This is a Stop Child Rights Exploitation and Abuse in Media! (SCREAM) statement. SCREAM is a coalition group composed of civil society groups , child advocates, private citizens and other NGOs. A complaint has already been filed at the courts.
The 12 March episode of “Willing Willie” where six-year old Paolo (not his real name) was made to dance a simulated striptease immediately drew criticism from many civil society organizations (CSOs), rightly so. Since then, however, public relations spin have tried to muddle the issue, mislead the public and undermine our criticism and outrage.
1. First, we stress that the victim here is — the boy. Being made to gyrate five times, on national TV and at one point on a platform with sexy dancers around, debased and demeaned the six-year-old boy’s worth as a human being. According to our laws, this is child abuse. Paolo was not only too young, but also comes from the vulnerable sector, to be able to defend himself from the humiliation heaped upon him by the host, the program and the station. If he had been the child of a network executive, would he have even been made to gyrate, five times, on national TV–at one point on a table even, like a sexy dancer in a beer garden?
2. This is not a network war. True, personalities associated with ABS-CBN Channel 2 have spoken against the incident, initially via social media. But the rest of us, including individuals and organizations that see the need to pursue this matter in the court of law, are not in any way associated with ABS-CBN or any other network for that matter. Neither are the few other personalities that have expressed their disapproval of the abuse of the boy.
3. This is not a “class war.” True, some of those concerned citizens who have spoken against the main host of “Willing Willie” show are experts in their particular specializations, such as John Silva and Dr. Honey Carandang. But that is immaterial. What matters is that Republic Act 7610 or the “Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act of 1992” and other related laws were violated. And, whenever a law is violated, the offenders must be held accountable, regardless of their status in life. We, in civil society, realize only too painfully how this principle is often observed in the breach in our country, and this is precisely what drives civil society’s persistence with its causes and our advocacies—the underlying hope for justice.
Even when the program was still called “Wowowee” and was aired on ABS-CBN, where the main host was also coddled because no one kills the goose that lays the golden egg, the people’s poverty was a mere tool for earning millions. The people’s despair for dole-outs was used to the hilt so the producers could enrich themselves. The losses from the periodic suspension of the program were a pittance in contrast to the people’s grinding poverty that the carrier network and the show’s producers parlayed into a tremendous money-making machine. We believe that whatever the status in life, every person must be accorded with respect and dignity due them. Economic vulnerability must be treated with sensitivity. Time and again, we have seen circumstances where economic vulnerability has been preyed upon to entice and convince those vulnerable, all for the purpose of exploitation. We cannot allow media to desensitize the vulnerable, it is not “ok” to be exploited simply because you have no other economic recourse or option. To help the vulnerable is also to respect their basic dignity as a human being.
4. When we move on, we must do so with the issue legally and fully resolved. We welcome various proposals to help improve the quality of TV programming to make it more child-sensitive and gender-responsive, and to promote the development of our people. This incident highlights the need to strengthen protection policies to prevent the exploitation of the vulnerable sectors of our society, but we stand by our conviction that violation of the law has consequences and accountability must be pursued precisely because we have existing protective and preventive measure that we cannot simply set aside and ignore. Otherwise, strengthening these policies will also become pointless.
To move on without ensuring that justice has been served is the best guarantee of a repeat of the tragedy that befell Paolo. True, there have been other instances of child abuse on television, but none as blatant and as degrading. If other instances of child abuse went unchecked, this is our collective failure. It suggests our neglect, maybe even our desensitization to situations of abuse as they unfold before us. The abuse of Paolo and other children speaks to our dark side that we cannot bring ourselves to acknowledge and correct. But not anymore. Our witness of his terrible experience on “Willing Willie” demands that we act on his behalf, and on behalf of other children.
5. The problem of child abuse is as urgent and important as the other issues facing civil society. We reject the notion that in the hierarchy of social ills, child abuse ranks somewhere below others, and that we must turn our attention to the more pressing ones. True, corruption, climate change, environmental degradation, etc. are making claims on our limited time and resources. But more so the security and welfare of our children who, in a few years, will be our partners in any project for justice, peace and equitable development; and in a few more years, will be the leaders of this.
We enjoin our colleagues in civil society, public and private sectors and all responsible individuals to observe more keenly how the process of “grooming” of our children into adopting sexually charged behavior, roles and activities, such as macho-dancing, which objectifies them, has gone unabated, especially in media. Grooming normalizes sexual abuse, it happens over time, and conditions the mind of a child to the point that by the time actual sexual abuse/assault is perpetrated, the child no longer offers resistance.
We ask more concerned citizens to join us in the pursuit of justice for Paolo, in the indictment of all child abusers and in the goal to stop the exploitation of children, especially those economically vulnerable, in media. The legal complaint against “Willing Willie” and TV5 is a landmark case, as it challenges public perception and misconception that for child abuse to exist, we must see a physically battered, bloodied, black and blue and/or pitiful-looking child. Protecting children from abuse is not about pity, it is an obligation of every responsible and concerned individual. It is a responsibility of every adult and stakeholder, and a demandable right of every child. As the first criminal complaint ever to be brought against powerful media/entertainment entities, its successful litigation will be society’s clearest articulation yet of its solemn duty to better protect its children’s rights and interests.
Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL)
ASIA Against Child Trafficking (Asia ACTs)
Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – Asia Pacific (CATW-AP)
Create Responsive Infants by Sharing Foundation (CRIBS)
Edna and Alex Aquino
Open Heart Foundation
Para sa mga Bata (Movement to End Child Abuse)
Partido ng Manggagawa (PM)
Philippine Education Theater Assoication (PETA)
Philippines Against Child Trafficking (PACT)
Psychosocial SUpport and Children’s Rights Resources Center (PST CRRC)
Ryan Silverio, Southeast Asia Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers (SEASUCS)
Save the Children – Philippines
Women’s Education, Development Productivitiy & Research Organization (WeDpro)
Institute of Women’s Studies – St. Scholastica;s College