Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wily

This was my column on the date indicated above.

Competing for attention with the recent developments related to the Hacienda Luisita land reform row, the investigation into the hostage-taking crisis, President Noynoy Aquino’s first foreign trip, the jueteng payola issue, and a host of other seemingly more urgent issues of the day is the long-running soap opera involving TV host Willie Revillame, ABS-CBN, and since last week, TV5.

I am aware that there are people out there who think that it’s basically a non-issue; a proverbial tempest in a teacup that has simply been blown out of proportion because it happens to involve someone whose popularity is widely seen as a fluke in local show business and two of the top three media networks in the country today. Why the issue continues to be front-page material in many dailies (not this paper, though) and continues to dominate the newscast of the top three networks is hardly surprising though. Media have always been interested in stories that have a human-interest angle in them, even if it borders on the perverse.

I do think, however, that there is so much that we can all learn from the ongoing brouhaha involving Willie Revillame, TV5, and ABS-CBN.

The first lesson is a no-brainer: It’s relatively easier for anyone to get media attention in this country provided one has no qualms about coming across as a total jerk. Gregorio Mendoza, brother of the hostage-taker at the Quirino Grandstand, proved that. He also proved that the notoriety that comes with inflicting one’s self on the public is not only often fleeting, it can also result in disastrous consequences. Unless, of course, one is as street smart the way Revillame obviously is.

Another lesson that we can learn from the whole melee is that there is no accounting for what people find endearing or admirable in another person. Sure, there are people out there who hate Revillame with a passion and thinks he is an overrated, insufferable enfant terrible. But for every person who vilifies Revillame there are probably two others who worship the ground the man walks on.

But really, anyone out there who dismisses Revillame simply as a pseudo-celebrity with a bloated sense of self-importance is underestimating the man’s cunning. There’s a reason why the man has a loyal following, people who are often described as those that fit the general category labeled as “survivors.” Revillame is a man who has been through the toughest wringers many times over but always manages to bounce back and emerging bigger and more successful than he ever was. And a lot of people can empathize with that. To these people, Revillame is a messiah of sorts, living proof that hope springs eternal and that a little luck—just a teeny weeny bit of luck—is all one needs to change one’s fortunes. We can all argue until we are blue in the face or until the world comes to an end about the wisdom of it all, but the fact will still remain that there are Filipinos out there who see him as a dealer in hope and faith.

There’s another lesson that we can all pick up from the Revillame case. Things don’t have to make sense for people to fight about them to the death. Or put another way, there is no accounting for the things our media networks will do or the lengths they will go for the sake of pride, or audience share. We all remember how ABS-CBN, GMA7 and TV5 scrambled all over themselves to scoop each other out during the August 23 hostage-taking incident. But ABS-CBN’s dogged insistence in tying down someone who mocks its leaders and who makes it known—and in a rather contemptuous way—his displeasure at the network and what it stands for, is extremely bothersome. Even more bewildering are the mixed messages the network has been sending to the world— some days it insists that Revillame broke his contract with ABS-CBN on other days it says that Revillame continues to have an active contract with them. Of course most everyone knows that everything being said is almost sub judice because everybody has already hauled each other to court anyway.

Given the kind of embarrassment Revillame brought ABS-CBN over his outrageous and very public outbursts, not to mention the fact that he caused the network major (or as people are wont to say nowadays—major, major) headaches when he played Pied Piper at the Ultra a couple of years back, quite a number expected the media network’s executives to have jumped for joy that Revillame has decided to jump fences.

I remember distinctly in fact that at the network’s recent annual stockholders meeting, a stockholder did stand up to ask management why it hasn’t done what every self-respecting manager should have done a long time ago- which was to give Revillame a kick in the posterior. ABS-CBN chairman Gabby Lopez hemmed and hawed about management options but really simply came across as unsure and tentative. It has been obvious that ABS-CBN has not really been able to make a firm stand on what it values more: Market share or good and ethical management practice.

To this day, Revillame has continued to taunt ABS-CBN with pronouncements that come very close to accusing the network’s management of being unnecessarily greedy and cruel. He has been quite busy burning his bridges. What Revillame is doing is very typical of a kanto boy bully—he has been projecting himself as the aggrieved party and has depicted himself as someone who only had the sincerest intentions but had been victimized simply because he is not part of the elite class. Of course, he has conveniently forgotten that he made his millions (some say billions) because the network allowed him concessions. And perhaps that lesson is the most noteworthy of all—that one about how collecting mistakes and accumulating them over time creates monsters that eventually become difficult to manage.

The Revillame-ABS-CBN-TV5 saga is far by not the only nonsensical event to happen in recent weeks.

Why, the decision of the Aquino administration to release the report on the hostage-taking incident to the Chinese government first was something that clearly boggled the mind. The official explanation was that the Philippine government could not afford to displease the Chinese anymore given the tattered state of our relations with them. Is the government then saying that it’s okay to displease Filipinos as long as the Chinese are happy? Actually my main beef about this development was not that the Chinese were prioritized but that we actually went on record to acknowledge that we were ready to kowtow to them.

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