The reality is, Tito Sotto has full license to crack misogynist jokes in Congress because it was the stardom brought about by his gig in popular noontime variety show Eat Bulaga that got him the votes to begin with. In short, Sotto’s character merely reflects the character of the society that ushered him into power. It is a society that chooses its leaders more on the basis of their showbiz chops and less on the basis of any actual skill in governance or legislation.
True as it may be that Sotto is copping a lot of flak over social media following a joke he cracked about Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo’s extramarital parenting during a Commission on Appointments (CA) hearing, the fact is he draws upon a repertoir that appeals to a vast swathe of Philippine society. Humour built around the unfortunate circumstances of people is a proud tradition in Philippine entertainment, after all.
Eat Bulaga is particularly renowned for this low form of comedy. As far back as the 1980s, the show has built its success on the back of contests and games that require participants to undergo humiliating ordeals in front of a live studio and TV audience in exchange for the chance to win cash prizes. As recently as 2016, Sotto who serves as host in the show was called out by the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) for “victim shaming” in an episode of Eat Bulaga.
In the episode, host Sen. Vicente “Tito” Sotto commented on the life story of their female winner, who recalled that she got separated with her husband after she was taken advantage of a male friend after having a few drinks.
To this the senator said, “Kasalanan ng lahat ng iyan, e, ang pag-inom. Kababae mong tao pa-shot shot ka?”
He was also heard commenting, “Naka-shorts habang nagsa-shot?” when he learned that the lady wore shorts while having drinks with friends.
Stop to think why these words resonate so powerfully across the Eat Bulaga demographic. These are words that any Filipino parent could have uttered to errant kids — perhaps not the parents of the entitled “millennials” who populate the hipster social media cliques currently demonising Sotto. These kids, after all, are presumably encouraged to be as “alternative” in their life choices as they choose to be and may not be subject to the judgmental words of more traditional Filipino parents.
But think again. In the Philippine heartland where more traditional, more prescriptive and more authoritative parenting approaches persist, one will likely still hear similar words as Sotto’s used to admonish kids.
Hipsterism, after all, does not have as long a history in the Philippines as it has in the West. Even the most hip of Filipino parents still likely harbour misgivings around allowing their daughters to walk around in “pekpek shorts”, specially in the company of boys (not to mention allow them to be “courted on the street”). We can be assured that in the safety of private conversation, Filipino fathers still discuss personal fears about the possibility of sons starting to exhibit bakla behaviour as they enter their teens. And, of course, Filipino parents are worried about the prospect of the shame of kids who, you know, might get ano following a particularly intense date they were allowed to go on.
The fact remains, the Philippines is a conservative country. The living rooms of many Filipino homes are still adorned with big scary crucifixes and Santo Niño statues that remind everyone — adults and kids alike — who is watching from above. To be a good Roman Catholic inherently means being subject to harsh judgment backed by scripture and dogma that prescribes clear behavioural guidelines. When times are tough or when disaster strikes, Filipinos turn to prayer. The efficacy of those prayers are presumably hinged on how good a Catholic you were. God, after all, rewards the good and punishes the bad. And within the Catholic faith, what constitutes a good — or bad — Catholic is clearly written in black-and-white.
There is nothing baffling nor surprising about the way Senator Tito Sotto behaves in Congress. As a popular entertainer and, now, a popular politician Sotto is, by all intents and purposes, the quintessential Filipino personified. And, lest we forget, this is a Congress that invokes the guidance of the Catholic God when opening and closing its sessions. When hipsters judge him, they essentially judge the prevailing Filipino archetype that still exists no matter how much we’d like to believe is making way for more, shall we say, politically-correct ideas.
The Philippines is a democracy, after all. In a democracy, leaders merely reflect the character of the society that chooses them.
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