The Interviews: Recent conversations and events that invite further discussion

The_Interview_2014_poster In the so-so but now highly publicized Sony movie “The Interview,” the hosts of a popular talk show were tasked to assassinate the leader of the oppressive North Korean regime to facilitate a coup d’etat. The hosts had a change of heart after briefly interacting with the North Korean leader as they were convinced that the oddball dictator was just misunderstood. Later on, they discovered the leader’s real vicious character so they decided to come up with another plan to expose the true nature of the North Korean leader to the public in the hopes of sparking a revolution.

It would really be great if instituting socio-political change is that simple, that exposing the unflattering attributes and behavior of a well-praised leader is enough to change public perception. In the Philippines, a plot similar to what the protagonists in “The Interview” did will hardly lead to any kind of change. As clear examples, a number of recent interviews with local politicians and public officials demonstrated how exposing gaffes, rudeness, personality issues, and other unfavorable things hardly mean anything to the Filipino audience.

Interview with the President: Vice Ganda makes light even lighter

vice ganda with Pnoy
According to Malacañang, the President’s interview with comedian Vice Ganda showed his “lighter side.” Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda was defensive of the President’s comedic interview when he said that it showed the lighter side of the President and that it was positive. Really? Does he have a “serious serious” side to begin with? Nobody ever accused him of being a serious man in government so this is hardly surprising. If he was ever perceived to be serious, it’s usually when it comes to defending his KKK and hardheadedly pushing for policies frowned upon by many legal experts and the Supreme Court.

The interview was aired on late night comedy talk show “Gandang Gabi Vice” and offered more than enough implicit and explicit declarations from the President that ought to make people see through the kind of person he is. He subtly defended his embattled PNP chief Alan Purisima (again) in this interview. Also, he eagerly emphasized how he is being blamed for everything that is happening in the country as he sang a few lines of the classic tune “Estudyante Blues” and quipped how he may get blamed if the shiny floors of Malacañang get scratched. Somehow, he tried to be respectful to his former Economics teacher Gloria Arroyo, the predecessor he fondly maligns, with the phrase “family friend…kahit papano.”

Since the tone of the interview was supposed to be “light” and comedic, various trivial things were discussed. For instance, the President mentioned his shampoo brands and was close to saying that the shampoo “Mane ‘n Tail” is ineffective against balding. He said he prefers a younger wife. He also mentioned that he has to avoid “necking” since a bullet is still embedded in his left neck (as a result of an encounter with rebel soldiers during the coup d’etat years). Moreover, just like how he loves defying restrictions and doing half-baked efforts, he offered wordy and haplessly thought out descriptions for people in his “fast talk” session with Vice Ganda, wherein he was specifically asked to give only one word as a description.

Comedian Vice Ganda has always made it clear that he is a President Aquino supporter. In the interview, he even verbalized his support by emphasizing that President BS Aquino is the only president he does not regret voting for. Obviously, the brass comedian’s goal was to help recover Aquino’s popularity while promoting his Metro Manila Film Festival movie (that also featured the President’s nephew as one of the leading actors) and scoring higher ratings for his late night comedy talk show. Arguably, Vice Ganda succeeded in helping the President reconnect with the masses and in promoting his movie and TV show. The vocal Aquino-supporter, however, may have unwittingly showed how light can become even lighter. The ever-grinning (or smirking?) President Aquino was once criticized for wearing a smile while discussing the disastrous Luneta hostage incident and doing inspections at the site. He rarely showed a serious statesmanly visage in formal or not-so-formal occasions. His guesting on “Gandang Gabi Vice” and the subsequent “light side” defense of his spokesperson only made him look less dignified to discerning audiences.

Interview with Abaya

DOTC abayaDepartment of Transportation and Communications Secretary Jun Abaya, in an interview with ANC, claimed that the protested MRT and LRT fare hikes are going to lead to better services. He asserted that there is a need to invest in rails and that every Filipino would dream of a railway transportation system that is similar to what Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore are having. In a different interview on one primetime newscast, the DOTC Secretary also argued that while the fares for the MRT and LRT are expected to be raised, the fares for other modes of transportation have been decreasing. The move (raising MRT fares) is supposedly going to encourage people to try other modes of transportation.

