PDEA wants to ban Shanti Dope song for ‘promoting marijuana’

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 23) —A song supposedly promoting the use of marijuana is now in the crosshairs of the government’s war against drugs.

The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) wants 18-year-old rapper Shanti Dope’s song “Amatz” banned from the airwaves nationwide.

The agency said in a statement that PDEA Director General Aaron Aquino has written last May 20 to the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, the Organisasyon ng Pilipinong Mang-aawit and ABS-CBN Corporation to stop airing and promoting Amatz.

"When I heard Amatz, alam ko 'yan eh that is referring to drugs, 'yung tama ng drugs," Aquino told CNN Philippines. "Nung tiningnan ko 'yung lyrics, it was indeed something na pino-promote nila, 'yung kagandahan ng marijuana and other illegal drugs."

[Translation: When I heard Amatz, I know that is referring to drugs, the high caused by drugs ... When I looked at the lyrics, it was indeed something they were promoting, the joy of using marijuana and other illegal drugs.]

Aquino said he first heard of the song while watching ABS-CBN's Sunday noontime variety show ASAP.

The PDEA particularly took offense at two lines in the song which went, “‘Lakas ng amats ko, sobrang natural, walang halong kemikal,” and “Ito hinangad ko lipadin ay mataas pa, sa kaya ipadama sa'yo ng gramo, 'di bale nang musika ikamatay.”

[Translation: I am so high, it’s all natural, there are no chemicals … I want to soar even higher than where a gram can take you, regardless if music kills me.]

"Parang ipino-promote nila na marijuana can be used recreationally. So 'yun ang mali. 'Yung mga bata ngayon, kapag narinig 'yung kantang iyan, somehow may epekto 'yan eh, especially siguro 'yung mga nakagamit na, the more na gagamit sila at 'yung iba naman magiging curious na most likely they will also use," Aquino said.

[Translation: It's like they're promoting that marijuana can be used recreationally. So that's wrong. If kids get to hear this song, somehow it has an effect on them, especially on those who have already used drugs, the more that they will use, while others would be curious and they would also most likely use.]

Taken out of context?

Shanti Dope’s management, however, said authorities may have taken the lyrics out of context.

His camp stressed the song does not promote marijuana use, and encouraged Aquino to listen to the whole record.

“In fact it clearly shows the persona taking a stand against illegal drugs, while at the same time pointing out that what has made him “fly” (so to speak) is not drugs, but music. 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,” his team said in a statement.

“While anyone is welcome to interpret a song or any cultural text, it is also clear that for an interpretation to be valid, it needs to have basis, and must be within the context of the cultural text as a whole. 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,” the statement further read.

Shanti Dope’s camp added the ban will only set a “dangerous precedent” for artistic freedom.

Aside from Amatz, the anti-drug agency also recommended that similar songs be banned from airing.

Aquino said artists, radio stations and TV networks should me more responsible.

"Hindi dapat eere ito sa any form of social media. Hindi pwede sa TV, hindi pwede sa radyo. Hindi pwede 'yung mga ganitong kind of music na ito at dapat hindi natin tinatangkilik itong mga klaseng artists," he said

[Translation: This should not air in any form of social media. It should not be on TV, it should not be on radio. This kind of music should not be allowed and we should not be patronizing these kinds of artists.]

Aquino earlier said he is willing to have a dialogue with Shanti Dope, Sean Patrick Ramos in real life, to educate him on the ill effects of illegal drugs.

This is not the first time that a government official criticized an artist over a song which supposedly alludes to drug use.

In 1995, Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III called out the Eraserheads over their hit song “Alapaap,” which he said referred to the use of drugs. 

CNN Philippines Correspondent Paolo Barcelon contributed to this report.