If mimicking is criminalized, then it’s time to migrate
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2008-04-10
If Lanao del Sur Representative Faysah Dumarpa will have her way, we will soon say goodbye to impressionist comedy acts of such talents as Willlie Nepomuceno and Ate Glow. Her House Bill 948 will make it a crime to imitate another person’s manner of speech, particularly that person’s accent or diction.

Rep. Dumarpa justifies the measure as one that will “prohibit religious or racial discrimination against Muslims and other cultural minorities.” The violators will face a fine ranging from P200 to as much as P6,000 or penalties of arresto mayor (one month to six months imprisonment) to prision correctional (six months to six years imprisonment).

The same penalties will be imposed on anyone who conducts a search on the basis of a person’s way of dressing, religion, color, creed and ethnic identity.

Except for the ridiculous provision on prohibiting comedy impressions, Dumarpa’s bill ‘mimics’ the laws of many civilized countries that prohibit racial and cultural discrimination. It penalizes people who prevent others from applying for a job on the basis of name, religion or ethnic background.

It also provides that a person wearing a traditional costume, veil or turban should be allowed to enter business establishments such as a restaurant, hotel, shopping mall and similar places. They should also be allowed to ride on passenger buses, taxis, ships or airplanes.

The bill’s anti-discrimination provision is a red herring that can mislead us into allowing the demise of the wonderful and amazing talent of the Filipino to create satire from caricatures of public personalities.

Not only will we be prevented from freely laughing away our troubles, the rest of the world will turn freedom-loving Filipinos into a laughing stock, a people so inane that their legislators have even turned them into the butt of their own jokes.

Only the politically insecure would welcome the law that prohibits mimicking. When performed by talented comic artists, impressionism can make the unpleasantly obvious more obvious. It triggers laughter and release from tension for audiences who recognize the satirical allusion and make the subject of the comic act as humorously vulnerable as you and me.

Once made into a criminal act, it will be like quashing that very special talent of the Filipino at artistic creation and performing arts which is driven by our passion for free speech and expression.

Discrimination is definitely obnoxious but comic impressionism is not. Comic impressionists provide an important public service. Unlike movies which peddle illusions and fantasy endings, comic impressionists give audiences that much needed reality jolt.

What happens during a trial, if it becomes vital for a witness to mimic the criminal — is the court to lose that opportunity to prove wrongdoing because somebody made a ridiculous law against imitating another person’s speech or mannerisms?

How is this law to handle a case that an Indian competitor to the call center business could instigate by accusing Filipino call center representatives of mimicking Americans, nasal twang and all? An Indian call center businessman seeking to cripple competition here could hire Americans to file such a ridiculous suit. For the right price, it will be easy to hire a few jobless Americans.

What about costume parties — are we stop holding these lest some national sue us for making fun of their national attire? What about gay parades? Shouldn’t women also file a suit against them for impersonating the fair sex?

The repercussions are limitless!

But what is most irksome with this proposed bill is that we have representatives who bother to concoct counterproductive measures like it. Don’t we have enough problems already?

In late 2006, Rep. Faysah Dumarpa was the same person who confronted Virginia Altamirano, dining manager of Shangri-La’s Finest, a food caterer for the House of Representatives. The Muslim legislator was said to have been enraged when she found out that she had inadvertently eaten pork.

In the eyes of others, the mode of retribution far outweighed the offense — more so when one takes into account that there was no evidence whatsoever of any willful or malicious intent on the part of the alleged offender.

I cite this Congress dining incident to ask if Rep. Dumarpa is one who is inclined to overreacting. To me, criminalizing the mimicking of another person opens the floodgates to immense repercussions.

Rep. Dumarpa justifies her law by saying that Muslims have always been the victims of racial profiling or discrimination. “We Muslims have always been the usual suspects whenever something wrong happens in the world.” Rep. Dumarpa said.

It is true that Muslims have been stereotyped as terrorists and many of them have suffered discrimination because of the acts Al Qaeda and the other Muslim extremist groups. But Rep. Dumarpa has it all wrong by criminalizing mimicking.

The Muslim scare that followed the 9/11 event was not due to a Muslim’s way of speaking, his beard or his head gear. It resulted as defensive public reaction to the shocking and brutal acts of fellow Muslims.

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