Saturday, August 8, 2009

Free Speech is the Casualty in Punishing Willie Revillame

The Movie Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) has once again shown its penchant for curtailing free speech rights by mulling over the imposition of sanctions against Wowowee television show host Willie Revillame. Last Monday, Revillame expressed his objection to the showing of live feeds on Cory Aquino's funeral cortege during a segment of the popular noontime show. He asked for the removal of the feeds for being inappropriate and distracting.

Apparently riding on the tide of public outrage against Revillame, MTRCB Chairwoman Consoliza Laguardia said Revillame violated Presidential Decree 1986 (the law creating the MTRCB)and the KBP (Kapisanan ng mga Broadcaster sa Pilipinas) Code. Notice the haste and prematurity with which Laguardia has spoken; already, the MTRCB through its chairwoman pronounced its judgment even before the besieged showman was given the opportunity to defend his actions.

But not only is the MTRCB disregarding Revillame's due process rights, it is also arranging to violate his free speech rights by imposing sanctions for his conduct which, although distasteful and inappropriate, is a function of democracy. However objectionable Revillame's statement may be, the fact of the matter is there is nothing in either his conduct or statements that would justify MTRCB in imposing sanctions on him, for he was free to express how he felt about the mixing of the funeral procession with his game show.

Speech under our laws can only be regulated or punished if it passes a strict scrutiny test. Not long ago, Chavez v. Gonzalez made it abundantly clear that this test applies with equal vigor in the broadcast media - which is a dramatic departure from American jurisprudence from where we imported our concept of free speech. The Supreme Court in this case did away with the differentiation between print and broadcast media in the application of the strict scrutiny standard in content-based regulation of speech. Under this test, speech can only be regulated if it creates or is likely to create a clear and present danger of a grave and imminent evil which the government has the right to prevent. The government must show a compelling or overriding interest that would justify curtailment of speech.

There is nothing in the statement or conduct of Revillame that would even remotely suggest such clear and present danger. It may be in bad taste, but to say that the government has an overriding or compelling interest to prevent or punish such speech is downright ridiculous. Revillame's gaffe is the stuff of 24/7 news that thrive on controversy rather than of state interest.

In fact, a review of section 3 of PD 1986, which is being relied upon by MTRCB, would show that there is nothing that would make Revillame's case fall squarely. Said section enumerates the powers of the MTRCB and the instances upon which it may exercise its power to approve, disapprove or otherwise censor objectionable movie and television shows. Specifically, the section empowers MTRCB to regulate or prohibit media materials constituting sedition or rebellion, which glorifies criminals and condones crimes, solely satisfies market for violence and pornography, abets the traffic and use of prohibited drugs, are libelous or defamatory, or constitutes contempt of court. None of these instances cover Revillame's statement and conduct.

It is true that good Filipino customs dictate respect for the departed, but I find it hard to understand how requesting the removal of the coverage of a funeral procession in a game show - without a doubt out of place and timing in the show - could constitute such disrespect. If there is anyone who was disrespectful it was the director of the show, and not Revillame, for including or allowing the inclusion of the former president's funeral cortege during a merrymaking portion of the game show. Revillame may be guilty of insensitivity for proceeding with his show like it was business as usual at a time of national mourning, but his act of not allowing the mixing of a somber occasion with an entertaining game show was actually the right thing to do under the circumstances. He should have, however, requested the removal discreetly and should not have needlessly publicized his disgust.

Former President Corazon Aquino became our beloved icon of democracy when she stood to fill the place of Ninoy after being felled by an assassin's bullet. She led the fight to restore our democracy which gave us the freedom to speak our minds. Punishing Revillame for his inappropriate statement - which is certainly not a "crass attempt to desecrate the memory" of the former president, as her family's spokesperson Lourdes Dy Sytangco characterizes it - would be a disregard of the cherished right which Ninoy and Cory fought for.


  1. My take is that Willie had to ask publicly the removal of the funeral live coverage from the game show inset precisely because of his deep respect for the Aquino family. He probably had no choice but to react publicly as it is a live show and the inset had been showing already - which is a bad mix from any angle. Surely, it is NOT Revillame's call to shut down the game show during national mourning.

