Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. is quick to speak to the press after the murder of Ramgen Revilla. He has issued statement after statement, released to journalists’ inboxes and over the Senate website. He speaks to radio commentators, gives interviews to media. He is calm, but concerned. He is grieving, but grave. He is pitch-perfect, a statesman and citizen.
A 2009 letter to the editor perhaps describes the senator’s performance best. Written by F. Robert A. Moraleda, head for public relations of the Office of Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., the letter said the senator was in fact very different in person from his on-screen image. “You see, Senator Revilla has developed to become one of the most respected institutions in the local film industry not for the roles he has depicted on the screen, but for who he really is behind the camera – an emphatic, caring, and concerned individual who will always go out on a limb to help those who are willing to take his help.”
The senator, in his innate kindness and sensitivity, naturally does not understand why there are others who are not so willing to take his help. Chief among them is the mother of the boy he claims he “loved like a son”: Genelyn Magsaysay, love child of a senator and one-time actress, and niece to a former president and half-sister to an incumbent congressman. By the rules of Philippine society, where presidencies are inherited and mothers host talk shows with their singing daughters, Genelyn Magsaysay is a celebrity of the highest order. That she is now reduced to the screaming center of a national melodrama can perhaps be attributed to her dubious choice of partners, one Jose Acuña Bautista, aka Ramon Revilla Sr., the same choice made by at least 15 other women whose broods of Ramons and Ramonas now populate show biz and politics.
At first they called her a former starlet, as newsrooms scrambled for information when news broke about the killing of her eldest son Ramgen Revilla, the young actor found shot and stabbed to death in his own home on Oct. 28, 2011.
She is short and plump and pale. She cries quietly. She is the grieving mother, victim of crime and impunity, a woman in too tight black-and-white who bends over her son’s coffin murmuring endearments to the spiky-haired boy inside. She lets the man who styled himself spokesperson speak for her family, the senator-stepson older by three years who the gossips say once asked her to treat him as an older brother.
The same older brother announces that the family is “as shocked as everyone” the day police claim two of Genelyn’s children are behind the murder of their brother. Police say RJ Bautista masterminded the crime, and Ramona Bautista, who claims to have been abducted then abandoned by the killers, was part of the plot. “This is a tragic death made even more tragic by the fact that a family member is being implicated.”
Ramgen, he says, has not even been buried and already another brother has been linked to the murder. “We cannot believe that my half-brother Joseph had anything to do with the murder until this is proved beyond reasonable doubt that the accusations are true. What we ask for is for the investigators to check on the credibility of the suspects who linked my brother to the murder. The statements should be validated, not taken on face value, alone.”
The police search for Ramona, they claim she is in the senator’s custody. They have a police report to prove it. The media already reported it. The senator denies it. He says Genelyn would know. He says Ramona was never in his custody.
Ramona makes an about-face. She says she lied. She says she was never abducted. She says she was afraid, and a coward. And in one of the oddest turns of an already odd story, she disappears to Turkey, where a husband and a home are suddenly in existence, and an extradition treaty is not.
The war begins, between the senator who forgets he is a statesman and the starlet who is a mother. Bong Revilla, who demanded innocence before guilt, who announced he would believe no accusations until these were proved beyond reasonable doubt, who asked for credibility to be verified and truth to be validated, says on television that his sister is guilty.
She would not have left if she were not. She would have nothing to fear if she had stayed. Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr., defender of democracy, who reminded the police that no accusation should be taken at face value, announces to the nation that a young woman’s legal flight from a country is tantamount to guilt. The senator hounds the Department of Foreign Affairs, demands that Interpol bring Ramona back. He is told there is no warrant. He releases his reward money to the men who tagged Ramona and RJ Bautista.
In the words of Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, “I suppose he already made up his own mind.”
The fight shifts to the pages of celebrity coverage, notorious for imbuing every celebrity pregnancy, hissy fit and stomach ailment with the same import as the cessation of peace talks with Mindanao rebels. It is difficult to believe the senator and Genelyn Magsaysay have the capability of speaking to each other without the benefit of microphone and camera. The senator gives interviews on “Startalk,” demanding that Genelyn send her daughter home. “I do not believe you know nothing.”
Genelyn gives exclusives to every station, railing at the viciousness of the Revillas.
It is not difficult to understand Genelyn’s position. She is not grateful to the senator, in spite of his claim that he “attempted to resolve the issue.” Her son has been murdered. Her children are accused. A senator calls her daughter a murderer. She is painted as hysterical and a liar. She is jobless with eight children. And unless and until she is shown to have been part of a plot to kill Ramgen, Genelyn Magsaysay is a victim.
The senator says he is not a senator of the Revillas, but a senator of the country – a laudable statement, if he had not forgotten that Genelyn Magsaysay is a citizen of that same country herself, and that her children are his constituents. Perhaps he would have acted differently if they were not family, if Ramgen were not a Revilla, if family tensions and personal animosities were not involved. Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr., intentionally or otherwise, has put the power of the Senate behind his claim of guilt, has become judge and jury, has convicted a criminal in the eyes of the public while claiming impartiality and service to the nation.
This does not mean that Ramona Bautista is innocent, or that her mother is. It means that the senator is a hypocrite first and last, forgetting, finally, that men in power do not have the right to point fingers and take sides, especially when their vested interests are so palpable.