Politics and Popular Culture

Political Feature

Dateline Manila

Of ‘Presidentiables’ and Other Power Trips

By Aurelio S. Agcaoili, PhD

The last two months that I was away from Honolulu to witness first hand the unfolding of conflicting stories and equally convoluted newest ‘histories’ in the Philippines were a semester’s worth of Philippine Politics 101.

First in the social drama of political unraveling is the lack of statesmanship of many of the country’s pretenders to political astuteness.

The mud throwing continues until today, and there is no sign of a let-up.

Political callousness and insensitivity is the rule of the game, and the less the political leaders do not mind what the public says, the better for their political ambitions to keep on ruling over us come hell or high water.

With the latest fiasco on the loss of lives and limbs and livelihood for the many who are directly and indirectly affected by the latest peril at sea—the ‘sinking’ of MV Princess of the Stars becoming some kind of a B-rated soap opera, we can only despair, even if despair bleeds our minds dry and our hearts into some form of incapacity to feel, some kind of ‘unfeeling’ that renders us zombies and robots in this game of politics we call bad and irresponsible statecraft.

The presidential wannabes are coming in droves, and their number is growing each day.

The signs for such ‘nuclear’ ambitions—the intentions are good, the results so pathetically evil--are there for us to see.

The game of political peek-a-boo has begun, with those able to sow good deeds garnering some good sound bytes on primetime television or radio. Or newspaper headlines.

In political marketing and advertising, it is the name recall, Jose.

The name recall gives every presumptive president of the Philippines the edge over the rest of the lot, with cinematic presence even becoming some kind of a legitimate route to become an ‘honorable’ person.

Vilma Santos is being bandied about as the running mate of Noli de Castro, this one guy who declared his greetings to the land with that newscast voice in a Tagalog of his Mindoro days.

Santos’ presumptive candidacy for the second most powerful political leader of the land completes a dream team backed up by years of popular culture provided by cinema and its temptations to forget the real problems of the country by allowing us—even seducing us—to escape the dirt and grime via an exit door to a celluloid world of fantasy galore.

Given that Santos is one of the country’s better actresses, and eventually, better local government politicians, first as city mayor of Lipa, and then as governor of Cavite, the de Castro-Santos team is one for the books, with awareness and approval ratings easily giving them an edge over other candidates.

De Castro’s years of broadcasting work has given him sufficient recognition by any Filipino who has access to television, and this access cuts across the social classes, with the C-D crowd always giving approval to underdogs or those perceived to be one, and thus, to him who they perceived as a boy who comes from the province—‘promdi’—and thus, is one of them.

There is a marked illogicality in the choice of the masses if by the logic of political choice is meant the choice of a candidate who has extensive knowledge of governance and public affairs over those lesser mortals whose claim to leadership is but part of the all-out campaign to subtly fool us into making us believe that political leadership is their privilege and that we have no option except to make do with that privilege that they dangle before us.

In today’s politics, however, the ratings are somehow writ in stone as they serve as a covenant between the gullible public and the calculating quintessential politico.

Comes now Manuel Villar, one of our better senators.

Include the other possible perennially resurrecting leaders who impose themselves upon us, for better or for worse—and more for worse, if we believe in the cynicism of the men and women on the street who say that to live in this land is the same as to die.

The long lines of people queuing for that National Food Authority rice sold at a lesser cost than the market price is an indicator of the reason for that cynicism.

And this is good politics of staple food as well, with the hungry masses forever indebted to the political class led by the sitting president.

But there is despair here, if you wish, however understated this is.

Life, indeed, is a difficult text, and in the Philippines where leaders are there for a spectacle for the masses to get drunk and lose themselves in the frenzy of social injustice they sometimes cannot recognize as such—for a political abracadabra—life is a most difficult text.

Villar once sided with the people—or with those who thronged to EDSA for the second time around to revolt against the abuse of power of the Estrada regime.

And now, with the tragedies of overseas Filipino workers abused by employers in the Middle East and unable to go home for lack of airfare, and with Villar coming in to their rescue, this is good media mileage.

I believe it is done with a good heart as well, in a brew of mixed motives.

TV ads say he spends his own money to bring them home, an act Jinggoy Estrada the senator did as well, at least once, when he went to the Middle East to promote his movie and found the abused OFWs wanting to go home.

Villar played a key role in the wasted EDSA People Power II, that people power revolution that gave Gloria Macapagal Arroyo a crack at the presidency when the B-rated actor Joseph Estrada was indicted by the people for abuse of power and authority and for making the Philippines and its institutions his personal fiefdom.

The people—the masses, the Churches, the military, and the businessmen—gave PGMA the chance to do well, as they did with Corazon Aquino.

But that one fat chance came to waste, with Aquino honoring first our commitment to pay our debts to the international financial institutions rather than building up the economic institutions that were bled dry by the Marcoses.

The papers scream that Jose de Venecia is contemplating of a political comeback, as a presidential wannabe.

He is the same guy anointed by a minister of one of the fellowship churches, the minister even saying that God had said to him that JDV would be the man, that he would be The President.

The prophesy was a dud.

Somebody won, and his name was not JDV but someone else more loved by the masses because of his screen presence, and that wonderful and surprising ability to solve all problems, including the ability to arrest criminals, put them to prison, and thus announce to society that here is a social liberator and redeemer at last.

That man did not prove to be his screen persona, as our recent history can attest.

But with the Arroyo presidential pardon under his sleeves, Erap Estrada is a man walking freely.

Never mind that in the country’s jails, as Justice Puno has said, many people are languishing in jail for petty thievery, some beyond the maximum prison terms, some without court hearing because they have no money to pay for a lawyer to defend them.

Loren Legarda the broadcaster and now senator is going to test the waters again, this time not the vice presidency but the presidency, even as Noli de Castro is preparing to take over the helm from PGMA.

Legarda’s candidacy is neat and nifty: there is an intellectual in the Senate, reasonable, steeped in popular cultural forms, images, and symbols. She knows what ‘national defense’ is all about as well, degreed in that area at the National Defense College of the Philippines.

Fact is, she has brilliance, more brilliance than Noli. But can she win against him?

Then again, there is Manuel Villar to contend.

And the JDV with the political machinery that dates more than two decades ago, with the Marcos regime.

It is less than two years before PGMA takes the bow, and says goodbye to the Palace Guards and the wretched poor who have become more numerous and poorer.

Her two sons are entrenched in politics now, and they sport the title ‘honorable.’

This game of politics is going to be show, one for our noontime consumption, like the shows in Manila that make commerce out of the misery of our people.

In Honolulu, with our TFC to aid us, we gobble up these spectacles, the presidency and our misery.

The presidency is no different from “Wowowee” and “Eat Bulaga”

In 2010, it is going to be both, even if we have already started having a national premier showing in Manila today.

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