In Defense of “Child Exploiter” Willie Revillame
Lest I be misunderstood, let me first define my defense of controversial television host Willie Revillame. I don’t defend the embattled media personality’s mediocre way of providing his kind of entertainment for his live audience and TV viewers. I don’t have to agree with his strategy and antics, but I believe Mr. Revillame has all the rights to do whatever he wanted to do to attract TV viewers and improve his ratings. He has all the freedom to offer any form of entertainment to his viewers provided he refrains from violating their rights or committing any act or omission penalized by our laws.
This is a defense of Mr. Revillame’s freedom from government interference. That is, the TV host must be free from the shackles of the state, which has unleashed some of its agencies, namely, the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Commission on Human Rights to probe him and his show. I believe that the government has no right at all to intervene in this issue since no case has yet been filed by the actual victim or his parents/legal guardian against the TV host in a proper court.
The CHR, for instance, recently said in a statement that Mr. Revillame’s show, Willing Willie, constitutes “child abuse.” In a press release (and I wonder why a government agency like the CHR needed to issue a press release),the Commission “strongly condemns the “Willing Willie” episode aired on March 12, 2011 wherein a 6-year-old boy named Jan-Jan performed a “macho-dancing routine”, saying it constitutes “an exploitation of the child’s innocence and demeans his inherent dignity for entertainment’s sake. The Commission alleged that “the multiple pressures exerted on Jan-Jan by the TV program’s host, audience, and his parents to perform a humiliating act in exchange for ten thousand pesos constitute child abuse as defined in Section 10 of R.A. No. 7610 or “Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act.””
Said section of the Act provides the following provision:
Other Acts of Neglect, Abuse, Cruelty or Exploitation and Other Conditions Prejudicial to the Child’s Development. –
(a) Any person who shall commit any other acts of child abuse, cruelty or exploitation or to be responsible for other conditions prejudicial to the child’s development including those covered by Article 59 of Presidential Decree No. 603, as amended, but not covered by the Revised Penal Code, as amended, shall suffer the penalty of prision mayor in its minimum period.
The CHR said that the “the willingness of Jan-Jan’s parents to expose him, both in private and public, to a humiliating and degrading situation is child abuse. The Commission is also deeply alarmed that the abuse suffered by Jan-Jan was seen on national television and that its videos are being repeatedly watched by the public, including children.” This means that the child’s parents may also be legally held responsible by the state for their “willingness” to expose him to a “humiliating and degrading situation.”
The CHR also undertakes to conduct the following actions:
- To investigate the incident in order to identify the person/s liable and to recommend proper legal actions against them.
- To issue recommendations to relevant private, especially TV5, and public agencies in order to prevent similar incidents from happening again.
- To call upon the relevant government offices such as the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Department of Justice to undertake the appropriate actions to address this incidence of child abuse and to provide the necessary relief to Jan-Jan.
This simply means that the state is now acting on behalf of the alleged child victim against the TV host. But did Willie really commit such a horrendous crime of child abuse?
R.A 7610 defines “child abuse” as follows:
“Child abuse” refers to the maltreatment, whether habitual or not, of the child which includes any of the following:
(1) Psychological and physical abuse, neglect, cruelty, sexual abuse and emotional maltreatment;
(2) Any act by deeds or words which debases, degrades or demeans the intrinsic worth and dignity of a child as a human being;
(3) Unreasonable deprivation of his basic needs for survival, such as food and shelter; or
(4) Failure to immediately give medical treatment to an injured child resulting in serious impairment of his growth and development or in his permanent incapacity or death.
It appears that those who are determined to pin down the unpopular TV host can always twist or stretch the legal parameters of letters (a) and (b) so to prove their allegation that the perpetrator is indeed guilty as charged. Anyone who is convinced that Revillame is a child exploiter or abuser can always argue that the latter’s acts constitute “psychological abuse” and “emotional maltreatment.” In the case of Jan-Jan, was he really subjected to said “psychological abuse” and “emotional maltreatment”?
Despite the fact that R.A. 7610 is a special penal law, the crimes enumerated under this act, particularly child abuse, are nevertheless crimes mala inse (wrong or evil in themselves). The element of intent is only provided in certain cases, e.g., giving monetary consideration goods or other pecuniary benefit to a child with intent to engage such child in prostitution.
The underlying weakness of the Act is that there are no established tests or legal parameters to know whether the child in this case suffered from emotional and psychological abuse. Should the state, through its many agencies (e.g., MTRCB, CHR, and DOJ), define or determine the existence of child abuse? The fact that a number of people protested Willing Willie over the past several days and that such protestation caused a wave of advertising pullout does not establish the existence of child abuse. It is the proper, competent court of jurisdiction which has the sole duty to determine whether Revillame committed the alleged crime.
On the other hand, child exploitation is defined as “hiring, employment, persuasion, inducement, or coercion of child to perform in obscene exhibitions and incident shows, whether live, on video or film, or to pose or act as a model in obsence or pornographic materials, or to sell or distribute said materials.”
Did Revillame hire, persuade, induce or coerce the child to perform “in obscene exhibition and indecent shows”? The wordings of this provision demand that the show or exhibition to which a child is hired, employed, persuaded, induced, or coerce to perform be “obscene.” Is Willing Willie show an “obscene” one? What’s the definition of “obscene” here?
The legal definition of “obscenity” is that the material in question must appeal solely to the prurient interest and the work must be utterly devoid of any redeeming social value. However, such a definition is so elastic and broad that it is almost impossible to apply in a fair and uniform manner.
