In Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film Catch Me If You Can, Frank Abagnale Jr (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) manages to cash more than $2.5 million in bogus cheques while eluding law enforcement authorities who pursued him all over the world. Abagnale was eventually caught and his expertise as a forger and counterfeiter was put to good use on the right side of the Law. As an agent in the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Abagnale went on to apply the knowledge and experience he gained while on the run to catching crooks in a similar trade for the FBI.
It’s a classic Hollywood ending for an amazing true story. Clever conman leads glamorous 1960’s jet-set life mainly on the back of his wits and good looks. Square gray-suited FBI agent (played by Tom Hanks) finally catches conman in France and brings him to justice. Conman then starts a new life as a lawman.
The story of Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson is different. It is the opposite of Frank Abagnale’s. Lacson’s story can be summed up in one sentence:
Career lawman turns fugitive then comes back as a conman.
To the chagrin of law enforcement officials and government prosecutors, Ping Lacson has become some sort of celebrity bad boy. His account of life on the run was made into legend by the Media, and the extraordinary impunity surrounding the way he managed to cross international borders despite his passport and diplomatic privileges being suspended by the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs surrounds him with an intriguing mystery. A cadre of “coddlers” who “provided him with food, shelter and other resources” remain shadowy characters in a cheesy plot that will surely be made into a movie someday.
Lacson even boasted that his success as a fugitive could be attributed to “law enforcement training and ‘the best of my instinctive compass’.”! While the fabled Frank Abagnale, at the end of the earlier story, turned his skills as a crook to the service of country, Ping Lacson did the opposite — he turned the skills he gained in the service of country into tools of deception and fraud.
And now, as he faces the Filipino public as an exonerated ex-fugitive, he draws on the capital gained from his “adventure” on the run to rebuild his public profile. From his perspective, on the basis of the way he was received both by Media and by Malacanang, Lacson has come back to Fat City. Indeed, the profile he may gain coming out of this journey may be far greater than the profile he enjoyed in his previous life as a dime-a-dozen politician.
As a matter of fact, even way back in 2000, Lacson had already endeared himself to the vacuous sensibilities of the Filipino public. The film Ping Lacson: Super Cop was released on that year and featured the late action star Rudy Fernandez playing the role of Lacson.
Way back in the couple of years following the release of Super Cop (the existence of which I was not aware of at the time), I published a short write up around the other top action star of the time, Robin Padilla which, as it turns out, is uncannily consistent with the underlying psychology that seems to be at work in Media phenomena like Lacson…
Robin Padilla, bad boy of Philippine cinema and convicted felon. He epitomises the typical mis-channeled machismo of Filipino manhood. The phenomenal recovery of his film career after doing time for illegal possession of firearms and general bad behaviour is testament to our indifference to (at best, tolerance for) criminal behaviour in our leaders. He is another Joseph Estrada in the making and currently comes the closest to filling the Robin Hood figure role that we Filipinos perpetually seek out. His emergence from prison to rise back to stardom can best be credited to our admiration of people who achieve their ends by beating the system.
A country populated by star-struck ignoramuses is fertile breeding ground for big cons like these. And as usual, Filipinos — always the scavengers of sensational diversions — are willing victims.
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