I SPENT some of my best years growing up in a place called Calinan. It was not exactly a barrio but a city district of Davao. Before the Davao-Bukidnon road was constructed in the 1970s, opening up Northern Mindanao, Calinan was literally the end of the road. It was a small sleepy logging town then and a farming community where rice, corn, coffee and various fruits – and the famous durian—were cultivated. I was not born in Calinan but I grew up there. It was a melting pot of migrants from other provinces in Luzon and the Visayas. Tagalog, Ilocano, Ilonggo, Kapampangan, Leyteño languages and dialects were spoken. The Cebuano and Tagalog vernaculars were largely dominant.

I retain and cherish the remembrance of the quintessential image of a village regularly depicted in bucolic paintings of the Philippine Masters – rolling hills, fat farm animals, swaying golden rice stalks and virgin maidens clad in patadyong frolicking by a singing brook. This vista has long ceased to exist.

This was an era (1950s-1960s) where the town’s solitary juke box at Pacing’s Carinderia epitomized the apex of technological breakthrough. The chap who can afford to incessantly plunk in 10 centavos per 45 rpm record of Frank Sinatra or Elvis songs could be deemed a promising member of the cultural literati. TV sets were unheard of and the lone movie house, Aragon’s Cinema, attracted a diverse audience of bagobos and the indigenous tribes of nearby hills, tree cutters and logging equipment operators, assorted farmers and the hoi polloi. They all paid 20 centavos each for general patronage. For 30 centavos, you get seated at the balcony and 40 centavos in the loge section, favored by lovers, where cockroaches, rats and assorted crawling creatures were not as obtrusive as those in the orchestra. Non-poisonous snakes, of the constrictor variety, usually kept the rat population low at the balcony.

At least once a year, during the two-day fiesta celebration, in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, our lone cinema would host a bodabil, where actors and actresses coming from faraway Manila came to town for a personal appearance. They stayed and performed for the eve and the night of the fiesta, the first Friday in August.

Never on the lips
This type of entertainment featured a mixture of specialty acts, magician shows and new dance steps from the city, but the culmination of the bodabil was the burlesk show with scantily dressed women prancing around onstage teasing the men in a slow striptease. And the audience participation, especially the male audience, was fantastically loud and lecherous “…hubad! hubad! (Take it off! Take it off!). The girls, master of timing, would indeed take them off at the exact moment when the stage lights went off, and just the silhouette of the naked ladies are seen running to stage left.

The curtain opens for the next acts and the screen idols perform scenes of popular movies, most especially love stories depicted by onscreen lovers in the flesh. In the mixed variety show, the cinema reverberates with swoons of the teenyboppers when their current male idol requests for volunteers to the stage. And the house falls down when he either sings and flirts and does monologues pregnant with inuendo to the lucky girl volunteer; culminating in the idol asking the audience for permission to kiss the lucky lass. The mob lustily eggs them on and the cinema goes wild when a kiss is proffered. But never, never on the lips!

Thus, the famous presidential kiss bestowed on a certain married Filipina OFW in Korea this week was in stark contrast to the cultural phenom of the Filipino audience and a study of the comportment of a powerful man. We have the macho idol, the eager lady from the audience and the egging on of the licentious rabble. It was a vulgar, garish display of presidential machismo of which DU30 has become a master. He understands the psychology of the crowd and knows how to manipulate it and squeeze the last ounce of indiscretion. This was “in-your-face braggadocio!”

We from Davao and the Bisaya call this disconcerting spectacle “Kahilas oy!” There is no appropriate translation but the gist is that “it is cringe-inducing” behavior. Malacañang’s defense that this was part of “Bisaya culture and Bisaya humor” is not only demeaning to us but downright stupid.

The Deegong from the very start of his candidacy was always transparent. He bares his soul to the public; one who utters p****g i** to whoever strikes his bad side and utters vulgar phrases like “…pusila sa bisong.” Our President never minces words and tell it like it is, except that like a tape recording, it goes on and on; rewind and play, rewind and play. And we all just cringe at these antics as some members of cabinet were seen to do during that infamous Korean kissing incident. The highbrow in the audience and in social media, where “the kiss” became viral, found this to be ‘nakakahiya’ ‘nakakasuka’ but none among his close coterie really had the balls to confront him directly. And the general attitude is simply to let it go, until the next loutish antic.

