Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Oust Willie!

The August 1 death of Corazon Aquino produced an unprecedented show of unity in a historically fragmented nation, with hundreds of thousands of people lining up to personally bid her farewell, from marginalized squatters to high society matrons, from leftist revolutionaries to rightist coup plotters. The one discordant note in the otherwise unified sea of harmony came from Wowowee host Willie Revillame, who complained on the air that the Cory funeral cortege was taking the fun out of his hugely popular ABS CBN variety show.

The petty complaint occurred during the noontime telecast of Wowowee on August 3, 2009, when, while a contestant was dancing in the “Willie of Fortune” segment of the show, a window screen showed a live feed of the coffin of Cory Aquino being transported from La Salle Green Hills to the Manila Cathedral. The unwelcome distraction irritated Willie Revillame, the highest paid entertainer in the Philippines (reportedly one million pesos a day), causing him to blurt out on the air in Tagalog:

“If that’s the case, let’s just show it! Because we’re trying to have fun here and then…This hurts me, please. I hope you understand. We’re having fun here and then you’re going to show… It’s not right, OK? It’s ugly! It’s not pretty to me. We’re talking and then you show the coffin of Tita Cory, what? How can we have fun? It’s difficult for us. I’m sorry but for me, it’s true. Don’t get upset because it’s true…After my show, you can show whatever you want to show. Because this Wowowee, what I want…Right? And Tita Cory knows this because my show also made her happy, ok?”

ABS CBN management agreed and ceased showing any further live feeds of the funeral until after Willie’s show.

One “avid viewer of ABS CBN” named Roel C. Saguisag was so enraged by what Willie Revillame said that he drafted an on line petition where he wrote:

“Some may argue that Willie's intention was good, but I rather find these statements rude and arrogant. Wowowee and Revillame are known by millions of Filipino viewers and the show is even watched across several countries through TFC. To react in such way is downright arrogant and disrespectful to former President Corazon Aquino. I know that it was bad taste for ABS-CBN to show a snippet of the funeral on Wowowee, but it was worst for Revillame to react that way…

Was it really hard for him to be humble and human? I believe that this is not the first time that he aired his views and rather arrogant comments on-air. He embarrasses his staff, makes fun of the contestants, and arrogantly acts on TV almost every day. Pres. Aquino taught us humility, and Revillame is showing us the exact opposite: arrogance.”
Saguisag called on the management of ABS-CBN to “stop the arrogant acts of Willie Revillame … and reprimand him because of his actions.” His on line “petition to oust Willie” on has already drawn the signatures of over 45,000 people from all over the world.

The alliance of Filipino journalists (AFIMA) criticized Willie for his on-air remarks. "For him to demand the removal of the little window screen showing the funeral march of the woman who got ABS-CBN back from Marcos is a blasphemy of democracy…He expressed his angst against the Corazon Aquino funeral being shown side by side his Wowowee right before dumbstruck millions of Filipino viewers around the globe.”

Controversy continues to surround the career of Willie Revillame. After starting out in showbiz as a drummer and singer, he starred in a few movies like “Bobocop”, which landed him a job as host of a noontime variety show in 1998 that was later called “Magandang Tanghali Bayan” (“Good Noon, Nation”). In the “Calendar Girl” segment of the show, Willie was suspended by the Movie and Television Review Classification Board (MTRCB) for repeatedly making lewd, crude, and boorish remarks to the contestants. When he returned after his suspension, Willie continued making the same crass offensive remarks causing the TV network to finally replace him.

After his termination, Willie went to the US for several months. Through the intercession of his showbiz buddies like Dolphy and Sharon Cuneta, he was given another chance, hosting a public service TV show called “Willingly Yours” which led to another stint as host of “Masayang Tanghali, Bayan" (“Happy Noon, Nation”). But Willie couldn't stop being Willie. In one segment, he told a birthday celebrant on the air “Sana ma-devirginize ka na” (“I hope you get devirginized already”). The remark caused the MTRCB to order ABS CBN to terminate Willie. Before it could do so, Willie resigned.

After resuming his music career as a singer, Willie was asked by ABS CBN management to return to the network as host of his own noontime game show, one which he helped conceptualize called “Wowowee”. The show, which made its debut on February 4, 2005, was an instant hit in the Philippines and worldwide on The Filipino Channel.

To celebrate its first year, Wowowee offered a chance to win one million pesos to the first 500 entrants at its anniversary show which was set to be held at the 5,000-seat capacity Ultra Sports Arena in Pasig , Rizal. For three days, people camped out by the arena's entrance hoping to be among the first 500 to get in. On February 4, 2006, the gates were opened and a wholly predictable stampede occurred which resulted in the deaths of 73 people and serious injury to hundreds more.

According to network insiders, Willie Revillame urged the management “to go on with the show” despite the tragedy. After hearing this, Dean Jorge Bocobo (“Rizalist”) wrote: “Normally this would be considered a virtue in an entertainer… But NOT after over seventy people were just crushed to death and practically still lying around dead. Maybe he thought he could save the situation with his usual boyish inanity.”

“It comes at a heavy price of human lives lost, but I think noon time shows are going to have to change for the better, if they are to survive at all. These shows seem designed by salacious minds with a genius for commercializing the lowest common denominator in people — lewdness, stupidity, mendacity, opportunism and anything that titillates the seamy underside…I do hope that Willie Revillame is finished for good. And all his ilk. They’re the ones that ought to be stampeded off the face of the earth.”

Wowowee and Willie Revillame appeal to the worst in Pinoys -- racism, chauvinism, disdain towards the feeble, the poor, the mentally inferior, all in the guise of making people laugh. Particularly offensive is the part of his show where balikbayans from all over the world are allowed to waive their dollars at the cameras while the local folks thank them profusely for their generosity. The poor recipients are too poor, too God-forsaken, too humbled by the endemic poverty around them to even recognize that they're being maligned and stripped of any form of human decency.

Willie Revillame may be suspended or may voluntarily take some time off as a result of this latest controversy but he will be back because cockroaches live forever.

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