In the Philippine jurisprudence,”obscenity”, in the case of People v. Kottinger, was defined as “something which is offensive to chastity, decency or delicacy.” This definition is much more elastic and broader than the previous one. The Court ruled that the test to determine the existence of obscenity is, “whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscene, is to deprave or corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences and into whose hands a publication or other article charged as being obscene may fall.” Another test is “that which shocks the ordinary and common sense of men as an indecency.” However, the Court hastened to say that whether a picture is obscene or indecent must depend upon the circumstances of the case, and that ultimately, the question is to be decided by the judgment of the aggregate sense of the community reached by it.
In the present case, the following issues should be raised:
- Whether the tyke’s dance routine was obscene enough as to “deprave or corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences.
- Whether the dance routine was obscene enough to shock “the ordinary and common sense of men as an indecency.”
Another proper question is: Did the controversial child show any sign of trauma or psychological or emotional breakdown from his TV appearance? Now that this issue caught public attention, a lot of people have been saying that the child in fact returned to the show to explain his and his parents’ side on the controversy. In fact, the child is said to have performed the same macho-dance routine in the “Little Mr. SM” contest a few months ago yet nobody reacted to his display of dancing skills.
Those who are trying to pin down the TV host may also argue that some of Revillame’s “act by deeds or words” debased or degraded the child’s “intrinsic worth and dignity of a child as a human being.”
In my opinion, the proper determination whether the child’s “intrinsic worth and dignity” had been demeaned or debased should not be left to discretion of the public. Anybody can have his subjective interpretation of this issue. As for me I’m not convinced that Revillame’s words and deeds ever demeaned or debased the child’s dignity. Only the child can tell whether he was subjected to child abuse or exploitation, or whether he was exposed to public humiliation.
Let us not forget that the controversial TV host, however unpopular he may be, is also entitled to his rights. In fact, our criminal law recognizes and respects the rights of the accused.
Like I stated in a previous blog, I don’t believe that the government must intervene in this issue. The TV station’s management must make the right decision, and it should be the right decision so to preclude the government and some of its agencies from promulgating rules that would limit their freedom to produce and air shows and programs. For the sake of preservation of free speech and freedom of choice in the entertainment sector, Channel 5 has to fix the damage done by one of its major talents.
I fully recognize and respect the right of Revillame to continue his show and to express his views and opinions as an individual. He has the right to defend himself against public criticisms. On the other hand, the public has all the rights to condemn him for his blunders and mistakes and call for boycott and ad pullout. However, I do not recognize the right or authority of the state to intervene in this issue.
Like I stated before:
I believe the state has to intervene only when there is actual, existential violation of individual rights. In the case of Revillame, the only role of the state is to provide impartial, speedy legal proceedings to the parties in case a legal suit is filed against the TV host. The state is to protect and respect the rights of both parties, and this is the reason why the Revised Penal Code recognizes the rights of the accused. Thus, it is not the role or duty of the state to provide preferential treatment to any parties or to any group of people. Through its courts, the state’s fundamental duty is to promulgate judicial decisions strictly based on the law and on the facts of the case.
The unfortunate intervention of the MTRCB presupposes that Willie Revillame is guilty of some unnamed, unspecified crime without the benefit of legal counsel and trial. It should be properly understood that the constitutional principle of free speech is strictly applied to the state. This means that the state or its agents should not violate our rights to free speech and freedom of expression.
The consumers have spoken. They have succeeded in convincing a number of advertisers to pull out their ad placement in Revillame’s show. This is the only form of democracy I recognize. This consumer’s democracy is the power to dispose of the means of production that can only be obtained through the consumers’ ballot, held daily in the marketplace. The opposite of this buyers’ democracy is political democracy, which is what is happening now in the case of Revillame versus the public. In this case, the public believe that they can dispose of the rights of a single person, Revillame, by means of activating a number governmental agencies. The CHR has spoken that Revillame could be guilty of child abuse while the MTRCB is determined to probe the show. Where is objectivity and partiality here?
Unfortunately, such a knee-jerk government intervention does not only transgress upon the constitutionally protected rights of the TV host; it also negates the rights of the child which the state sought to protect.
Now that the forces of the markets have prevailed, there is no need to employ forcible governmental mechanisms to “punish” the alleged child abuser. I say, let the market forces penalize him for his unpopular, “immoral” acts.
We are all part of market forces. When consumers buy goods, they impact the market. When producers create products that consumers needs, they impact the market. We all know that a number of advertisers have pulled out their ads from Revillame’s show. Some of them are Procter and Gamble Philippines, which suspended advertising on the show beginning April 7, Unilever Philippines, which decided to temporarily suspend ad placements effective April 11, and Jollibee’s Mang Inasal.
Some people need to understand that ad placement is the only source of revenues for private media companies. Without which media companies like TV5 cannot operate. This is the reason why TV hosts and producers keep on improving the quality of their shows and hiring popular talents that viewers want.
To explain the power of “ad pullout”, I’d like to call your attention on the case of the Inquirer versus former Pres. Estrada. Before the “second envelop” controversy, Estrada used his office and tremendous political power to influence advertisers or businessmen not to place ads in the opposition Inquirer. Estrada’s political action and the corollary ad pullout seriously affected Inquirer’s operations.
The recent case is the ‘informal’ advice of Pres. Noynoy Aquino on advertisers not to place ads in media companies critical of his regime.
Ad pullout can be more dangerous than any kind of legal suit. In ad pullout, the continuity of a media company can be put in peril. In legal suit, the media company still has the opportunity to prolong legal proceedings and to apply dilatory tactics and maneuvers.
As for the meddlesome MTRCB whose only duty is to transgress upon our right to free speech, I’m for the abolition of this useless, tax-money-consuming institution. If MTRCB is to probe Revillame’s show, then in the name of objectivity and impartiality it has to investigate all television programs in the country. It is not the proper party in this case, and the only source of its power is the so absurd and easily distorted a constitutional concept that the state has the authority to protect and guarantee the general welfare of its citizens.