dialogue with industry leaders and concerned groups to ensure that they are able to craft a sound policy that will address all concerns while also being responsive to our stakeholders. The chairperson underscores that they are in no way curtailing the people’s constitutional right to freedom of expression and speech, but that they exist to protect the welfare of vulnerable groups, especially the Filipino youth.
When it comes to expanding the board’s jurisdiction, Sotto seeks to include videos accessible online, especially those made by subscription video on demand (SVOD) providers, such as Netflix.
“The presidential decree which created our charter was made in 1985; the internet was not as widely available then. There were no online streaming providers, no SVOD providers. It’s been over three decades since and it is essential to monitor that content. Our proposal to amend the MTRCB charter is a great necessity, I believe, but ultimately the decision is up to our lawmakers. We can only make recommendations and submit proposals,” she adds.
Sotto, however, says that she is not at liberty to further discuss the details of their new proposed MTRCB charter as they are still “navigating its intricacies.” But she does clarify that when they say the monitoring of online streamers, it does not mean that every single online content must be submitted to the board for review and classification as that “is not humanly possible.” Instead, the chairperson shares that they have decided to come up with partnerships with the platforms in order for their efforts to be more efficient and effective. The MTRCB will then be “coregulating” instead of regulating all the content on their own.
In 2022, the MTRCB announced their partnership with Netflix and this year, they entered into an agreement with Viva. They are also establishing partnerships with other online content providers both local and international; and they are already in coordination with the Korean Media Regulatory Board and the United States’ Media Bureau. Sotto is quick to share that these would not be possible if not for the effort of everyone comprising the board, which includes 30 members and one vice chairperson.
Another program they have launched is the Responsableng Panonood (Responsible Viewing) Program which is an educational campaign aimed at parents and guardians. The goal is to educate the public regarding the parental control features of online streaming platforms and for them to be aware of safeguards they can utilize in order to monitor the viewing habits of the children and give them comfortable viewing experiences.
“Part of the program is really to equip and empower the parents; that is the ultimate objective. Of course, they are responsible for their own household, but we aim to help them choose the correct content for their children. Because we all have one goal: for the right content to reach the correct age group,” Sotto says.
Under this program, the MTRCB will also be hosting a Global Faith and Media Index (FAMI) Summit which would further educate the public when it comes to their classification ratings and more. The board is also looking into launching webinars, training, and even courses related to their mandate.
Sotto stresses that fulfilling the mission of the MTRCB is a shared responsibility among all Filipinos, especially the parents who have to guide their children. She shares that she and her husband practice responsible viewership at home, and that they are very hands-on when it comes to their children.
“We make sure both of our kids are properly guided as to what content is appropriate for their ages. Media plays a vital role in forming the minds and behavior of children, which is why it is not only up to the MTRCB but up to each and every Filipino to make sure that our children are consuming the right content,” Sotto ends.