By: Elizabeth Angsioco
Published in Manila Standard Today
Dated April 16, 2011
My beautiful Diwa,
It will take years before you are able to understand this. After all, you just recently turned five months old. I, your Mama B., want you to know my thoughts on events unfolding as you are learning to crawl and beginning to ingest food other than mommy’s milk.
Mama B. is disturbed. I saw how an innocent six-year-old boy was repeatedly made to do dirty dancing by television show host Willie Revillame —let’s call him WR. The boy was visibly crying and looked scared. It was infuriating to see WR insensitively make fun of him in front of a jeering audience.
The boy’s parents are poor, so they allowed him to join the show for a chance to win some cash.
I immediately thought of you and how distressed I would have felt if it were you there. Of course, mommy and daddy would NEVER allow you to be subjected to anything like that.
This caused many people to protest child abuse. Others disagree, insisting that the boy wanted to do the dance and thus, was not abused. Worse, WR seems to have turned this into a class war accusing his critics for being rich and doing nothing to help while he champions the poor. The parents even sued people for saying that their son was exploited.
Different analyses have been brought forward. Some blame poverty, alleging that people are so poor, they will do anything for a quick buck, including degrading themselves. There are also those who focus on WR’s behaviour of encouraging mendicancy and insulting poor contestants. Mama B. agrees with these, and more.
Many groups, including celebrities, weighed in on the issue. However, some wondered why the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines was silent until recently. The bishops, after all, position themselves as the vanguards of children’s rights.
Then came a surprise. News broke that an advertisement of the fast food chain, McDonald’s was pulled out because bishops complained against it.
The questioned ad showed a young girl asking a boy if she was already his girlfriend. The boy answered that he was not yet ready and thinks that girlfriends are demanding because they want many things. To this, the girl responded that she only wanted fries. The ad ended showing the happy kids with French fries from McDonald’s.
The bishops say the ad cheapens human relationships (certainly not P25, the cost of McDonald’s fries, according to Father Melvin Castro) and sends a wrong message to children.
Many, however, described the ad as cute and innocent. People say that the bishops read too much into the advertisement and put malice into something harmless. They disagreed with the decision to remove it from airing.
For Mama B., the ad showed the reality that kids have crushes, which, I know will happen to you, as it did to me, your parents and I assume, even the bishops when they were young. This is an exciting thing that should be discussed in the open rather than swept under the rug.
But then, the bishops are perceived to be powerful in our society. Thus, McDonald’s readily withdrew its advertisement.
Diwa, these issues are relevant to you: child abuse, how you are raised, what you are taught. These have to do with your rights as a child, and eventually, as a woman. These have to do with existing power relations. All these are impacted by the culture and norms in the society where you and other babies now, will grow up in.
I worry that you live in a society that is confused in terms of how women and children ought to be treated. Soon, you will be relating with other people and I would like you to be prepared.
It’s a mouthful, I know, but let Mama B. explain.
Let me use Revillame and the CBCP as examples of what’s wrong with our culture.
From 1999 to 2007, WR has been the subject of numerous serious complaints by women. All of them alleged either sexual harassment, indecent and vulgar conduct, and abusive behaviour ranging from verbal abuse to outright violence. There were also talks about him abusing and impregnating women not known to have relationships with him. These women were contestants, dancers, co-hosts, one entertainment columnist, and his former wife.
Diwa, you will also read about the 2006 Wowowee ULTRA tragedy. This injured 350 people and killed 74, 71 of which were women. A stampede happened when an estimated 30,000–50,000 poor people trooped to WR’s show hoping to win big prizes. Poor people, mostly women, paid with their lives for the dream to escape poverty.
And now, the child abuse scandal with a very young boy from a poor family at its center.
Do you see now, Diwa? One’s sex and economic status has a significant impact on how people are treated in our society, in our culture.
Women are still generally regarded as inferior to men. Assuming that all those charges of abuse were true, perhaps people would ask what made WR do it? It’s really simple, he, like other men in similar situations do what they do because they believe they can. They think they have the power over women simply because they are men. In their minds, such behaviour is normal, and thus, acceptable.
My baby Diwa, whether one is poor or rich is important. The ULTRA tragedy happened largely, because of poverty.
The child abuse scandal involves a poor family. The boy’s parents did not see anything wrong with his doing a sexually-charged dance. They were after the money that WR offers. They thought it was normal, and again, acceptable. Why did WR do what he did to the boy? Because he controls the MONEY.
Diwa, the bishops on the other hand is a bit of a different story. The Catholic church hierarchy claims to be the guardians of morality. Bishops have the power to tell people what will make them go to heaven, or hell. The CBCP adheres to its dogma which dictates the norms they impose on people. Bishops think that the McDonald’s commercial showed something abnormal, and, therefore, unacceptable.
When you can already understand all these, you surely will ask me a barrage of questions. I promise to answer all.
Now, let me tell you about the concept of rights. Understanding and realizing our human rights will help counter the inequalities I earlier spoke of. Unfortunately, many Filipinos have yet to appreciate their human rights.
The country is a signatory to various international human rights agreements such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Government is bound to implement these instruments through national laws.
The UDHR proclaims that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to enjoy all economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights without distinction of any kind.
Article 19 of the UDHR says: “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Thus, the CBCP’s complaints against the McDonald’s commercial may be an infringement of this article.
CEDAW, for its part outlines steps that countries should do to remove discrimination against women.
Finally, the CRC enunciates children’s rights including the rights to be: protected against abuse, exploitation, neglect, violence and danger; defended and given assistance by the government; and express their own views.
We also have good national laws consistent with these international agreements like: R.A. 7610, “An Act Providing for Stronger Deterrence and Special Protection Against Child Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination…;” R.A. 9710, “The Magna Carta of Women;” and R.A. 9262, the “Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act.”
Diwa, Mama B. is saying that abuses against women and children are against our laws and violate our rights. However, we have, in our culture, norms and practices that go against rights. The belief that parents have absolute authority over their children is one. Children have rights distinct and separate from their parents. This should be understood and accepted.
R.A.7610 considers “any act by deeds or words, which debases, degrades, or demeans the intrinsic worth and dignity of a child as a human being” as child abuse. Therefore, WR’s actions to the boy could be considered a violation even if his parents think otherwise.
Looking at women as second class citizens which facilitates abuses likewise violates our laws. Both R.A.s 9710 and 9262 are quite strong on this.
You are five months old now, dear Diwa. Mama B., with others, will continue working so our norms and practices become consistent with our laws. This will need information and education, and especially proper implementation of our laws.
I do this for you.
*this piece is also for @SisaNiPepe for inspiring me to write to Diwa.