By Teresa Cerojano
The Associated Press
MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippines’ most popular TV game show was pulled off the air last Monday amid a public uproar over the host letting a crying 6-year-old boy mimic a striptease dancer.
“Willing Willie” host Willie Revillame said he was taking two weeks of leave after which he will announce if he’ll return to television.
Angry viewers and commentators have launched a campaign on social networking sites to remove Revillame from the show, which offers cash prizes for singing, dancing, storytelling, and playing games.
They say Revillame showed poor taste and mocked his mostly impoverished viewers by allowing the crying boy to gyrate as a striptease dancer.
The young contestant, accompanied on the show by an aunt, earned 10,000 pesos ($230) for his dance. Revillame and others applauded as the boy performed. He appeared to have been crying because Revillame called a huge basketball player to the stage to watch as the boy danced.
The outcry led major sponsors to pull out, including Procter & Gamble Co., Del Monte Pacific Ltd., Unilever, and Philippine fast-food giant Jollibee Foods Corp. The March 12 episode has prompted soul-searching discussions about the quality of TV entertainment in the Philippines.
TV5 network said it wants to improve the program and work with television and advertising industry stakeholders on guidelines for the participation of children in all game and reality TV shows.
Philippine-born theater actress Monique Wilson, in a widely circulated e-mail carried by local media, argued that such TV shows “dumb down audiences [and] disempower them by creating a mendicant society with game shows that promise ‘quick money.’ ”
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman last month condemned “the emotional abuse and humiliation” the boy suffered and said the program violated a law against child abuse.
It was not clear if Revillame and TV5 will face charges. The Commission on Human Rights and the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board said they were investigating.
Revillame has apologized, but also says his former network and competitor ABS-CBN television is trying to destroy his career.
The Philippines’ highest paid TV host has ruffled feathers in the past for his often brash language and lewd jokes.
In 2006, a stampede in a waiting line at a Manila stadium, where Revillame’s show was to be broadcast killed 74 people. Criminal charges of negligence against Revillame and executives at ABS-CBN, where he worked at the time, were later dropped. ♦