Willie [and the] Poor
In his 25-minute long tirade on national television, Willie Revillame somehow claimed a monopoly of practice in helping the poor. Nina Terol-Zialcita rightly says that it is a diversionary tactic to shift the issue from abuse to class war, but at the same time, Ina Stuart-Santiago rightly says that in our criticism, we reveal our class.
Much has been said about the tasteless, vomit-inducing behavior of Willie, but I’d like to take up Willie’s gauntlet on class war.
Class distinctions may be easy to invoke, but the argument is extremely powerful. The captive audience of Willing Willie is that segment of the Filipino population in dire need of emancipation from poverty. But more than being denied of wealth – as Willie would trot, highlight, and underscore over and over again – they are denied of opportunity.
Every dole-out, every cash prize, and every jackpot Willie and Co. provide to the poor is another opportunity closed to the poor in favor of the opportunities Willie provides. He keeps the class distinctions in place, instead of breaking them. Willie Revillame’s show preserves the status quo, providing neither spite or respite to the impoverished.
Yet one man is not capable of doing all that. In many ways, Willie and his show is a snapshot of the everyday occurrences of injustice in the Philippines. I’m not just talking about lewd dances on TV or dole-outs and jackpots, but the way these practices come together to oppress the oppressed, offering hope through oppression.
For me, the Willie Revillame fiasco is a face of oppression: a habit that keeps the poor poor. The host is a face of oppression: an example of how the poor are being kept poor not because they have no will (as Raul Manglapus writes), but because of a lack of hope. By keeping the poor dependent on the dole, we keep them from forging paths that benefit not only themselves, but society as well. By keeping the poor on a dream state of jackpots, we keep them from realizing their true state for them to offer some degree of resistance that will not only put reforms in TV programming, but reforms in the economy as well.
One thing we have to keep in mind is that poverty is societal weakness not caused by the absence of money, but by the denial of opportunity. The problem with the mentality pervasive in Willie’s show is that the way to a good life is through a jackpot and the promise of money, and not the way it is earned, invested, and shared within the economic system. Doles, cash transfers, and the sweepstakes are much more preferred by our less fortunate countrymen not because of indolence, and not because they don’t know any better. The reason being is that the opportunity to share ideas and knowledge on microfinance, business, and agriculture (among other things) isn’t there.
As such, we see (and practice) humiliation on a daily basis. Jan-Jan dancing on TV is on the same vein as people begging on the streets. It is to expose the frailness of the self for some source of strength. We’ve all seen how Willie does it: every day, a spectacular display of “I-say-jump-you-say-how-high” is broadcast to millions of viewers for a couple of thousand pesos. All in all, the “willing” participants to this have the same story as every other poor person you will meet in the streets: that they came looking for opportunity, that there is none for them who are not moneyed or educated, and that they jumped into this spectacle looking for hope.
The rewards of humiliation are paltry, and surely people who walk away from the Willie Revillame Show are not enlightened into being productive members of the economic system, but become steeped in the euphoria of meeting their idol. The few thousand pesos – heck, the million – go away quickly. Take Shiela Coronel’s investigation. Or the 71 people who died in the ULTRA Stampede. Or even Jan-Jan. All the millions Willie claims to have given – perhaps the equivalent of the budget of government agencies – translated to TV ratings, but not to economic ones.
As such, Willie doesn’t help the poor. He keeps them poor: in pocket, in stomach, and in spirit.
It’s easy to see how Willie’s show “fills a need” that society at large does not address, but it’s also easy to see that his form of “helping the poor” starves the poor even further. I’m not talking about the literal starvation that takes place in saving fare money to go to Novaliches for a song-and-dance number, but how his message – something shared by politicians, businessmen, and all sorts of people doing “philanthropy” – exploits the immediate inability of our society to provide opportunities for the downtrodden. Spectacle and handouts do not solve the problem. Perspectives and hands-up do.
You won’t hear of livelihood programs, entrepreneurship, or microfinance in a game show: you would hear of jackpots, pa-buwenas, and thousands and millions of prizes. I’m not saying it’s evil to give money away, but it fosters and preserves a cycle of poverty in the Philippines that succeeds only when people are kept unequal. It is a method that only succeeds when people are kept poor, and away from the goals and paths that realize the development of the nation. Willing Willie succeeds in helping the impoverished because it keeps poor people poor, it humiliates the humiliated, and wounds the vulnerable by putting them under the spotlight instead of putting them under a schoolroom. Or a storefront or a farm to call their own, armed with the right knowledge of how to run a business and how to pay the right taxes.
Until then, the oppressors – exemplified in this case by well-meaning people with a Willie Revillame state of mind – would keep the poor from the opportunities that will help them realize more than humiliation. The void left by Willie should be enough for our society and our leaders to fill, not with another place to give handouts, but a place where the poor can have opportunities for themselves.
Rather than be the first to help the poor, Willie is the first to keep them there. A two-week sabbatical may be able to change the show is run, but it will take a little while longer to change the way we think of helping the poor.