Filipinos today are gleefully scrutinising, “debating”, and exchanging trivial factoids on the minutiae of the manner with which two popular Philippine Senators, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, are being detained by the state on “plunder” charges — the physical conditions of their jail cells, what they’re having for breakfast and lunch, how they look in their mugshots, and what sorts of reading materials they will be soaking up as they while away their days there. This is another one of those typical Philippine media circuses (which mainstream media and its cadre of “civil society” social media “activists” are only too eager to propel and ride upon) that can work for or against anyone depending on how well they play the game.
Thanks to the showbiz meldorama that Revilla and his starlet wife Cavite Representative Lani Mercado surrounded the whole affair with, the Filipino masses have been treated to what effectively amounts to political reality TV throughout Revilla’s journey to prison. The irony in this strategy which seems to fly over these celebrities’ heads is that the main thing about jail time that is causing Revilla grief is the challenge of circumventing prison rules to allow him access to some creature comforts his family are only too willing to provide him from the outside — better ventilation (possibly airconditioning) to relieve his heat-induced migraines, better food, etc. Recall that Revilla’s wife Mercado refered to a personal project to do a “makeover” of Revilla’s prison accomodations. Trouble is, it is now that big a challenge for Mercado to make that happen precisely because of the close public scrutiny their showbiz styles of managing this personal crisis of theirs has attracted.
Normally, well-to-do and high-profile Filipino prison inmates do occassionally manage to buy a bit more leniency from prison administrators. Some of them are even allowed weekend passes outside of the facility. That is because they do all that quietly, outside of the public’s narrow line-of-sight and below the radar of the country’s schizophrenic media. Recently, for example, the discovery of VIP treatment being given to drug lord Ricardo Camata, leader of the Sigue Sigue Sputnik gang by personnel at New Bilibid Prison (NBP) resulted in the sacking of Chief Supt. Fajardo Lansangan and 12 prison guards in early June this year.
Camata and several other inmates had reportedly been allowed to have themselves confined in a private hospital supposedly to seek medical treatment not available within the NBP without authorisation from the Justice Department. On a fact-finding visit on orders of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III even found out that starlet Krista Miller was allowed to visit Camata in his private room there where she reportedly “stayed for more than an hour.” And here is a piece of info that emerged out of that whole fiasco that Revilla and Estrada will likely find very interesting…
Baraan said they will also look into reports that some convicted drug lords have luxurious lifestyles inside their prison cells.
Chief Insp. Roque Merdegia Jr., head of the Philippine National Police’s Anti-Illegal Drugs Special Operations Task Force (AIDSOTF) Legal and Investigation Division, on Tuesday said some inmates have luxury items like flat screen television sets, air-conditioners, and mobile phones in their cells.
Merdegia said that although there is no available network signal inside prison cells, one convicted drug lord was able to use his mobile phone inside his cell, with his own network connection.
The lesson to Revilla in particular is pretty obvious at this point. If he and his wife had just kept their big celebrity mouths shut and entered the prison system with quiet dignity they would likely have had a better chance of getting similar VIP treatment. Too late for that, though. They’re now under the spotlight being shined by a “vigilant” mob thanks to Revilla’s tele-whining.
But there is hope!
The thing with the Filipino people is that they are a very forgetful and easily-distracted lot. And they are led by flaky “thought leaders” who hail mainly from the new A.D.D. generation that is a product of 21st Century techno-child-rearing. If Revilla and Mercado quit their yapping and allow the circus to wind down, they can likely start squirreling in a few more creature comforts for themselves under the radar. If they are lucky, a new circus may erupt on another national “issue” that can by then suck in any remaining precious bandwidth from the narrow attention spans of the wannabe vigilantes breathing down their necks. To answer that familiar rhetorical question, that is exactly what they can hope for. They just need to think outside the square of their showbiz-imprisoned minds.
Now that his pal Jinggoy is in jail to keep him company, Revilla might even learn some important lessons in the way Jinggoy had conducted himself throught this drama, as the Inquirer editor observes…
[…] between the two friends now spending time together in detention, Estrada’s demeanor is the more potentially dangerous one. Yes, Revilla has millions of fans who will follow his fate. Yes, he is pushing the buttons his support base respond to: the fall in his personal circumstances, the support of his loving family, the sheer entertainment value of his legal saga. But it is Estrada’s look of anger and hurt that might generate a backlash, move his own supporters to take to the streets.
We should remember that it was the 2001 arrest of Estrada’s father, deposed president Joseph Estrada, which led to the outburst of violence right outside Malacañang Palace on May 1 that year—the misnamed “Edsa Tres.” The mass following of his father has contracted over the years, but it has remained potent enough to elect members of his family to the Senate and to carry him to second place in the 2010 presidential elections. It is a sorry mistake to underestimate his clout or that of his family, or the Estradas’ capacity to make political capital out of what they allege as political persecution.
Revilla may have grabbed more airtime and social media space than Estrada in the turbulent first days after their surrender (his wife, Rep. Lani Mercado, even played a role in directing public attention to her husband’s reduced circumstances inside Camp Crame), but it is possible that Estrada’s silent sullenness will be the lasting image from this first, extraordinary week.
Hopefully, the days these Senators spend in prison will be spent learning stuff, so that, at least, something productive may come out of this whole experience that adds new value to Philippine society beyond the mere showbiz glitz and prayerful posturing that have become standard drama fare for the suddenly-“victimised”.
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