After an initial denial, Francis Tolentino apologized yesterday for the scandal involving a raunchy show on Oct. 1 at the Liberal Party oath-taking of some 80 local officials in Laguna, asked that his name be taken off the party’s list of senatorial candidates, and quit as chair of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority. This is the appropriate, though late, move, and should serve as a lesson that in the crunch, dissembling won’t cut it. Nevertheless, the scandal still rages.
But it’s not as if we’ve not seen the likes of it before. On MTV awards night years ago, former Mouseketeer Miley Cyrus doffed her teenybopper image and launched the twerk, which has since been integrated into mainstream dance routines and performances. So what’s the big deal about the Playgirls’ stunt at the LP oath-taking that was held at the birthday celebration of Laguna Rep. Benjie Agarao, which has women’s groups up in arms, social media in a tizzy with at least a million page views of the video, and LP officials on damage-control mode?
At that oath-taking-cum-birthday party, the entertainment was the show featuring three Playgirls twerking onstage and, in the audience-participation portion, while mounted on local officials lying on their back. Per the emcee, the women were a “gift” to the birthday boy from Tolentino. Who promptly denied it. (When was the idea of women as “gifts” first mouthed? Wasn’t it in 1994 by then Mayor Antonio Sanchez of Calauan, Laguna, who, while handing over to his henchmen the 19-year-old coed he had just raped, thanked them for their “gift”? The mayor, since convicted of the rape-killing of the coed and her boyfriend, was reported as saying: “Salamat, mga anak, sa regalo nyo. Bahala na kayo dyan.”)
The Playgirls’ show was wildly cheered by its mostly middle-aged audience. But several groups called it “offensive, lewd, demeaning, and thoroughly at odds with the LP’s much-vaunted ‘daang matuwid.’”
President Aquino himself, the titular party head, assailed the idea of women as commodities, as gifts to be given away. Women’s groups once more voiced a longtime complaint: of women viewed as sex objects instead of partners for social change and development. Unsurprisingly, the House leadership found the idea of an official inquiry amusing; indeed, Agarao declared that “real men” like him wouldn’t find the show offensive, its kind being supposedly commonplace in most provinces and a staple in beer houses.
An LP pillar, Rep. Edgar Erice, in fact displayed his Neanderthal mentality when he blamed the Playgirls for the scandal, saying they failed to take the audience’s sensitivities into consideration: “The show might be wrong, but the artist group should take responsibility for it. After all, the person who invited them didn’t know what they would do.”
The Playgirls, who reputedly consider the inviting party as a suki, shrugged off the censure, describing their show as “just work”—trabaho lang, a means to earn a living.
To be sure, there are issues more deserving of public attention—obscene issues, not merely raunchy: the agonizingly slow judicial system that allows the accused in the Maguindanao massacre to evade judgment, convicted child rapists to hold public office, and accused torturers and murderers to aspire for the same without shame or compunction; the corruption seemingly endemic in government service; the luxurious lifestyle of drug traffickers… So why pick on what amounted to a stag party?
Because it was performed in the public realm, alongside an official party function ostensibly carried out for the public interest. As admitted by public officials, such raunchy shows are a staple in campaign sorties nationwide; the Playgirls list other politicians and political parties as past clients. The Laguna twerk fest proves that the potent mix of show biz and politics, a concrete case of bread and circus, still holds sway over Filipino voters. It’s a bawdy take on the old song-and-dance routine regularly performed by aspirants for public office, who think nothing of hoofing it up onstage as part of the dangerous distractions that candidates offer in lieu of political platforms.
Already, per the Playgirls’ manager, more bookings have been coming from political parties since the scandal broke out. And while the President “has called for a high level of political discourse that is platform- and not personality-based,” according to his spokesman Sonny Coloma, one sees little change when the leading lights of the political system continue to swear by ribald entertainment instead of elevated political awareness among voters.
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