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.
SOURCE: Philippine Commentary