Just as what most other government officials usually do, Secretary Abaya was not completely being truthful in his interviews. For instance, he proudly implied in one interview on TV Patrol that it should be okay to raise fares since “they” have reduced the fares in other modes of transportation. Yes, he grabbed credit for the fare reduction that only comes naturally with the dropping of global oil prices. Apparently, the official Palace-fed lies are not enough as Abaya felt the need to insert his “nuances.”

The arguments that support the MRT and LRT fare hikes are mostly infirm and untimely. Most notably, it is ridiculous that the government is claiming that the fare hike is needed for the rehabilitation and upgrading of the train systems to be able to deliver better services. For a business operation, this reasoning is simply unnatural. If a business seeks to upgrade its facilities, it will try to obtain loans or investments to have the funds needed for capital expenditures or it should have allotted and accumulated savings over many years to be able to fund the required upgrades. To say a fare hike is needed to be able to commence the rehabilitation and upgrades is a crude attempt to fool the public. Besides, the 2015 national budget already includes more than P13.2 billion in allotment for the MRT’s rehabilitation and subsidy, including the P1.2 billion related allocation listed in the supplemental budget (for 2014) approved last month. There is already enough funding to proceed with the upgrades and repairs. Perhaps, the fare hikes can become acceptable if the trains and system have already been improved.

It’s obvious in Secretary Abaya’s interviews that he just wants to justify the government’s decisions and that everything is already set. Protests and arguments are basically useless at this point. However, the public can’t help not thinking about the kinds of anomalies that are likely going to take place in relation to the upcoming 2016 polls. There is already an allocation for the MRT rehabilitation and upgrading but the government is still pushing for fare hikes supposedly to fund the same rehabilitation and upgrades. Is this an indication of where Aquino plans to use the supposedly-eliminated-but-still-existing and technically concealed DAP-like mechanisms in the 2015 budget? Will Aquino again come up with “savings” from the amounts allocated for the MRT rehabilitation? Let’s not forget that at least P4.5 billion for the MRT rehabilitation had once been diverted to DAP by Aquino. The gall of these public officials to insist that a fare hike is needed to finance rehabilitation when it could have already been started if only they used the money already allocated in the previous budgets!

Interview with Kabayan

noli de castro - winnie corderoMeanwhile, in the media, a relatively small issue emerged as TV Patrol anchor and Black Nazarene devotee Kabayan Noli de Castro was alleged to have rudely treated field reporter Winnie Cordero while she relayed her report on the Black Nazarene Traslacion preparations. We have witnessed the actual live airing of the incident and we tend to agree that it was somewhat rude for the anchor to react the way he did over a simple misunderstanding. However, it’s not difficult to figure out where Kabayan is coming from. He has been a prominent participant in the annual Traslacion so it’s understandable that he knows a lot about what’s going on in the event so inaccuracies or misrepresentations about the related preparations are bound to irk him.

Kabayan’s unprofessional handling of the interview with a field reporter, still, cannot be excused. He briefly put a field reporter on the spot and effectively cut her report after the apparent dissatisfaction over her answers. We have seen and heard Winnie Cordero on TV and on DZMM and it’s quite obvious how she has the tendency to defend the current government in various issues. Kabayan, obviously, is not fond of the current government and its local allies. In Cordero’s Black Nazarene field report, Kabayan may have sensed how the field reporter tried to make the government’s preparations sound adequate despite de Castro’s insistence of what he actually observed. That’s how it started and how people on Twitter and Facebook made an issue out of it.

You can’t deny that something went awry between Cordero and Kabayan as the former was replaced later on by Doris Bigornia to do the Black Nazarene field reporting. Well, that consequence is a no-brainer.

Not so brilliant interviews with Brillantes

sixto brillantes interview

Earlier this week, Ted Failon invited COMELEC Commissioner Sixto Brillantes into his morning DZMM program “Failon Ngayon.” His goal in handling the interview seemed vague. You can’t be sure if he was trying to mock the septuagenarian public official or if he was just trying to make the tone of the interview light and somewhat funny. Failon allowed Brillantes to answer many questions about the COMELEC’s preparations for 2016, especially on the issue with Smartmatic, but not without the sarcastic side comments and sound effects.