    I agree that MTRCB is just grandstanding and Willie should react with a counterclaim but this will put his show on a perpetual watchlist, knowing how vindictive Philippine bureaucracy could be.

    Is MTRCB doing this to reprimand Revillame for giving recent airtime to oppositionist presidentiables or is this MTRCB's way of soliciting Revillame's future endorsement help for an administration candidate?

    One thing MTRCB should be doing is to proactively regulate the hogwash Philippine TV is giving us. Let's have more educational telenovelas with values formation like Korean TV's "The King of Seojung", or something. They successfully launch a HIT and HISTORICAL telenovela - unheard of yet in Philippine TV.

    How about MTRCB reacting to the skewed ratio of content vs. advertisements in Philippine TVs. Roughly, it's now 75% ads and 25% content, most of the time hogwash. There was a time you get cable to discard ads. Even Korean TV have taste of using 'eye pleasing nature visuals' with conservation lessons in their ads - little heard in Philippine advertising still.

    Somebody should point MTRCB to positively and proactively perform their function - and that's not for their chairwoman to hitch a ride and get her 15-minute of fame, too, at the expense of Willie and without due process.

  2. MTRCB's strategy should be straightforward. The objective is to shut down salacious shows like Wowowee with its special contents known to have no redeeming value. The strategy --- continue to pursue to punish Revillame to assert the supremacy of delicadeza-norms and our Roman Catholic roots over "freedom of expression" and dancing girls. Force Revillame to appear in court or 4-hour-long hearings twice a week for the next 4 months.

  3. I can also understand why Willie chose not to wait for the next commercial
    before protesting the funeral feed or why he had to say it publicly. It is probably an attempt to explain himself; to extricate him from what clearly is a bad production decision that would easily make Willie the culprit in the eyes of the public.

  4. I agree roundstone that the MTRCB should instead focus more on the positive direction you're saying.

  5. I saw it here.

    There is also freedom to object to or protest “objectionable” free speech.

    None of this should’ve happened if only he veered from his “kayabangan” and didn’t act as if to glorify his intent. Such bad taste with danger of being emulated by viewers.

    He should have, however, requested the removal discreetly and should not have needlessly publicized his disgust. (Your words.)

    I think admonition is required. But, just the same, admonition is still a form of punishment.


    MTRCB angst?

    While Willie’s case is timely…perhaps you may cry the loudest here…[it’s resolution here (in the comments thread).].

    - baycas

  6. baycas,

    Thank you for sharing that interesting article about the "lukayo." I hope the case reaches the courts so we can enrich our jurisprudence on obscenity, which is thin, for our future guidance and understanding. Yes offensive speech is subject to regulation, but case law defines what is objectionable speech, such as obscenity. Our concept of obscenity is imported from the US, which defines it as something that depicts sex in a patently offensive manner, appeals to the prurient interest in sex, with no literary, scientific or educational value. To be sure, the lukayo case will revolve on the issue of whether the show comstitutes onscenity.

  7. Freedom of speech is still freedom of speech. It may be in the wrong place at a wrong time but still, punishing Willie for that comment will be a bad precedent.

  8. 2007 Broadcast Code of the Philippines

    Sec. 4. Performers in programs shall always observe decency and proper decorum. (S)

    [S for Serious Offense]


    Did Mr. Revillame exhibit proper decorum when he aired his grievance on-cam and in front of a live audience?

    While it is true that he has a valid point and may prove to be a correct one, the manner he displayed his anger was objectionable and very much uncalled for.

    I certainly beg to disagree to what Ms. Vidanes wrote in her letter in defense of Mr. Revillame.


    Maganda ang mga isinasaad sa “acronym” na KBP BRODKASTER. Isa lang sa mga mahahalagang titik ang letrang “P” na mababasa sa koda ng KBP.

    PANANAGUTAN sa madlang tagapakinig at manonood ang pasan ng brodkaster. Maingat at may pagpapahalaga siya sa bawat salitang binibigkas at imaheng ipinalalabas. Serbisyo publiko ang pangunahin niyang layunin.