Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Politics and the Theater called Malacañang [Archive]

This article was originally published in the September 2003 edition of The LaSallian, the official publication of De La Salle University as my monthly column as editor.

Theater is an art sealed with passion, perfected with practice. So is politics. There’s really not much difference. Stage performers entertain their audience, while our dear politicians attempt to enchant the vote out of us with appalling dance numbers, lip syncs, and of course, the leery handshakes. The only difference really, is the entrance fee.

After the madness elicited by the ouster of actor-turned-president Joseph Ejercito Estrada, one would think that the government wouldn’t be graced with showbiz personalities (at least for a few terms or so). We would have thought that the people would be a little more wary in selecting and putting their trust in singing and camera-loving celebrities. Well, we thought wrong. The political limelight is still very much alive. In fact it is “burning” with a rumored more than 50 television stars, all vying or expressing their intention to run for public office in the congressional, city, and municipal levels in the 2004 May elections. The seeming avalanche of showbiz stars waiting for their poses taken not in the photo studios but in Malacañang is keeping the Filipinos highly aware of the upcoming elections. They surely wouldn’t want to abandon their idols now. No surprise there.


The Evolution. Politics is not far behind science and technology. If apes evolved to become homo sapiens. Philippine Politics has evolved to include just about anyone who could read and write. And had there been no age restriction, Judy Ann Santos would most probably be mayor of some forlorn city.

This evolution of roles started back in the 1930’s and heightened in the 1950’s when candidates started hiring movie actors and actresses to draw and hold crowds ridding of orators and practically eloquence. Who needed eloquence when you have a handful of beauties and bodies rubbing you just the way you like it? You go home with a few hundred pesos, sardines, autographs, and ask, “What platform?”

After presidential candidate Ramon Magsaysay introduced the common tao approach in election campaign, attempting to remedy his lack of articulation, people soon realized the importance of more than mere vocal campaign. Soon enough, politicians became more physically exposed to the general public. Now, it’s not much of a shock to see politicians and government officials cutting ribbons or representing as wedding sponsors, or even some sharing their sex life, sex escapades, and STDs to the public. Now, that’s what we call, bridging the gap!

The reign of showbiz. Entertainment was and still is the leading factor in winning an election. The politicians needed the entertainers to keep their audience interested lest they’d go running to the opposing candidate getting their meager share of “amusement”. The politicians couldn’t get enough votes without them, so they were the ones in demand. So, instead of being employed by the candidates, they got wiser and what came out was a new breed of politicians. Fresh from Mother Lily and Kuya Germs! You can’t get this anywhere but the Philippines!

If you still need more proof of what a showbiz studio Malacañang has become, here is an unofficial list of aspiring candidates for the upcoming elections: Fernando Poe, Jr. for President, Singer Imelda Papin for Congresswoman of Camarines Sur, Action Star Gary Estrada for Congressman of Quezon Province, Comedian Roderick Paulate for governor of Albay, Action star Rudy Fernandez for Quezon City Mayor, Actor-Singer Tirso Cruz III for Mayor of Las Piñas City, Actress Elizabeth Oropesa for Mayor of Guinobatan, Albay, etc. (the rest of the list could take up half this column).

Although a great number of them are well-educated and may have the leadership to run our country, the greater majority has proven to be ill-prepared and ineffective. We have started a new trend in politics. Out with the traditional politicians or trapo and on with the showbiz stars. If there had been a worse option, the Philippines might as well give up democracy. Maybe that’ll give Bush another reason to come parading along Roxas Ave. and maybe we’ll spend another few hundred millions or so. No big deal. At least he’ll wear a barong.


Perhaps the Filipino people could not anymore distinguish between reality and make-believe. You see Erap in protagonist role saving the world as Asiong Salonga in Leon ng Maynila and you think he’s just as good with politics. And now that his dear friend FPJ is said to be a presidential candidate, it will be no surprise that people would think Agimat could also save our country. This alone can trigger our distrust on our politicians and the stage show they might have caused our government to become.

If anything, our government has become one big carnival. In place of freak shows and your regular Houdinis, we have a better selection ranging from big-pocketed crooks, Jueting thieves, smuggling rich men, “schizophrenics” (if you called call someone with multiple identities and fortunately aware of it as such), and madmen or madwomen, all amassing our nonexistent wealth. Call them whatever you want. Any category could not better their decadence.


No final curtain. The line of distinction between politics and theater or showbiz in the Philippines is a thin one. Too thin in fact that sooner than we might expect, there will no longer be such a distinction.

