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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

From Hallowed To Hollow

A manic Monday, indeed.


Yesterday's top news stories were focused on two items: the karaoke rendition of Sen. Revilla in his privilege speech (complete with an MTV-style recording), and the new career of Rep. Pacquiao as coach of a professional basketball team.


The general "mood" as measured in social media has been negative as far as these two items were concerned. More vitriol has been spewed in Revilla's direction, with several commenters noting that so much money has been spent for a senator to air his sentiments, and that it was clearly an insult to people's sensibilities - at least to those with a Facebook account - to think a song number would somehow earn him pity points vis a vis the charges he is facing from the Ombudsman.

The Pacquiao item registered a more lenient reaction, and based on unscientific observation, I'd say half disapproved of the Pambansang Kamao entering another field, with the other half calling the other side as afflicted with crab mentality, and just jealous that Manny gets to add another cap to wear while "you negative people are just feeling so superior in cyberspace while putting a national hero down!"

Let's lay it out plainly: obviously these two politicians enjoy overwhelming support from their constituents - the entire country for Revilla and Saranggani province for Pacquiao - or they wouldn't be where they are presently, on our payroll as public servants.

Reading these two news items repeatedly throughout all of yesterday, it occurred to me that both personalities are more similar than one would have guessed.

1. They were "superstars" in their fields before entering politics.

Sen. Bong Revilla is, of course, heir to the Agimat film franchise. His father was also an actor in the same role, and Bong's son has followed suit in the acting profession. (I am unaware though if Bong's son has the same pull to get a seat in the Senate.) He is considered attractive - even Sen. Miriam Santiago admits this - which is certainly a boon in a culture that prizes how we appear over how we truly are.

Manny Pacquiao needs no further introduction, as his fame has reached worldwide proportions. A classic rags-to-riches story, he overcame poverty and hardship with the sweat of his brow mixed with blood from the beatings he received; his trajectory from inexperienced pugilist to international sports icon is the stuff that local telenovelas take pleasure in repeating over and over. For decades.

Their supporters argue that they are both "supremely qualified" to be public officials. Whatever the case or persuasion, their stature in their initial professions would be immensely instrumental in securing for themselves elective positions.

2. They both view their public positions as a part time job, at best.

How else to explain the ability of Sen. Revilla to appear on a weekly television show, entitled Kap's Amazing Stories? Or to make an annual entry to the Metro Manila Film Festival? Clearly, Senate work must be a breeze given the fact that the senator finds it impossible to leave his "roots" in entertainment.

This is even more pronounced in Pacquiao's case, as he takes months off to practice for any upcoming bout. Last year, he had the dubious distinction of being the top lawmaker - in terms of number of absences. He has dabbled with the idea of doing pastoral/religious work, has TV specials, makes advertisements in all media, and goes around the world to promote his fights.

No wonder other lawmakers see no problem in doing the same: Sen. Chiz Escudero was seen as a co-anchor in a morning talk show a few months back and also had his face plastered over a commercial for a processed meats company. (The fact that it was election season then was purely coincidental, I'm guessing.)

Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez hosts a dancing show (as she has taken flamenco classes), and if I'm not mistaken, is part of a panel on a showbiz news show.

I received some criticisms for my article on Anne Curtis - some of them were quite constructive, for which I am thankful - but the one thing I can never fault Anne for is that she is wasting public funds. She can be a trapeze artist or molecular biologist, and if that is what she wants to do, that is her prerogative as a private individual.

But this is not the case with Revilla and Pacquiao.

I seem to remember that Revilla took one of the top spots - if not the topmost with the most number of votes - in the Senate race. And Pacquiao was practically a shoo-in as representative of his province. In short, they were overwhelmingly chosen and given votes of confidence, probably two of a very small group of politicians, in this country, that nobody can accuse of cheating their way to power.

Their cavalier attitude towards the positions they were elected into reflects quite clearly in light of yesterday's headlines.

Revilla bandied about a 'list' in his privilege speech - this being the season of lists - which turned out to be some diluted form of slumbook or yearbook dedications to his fellow senators. We did not hear him present factual evidence to disprove the accusations he is charged with. To end his speech on a sweet note, he played an AV presentation of what he said was an original song, and he didn't sing half-bad, although he has no chance of being another Lea Salonga as far as singing careers go.

Pacquiao probably never heard anyone criticize him for his legislative attendance last year, which explains why he readily accepted the new coaching job. Far be it from anyone of us to stand in Manny's way of being a jack of all trades, but public office - where public officials receive public money to do their job - is a full time job.

And before someone accuses me of just parading my opinion as a baseless claim, let's take a look at Republic Act No. 6713, section 7 (b) (2): "Public officials and employees during their incumbency shall not engage in the private practice of their profession, unless authorized by the Constitution or law, provided that such practice will not conflict or tend to conflict with their official functions;"

If having 60 absences is not a "conflict" for a public official in the exercise of his official function, then we have no right firing private employees or expelling students who do a third of Manny's record number of absences while receiving a salary from all of us.

3. Politics is a family enterprise.

While Bong was giving his speech, you could see his wife, Rep. Lani Mercado Revilla, shedding tears and Bong's son looking pensive; incidentally, the latter is also the vice mayor of their home province.

Manny's wife and 2 brothers ran in the last elections, as well. Jinkee handily won as vice mayor, as did his brothers: one is a councilor, the other, chairman of a district.

In this, they learned from the oligarchs and long entrenched dynasties: once you have your foot in, make the public positions your personal property, and your hometowns your personal fiefdoms.

No wonder: no legislator wants to create an enabling law for the constitutional provision banning political dynasties.

4. Song, dance and sports are par for the (political) course.

Given the above, it was hardly surprising that Revilla resorted to a trick he must have perfected as an actor: get the sympathy of the public with a made-for-Senate/TV news composition.

I felt like I was watching some permutation of That's Entertainment. This is what passes for a "privilege speech."

Neither was I overly perturbed that Pacquiao had another sports venture in the works: we have validated him over and over as a boxing icon, allowing him to have a legislative post (and his vote was one that nearly derailed the RH Law) even while he pursues more heights in other fields of sport. (Sarcastic comments online were egging him to try Mixed Martial Arts or joining the Azkals next.)

As a child, my father used to regale me with stories of how respected our senators were. He worked in some (legal) cases with Sen. Jovito Salonga  and the awe and admiration he had for the senator was palpable. Their conversations - of which I was able to eavesdrop one - centered on helping the disadvantaged, and it was a burden the senator carried until the end.

Clearly, those days of the Senate are long gone. Yesterday's events just highlighted a saying I have always found to be true: empty drums make the loudest noise.

Of course, sometimes it comes in the form of a music video.

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