The Washington Post

Pop­u­lar Philip­pine TV show is a breed­ing ground for politi­cians

3 cast mem­bers on the en­dur­ing soap opera won of­fice in May

- BY REGINE CABATO regine.cabato@wash­post.com Crime · Movies · Politics · Philippines · Rodrigo Duterte · Makati City · Makati · Manila · University of the Philippines · University of the Philippines · United States of America · Arnold Schwarzenegger · Donald Trump · Ukraine · Joseph Estrada · Manny Pacquiáo · United States Senate · Fernando Poe, Jr. · Philippine National Police · United States Department of the Interior · Lito Lapid · Jhong Hilario · Ronald Reagan · Fred Dalton Thompson · Bong Revilla · Jolo, WV · Susan Roces · Jaime Fabregas

Dozens of inmates are cramped in a precinct cell. The of­fi­cers on duty are drink­ing, gam­bling and snooz­ing. Spe­cial forces burst through the door, ready to whip th­ese sleaze­balls into shape.

“The pres­i­dent told us to take down any­one who stands in our way,” the head of the spe­cial forces unit tells a cop jolted out of a nap. Then he punches the sleepy of­fi­cer in the face.

It’s just an­other day on “Ang Probin­syano,” or “The Pro­vin­cial Man,” one of the Philip­pines’ most pop­u­lar and en­dur­ing soap op­eras — air­ing ev­ery week­day since Septem­ber 2015.

But the se­ries doesn’t just boast star power. It also yields un­likely po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence in a na­tion where movie stars of­ten find a se­cond ca­reer in elected of­fices.

And noth­ing in Philip­pine pop cul­ture cap­tures the blurred lines be­tween en­ter­tain­ment and pol­i­tics quite like “Ang Probin­syano.”

At least seven cast mem­bers ran in May’s midterm elec­tions, which helped ce­ment Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte’s grip on power.

Three won seats, in­clud­ing ac­tor-turned-sen­a­tor Lito Lapid, who par­tially cred­its his win to the se­ries. His char­ac­ter was “mur­dered” in Fe­bru­ary. The char­ac­ter who did the deed is played by ac­tor Jhong Hi­lario, who also won a seat as a city coun­cilor in Makati City, south of Manila.

Rolando To­lentino of the Univer­sity of the Philip­pines Film In­sti­tute said the show stands out in a se­lec­tion of prime-time soaps about romance and ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fairs. The ac­tion genre has a “clear good and evil,” he said, and good usu­ally tri­umphs.

“They be­lieve in this mes­siah, ei­ther in pol­i­tics or tele­vi­sion,” said To­lentino, adding that en­ter­tain­ment is a distractio­n from the hard­ships of poverty. “Masses in ‘Ang Probin­syano’ and in real life look for sav­iors to up­lift their con­di­tion.”

The Philip­pines is hardly the only coun­try in which act­ing can be a path­way to pol­i­tics. The U.S. list is long: Ron­ald Rea­gan, Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger, Clint East­wood, former sen­a­tor Fred Thomp­son and oth­ers. Of course, there was Pres­i­dent Trump on “The Ap­pren­tice” and his sev­eral movie cameos.

Some coun­tries are test­ing the thes­pian wa­ters. In Ukraine, new Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­sky played the role of the coun­try’s pres­i­dent on a TV show.

But few vot­ers seem to em­brace its ac­tors the way the Philip­pines does.

Ac­tion star Joseph Estrada was pres­i­dent from 1998 to 2001. Boxer Manny Pac­quiao — who has one su­per­hero film un­der his belt — is a sen­a­tor. An­other ac­tor, Bong Revilla, clinched a Se­nate seat de­spite a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar cor­rup­tion scan­dal. His son Jolo Revilla, an “Ang Probin­syano” star, was elected vice gover­nor in a province south of Manila.

The late star of the orig­i­nal “Ang Probin­syano” film in 1997, Fer­nando Poe Jr., al­most be­came pres­i­dent in 2004. His wife, Su­san Ro­ces, now plays the grand­mother of the show’s main char­ac­ter, tough guy cop Cardo Dal­isay.

Ro­ces’s daugh­ter, Grace, was a third “Ang Probin­syano” win­ner in the midterms. She had the se­cond-big­gest vote tally in the se­nate race and won a seat.

While some ac­tion shows de­pict ma­cho vi­o­lence or raunchy scenes, “Ang Probin­syano” is fam­ily-friendly — in part be­cause of tele­vi­sion re­stric­tions for the prime-time au­di­ence. The char­ac­ter Cardo is nasty around crim­i­nals, but he main­tains a steady love in­ter­est, adores kids and is de­voted to his fam­ily.

To­lentino says this brand of “morally upright” ac­tion is pack­aged as Poe’s legacy.

“It’s a nar­ra­tive that a lot of peo­ple be­lieve in. It be­comes a com­mod­ity,” he said. “It trans­lates to con­sump­tion. In this case, po­lit­i­cal con­sump­tion.”

Last year, the Philip­pine Na­tional Po­lice took of­fense at a plot­line about abu­sive cops.

The In­te­rior Depart­ment said it “de­mor­al­ized” po­lice of­fi­cers and threat­ened le­gal ac­tion — de­spite the tough-talk­ing Duterte, who has ad­mit­ted to killing sus­pected drug traf­fick­ers and had threat­ened to dump drug lords in Manila Bay.

“I thought it was a bit para­noid of them to do that,” said Jaime Fabre­gas, who plays Cardo’s su­pe­rior, Delfin Borja, on the show. “They got a lot of back­lash from the au­di­ence in a way they had to back out . . . . [It] was like, ‘Why are you so af­fected by it? Is it true?’ ”

Fabre­gas, a critic of Duterte, said he pushed for a scene where his char­ac­ter re­flects on a shootout with other po­lice of­fi­cers.

“I was re­ally both­ered by that,” he said. “Even if it was in self-de­fense . . . why are we in this si­t­u­a­tion where po­lice have to shoot po­lice? How do we bring it back [to a point] where we don’t have to do this?”

“Ang Probin­syano” walks a tightrope be­tween be­ing sub­ver­sive and sub­servient. The show blasts erring cops and, on one oc­ca­sion, ref­er­enced 17-year-old Kian de­los San­tos, a stu­dent killed by po­lice as part of the drug war who be­came a sym­bol for in­no­cent vic­tims.

But it also has to work closely with po­lice for per­mis­sion to film in their head­quar­ters and use their uni­forms.

Duterte has threat­ened the chan­nel car­ry­ing the show, ABSCBN, with the non­re­newal of its fran­chise amid his at­tacks on the me­dia.

“I feel like we’re headed for scary times in this coun­try right now,” said Fabre­gas, who en­dorsed the op­po­si­tion. “It’s bet­ter [to say] some­thing in­stead of keep­ing quiet.”

“Hope­fully, we can ed­u­cate also with the show,” he added. “But I don’t know. I’m just one ac­tor there.”

 ?? ABS-CBN ?? Coco Martin is the star of the soap opera “Ang Probin­syano,” which has aired ev­ery week­day in the Philip­pines since Septem­ber 2015.
ABS-CBN Coco Martin is the star of the soap opera “Ang Probin­syano,” which has aired ev­ery week­day in the Philip­pines since Septem­ber 2015.

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