The race to 2016 has started and with it the absurd combination of showbiz imagination and political ambition that is just so much fun in the Philippines.
Say, the face of Mrs. Elenita Binay, looking all “new” for all the world to see, a paradoxical reminder of how politicians —and their wives—are like celebrities who age before our eyes. Or you know, who get some stem cell treatment elsewhere so they might walk with straight backs and be as sharp as Senator Enrile at the Corona Impeachment Trial. (Which reminds me . . . is it possible that the Department of Health used their millions in DAP money for stemcell research so that its doctors can service our oldies but goodies wanting to live as long as Enrile? Just asking.)
Say, Mar Roxas’s 2010 photo, directing traffic, all wet from the rains, being re-posted and re-shared on social media. To me an obvious effort at generating interest in a man who has been lagging behind in all 2016 Presidential surveys. But also one that backfires because no matter when it happened, it tends to remind the thinking Filipino of his every foible, and his grand blunders in the Tacloban relief operations.
And then there are Senators like Ralph Recto, who is one to make buhat his own bangko. Or just sell his wife to the public every chance he gets.
Mrs. Ralph Recto
It is, of course, because Mrs. Ralph Recto is in fact actress Vilma Santos, or Ate Vi. She of the long-running TV show “VIP” or “Vilma In Person.” She who danced in a tangga and sang out of tune for a good number of years on nationwide television.
What resonates with me though is the Vilma of recent years, the mother in both “Bata Bata Paano Ka Ginawa” and “Dekada ’70.” But also that mother, Josie, who was an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) coming home in “Anak.” That to me is still the best portrayal of the OFW archetype, of three women (Josie, Mercy played by Cherry Pie Picache, and Lyn played by Amy Austria) coming home after having lived another life elsewhere. It would also be one of Claudine Barreto’s more memorable performances in film, methinks.
I think I tend to like Vilma in these more recent roles because it is here that she actually shows her age. That is, she lets her wrinkles show, and her mestiza looks don’t dictate the character she plays. She’s just everyday, normal Filipina mother Ate Vi.
The high point for me though might be her role as movie extra Loida in “Ekstra,” where she’s not just devoid of movie make-up, but also portrays a body that is aged and tired. It was all kinds of awesome watching her do this role, but also one could not but be floored in that scene where she brims with confidence at being the chosen extra with speaking lines. A confidence that slowly diminishes as the scene is repeated over and over again, and she flubs her lines in the process.
It ends with her defeated, screamed at by the director, and then made to play the extra who is also body double, slapped and punched by the kontrabida.
Ate Vi was everything and brilliant in this film, I thought. I could actually forget she was a politician.
Vilma Santos-Recto, Governor
But politician she is. She is currently governor of Batangas province, and, of course, as with most every provincial politician, what we are treated to is a grand display of achievements. Her major program for the province is called HEARTS—I kid you not.
HEARTS stands for the projects and services that the Provincial Government spends on, with Batangas’s P2.279 billions-peso budget in 2012 for example. HEARTS is Health, Education, Environment, Economy, Employment (yes, four E’s!), Agriculture, Roads, Tourism, and Safety and Security.
Of course, the Batangas Government website provides such glowing write-ups about these projects, but this is not because Ate Vi is artista, but because she is politician—they must live with propaganda, and, well, propagate it.
A foible of Governor Santos-Recto that made the news though, was her desire to put a Batangas sign on Taal Volcano, ala the Hollywood sign. This was the idea of the Governor, which was approved by her city council in 2011. She thought it could even be lit up at night.
When social media went to town dissing the idea, Governor Santos-Recto explained that it was supposed to be a way to inform everybody that the Taal Volcano is, in fact, part of Batangas. The concern was born of the fact that the best vantage point for the volcano and the lake is Tagaytay City in the province of Cavite.
All this blew over of course, and the idea was forgotten, as was the issue. It was a reminder that probably the most uncool thing about Ate Vi is that she is also Governor Santos-Recto. It’s to cross the line between being critical of nation through culture, and being part of the status quo that frowns upon criticism.
It, of course, doesn’t help that Governor Santos-Recto has yet to create a political identity that is separate and distinct from her husband.
Ate Vi’s husband
It does not help that this Senator-husband has been recently getting some media mileage on soundbites about his wife.
First was when he decided to join the fray about the President refusing to give the National Artist Award to Nora Aunor. Senator Recto said that surely Ate Guy deserved it, but that would mean that Ate Vi’s next. He dared say, “Ang alam ko lang I think she’s (Nora Aunor is) eligible for the National Artist Award at ’pag nauna sya e di susunod na rin si Vi.” (PDI, 1 July 2014)
I love that this Senator thinks that the highest award for artistic excellence is a matter of some old and tired rivalry between the Star For All Seasons and the Superstar. One wonders if he knows he’s making a mockery of culture in general.
Ah, but it can only get worse. How about making a mockery of the 2016 elections? Here, some media mileage for Senator Recto via his wife on August 5: “Palagay ko she’s (Vilma has) been able already to do her share in nation building. … There’s no doubt qualified siya. She has her head in the right place, and her heart in the right place.” (DWIZ, PDI)
He then engages in some double-speak, saying that his wife has worked for 50 years, in showbiz from nine years old, and then as Lipa Mayor and Governor of Batangas. He wishes that she would take a rest. But of course that’s after he establishes that she has worked for 50 years! Look at how dedicated and committed she is to her work!
I wish for the icon Ate Vi, and the Governor Santos-Recto, a husband who will stop speaking for her.
I wish for her husband to realize that he is slowly but surely turning into a male version of Kris Aquino.