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Removing Willie
By Elson T. Elizaga

An emotional online petition to remove comedian Willie Revillame from the popular TV noon show Wowowee has taken its toll. Willie is on indefinite leave from Wowowee.

The campaign, which has gathered 37,000 signatures so far, stems from Willie’s comment on August 3, when the ABS-CBN management inserted a coverage of the cortege of the late Cory Aquino in Wowowee. As a result, viewers saw two contrasting scenes simultaneously -- the usual, lively Wowowee and the funeral procession. Willie said on camera the insertion was bad and should be removed; otherwise, it should be shown entirely, instead of fusing it with Wowowee. Excerpt of his statement:

“Hindi siguro magandang tingnan na pinapakita niyo yan (Mrs. Aquino’s footage) … Sana pakitanggal naman muna ‘yan sa ating traffic. Kasi kung ganyan pakita nalang natin ‘yan kasi nagsasaya kami dito tapos masakit sa akin yan … Pls, sana maintindhan niyo, nagsasaya kami dito papakita niyo sa amin yun. Diba? Hindi tama eh okay?" [It doesn’t seem good to see Mrs. Aquino’s cortege. I hope it is removed from our traffic. Because if it is shown, it should be shown in full. It is also painful for me. Please, I hope you understand. We are having fun here then that cortege is shown. It’s not right.]

The writer of the campaign takes this statement as disrespect for Cory. Some of those who signed the petition even called Willie a “monster”. Others clouded the issue by mentioning Willie’s wealth, mall, and personal relationships. An official of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MRRCB) also described Willie’s statements as a violation of the broadcast code of ethics.

But all Willie said was it was wrong to combine Wowowee and the coverage of Cory's cortege. Wowowee was a party, and fusing it with documentation of the mourning nation was wrong. This matter has nothing to do with Willie’s personality, money or lifestyle.

ABS-CBN should have stopped airing Wowowee completely and replaced it with the coverage of Cory that day, or show only Wowowee, to prevent Wowowee dancers and staff appear like they didn't care at all about Cory's passing. With or without Willie hosting that day, the combination of the two contrasting scenes would still be in bad taste.

I was confined in a hospital on Saturday, August 1, the day Cory died, and so I had ample time to watch the reports on cable TV. I was hooked on ABS-CBN, because it was giving continuous coverage of the event. When Wowowee showed up as scheduled, a grim-faced, teary-eyed Willie announced the passing of the former President. The set was dark, and people in the audience were holding candles. Willie requested for a minute of silent prayer. Afterwards, he sang for Cory while pictures of Cory were flashed on the screen.

On Monday, August 3, Willie gave his controversial comments. Apparently because of criticisms, he apologized on August 4, and explained he only had respect for Cory when he asked the cortege to be either removed or shown fully the day before. His apology was meant for those who were hurt by his comments, but he stressed that what he said was right.

I’m surprised to discover that most people who objected to Willie’s comments didn’t see anything wrong with mixing a coverage about a funeral procession and people having a loud party. This failure to see the disparity might have been due to the chaotic intrusion of audio-visual technologies in the Philippines.

In a tribal village where I used to live, the death of a person would put the entire community to a state of almost uniform sadness. Years ago when my grandmother was still alive, the radio set had to be switched off whenever someone would pray.

But today, this isn’t required. The TV set could be flashing, and the neighbor might be singing with his karaoke. Church buildings, which used to be isolated, now rise beside malls, and billboards showing Jesus Christ, Manny Pacquiao and instant noodles could be put together. Anyone can claim to be mourning then, for a beloved President whose life and suffering are comparable to those of a saint, and still feel ok watching sexy dancers simultaneously. Say something to split these images and you could end up being cursed.

UPDATE: TV host Johnny Manahan shares his behind-the-scenes revelation about Willie.

Published August 17, 2009. A copy of this article is in Mindanews. | Copyright © 2009 Elson T. Elizaga.