The Philippines is abuzz over the latest misfortune porn craze, the surrender to the police and imprisonment of movie-star-turned-Philippine-Senator Ramon ‘Bong’ Revilla Jr. Over the last several days Netizens are posting and sharing updates on the minutiae of Revilla’s fall from grace since he and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile were implicated in a national corruption scandal involving the alleged ‘malversation’ of pork barrel funds via bogus non-government organisations (NGOs) associated with alleged ‘ringleader’ Janet Lim Napoles.
As a celebrity, however, Revilla remains popular with the masses, and he seems to know how to make good use of this asset. A day or two before his surrender, he showed up to address supporters sporting a shirt with the words “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do to me?” quoted from Psalms 118:6 of the Bible. Not surprisingly, this earned the ire of ‘civil society’ stalwarts on Twitter and Facebook who sneered at what they regarded as an audaciously presumptuous public relations stunt on Revilla’s part.
But in the Philippines, politics almost always trumps sense. This is really a PR game, ultimately. A colleague of mine, observing these developments was led to remark on the cleverness of Revilla’s PR machine. The question is, will Revilla’s handlers be able to formulate a PR strategy that could save their boss’s hide this time? Netizens amongst the “politically passionate” are in almost perfect agreement with one another that Revilla deserves to be treated no better than the average Filipino jailbird who, owing to the underfunded penal infrastructure of the country, often languish in prison cells for months as their cases queue up for court time in the Philippines’ snail-paced criminal justice process. There they are packed like sardines suffering oppressive heat and humidity as well as appalling sanitation.
Although Revilla will be detained in a cell of his own, the accommodation in Camp Crame where he will be held is spartan and lacks airconditioning. It is reportedly infested with rats and roaches, has only one window, and, apart from a bed, is furnished only with an electric fan. Nonetheless, Revilla’s wife and former showbiz starlet Lani Mercado has reportedly announced big plans for a ‘makeover’ of Revilla’s temporary home. Aside from the issue of ventilation which, according to Mercado, is causing Revilla to suffer migraines, a bookshelf is top on her to-do list to ensure her husband’s reading materials are kept orderly. Foremost mentioned amongst these reading materials is a Bible and “an inspirational book given by his father (former senator Ramon Revilla Sr.)”.
Mercado was also quick to slam Philippine President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III who, she says, has been a “divisive” rather than an “inclusive” leader.
[Mercado] said that she expected the President to be more magnanimous and caring. “He is the father of the nation, after all. But when there were flashfloods in Bacoor (after a typhoon), he didn’t visit us. He only went to Imus and Kawit, the bailiwicks of his allies.”
Indeed, politics remains the key to saving Revilla and, later, his other two accused colleagues in the Senate. Revilla seems to be a serious contender for the up-and-coming presidential elections in 2016. And mounting a successful election campaign from prison has been proven to be possible by his other colleague, convicted mutineer, now ‘Senator’, Antonio Trillanes III who campaigned for a Senate seat while imprisoned on charges of rebellion for his role in the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny and the 2007 Manila Peninsula Mutiny.
Trillanes, we will recall, was pardoned by President BS Aquino in 2010 because there was a popular “clamor” at the time to justify it. Trillanes, who was convicted for a crime (rebellion) against the Filipino people of equal if not greater gravity to the charges being levied against Revilla today is now serving as a Philippine “senator” (with a small “s”).
That precedent set by Trillanes bodes well for Revilla who simply needs to find a way to marshall the power of his popular appeal and do what he does best, leverage his boyish good looks and ensure that he continues to get enough media mileage to broadcast and publish well-placed soundbytes to keep his fans entertained during his personal ordeal.
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