Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Willie Revillame's critics cleared of "boy macho dancer" controversy libel case


MANILA, Philippines — The Quezon City prosecutors’ office has dismissed the child abuse and libel complaints against a psychologist and two bloggers who criticized TV celebrity Willie Revillame last year for letting a teary-eyed, 6-year-old boy dance like a macho dancer on his game show.
Assistant City Prosecutor Raymund Oliver Almonte junked the complaints against Dr. Lourdes Carandang, Froilan Grate and John Silva for insufficiency of evidence.
Almonte said the comments made by the three respondents were directed at Revillame, host of the then TV5 show “Willing Willie,” and not at the boy’s parents who filed the complaints.
“In fact, the statements made … detest(ed) the alleged abuse committed. They were also aimed at preventing the occurrence of the same incident in the future,” Almonte noted.
Revillame drew public uproar in March 2011 after the TV host, during one segment, prodded the boy to do the “body wave,” a sexy dance move, even with the child already breaking in tears. A video clip of the scene quickly spread on the Internet.
Carandang, a child psychologist and mother of Malacañang’s Communication Secretary Ricky Carandang, wrote the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board to express her “professional assessment” of the incident, citing its effects on children watching the program.
Silva also criticized the incident on his Facebook page, while Grate created a Facebook account and sent emails to various government agencies, taking Revillame to task.
In their complaints, the boy’s parents claimed that their son cried during the program because he got afraid of one of the show’s cohosts, Bonel Balingit.
The parents also argued that the criticisms made by the three respondents were tantamount to an imputation of vice or defect on them, being the boy’s parents.
As a result of the respondents’ actions, their child—who came out “happy” right after his appearance on the game show—became more shy and withdrawn, they said.
The complainants also noted that Grate uploaded an “edited” video of the segment to make it appear as though their son was being forced to dance.
In her defense, Carandang said her letter to the MTRCB conveyed a fair comment on matters of public interest and therefore considered privileged communication and protected under libel laws.
She also noted that the letter did not name the boy or his parents, thus lacking the element of identification under libel laws.
Grate pointed out that libel through the Internet could not be punished under existing laws, stressing that he acted with good intentions and justifiable motives. He added that there was nothing on the Facebook page he created that maligned the boy or his parents.
For his part, Silva said the Facebook posts and the letters he wrote could not be considered malicious as these were made out of a civic and moral duty to protect the rights of a child.
In his resolution, Almonte said there was no probable cause to press libel charges, citing the complainants’ failure “to establish that the respondents bore a grudge against them, or that there was rivalry or ill feeling … or that the respondents had the intention to injure their reputation.”
As to the allegations of child abuse, the fiscal said the parents failed to show proof that the respondents were liable under Republic Act 7610 or the Anti-Child Abuse Law.
“Allegation is not tantamount to proof. It is a basic rule in evidence that the burden of proof lies with the party who makes the allegations,” Almonte added.
Lawyer Harry Roque, whose law firm CenterLaw promotes free expression, welcomed the dismissal of the complaints.
“A giant win for freedom of expression. It protects the integrity of the Internet as a key infrastructure for free exchange of ideas,” he said.
Lawyer Romel Bagares, Grate’s counsel, added that under current definitions of libel, the offense cannot be committed through the Internet.
“Free expression on matters relating to public justice, such as child exploitation, is protected both under international law and constitutional law,” Bagares said in an interview.

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