Bongbong and Imee

While President Marcos Jr. is trying hard to become the president of all Filipinos, his elder sister Sen. Imee Marcos seems bent on being this administration’s antagonist-in-chief, whose role is to continue taunting and mocking their family’s perceived political enemies. Is this a coordinated good cop/bad cop maneuver designed to maximize the returns of a double-pronged approach to complete political rehabilitation? Or is it a mere case of sibling rivalry?

My hunch is that, though they are meant to serve the same purpose, the two siblings’ political styles are reflective of their differential orientation to mass media, and ultimately of their contrasting personalities. Bongbong appears more attuned to the demands of traditional or mainstream media, whereas Imee is clearly more at home in the unstable vocabulary and polarizing propensity of the new social media.

Imee is at her best when she’s not trying to be serious, such as when she says something that hints at the truth in a teasing manner or with a smirk, as though to indicate that the meaning can only be discerned by those in the know. She loses her bite when she drops her cynical air and demands to be taken at her word. A good example is when she could not say anything after former finance secretary Sonny Dominguez, in a Senate hearing, flatly contradicted her assertion that Marcos Sr.’s “Masagana 99” program had been a success.

In contrast, Bongbong seems totally absorbed in recreating his father’s image, studiously evoking his gestures, high-minded thoughts, and powerful voice, though he may be, in reality, a very different person—soft-spoken, less ponderous, and perhaps less consumed by power. Trying to fit himself into the mold of a father he obviously admires must be frustrating for him. This shows in the way he stammers and gropes for the right words during the Q&A portion of press briefings. It is as though, with every question, he’s still asking himself, how would the old man have answered this?

Bongbong appears to feel the full weight of the responsibility that has been thrust upon him. He imagines himself as someone who cannot fail, must not fail—first of all, in his father’s eyes. Even as he asks to be judged for what he is and what he can do, rather than as the scion of Marcos Sr., he is undoubtedly hobbled by the ideal he carries in his mind. For him, the best way to serve his father’s memory is to perform better as president and to prove his detractors wrong.

Imee, in contrast, is hopelessly stuck in the taunting mode of a resentful victim of political misfortune—even long after she has recovered her place on the political stage. Irony befits her because she thinks herself too bright to believe there is anything permanent about status in a highly contingent world. She cannot rest. But now that a member of the family is back in Malacañang, in the highest seat of power, the cynical and jeering tone she has mastered sounds misplaced and anachronistic.

What is there to gain, for instance, in portraying the late President Cory Aquino, whose husband Ninoy was brazenly murdered by soldiers escorting him at the international airport while Marcos Sr. was president, as a shallow and vengeful woman in a movie that Imee herself collaborated in as creative producer? The lady is gone, and, in the eyes of many, she is now in a place where mortals can no longer touch her.

What higher purpose is served in poking fun at the Catholic nuns, who gave Cory refuge at the start of the people power uprising at Edsa in 1986, and depicting them as a bunch of mahjong-playing gossipmongers? Is this a way of criticizing hypocrisy in the institutional Church? If the intent is to catalyze a reevaluation of the role of the Church in society, targeting a monastic order of religious women for ridicule achieves nothing of the sort. Nuns are the least powerful elements within the institutional Church.

There’s a difference between satire as a legitimate art form and the repeated use of techniques that are merely offensive and provocative. While both deploy exaggeration, irony, and irreverence to poke fun at institutions and people, or the state of things in general, true satire seeks to trigger a revaluation of values, a change in the way society views the world. In contrast, merely offensive humor seeks nothing more than to make people or communities the object of ridicule.

In the wake of the murders of the political cartoonists and writers of the French publication Charlie Hebdo, the English novelist and satirist Will Self tackled the problem of satirizing institutions and revered figures in a world without moral consensus. “Satire,” he gravely noted, “can be employed as a tactical weapon, aimed at a particular group in society in relation to a given objectionable practice—but like all tactical weapons, it must be very well targeted indeed. … The problem for satire is thus that while we live in a globalized world so far as media is concerned, we don’t when it comes to morality. Nor, I venture to suggest, will we ever.”

One could see from the short videos posted on social media by the team of Imee and the ambitious young director Darryl Yap the perfect fusion of political resentment and provocative trolling. It is this collaboration that is behind the full-length film “Maid in Malacañang.”

In the context of the presidential election campaign, it is easy to excuse political lampoons as part of the game. But now that the Marcoses have regained the presidency, further attacks on the Aquinos (who are out of power) can only be regarded as provocative excess, the exact opposite of Marcos Jr.’s call to unity. It can backfire.