Saturday, March 12, 2016

Voting by brand

ON bank business for two successive afternoons, I overheard a common thread among clients waiting for their number and the employees serving them at the new accounts section.

The talk turned to “Probinsyano,” the soap opera anticipated after the evening news.

In the format that’s the trademark of Filipino soaps, the “serye” is about the exploits of an upright cop who, in the time-honored tradition of melodrama, triumphs against evil and is unaware of the universe of admirers he is collecting.

Cardo, the hero, is currenty played by Coco Martin, who doesn’t possess an awkward angle, even when he goes undercover as a heavily made-up street walker out to rescue his sister-in-law from human traffickers.

Martin only makes me fidget in discomfort when he appears in a leather jacket, an instrument of torture in our sweltering weather. I forgive this lapse in sanity because Martin is staying in character.

In 1997, Cardo was played by another jacket-lover, the late Fernando Poe Jr. or FPJ. In this nickname-loving country, box-office kings and action stars are branded by their famous initials, the same treatment the news media gives to presidents and politicians.

In today’s political heat, few even split distinctions: that, unlike FVR and GMA, FPJ was never a president nor even a barangay captain. FPJ aspired to become a president and, according to those who followed the true-to-life “serye” in 2004, was emerging as the most likely next occupant of that residence beside the Pasig River when the Pretender-We-Will-Not-Name stole the election from him.

Life imitates art, even the low-brow. Just as the mini-plots of “Probinsyano” end happily ever after in the land protected by its leather-jacketed guardian, the country might still even be led by the late FPJ’s daughter, Grace.

Frontrunner of the 2016 electoral race, foundling who spectacularly won a disqualification case in the Supreme Court on International Women’s Day, and champion of all the right buttons of political correctness, including the freedom of information bill, beloved cause of journalists, Grace shares her father’s taste for sartorial branding: a well-fitting long-sleeved polo as pure as the driven snow.

Never since the loud Hawaiian shirts of the late Raul Roco has a piece of clothing fixed a politician’s image so indelibly in this voter’s imagination. The man of the masses thumbed his nose at the snob values of the elite; the fool of an emperor pretended to take pride in his invisible new clothes; and Grace, cool in voice and temperament but steely in her campaign promise to bring back “heart” in governance, wears an absence of color, which we associate, in this intrigue-loving land, with lack of taint, of shadows, of the usual political baggage.

While Mar Roxas, my candidate, languishes in survey after survey, thousands of us sit down with the Poe family on weekday nights: Coco Martin as FPJ’s reincarnation, minus the sideburns but still wrapped in the signature jacket; FPJ’s widow, Susan Roces, as Cardo’s wisdom-spouting Lola Kap; and, during the commercial breaks peppering “Probinsyano,” Grace and her white promise.

More than anything, this election will test voters, not just the voted. The academics urge us to research our choices. The church wants us to contemplate and discern.

Judging by the survey trends, many of us want to be entertained.

( 0917 322 6131)

*First published in the March 13, 2016 issue of the Sun.Star Cebu Sunday opinion-editorial Sunday column, “Matamata”

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