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.



Eating, Shopping and Laughing. Oh, and Massages.

I was mindlessly flipping channels on TV one afternoon — my folks have the coolest cable service, with the Cartoon Network (“Courage, the Cowardly Dog” and “Samurai Jack” are great), the Discovery Channel, and stations from France, Italy, Spain, Hongkong, mainland China, and best of all: India, with ’70s Bollywood films showing in the afternoon — and I was totally taken aback when I chanced upon a talk show called “Straight Talk.”

There, I was treated to the disgusting spectacle of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos’s daughter, Imee Marcos-Manotoc, “interviewing” her own son, Borgy Marcos-Manotoc. All throughout adoring viewers would text them inane questions and comments via cell phone (which Imee would dutifully read), like:

– You two look so cute together!
– Borgy, you’re so intelligent.* You’re as smart as your grandfather!
– Are you going to run for senator?
– What’s your favorite song?
– I hope you go into politics like your grandfather some day.
– Borgy, what is your favorite dish?
– Are you two close?
– More power to you!
– Borgy, will you be hosting your own talk show?
– Borgy, you’re so handsome!

Jesus Christ! Why are these fucking criminals in the country in the first place? They should have been mobbed and sent back, to put it mildly, the minute they stepped onto the tarmac of Ninoy Aquino International Airport! The fact that these people are elected governors (Bongbong is governor of Ilocos Norte) and congresswomen (both Imee and Imelda are/were reps of Ilocos Norte and Leyte, respectively) is abhorrent enough — but at least it’s comprehensible, for political and monetary favors can be dispensed. But to make them celebrities — objects of adulation for whose fans the only reward is to bask in their dubious (vain)glories — simply boggles the mind.

Some of you might argue that Borgy** had nothing to do with the depredations of his grandparents. As Agent Scully once said, “Sure. Fine. Whatever.” As far as I’m concerned, the $27,000 in yearly tuition fees he pays to the University of San Diego*** is blood money, both literally and figuratively: money pillaged from the coffers of the nation, blood exacted from the disappeared and from victims of torture.****

Let’s take his mom*****, for instance: What about the $4.5 million she owes to Archimedes Trajano‘s family — the kid her bodyguards tortured for at least 36 hours before he died? And Borgy himself — how does the victim of a “bar brawl” with him end up being treated for cigarette burns on his back?

I’ll end my rant with a snippet of dialogue from the show (some words are paraphrased, but most of the quotes are verbatim):

Imee: A question for Borgy. What did you learn na wholesome family values?
Borgy: Did I learn any wholesome family values?
[Imee laughs.]
Borgy: Laughing.
Imee: Tawanan. Iyon ang family bond natin, eh, puro tawanan.
Borgy: Eating, shopping and laughing.
Imee: That’s right.
Borgy: Oh, and massages.
Imee: Oh yeah. We love massages.

Why are they still free to be on talk shows?
Why are they still free to be governors and congresswomen?
Why are they still free to cavort on beaches?
Why are they still free to get massages and eat and shop?
And why are they still laughing?

*My mom tells me that Borgy was on the Philippine edition of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” and almost won a million pesos for charity. “So people started saying,” she recalled, “that he is as smart as his grandfather.” I guess that’s what passes for intelligence these days. I’ve never known why people still call the deposed dictator “intelligent.” Why dignify a thief and killer?
**Okay, he’s cute, he apparently reads Kierkegaard, and he had the good taste to go out with MTV VJ Sarah Meier. Meier, on the other hand, had the bad taste to associate with him.
***Probably couldn’t get into UCSD.
****Folks have commented on my Imelda Marcos page — see links on the right — and said that it was funny, but it does not solve anything. They’re quite right. But for me personally, it’s better to make a laughingstock of Imelda — to laugh helplessly — than to wring my hands in despair at the sheer helplessness of it all.
*****Dang, girl! With all the money your parents stole, you’d think you’d be able to get a nose and chin job that didn’t look so cheap-ass.******
******Okay, I’m being mean and insulting and petty. I honestly don’t care. Could I be sued for libel if I called him Prince Ferdinand the Turd — I mean, Third?