Still their SOB
His avid supporters, the DDS and the fist pumpers who have always allowed him a very wide latitude, look on it as “joke lang” and somewhat endearing. But some social media postings in defense of DU30 showing a photo of Ninoy Aquino being kissed by a female passenger before he disembarked to a heroic death, juxtaposed with that of the Korean kissing incident, was simply in bad taste, crossing the line of decency. This government bureaucrat’s posting was not even in the right context and was nothing more than a grand “sipsip” showing a puppy dog’s loyalty to the President.

Having said all that, let me offer my 10 cents. Many of us who come from Davao and have been subjected to such exhibitions by our mayor through the years, have always tolerated such improper display. We may have become callused but generally, we Davaoeños are not like him. The Deegong is one of a kind. Many of us will not act inappropriately whether in public or private. On the other hand, warts and all, DU30 is loved by the masses, and by many of the middle class and even some of Davao’s elite. This uncouth leader’s stint as our mayor has caused the resolution of major social and economic problems brought about by criminality, illegal drugs and a communist insurgency. He eliminated in his two decades of governance the climate of fear and instilled a glimmer of hope. For us Davaoenos, these are more important considerations, with long-lasting effects, and trump the crudeness and the indelicacy of the man.

Today, the greater majority of people in the country, though they flinch in embarrassment, still gives him their full support – a full 80 percent.

If I might use the presidential lingo: “True, he is a sonnnofabitch, but he is OUR sonnofabitch!”
The Senate President crowed yesterday that the party he nominally coheads, PDP-Laban, has a “pleasant problem” — too many potential senatorial candidates. Koko Pimentel’s estimate is they have up to 20 possible choices for the 12-person slate for the 2019 senatorial race. But his list includes the five administration-affiliated senatorial incumbents up for reelection next year. This is a group that has made noises that, much as it prefers to remain in the administration camp, it is unhappy with the way PDP-Laban has been designating its local leaders and candidates, and therefore prefers to strike out on its own, perhaps in alliance with the other administration (regional) party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago, headed by the President’s daughter and current Davao City mayor, Sara Duterte.

Setting aside, then, the five-person “Force,” the administration-oriented but not PDP-friendly reelectionists (Nancy Binay, Sonny Angara, Cynthia Villar, Grace Poe, and JV Ejercito), what Koko’s crowing over is a mixed bag. Some of them have been floated by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez (with whom Mayor Duterte clashed in recent months): six representatives (Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who is in her last term in the House of Representatives; Albee Benitez, Karlo Nograles, Rey Umali, Geraldine Roman, and Zajid Mangudadatu), three Cabinet members (Bong Go, Harry Roque, and Francis Tolentino), and two other officials (Mocha Uson and Ronald dela Rosa), which still only adds up to 11 possible candidates (who are the missing three?).

Of all of these, the “Force” reelectionists are only fair-weather allies of the present dispensation; their setting themselves apart is about much more than the mess PDP-Laban made in, say, San Juan where support for the Zamoras makes it extremely unattractive for JV Ejercito to consider being in the same slate. Their cohesion is about thinking ahead: Creating the nucleus for the main coalition to beat in the 2022 presidential election. The contingent of congressmen and congresswomen who could become candidates for the Senate, however, seems more a means to kick the Speaker’s rivals upstairs (at least in the case of Benitez and Arroyo) and pad the candidates’ list with token but sacrificial candidates, a similar situation to the executive officials being mentioned as possible candidates (of the executive officials, only Go seems viable, but making him run would deprive the President of the man who actually runs the executive department, and would be a clear signal that the administration is shifting to a post-term protection attitude instead of the more ambitious system-change mode it’s been on, so far).

Vice President Leni Robredo has been more circumspect, saying she’s not sure the Liberal Party can even muster a full slate. The party chair, Kiko Pangilinan, denied that a list circulating online (incumbent Bam Aquino, former senators Mar Roxas, Jun Magsaysay, TG Guingona, current and former representatives Jose Christopher Belmonte, Kaka Bag-ao, Edcel Lagman, Raul Daza, Gary Alejano and Erin Tañada, former governor Eddie Panlilio and Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña) had any basis in fact.

