By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer

IT’S ENOUGH TO MAKE YOU WANT TO LEAVE the country. That’s the Pulse Asia survey that shows these 12 senatorial candidates on top: 1. Bong Revilla, 2. Jinggoy Estrada, 3. Miriam Santiago, 4. Pia Cayetano, 5. Franklin Drilon, 6. Juan Ponce Enrile, 7. Tito Sotto, 8. Ralph Recto, 9. Serge Osmeña, 10. Bongbong Marcos, 11. Lito Lapid, and 12. TG Guingona.

That’s got important—and dismaying—things to say about our political culture.

One is that corruption isn’t all that damning to us. Or else many of those top 12 would be languishing at the bottom of the barrel instead of Neric Acosta. It reinforces my belief that we have a clear concept of nakaw, which is visible theft (snatching, pickpocketing, holdup) and we have a clear concept of going overboard (sugapa, swapang), but we have a fuzzy concept of pillage. Either we do not think of what is being stolen as our money or we grant our public officials leeway to plunder so long as they do not plunder too grossly. That Marcos and Enrile, who are both associated with plundering grossly, are up there must suggest further that we are a truly forgetful race, having already forgotten martial law.

Two is a variation of the saying, “There are no permanent friends, only permanent interests,” which is, “There are no ceaseless loyalties, only ceaseless reinventions.” Again Enrile takes the cake there. He’s the perfect revealer of Philippine political culture, a fellow who has thrived under the most disparate, indeed conflicting, conditions and ideologies, variously under Marcos, Cory, Ramos, Erap and Gloria. I wouldn’t be surprised if he continues to flourish under Aquino, having done him the supreme favor of pulling Villar down.

Three, Enrile’s and Miriam’s high ratings must suggest as well that “walang iwanan” or the kind of loyalty associated with dogs, fraternities and gangs might be overrated as a value. Both were ardent Erap defenders, distinguishing themselves in the impeachment trial for blocking the opening of the second envelope, thereby ushering Edsa 2, and opening the floodgates for the riots in Mendiola by urging the ragged crowd at the Shrine to “sugod, sugod,” thereby dooming “Edsa 3.” Later, in a hugely farcical addition to the farce, Santiago would place a revolver on her desk and defy the authorities to arrest her. As in what, she would have done an Ivler with them if they did?

And then faster than you could say “Brenda,” they were vowing “walang iwanan”—to Gloria.

Four, news of the death of entertainers in national politics is grossly exaggerated. National politics of course is where they’ve thrived, not the local one. Local politics is still ward politics, not popularity politics, as shown by Rudy Fernandez losing to Sonny Belmonte in Quezon City and Manny Pacquiao to Darlene Custodio in South Cotabato, both, if not at the height of their popularity, at least not very far from it.

The notion that entertainers are on the wane comes from their showing in 2007 when Tito Sotto, Richard Gomez, Cesar Montano and several others failed in their bid. And indeed when FPJ, the king of them all, as his title proclaimed, lost to GMA in 2004—or so it seemed (I’ll get to that presently).

In fact, in the case of Sotto, what caused his loss was less being perceived as an entertainer than as having turned his back on FPJ. That was borne out by the surveys. Which must make us add a caveat to walang iwanan as a value or non-value: It matters when the turnaround is immediate, less so when buried by time. Defensor and Enrile have had 10 years to reinvent themselves from being Erap loyalists, Sotto had only three from being an FPJ loyalist.

Gomez and Montano made the leap too fast too soon. Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada have the advantage of having parents who gave political capital to their family names. Quite incidentally Ramon Revilla did not win the first time he ran for senator from the fatal mistake of using his real name instead of his screen name. They have the advantage too, as does Sotto, of continuous exposure throughout the year from the things they do. And Bong Revilla found the most high-profile issue of all, one that, well, pricked the nation’s imagination the way Ernesto Maceda did ages ago with the “Brunei Beauties”: Hayden Kho’s escapades. That’s why Jinggoy is only number 2.

No, the entertainers will be here for quite a while.

Five, FPJ did not lose the elections, he was robbed of the elections. It wasn’t a case of the dawning of a new day, the entertainers were gone, it was a case only of “Da King is dead, long live Da King.” It certainly wasn’t the dawning of a new day on two counts.

At the very least because the seeming disappearance of the entertainers only meant the reappearance of the trapos led by GMA and Jose de Venecia. The latter, still smarting from being crushed by Erap in 1998, would later help GMA avoid paying the price of stealing the elections. He would also later pay the price for that, by being crushed by GMA. Two-zero. De Venecia it was who would lobby hard for a shift to a parliamentary system, which would defang popularity and make the trapo da king once and for all. He would fail miserably.

At the very most because it did not just announce the reappearance of the trapo, it announced the reappearance of the extreme form of the trapo, which was the dictator. The entertainers weren’t beaten through the vote, they were beaten through the theft of the vote, the trapos reasserting themselves by showing that if they could not win by hook, they would win by crook. If they could not win by popularity, they would win by force. If they could not rule by law, they would rule without the law.

Six, when will we ever get out of the rut of having to choose between entertainer and trapo?

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.