Theater, arts, and showbiz are fields the Filipinos are renowned to excel in. However, politics is a whole different arena. It’s easy to pretend, to memorize and adlib scripts, to plaster superficial grins, and wear out your hand signing autographs. What we need are leaders who can keep their feet on the ground, people who care more than their diminishing sex life or the thinning crowd of fans.

We face not pretense and fantasies but reality and this reality not only bites. It stings. Kills. And this time, there will be no one yelling, “Cut!” and no final curtains are drawn.

Friday, January 31, 2003

When Mona Lisa Smiled [Archive]

This article was originally published in the Feb 2003 edition of The LaSallian, the official publication of De La Salle University as my monthly column as editor.

When does a teacher end and a pupil begin? Some say the boundary is merely the four walls of our classrooms, where teachers enter as tutors, and exit just as well; where students come and go unchanged, with new textbooks and filled notebooks, and yet, ever adamant. Others say the perimeter is drawn on that one fateful day (at the end of every term) when seemingly, teachers play god, as jury, or judge and students await conviction. After which, both part ways with each only a fragment of a memory in the other’s mind. Still others say that one doesn’t simply end and the other begin. Both must always co-exist.

When Julia Roberts portrayed a penniless prostitute winning the heart of the wealthiest and most eligible bachelor in Beverly Hills, it was not only sales that boosted up but hopes as well. Every other girl was saying, “I could be pretty woman”. And if it were not for the fact that we don’t have a Beverly Hills or a Rodeo drive, and much more, wealthy, ignorant and driverless men in coats calling out for help in the roadside, we would have pretty women lining up and waiting along Taft. When she played Julianne in My Bestfriend’s Wedding, the girls were suddenly eyeing and weighing up their male bestfriends. But when she played Miss Katherine Watson, the middle-aged, unmarried, unorthodox professor in Mona Lisa Smile, I wanted to be a teacher.

This is not the first time that I have been inspired by a movie. But this is the first time that I have considered the academe as a probable profession. Whether it was the setting of the movie, the exceedingly impressive college women, or the fact that Julia Roberts is one brilliant actress, the movie, in more ways than one, stirred me.

Watching the film, I am reminded of a teacher I had back in first year high school. She had the same uniqueness, the same passion, devotion, and commitment to her students not only for the present but for their future. Our first encounter was unforgettable since it had been a shock or a quite a blow on my part. Seeing her with a mass of papers in her hands, I had offered help. She gave me the strangest look, laughed and told me that I looked too skeletal to even carry five pounds of paper load. “Fine! I hope you roll down the driveway.” I didn’t say that of course. What I did though was tell everyone I knew about the incident. By the second week of school, she was as notorious as can be. Devious. So, who’s laughing now? I had felt smug about it.

She was a religion teacher, young, beautiful and full of spirit. I tried to deny the fact that I was enjoying her class, even anticipating the lively discussions. She always found ways to amuse the class even at the cost of her humiliation. She constantly asked me to recite, to read aloud and by the end of the quarter, I had the highest grade in class. Did she know I started the rumors and was this a part of her plan of vengeance? I never found the answer.

From late afternoon talks to birthday parties, I finally realized I found a friend. Our 12-year gap seemed unnoticeable, concealed by her eagerness to help me achieve my dreams and my willingness to let her. She believed in me and yet I never did.

Now, I ask, where is that magic? Where is the connection between students and teachers? Is it lost because we are older now, that we are finally adults and that sometimes we feel that we know more than they do? Or maybe it is because we call them “professors” and the name adds a certain weight, a seeming barrier that we are unable to penetrate. The older we get at the University, the more “professional” our relationships with teachers become. I am not saying that we should all go out, party, and start calling each other ‘pre or tsong. I am only hopeful that somehow we can remake the magic, that when we enter our classrooms, we do not only see a face, sometimes even nameless, but instead a mentor, a likely friend, someone ready to help us reach even the unreachable. I could only hope that when our teachers see us, we are not only a blurry of class records and a tally of student absences but ready minds and hopeful souls.

So, when does a teacher, as mentor truly end, and we, as students come into being? When we say “end”, we mean the exit from our lives, the conclusion of the syllabus, the granted independence. When do they hand out our grades and exit gracefully leaving us in euphoric bliss or in hopeless tears? And when do we start closing that door and forgetting their existence? It’s simple. They don’t. We don’t. Both must always co-exist. If not for one’s self, for each other, for the dreams, for our dreams and the fervent hope for a future.

(To Miss Lourdes Tarrosa, the best teacher I ever had, my mentor and my friend, I still thank God for a precious blessing. I am grateful and forever will be.)