ISABELLE Duterte’s so-called “pre-debut” fashion shoot at Malacañan Palace was crass, vulgar, tasteless, and calculating. She was packaged as a glamorous debutante, hungry not for a husband, but for celebrity status and stardom. Ordinarily, I would have loved it.
The shoot seemed to subvert the social ritual that formally marks an aristocratic young woman’s entrance into high society. It’s a ritual that needs to be consigned to the rubbish heap of hoary, patriarchal traditions of a bygone age.
It seemed to lampoon those achingly elegant Philippine Tatler pictorials of lovely young women from massively wealthy families, who get to go to the oh so terribly exclusive Le Bal des Débutantes, annually held in France. You know, the one attended by women who bear such magical names as Paloma, Monica, and Natalia Zobel, Emily Madrigal, Dominique Cojuangco, who were photographed wearing luscious haute couture Chanel, Valentino, and Vivienne Westwood ball dresses, and posed in an opulent French chateau or some swank Parisian hotel. Nobody derided them for their extraordinarily lavish spending.
Isabelle’s “coming-out” could have been a mocking send-up of all that fuss, pretense, ridiculous extravagance, and the perpetuation of an entitled elite. But it was not. There was not a tincture of satire. Not a smidgen of irony. Not a whiff of sarcasm. Not one bit of nudge-nudge, wink-wink knowingness. Not the slightest dash of caricature.
Unlike Tatler’s high society women, whose career trajectories take on board a spell at ivy league schools, stints in modeling, fashion and interior design, some philanthropy, some business management, some broad interest in the arts, and spectacularly long and successful periods of breastfeeding their children, Isabelle harbors far loftier ambitions. She is aiming for showbiz glory.
Who can blame her? She’s just a kid. She says she’s 17, but she could actually be only 15, if any credence is given to the date of birth given by Google, which states January 26, 2002. We don’t yet know whether Isabelle is any good at acting, singing, or dancing. Talent and hard graft hardly matter anyway. So far, if the many Instagram pictures of herself in Chanel ballerina pumps, Gucci sneakers, and Celine dresses, are anything to go by, her vocation seems to lie in wearing hundreds of thousands of pesos, or over $11,000, worth of designer clothing and shoes.
How she is able to afford this is the question. Isabelle is the daughter of Paolo Duterte and his first wife, a Muslim woman named Lovelie Sangkola Sumera. The latter, a Muslim, is said to be a trader in used clothes and jars. It’s whispered that she was involved in smuggling activities, at least while she was married to her former husband.
As the vice mayor of Davao City, a job he has held since 2013, Paolo draws a salary of just under P900,000 a year. He is, however, suspected of engaging in big-time smuggling – everything from luxury cars to rice, oil, used clothing, and drugs, in particular, shabu. He is known to wear a hefty timepiece on his wrist, a gold Audemars Piguet watch valued at P1.9 million. There have been calls for him to reveal the contents of his bank accounts and a check on his net worth, which he has so far refused. Nobody can tell Paolo what to do. Like his father, President Rodrigo Duterte, Paolo gets away with murder. You can read that last phrase figuratively, if you wish.
For her fashion spread, Isabelle wore several ball gowns and a dress by Filipino designers. A team of make-up artists and hairstylists, under the direction of celebrity stylist Jeff Galang, was hired, as well as the photographer Lito Sy. Miguel Syjuco, the internationally acclaimed novelist, thought it might be fun to find out their price tags. “Conservatively,” Syjuco estimated, “the bill for services may be in the ball-park of P175,000.”A couple of the dresses, he discovered, were modestly priced, and may have cost between P25,000 to P200,000. The red ball gown, Syjuco states, was “a little different.” Designed by Garimon Roferos, whose atelier is in Dubai, Isabelle’s blood-red ball gown was encrusted with Swarovski crystals and looked as heavy and unyielding as a suit of medieval armor. One can hardly move, let alone dance, in such a dress. In fact, it’s probably not a dress at all but a building, a formidable castle where doves nestle in the tallest turrets. If Isabelle owns the gown, she would have paid upwards of about P600,000, excluding the cost of flying to Dubai and hotel accommodation for two fittings. The total cost comes in at roughly between P800,000 to P1.1million. Just where that awful amount of money came from is not something Isabelle will worry her pretty little head over.
She’s hired the hotshot talent agent Annabelle Rama, who has a bunch of lackey stylists and photographers on speed dial. Since Isabelle is a Duterte, getting permission to romp about Malacañang, and to strike nonchalant poses in front of the presidential seal, would have been a piece of cake. The fact is, a lot of people thought this was a good idea and made it happen.
Poor Isabelle. Nobody seems to have told her how deeply unfashionable and distasteful it is to flaunt one’s privilege, to be utterly callous and indifferent to inequality and injustice, and to behave with so much effrontery. She seems to be totally oblivious to what other girls of her age are worried about. News of how so many young women found a voice and spoke out against sexual harassment, spoke truth to power, seemed to have passed her by. Girls like 14-year old Shibby de Guzman who was named by Time magazine as one of the 30 most influential teens of 2017. Shibby took to the streets wearing a cardboard sign around her neck in imitation of the ones disrespectfully placed on bodies of drug war victims. Shibby’s sign read: “We are all possible drug pushers.”
Isabelle’s photo shoot tells us a lot about the extent of her horizon. She wants to be a big star. So, she was pictured absolutely and sincerely reveling in profligacy and power. Pose. Shoot. Post on social media. It’s a wrap.