Not quite ‘déjà vu’
Two down, and counting.
Jinggoy Estrada, gave himself up last Monday, coming on the heels of good friend and, allegedly, partner-in-crime Bong Revilla. Unlike Revilla, Estrada did a quieter production, having in tow only his family and closest friends. On the other hand Revilla brought along a barangay—metaphorically speaking, though a 10-vehicle convoy isn’t that far off literally. Jinggoy’s family included quite prominently his father, Erap, the pictures of son and father side by side in Crame reminding their countrymen of a movie they had seen before. Specifically 13 years ago when it was the son accompanying the father and not the other way around.
It gives a whiff of déjà vu, but only a whiff. History won’t happen again, not even as farce to tragedy. Erap went from rise and fall to rise again, Jinggoy will just go from fall to fall.
It’s so for a couple of reasons.
One, the possibility that the world will erupt in protest at his arrest—and those of Bong and Johnny—is nonexistent. That possibility existed in Erap’s case, and did in fact become reality only a couple of months later with Edsa 3. For a reason that even then, quite apart from hindsight, was not too hard to see. It was Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who caused Erap to be jailed. That made all the difference.
It sent the most complicated message to us who, as shown by our movies, do not like complicated messages. We like black and white, we like hero and villain, we like love and hate. This was nothing of the kind. It stoked mixed emotions, it drew out ambivalent reactions. Except for the Erap loyalists, most of us were in little doubt about Erap’s guilt. Except for a section of the masa who were willing to forgive Erap anything, most of us wanted to see Erap punished for his sins—being ousted was not enough.
But except for those angling for positions in the new government, most of us did not want to see that done by Arroyo.
There is none of that today. The message here is simple, direct, uncomplicated. It is black and white, it is about hero and villain, it calls only for love and hate. There is no ambivalence in the public reaction. Jinggoy, or his father, could have brought an entire barangay in tow, and it would not have mattered, the way it didn’t matter when Revilla did so. The sight of their cockroach-infested, and heat-conducting cells won’t stoke the public to fury, let alone to another Edsa, tragic or farcical. It will stoke them to revelry.
Two, the possibility that Jinggoy will be able to resurrect his career, never mind embark on the path to redemption—Erap’s favorite image, apparently his vow to a dying mother—is non-existent. Alternatively, the possibility that Erap himself, if not Jinggoy, will be able to work his charisma, or lend his luster, to the cause of plucking his son from impending obscurity, quite apart from current confinement, is at least remote if not non-existent.
Unlike Erap, Jinggoy is neither popular nor charismatic. Indeed, if the lack of fuss over his jailing proves anything, it is that his career has been largely derivative. He shone on borrowed light. If he shone at all: His appearances in the Senate, principally to deliver privilege speeches, may have produced more detractors than followers. He could not deliver his lines convincingly in his movies, he could not deliver his lines convincingly in life. When Erap spoke longingly of redemption while in the throes of incarceration, you at least pitied him. When Jinggoy speaks of the same thing—his handful of loyalists kept chanting “Keep the faith” on his way to jail—you fought off howls of laughter.
While at that, keep the faith in what? In pillage?
That brings me back to a point I made last week. A point that crystalized in my mind when I saw the pictures of Erap and Jinggoy, or Jinggoy and Erap, side by side then and now. The image is a powerful one, but not so in the way that they expect. The image does not convey the message, “Solidarity,” it conveys the message, “Like father, like son.” I’m surprised the Inquirer didn’t use that caption below the pictures. But whether bidden or not, that is the phrase that leaps to mind at the sight.
That image is powerful, and fatal. I said it last week: Taken singly, Erap’s and Jinggoy’s jailing can always be explained away as accidental, as individual predilection toward malfeasance. Taken together, it can, and will, be seen as genetic predisposition, or the way someone was raised (pagpapalaki). Truly, “like father, like son” will resonate with the meaning as devastating as “Yolanda.”
No, Erap won’t lift Jinggoy from impending obscurity, Jinggoy will pull Erap down to it.
But what darkens, if not blots out, the horizon for Jinggoy is this: In the end, what allowed his father, Erap, to rehabilitate himself was Gloria destroying herself. As Gloria fell, he rose. As Gloria became the face of corruption, he became the face of misfortune. This was a zero-sum game, and Erap profited directly and decisively from it.
There is no such storyline here. Of course Revilla has tried to spin one, depicting himself as the victim of persecution for looming as a strong “presidentiable.” But that is lamer than the worst installment of “Ang Panday.” At least Jinggoy has had the sense to tread on it more carefully.
How can he not? Look at the way the stories about him and Revilla and Enrile have found their way in Google and Yahoo and international news, which have been greeted by cheers by Filipinos abroad, particularly in the United States. The impression that they give is that finally this country is pushing back corruption, finally the wheels of justice are grinding, that finally we can tell those making a beeline for Crame, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
It’s not quite déjà vu.
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