Burning Effigies.

Borgy Manotoc is one of Swatch’s signature models, and the other day in the Philippine Daily Inquirer there was a full-page photo spread / entertainment column on him. There he was, modeling Olympic-related Swatch designs, posing with boxing gloves or a bow and arrow.

Tim Yap wrote:

Borgy Manotoc is on a roll these days. Back from New York for just the weekend to pass the Swatch torch… Borgy made sure that his three days in Manila would be worth the trip.

As soon as he arrived, he made a pit stop at Nuvo for a quiet drink with friends. The next day, he was at the Swatch counters… Who can say this hot-blooded heir does not know the meaning of hard work?

I am trying very hard to read some sense of irony in the article. Here, “hard work” seems like George Bush’s “hard work” serving his country during the Vietnam War. (Granted, a 19-20 hour plane flight and having to work while jet-lagged out of your mind is tough, but I’m sure Borgy wasn’t flying economy.) But his good looks (and brains, according to reports), and industriousness and perseverance and all the accompanying virtues surely aren’t the main reasons he’s gone so far; he is, after all, Ferdinand Marcos’s grandson and the life of privilege he has led all his 21 years devalues the semantic currency of “hard work.”

I really have nothing personal against Borgy Manotoc; he may, in fact, be the nicest, most self-effacing guy on earth. He may even be embarrassed about his grandfather. Indeed, one can easily use the “sins of the fathers” argument against me: Borgy, after all, was not responsible for Ferdinand’s crimes.

But I am more interested about the fact of his celebrity, or rather, what his celebrityhood may represent. His is a different form of celebrity -– not the regular kind that comes with entertainers, or the kind that attends notoriety -– but it is a form that celebrates his good looks even as his origins are alluded to, then discursively erased. In the warped world of Philippine politics and its happy entanglement with entertainment, the lack of retributive justice – encapsulated here in Borgy’s stardom -– is the appalling failure on the part of the government (in collusion with the media, and the amnesiac fans) to learn from the errors of history. To see the smiling face of Borgy is to see the face of his grandfather laughing.

Sometime a year ago I wrote a rather angry post on the Marcoses, and was met with unsurprisingly negative comments. Most of the responses, however, were oddly ad hominem -– that I was envious of Borgy, that I was a fag, and that I would never, in my lowly state as a blogger, ever be like the Marcoses (shudder!) -– and very few of them bothered to defend the family I was attacking. I think this is because it puts Marcos supporters (on the net, at least) in something of an ethical dilemma; attempting to defend the Marcoses’ record of murder and torture and theft puts you in the same irrational camp as the delusional former First Lady.

This moral clarity -– at least in my mind -– is precisely why the absence of justice is so unfathomable. One of the more-circulated images of the EDSA uprising were crowds of people rushing into Malacanang, kicking and breaking apart a painting of Ferdinand Marcos. This, sadly, is as far as the Filipino people ever got towards any form of catharsis. In 1983 one could only burn effigies, and we are doomed, in 2004, to similarly futile gestures. The fact that Borgy -– or to be more precise, the generations before him -– are still free to blithely live their lives of privilege in the Philippines is an insult. The very fact of Borgy’s stardom is an obscenity.

Some people will argue that the Marcoses are relatively small fry, that there are graver problems that need to be addressed before the country can improve. This is completely true. But I think their going scot-free is also symptomatic of a more overarching, systemic problem -– a deep-seated corruption, perhaps, or maybe the pathology of amnesia -– that may, in the end, hobble the Philippines in other profound ways.

Some people (my mother included) have asked me about forgiveness -– that this would be the Christian thing to do, that this would lead to healing and so on. Quite frankly, I cannot think of anyone so undeserving of forgiveness as Imelda Marcos; as far as I can tell, she has never expressed any regret or, indeed, asked forgiveness -– why give her something she has never requested?

One day, maybe soon, Imelda will finally die. But she will not die penniless; she will not die behind the bars of a jail cell. She will die surrounded by her adoring fans. Her death will be eased by the best painkillers that money can buy. Her money will remain in Swiss bank accounts. She will die smiling, knowing she is to be reunited with her Ferdinand. She will die unpunished. Her children and grandchildren will mourn her, and then move on. And the Marcos dynasty will live forever.


One reply on “Burning Effigies.”

The Wily Filipino on Borgy Manotoc, the Marcoses, and the Pathology of Amnesia

One of the best blog entries I’ve read in a while, on an interesting topic: Borgy Manotoc. His is a different form of celebrity -– not the regular kind that comes with entertainers, or the kind that attends notoriety -–…

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