Mindanao Times

A Little Show Of Horrors: As diversion or defiance, the Philippine teleserye is suddenly displaying acts of resistance


A YEAR ago, Oscar Albayalde, who was still getting the hang of his appointmen­t as the new chief of the Philippine National Police, the enforcer of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, declared how unhappy he was with an action-drama series on nationwide television. In a press briefing in November 14, 2018, he said that FPJ’s Ang Probinsyan­o (The Hillbilly) “gives us a bad impression.” He complained that the show, which depicted corruption in high places, was “unfair” and “very disturbing” as it besmirched the image of the police. The bespectacl­ed police chief especially noted how the teleserye portrayed the PNP chief as a villain.

The TV series, as it happens, is a work of fiction. In real life, Albayalde, scheduled to leave the service in November 8 this year, went on early retirement in mid-October due to allegation­s about his connection to so-called “ninja” cops who aid, instead of apprehend, drug lords, aside from running off with the loot.

The television show still airs, carried by the Manilabase­d TV network ABS-CBN, and is not the only teleserye that has dared to display acts of resistance.

This year, another TV series on the same network was bolder in its caricature of Philippine politics. In The General’s Daughter, which has already wrapped up its run, politics, drugs, and social media troll farms were interwoven into a suspense thriller that triumphed in the ratings war against rival network GMA. The main character went by the surname Bonifacio; she was the long-lost daughter of an Army general named Marcial.

It’s a name game: Marcial Bonifacio was the name declared in the passport used by the late Filipino opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. on his flight back to Manila from his exile in Boston in the United States during the martial law regime of former President Ferdinand Marcos. Aquino famously opposed Marcos rule and was assassinat­ed upon his arrival at the Manila Internatio­nal Airport in 1983. This kick started a series of events that led to Marcos’s downfall and the rise of Aquino’s wife, Corazon, into the Philippine presidency.

Duterte, who happens to have replaced Corazon’s son, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, in the country’s top elected post, in 2016, has not only welcomed the Marcos family back into political prominence but has also imposed martial law in the Southern Philippine­s, although for reasons not related to the Marcoses.

Among the most conspicuou­s features of martial law is the curfew, which curtails the movement of citizens, especially at night. In the past few weeks, another ABSCBN teleserye has turned the spotlight on the curfew. The Killer Bride, a horror-drama series which began in August this year as a ghost story and gained traction with its multilayer­ed narratives of love and revenge, featuring popular actors, has, without warning, suddenly gone all-out as a political fable. It brings its fright-fest to the terrifying arena of politics as it illustrate­s how a community is besieged by a killing spree orchestrat­ed by its top political leader.

In its episodes just before Halloween, a mayor in some out-of-the-way province where banana plantation­s abound—some televiewer­s wonder if this is a sly reference to Davao City, the address of power in the Duterte presidency -- orders his henchmen to slaughter those on his kill list. They are to do this at night by pretending to be the people’s worst nightmare, the spectral “killer bride” whose mythical blood lust can be blamed for the carnage.

The mayor institutio­nalizes this climate of fear by imposing a curfew at night. “We know what is good for the people,” he tells the media. “Trust me.”

Emboldened by the mayor’s directives, the police

and a ragtag band of “volunteers” rough up the townspeopl­e during the curfew hours, sowing more fear and discord aside from the killing spree.

Those who oppose the mayor’s moves decry what they call his “iron rule.”

Among his opponents is the show’s main character, Emma, a makeup artist in a funeral parlor, who does makeovers on corpses before they are laid out for the wake. Her work place gets good business with all the killings in town. As the camera follows Emma around the mortuary, televiewer­s espy one cadaver after another. It’s as if the TV show haunts and taunts: This is the new normal—how we navigate around the brutal fact of death all around us.

At a time when truth-telling in the Philippine media has become a tight-rope act, a shrewd tactic has apparently emerged: fictional storytelli­ng on television that maneuvers its way into the currents of public discourse.

By unfolding the reign of terror in its imaginary world as part-ghost story, tapping into Philippine mythology where the supernatur­al can be a compelling expression of the otherwise helpless citizens’ need to claim power for themselves in any way they can to subvert the status quo, The Killer Bride manages to tickle its community of viewers into the hearty guffaw of an insider’s joke. TO BE CONTINUED

(After graduating from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in New York in 2018, Mozart Pastrano of Cagayan de Oro City, was named journalist fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford. Pastrano wrote for The Manila Chronicle, BusinessWo­rld, Philippine Daily Inquirer and the Philippine Center for Investigat­ive Journalism, among others).

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