Political dramedy: Binay cakes and top Senate props

Ayee Macaraig

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Cakes, toys and music videos have been ingredients in the recipe mixing comedy and drama with politics for a uniquely Philippine flavor

MANILA, Philippines – In the famous words often misattributed to Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake!”

Netizens quoted the line this week in a moment of surprise and hilarity when a congressional investigation yielded an odd picture: cakes in the Philippine Senate.

The cake display meant to illustrate the gravity of the Binays’ alleged crimes in Makati is just the latest serving in the running spectacle that is legislative inquiries and privilege speeches. Toys, accessories and music videos have been ingredients in the recipe mixing comedy and drama with politics for a uniquely Philippine flavor.

In a country where actors and comedians are elected president and senators, props and gimmicks became staples in discussions supposedly focused on policy and legislation. Effective or not, these stunts add entertainment value to hearings that TV networks and news websites air live for hours on end. 

If politics is theater, then the Philippine Senate is its customary stage. We take a look at the top props political actors bring to the Senate dramedy. FAMAS Awards, here are the nominees.

1. Binay cakes and the Senate Red Ribbon Committee

LUXURY CAKES? Lawyer Renato Bondal (left) accuses the Binays of overpricing Makati's cakes, supposedly more expensive than commercial cakes. Photo by Alex Nuevaespaña/Senate PRIB

“Bukol,” “pagnanakaw,” “nakulimbat.” Lawyer Renato Bondal heated up the Senate hearing on the allegedly overpriced Makati City Hall Building 2 with language that senators described as “pang-kanto” or fit for the streets. The political rival of the Binays came prepared not just with fiery phrases and documents. His ultimate weapon? Pastries.

Stunning lawmakers and viewers, Bondal opened boxes of cakes to revive the long-running rumor in Makati that the dynasty of Vice President Jejomar Binay earns from the cakes the city gives to senior citizens. Binay’s critics on social media immediately coined a term for the alleged scandal: “cake-back.”

Comedian-senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III could not resist the urge to insert his Eat Bulaga humor to the episode. “Mr President, naka-recess naman. Baka gusto mo i-taste-test ano ang lasang mura at mahal!” (Mr President, we are on recess anyway. Maybe you want to taste-test the cheap cake versus the expensive cake!)

Some senators questioned the relevance of dessert to infrastructure, but to Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, it was just icing on the cake of mounting allegations against 2010’s dark horse.

2. Pogi’s toy truck of evidence

'TRUCKLOAD OF EVIDENCE.' Senator Revilla mocks the justice department, saying the evidence against him did amount to a truckload of documents, a toy truck that is.

Crisp verbal attacks? MMFF regular Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr will give Bondal a run for his money. The Panday star channeled his inner Flavio in a combative privilege speech in January when he said on the Senate floor, “Anak ng teteng!

The senator codenamed “Pogi” in the pork barrel corruption scam turned the tables on his accusers instead of explaining where his development funds went. Revilla branded star witness Benhur Luy “Boy Pirma” for supposedly forging signatures, and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas “Boy Pick-up” for allegedly driving him to a secret meeting with the President on the Corona impeachment trial.

Yet the climax of his speech was when he directed the Senate pages to bring in his response to Justice Secretary Leila De Lima’s evidence against him. In came the image that landed on the next day’s front pages. “Ito po ang sinasabi nilang isang trak ng ebidensiya. Ito lang naman pala. Trak-trakan ng mga bata!” (This is what they call truckloads of evidence against me. A toy truck for children!)

In the end, the joke was on the action star when the Ombudsman sided with De Lima and charged him with plunder.

3. Boy Bawang vs ‘Con-Asswang’

FIGHTING 'CON-ASSWANG.' The former senator from Capiz wears a garland of garlic to ward off against what he calls the vampire that was Arroyo's charter change. File photo courtesy of http://marroxas2010.blogspot.com/

Before he was dubbed “Boy Pick-up,” and before he carried relief goods and directed traffic, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas was a senator known as “Boy Bawang (Garlic Boy).” In June 2009, the then presidential bet took his turn on the Senate podium to oppose an idea he called a “plague” and which he avoided like one: charter change.

Wearing a garland of garlic, the gentleman from Capiz said, “Hindi ko pababayaang sipsipin nila nang todo ang dugo ng taumbayan. Hindi lang bawang ang kailangan natin para labanan ang mga aswang na ito. Kailangan nating magsama-sama para labanan ang Con-Asswang ni Gloria!”

(I will not allow them to suck the blood of the people. We need not just garlic to fight this vampire. We need to unite to fight the Con-Asswang of Gloria!)

It was a play of words on the constituent assembly that then president Gloria Arroyo’s congressional allies were planning to change the Constitution supposedly to keep her in power beyond her term. So hostile was Roxas to the proposal that in a 2008 Makati rally, the Wharton-educated lawmaker bellowed, “P—– ina! Ano ba ito?!” (Son of a bitch, what is this?)

The video of Roxas cussing spread online 6 years later. Now he says, “Many have voiced their support for another term for PNoy (President Benigno Aquino III) and we are thankful for the many people who prefer another term.”

4. Coronavela: From walkout to wheelchair

NO ESCAPE. Then Chief Justice Renato Corona is wheeled back into the Senate session hall after walking out without entertaining senators' questions about his speech. File photo

Props are no match for what has become a tradition in impeachment trials: walkouts. After defending himself and criticizing the President in a 3-hour speech in May 2012, Renato Corona abruptly left upon declaring, “And now the Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines wishes to be excused.”

WHEELCHAIR STRATEGY? Skeptical observers say personalities play sick to avoid facing accountability. Photo courtesy: http://www.showbiznest.com/

Not so fast. Then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile ordered a Senate lockdown to prevent Corona from leaving the building. While the chief magistrate quickly walked out of the session hall, he suddenly turned weak and cited his hypoglycemia when security barred him from the exit. (READ: The foiled (great) escape

After minutes in the clinic, Corona, with a pained facial expression, returned to face the senators, this time in a wheelchair. A peeved Enrile told him, “If you are going to disrespect this court, this court will make a decision on this case right now.”

Genuine or not, Corona’s wheelchair incident was seen as part of leaders’ ploy to evade accountability. Skeptical critics said he did not learn from Arroyo, the president who gave him his midnight appointment. He should have worn a neck brace, too.

5. Kap’s ‘Salamat Kaibigan’ 

Not even a walkout and wheelchair combination can top Senator Bong Revilla’s Senate farewell in June. Literally, it was a swan song made for the movies.

While his camp promised an explosive list of senators on the take, Revilla ended up listing and thanking supporters in politics and showbiz. Right when viewers thought his speech could not get more sentimental, he paused and introduced what he said was his own creation. Eyes then turned to a video playing on screen.

“Salamat, mga kaibigan
Kailanman ay ‘di malilimutan
Kung ito man ang kapalaran
Nananalig pa rin sa katotohanan.”

The music video of the senator’s song set Facebook and Twitter on fire, with #BongPanes trending. While stung by criticism, a conciliatory Revilla just responded, “It’s not showbiz. That’s my heart. Hindi acting iyon (It was not acting).”

One part of his speech did come true: he and Senator Jinggoy Estrada ended up as “kakosa” (cellmates). Before surrendering, the actor-turned-politician led a tearful procession in his home province of Cavite with “Salamat, Kaibigan” as soundtrack.

For turning the august chamber and deliberative body into a videoke bar and a soap opera, applause to these politicians. What’s the Next Picture and what’s Coming Soon? Stay tuned. – Rappler.com

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