Brillantes also spent some time doing an interview with DWIZ’s Karambola (hosted by some prominent columnists from various dailies including Alex Magno and Jojo Robles) where he also defended his decisions and assailed his former fellow-commissioner-now-archnemesis Gus Lagman for repeatedly criticizing him. The Karambola hosts were somewhat nice when they discussed things with Commissioner Brillantes but eventually wrote more rabid criticisms on the COMELEC and Brillantes on their respective columns the day after.

Commissioner Brillantes seems to have the Aquino mentality. When he thinks he’s right, he will hardly treat opposing views as something worth considering. Maybe the age also factors in. He easily gets offended especially when it comes to his former classmate Gus Lagman. To be fair, his arguments over many of the allegations hurled against him are quite strong. However, it’s difficult to swallow his contention that Gus Lagman does not have the credibility to be attacking him and the COMELEC since he is just an IT professional not a lawyer, and that he has no extensive experience when it comes to handling elections. It is precisely because of Gus Lagman’s IT experience that he deserves to be heard because the election automation is mostly an IT-related concern. Well, there are times when Mr. Lagman comes out as too accusative and irreverent but Commissioner Brillantes may want to consider tempering down his extreme defensiveness when it comes to Lagman and the issues involving Smartmatic.

Sony’s “The Interview” and the Charlie Hebdo incident in the Philippine context

The_Interview_2014_posterIf the FBI is to be believed, it is the North Korean government that is responsible for the damaging hacking on Sony last year. One of the main reasons is said to be the film “The Interview,” a political satire that is bound to offend North Korea’s leader and less-than-rational officials. In a sad recent development, something similar happened. At least 12 people were killed in Paris purportedly by extreme Islamists who were “fed up” by the offensive content published by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The threats that came with the release of the movie “The Interview” and the brutal massacre of a dozen people are showing the world how real threats against artists and journalists are. Even satires and parodies are being taken too seriously nowadays.

Has the world become too serious that even humor is becoming too risky? Sometimes, Filipinos can only be thankful for having the kind of “light” politicians and political situation we have. This country has seen the demise of hundreds of journalists who were in the course of seriously performing their roles. Filipino comic artists resigned and or were suspended after some legal threats but none has been brutally attacked. There have been attempts to regulate stand up comedy and other similar efforts to address the perceived offensiveness of comedic acts but nothing as serious as a massacre has been reported so far.

charles hebdo killingHowever, we can’t be too sure about the safety of publishing humor-laced commentary on Islam and Muslims in this country. We have already explored most of what there is to explore when it comes to political and social humor. There have been numerous jokes about the Roman Catholic church and even an undeniably offensive Christianity-themed “art” exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. A widely publicized satire or joke on Islam or Muslims is yet to be seen. In places with prominent Muslim populations, in Mindanao in particular, most people tend to be instinctively sensitive in dealing with Muslims. Not many would be bold enough to offend Muslims, not even when the shrieking horn loudspeakers of a newly built mosque are disrupting the familiarity of ambient sounds in a prominently Christian community.

It’s difficult to say if Charlie Hebdo went overboard with the satire on Islam but it’s clear that what Islamists did to people who supposedly mocked Islam is unacceptable and inexcusable. Freedom of expression is not absolute but killing for the sake of religious and other sectoral beliefs is never acceptable in a civilized world.

The different “interviews” we have witnessed over the past few days and weeks are remotely good ways to start 2015. Still, we should consider learning something from them. Haven’t we been too light on a President who seems bent on making people suffer with higher rice and commodity prices, increasing public transportation fares, rising water and power rates, and dubious methods in managing the government’s funds? Aren’t we too gentle on our gray-haired public official who seems too defensive for Smartmatic and his ways of election automation? Isn’t it about time to force TV networks to replace or at least discipline their anchors by not watching their programs? How should we go about satires and the possibility of extreme Islamism in the country?

We should have seen enough “interviews” over the years so perhaps it’s about time we do the talking and acting to achieve the changes and order we want.

Screencaps from youtube. Some rights reserved.

Image via wikipedia. Photo via Vice Ganda Official Facebook page. Some rights reserved.

Originally posted in Part 1 and Part 2 of The Interviews: Recent conversations and events that invite further discussion at the Philippine Online Chronicles.