Politics as ‘teleserye’
Like a long-running teleserye, our politics is personality based: bida vs. kontrabida, and when the theatrics of the day are done, abangan ang susunod na kabanata. Under the glare of the media lights, the strongest, most colorful characters shine—or the most charming or charismatic. Little wonder our real actors are very good in playing their parts, in keeping the public entertained.
Ferdinand Marcos was the first to master the art of politics as teleserye, having turned his own life into the stuff of legend: a modern-day Lam-ang. In his own telling, he was the World War II veteran who, after going through the heroics of guerrilla warfare, discovers Yamashita’s treasure. His muse, Imelda, was likewise perfect for the billing: her undeniable charm, their 12-day courtship in Baguio. True to their epic-making, they would later cast themselves as “Malakas” at “Maganda,” fountains of strength and beauty in their imagined “Republic of Maharlika.”
Arguably, it was this mythmaking that made martial law not just possible but also acceptable: Malakas would bring discipline with his iron fist; Maganda will be the elegant face of the country. Eventually, however, the script could not be followed, and Marcos would be overrun by a social upheaval.
Then came the Aquinos, compelling in their own right, especially Ninoy, the wunderkind who covered the Korean War at 17; brokered Luis Taruc’s surrender at 22; and became the youthful face of the Senate at 35. Initially the kontrabida in the Marcos saga, Ninoy eventually won public sympathy, with his incarceration, exile, and assassination at the airport that now bears his name. Taking up his mantle, his widow Cory ultimately prevailed: the saintly woman clad in yellow avenging her fallen husband.
But the Aquinos’ script, too, could not be sustained, just as the promises of Edsa lay unfulfilled. People eventually turned to other, newer bidas. In a reminder of how politics and entertainment are virtually indistinguishable, Joseph Estrada, whose movies showed him siding with the poor, won the presidency in 1998 on a propoor platform: “Erap para sa mahirap.”
In the way of the teleserye, there is umay and sawa; people inevitably move on to the next big show. Darna herself may be immortal, but Vilma Santos must give way to Angel Locsin; KathNiel must give way to JaDine and LizQuen. And so it is with politics: Stars rise and fall.
Yet there is such a thing as nostalgia. Like a fading star that explodes in one final supernova, Cory Aquino in her death reminded the nation of her legacy, and dramatically propelled her son to the presidency. Unable to win national posts in the 1990s and 2000s, the Marcoses bided their time, until Bongbong—a 16th placer in the 1995 senatorial elections—finally won in 2010 a Senate seat. By 2016, 30 years after Marcos’ ouster, the story had come close to full circle: The “hero” is in the heroes’ cemetery, and his son is waiting in the wings.
Politics as teleserye is by no means a theory of everything, but it can help us make sense of the political fortunes of our leaders—and the people’s passivity, thinking of themselves as mere fans and spectators. Viewed this way, Rodrigo Duterte succeeds very well, with his faux-humble origins, kulambo and all, his colorful enemies, and his even more colorful personality, complete with foul language, jokes, and braggadocio. His retinue also makes for a great cast: a hunk of a son; a daughter tough as nails; a comical yet lovable police chief—relatable characters all.
And so, in today’s headlines the script unfolds: Leila de Lima, cast as the President’s nemesis, is theatrically arrested; the media cover her from the Senate to her house and back to the Senate, where she makes a final stand before finally being brought to Camp Crame.
“Sinong gusto nyong isunod?” Vitaliano Aguirre II asks the Luneta crowd. Who’s next? Later, parrying criticism, he would explain the remark as “just for entertainment.”
Wittingly or unwittingly, the justice secretary is playing his role quite well. The teleserye continues.
Gideon Lasco (www.gideonlasco.com) is a medical doctor and anthropologist.
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