Often, Pinoy pop culture reminds us of the lengths one must go to remain in the news, if only so one’s celebrity might prosper regardless of one’s talent. The Barrettos reminds us—matriarch and patriarch, and children all—that airing one’s dirty laundry in public still holds a prime spot in the list of things to do to get into the evening news. But they’re doing Kris Aquino one over, as they are revealing the lowest they will go, the deepest into their family history they will dig.
But what’s peculiar about all this is the fact that it doesn’t seem to be simply a matter of keeping one, two, three Barretto sisters in the limelight. In fact it isn’t clear who stands to gain from all this.
Because too, the eldest celebrity sister that is Gretchen has got enough notoriety to last her a lifetime, her ways the stuff of urban legend. Hers is a life lived in front of the camera, and in truth the evolution is one that went from teenybopper to sexy movie star, to socialite. The latter is something that she lives up at this point, speaking from a social class not originally hers, but which she “married into.”
Finding a relationship with married man Tony Boy Cojuangco and bearing his child, Gretchen is not quite Cojuangco but speaks as if she is, living the life of the elite even as she is not from it. Yet, this is also what she earns from, doing a showbiz comeback via TV advertisements and magazine covers, with stories about her wealthy lifestyle and consumption of luxury goods.
Gretchen did a soap opera in recent years, one that became a hit, but also because half the time it seemed like she was playing herself. She is snooty because of what she owns, but panders to the masa in her articulations. Such is the public’s fascination with Gretchen, one that’s really quite akin to the (thankfully now waning) interest in Kris.
This narrative of transformation for Gretchen is one that’s also about erasure: her past as a sexy film star is rarely part of the feature stories on her. The woman who might have single-handedly begun the sex trip or ST film industry, doesn’t seem to think it’s worth talking about.
A measure of this refusal would be the fact that when this Barretto family feud began in April this year, Gretchen was hit with this fact by her own mother, Inday. Defending her youngest daughter Claudine, the matriarch of the Barretto family accused Gretchen of lying about Claudine’s messing with the fledgling career of second-generation showbiz Barretto that is Julia, the daughter of another Barretto sister Marjorie. Inday asserted that Claudine was in fact the Teleserye Queen of ABS-CBN during her heyday and could in fact claim that; just like Gretchen was ST Queen once upon a time.
That this is a sensitive topic for Gretchen’s socialite self is proven by her refusal to even acknowledge it. Her brother Jay-Jay defended her instead, saying that Gretchen’s showbiz career was what helped the family through difficult times, something that one other sibling, and the parents of course, deny. This was in April.
Six months since, we have seen the worst of it. The marriage of Claudine to Raymart Santiago falls apart, and it expectedly has to happen in public, with stories of wiretapping and hidden cameras, drug use and drug tests, photos of bruised bodies and narratives of abuse. Raymart, coming from another showbiz family, had his share of defenders, as he does have the support of three of Claudine’s siblings, confirming her drug problem.
Claudine meanwhile has been playing the oppressed card to the hilt, from being bullied by her siblings Gretchen and Marjorie—something that the Barretto patriarch Mike has publicly called out—to having been abused wife. This is not to question what Claudine had gone through within her marriage. It is to problematize how this public dirt-throwing, this kind that is premised on very real hurts and even more real crises, actually bodes ill for the task of empowering women in situations of aggression.
Because that is at the heart of Claudine’s narrative. She asserts having been abused within her marriage, physically but even more so emotionally. It is the story of many-a-married-women in this country, but it is one that’s rarely talked about. That it is embroiled in all these familial issues is an injustice to the very real idea of abuse within marriage and of women’s emotional battery.
Certainly Claudine has also spoken about her ex-husband too often, as she has had her parents engage with Gretchen and Marjorie publicly to defend her. But at least Claudine is working with only the concrete accusations against her by her ex-husband and her sisters. She is not working with some anonymous instagram account.
Because that is the basis of Gretchen’s vitriol, in April and in the present, both. She is responding to an anonymous instagram user and presuming that it was Claudine in April, and her mother in October. But as with many things on the Internet, the question is: how does one prove that an anonymous account is owned by one person at all?
It is impossible. And this is why this has to be dismissed as a case of hogging-the-limelight, based as it is on something that cannot be proven. It is also why it’s astounding how this has gone on for far too long, with Gretchen throwing every issue she’s had with her parents into the fray, the parents refusing to take the high road, while Claudine is in the throes of crises in her married and family life, not to mention in her relationships with her siblings.
If the Barrettos are any indication, then sisterhood is dead. Even more so family. Let’s mourn these losses and get over it. Happy Halloween.