What both lists have in common is they could be surveys-on-the-cheap, trial balloons to get the public pulse. Until the 17th Congress reconvenes briefly from May 14 to June 1 for the tail end of its second regular session (only to adjourn sine die until the third regular session begins on July 23), it has nothing much to do. Except, that is, for the barangay elections in May, after a last-ditch effort by the House to postpone them yet again to October failed.

Names can be floated but the real signal will come in July, when the President mounts the rostrum and calls for the big push for a new constitution—or not. Connected to this would be whether the Supreme Court disposes of its own chief, which would spare the Senate—and thus, free up the legislative calendar—to consider Charter change instead of an impeachment trial. In the meantime, what congressmen do seem abuzz over is an unrefusable invitation to the Palace tomorrow — to mark Arroyo’s birthday. An event possibly pregnant with meaning.
In politics there’s no such thing as being too big to fail. Ruling coalitions become ruling parties, at which point being bloated often results in a party split, as factions lose out in the jockeying and sense an opportunity to strike out — and strike back — by forming rival coalitions to contest the next election. In regional terms, the Visayas (Cebu in particular, with Pusyon Bisaya) and Mindanao (with the Mindanao Alliance) have their own tradition of regional parties standing up to Marcos’ KBL: even PDP-Laban traces its origins to that era. Regional barons don’t take well to being bossed around, and if a boss gets too big for his britches, a revolt is inevitable. This is why everyone seems to be expecting Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to fall, the beneficiary of his toppling being Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, but the cause being widely attributed to Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio’s sharp-tongued confrontation with him.

The clash between the mayor of Davao and the representative from the first district of Davao del Norte has been framed as a battle royale between the Speaker’s machinery and everyone else, under the umbrella of the President’s daughter. The Speaker’s take-no-prisoners approach most famously took on the President’s former patron, Antonio Floirendo Jr., with the President weighing in on the Speaker’s side after Floirendo supposedly was too uppity in response to the President’s efforts to smooth things over. But if it was necessary to teach Floirendo a lesson, it seems the time has come to teach Alvarez one, too, not least because a Floirendo-led effort to defeat the Speaker in 2019 is widely expected to succeed. But it is bigger than that as the presence of Sen. JV Ejercito at the launching of Duterte-Carpio’s regional party demonstrated. The Estrada home turf of San Juan has been rocked by a confrontation between the Zamoras and Mayor Guia Gomez, yet PDP-Laban took in the Zamoras despite JV Ejercito’s support for the President. What sort of treatment is that? And so, for every ally denied the blessings of the ruling party, there now glitters the opportunity to be associated with Hugpong ng Pagbabago.

In the meantime, aside from publicly being humiliated by Duterte-Carpio, the Speaker came under attack within his own party from members unhappy with his recruitment methods and for supposedly giving the cold shoulder to party veterans. Creating the impression of a civil war within a party is a tried-and-tested method for taking down party bigwigs a peg or two, and what matters most here is the hands-off announcement from the Palace when it comes to party matters. Those with sensitive political antennae will take it as the absence of a ringing endorsement for the Speaker, at a time when he has been accused by no less than the President’s fiercely outspoken daughter for being disloyal and disruptive.

PDP-Laban and Hugpong ng Pagbabago trying to outdo each other in being more “Dutertista” than the other only increases the chances of keeping the overall ruling coalition intact, and tying all factions to the Palace’s apron strings. It’s also a pointed reminder to the Speaker, even if he survives, not to be too piggish in the company of piglets. It does not do well for a runt to act too convinced that he’s an undefeatable wild boar. While he leads a big chunk of last-term congressmen, he has been too pushy with his no-election-in-2019 agenda, leaving no room for those looking forward to replacing last-termers, and bruising the feelings of so many players — and the public, too, which otherwise might give the President’s Charter change scheme the benefit of the doubt if only it weren’t so obviously stacking the odds in favor of people like Alvarez. Now the Speaker’s scheme is running out of steam, just when the President’s collection of consultative commission mummies are showing signs of life.

Still, all the factions could reunite by the State of the Nation Address in July, where the President could make a pitch for a plebiscite on a new constitution by October — the deadline for filing candidacies for the 2019 midterms. It will be the
balancing act of a lifetime.