“The return of the comeback” is sardonic Filipino street slang referring to an extremely lucky individual who bounces back after a seemingly unrecoverable setback. It may well refer to Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. who has not only returned to his Senate seat, but also seems on the way to reviving his show-biz career as well.
He’s one lucky fellow, indeed. Revilla landed in 11th place in last May’s elections (due, many believe, to his dancing the “budots,” a humorous dance step, in his campaign TV ads) despite the fact that he had been formally accused of misallocating P224 million from his pork barrel allocation officially known as the Priority Development Assistance Fund or PDAF. The money was identified as part of a wider-ranging scheme to distribute PDAF allocations to fake nongovernment organizations under the alleged control of Janet Lim Napoles, Revilla’s coaccused.
He was prosecuted for the PDAF scam, along with senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada. But after spending four years in a special holding cell, Revilla was ordered released by the antigraft Sandiganbayan court last December on grounds of insufficient evidence. Vindication? Not quite. The reborn senator was still ordered by the court to return P124 million deemed stolen from public coffers—but Revilla has unblushingly refused to do so.
Now that he’s regained his political power, Revilla is raring to reclaim as well his show-biz stomping grounds. His old network GMA 7 is reportedly set to give him a starring role in a new drama-fantasy anthology that, the network said, “is set to provide moral lessons for kids.”
Revilla’s resurrected entertainment career, certainly a major factor in his rise in politics, has been met with dismay, if not indignation, by netizens. Spoken-word artist Juan Miguel Severo spoke for many when he asked the TV network: “Why is giving Bong Revilla a job even an option for you?” While GMA 7 may pursue honest news reporting, he said, when it came to their entertainment arm, “you are enablers of thieves and are giving them (a) huge social capital for the next elections.”
That’s not an unfair reproach. How is someone like Revilla, who has continued to defy the court and thumb his nose at the public with his refusal to return plundered public funds, adjudged as fit to “provide moral lessons” to young viewers?
However, the bitter truth is that Revilla, for all his alleged involvement in anomalies, does remain popular among the masses. Despite his tarnished image, he continues to enjoy popularity and instant name and face recognition. He has parlayed a series of action roles, most notably that of the “Panday,” the stalwart blacksmith originally popularized by Fernando Poe Jr., into the persona of a crusader or champion against evil. The franchise of “Ang Panday,” based on a comic book, has proven to be a truly enduring, iconic, and yet in Revilla’s case ironic, image.
That’s how it is in Philippine politics and show business, which in this day and age are so closely intertwined it’s next to impossible to distinguish one from the other. Nor is it easy to untangle moral ascendancy from actual behavior.
On this point, former first lady Imelda Marcos is Exhibit One. The nation has just marked the first year since “The Iron Butterfly” was convicted by the Sandiganbayan of, in the words of a foreign publication, “spiriting $200 million to Switzerland while she was a congresswoman and then governor of (Metro) Manila under her husband.” However, despite the 77-year prison sentence imposed on her, and the order for her immediate arrest, Imelda remains free. A police general demurred from ordering her arrest after the sentence was handed down, and she has since filed an appeal, which under the glacial pace of our justice system, could take more years or decades to resolve. Imelda, true to her appellation, continues to flit from one social event to another, as free as she wants, or as free as a 90-year-old can muster her energies.
Meanwhile, young Filipinos are left with yet more dubious lessons from the unending lucky breaks of Revilla, Marcos and their ilk. Crime does not pay? Evil is punished? Stealing is a crime? Who will buy these tarnished truisms? Not the youth of the Philippines.
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