Delusion and reality

SENATOR RAMON Revilla Jr. may not be as “delusional” as Akbayan Representative Walden Bello declared in reaction to the former’s announcement that he intends to run for the Presidency in 2016 even while in detention.

Other politicians have done it before Revilla, among them former Zamboanga del Norte Congressman Romeo Jalosjos, who ran for reelection from prison while his appeal for a rape conviction was pending, and Antonio Trillanes IV, who took advantage of public disaffection with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and handily won election to the Senate while campaigning from prison by emphasizing his supposed opposition to Arroyo’s rule. And who can forget the strange case of Joseph Estrada, who was actually convicted of plunder, was later pardoned, nearly won the Presidency in 2010, and finally successfully ran for Mayor of the City of Manila where he’s currently wreaking havoc among his claimed constituents, the toiling masses?

Following these precedents, Revilla can run for President in 2016, by which time his case would most probably not have been resolved in the sense of his neither being found innocent or guilty—or, even if he’s found guilty of plunder and he appeals, the verdict’s not being, as lawyers are fond of saying, “final and executory.”   But should the latter  occur  even if he does win the Presidency, he’ll have to step down, in which case he and his supporters shall have labored for nothing.

But should a miracle happen and the justice system function in unwonted efficiency, and he’s found innocent and can campaign out of prison by 2016, can he still win, and will the public remember that he was once detained on plunder charges?

If still in jail, Revilla can continue using his detention to gain public sympathy by appealing to the government not to involve his family  (which assumes that his wife and children are being dragged into the affair, which anyone with half a brain can see isn’t the case), seeing to it that his pretty wife  is constantly before the cameras, and by acting out (he’s an actor, after all) a public role as an aggrieved, though always cutely smiling, real-life hero who’s being persecuted by his dastardly, conscienceless enemies.

If out of prison, the media can help along the already deeply rooted incapacity of the electorate to remember, or even to care about, even the most heinous crimes a candidate has committed so long as he can sing and dance or look pretty on the stage.

Revilla is acting according to a script, but it’s no screenwriter’s doing.  Make no mistake about it, the public relations campaign began as early as when Revilla’s name was being bruited about as one of the senators involved in the diversion of pork barrel funds to ghost NGOs. It’s been dreamed up by those creatures who can just as easily sell Filipinos the idea of electing an Estrada, a Jalosjos, a Trillanes or a Revilla as they can convince travelers that a leaky and overloaded inter-island ship plying the Manila to Cebu route is the epitome of luxury.

They’re known as public relations people, although some say they’re more properly called operators, and their strongest suit is their capacity to manipulate the media so the media can in turn manipulate the public. The “circus” Representative Bello mentioned couldn’t have set up its tents without them—or at least someone with enough experience in “media handling” to lure the media into putting Revilla on the front pages and  the six o’clock (and beyond) news, every utterance of his wife’s being dutifully reported, and his “delusional” statements’ being given prominent play on radio, TV, print and increasingly, online as well.

Everyone including Revilla has very likely been coached on how to behave before the media, what to say to reporters, whether to look pretty or sad or both, when to scowl and to keep smiling, and how to cultivate that hangdog look so dear to the media because that kind of public face allows them to pry into private grief.

On the other end is the possibility  that the usual envelopes have changed hands, again courtesy of the same PR operators.  That possibility, and the media’s focus on celebrity news—and Revilla is a celebrity two times over, once for being a senator and twice for being an actor—makes for a combination of enough power to convince much of the public today that Revilla is innocent and being preemptively persecuted to sabotage his electoral chances come 2016.

The same combination of PR artifice and media venality and sheer inability to look beyond what their subjects want to them to see can theoretically be sustained until 2016, by which time the media shall have muddled everything enough for the electorate to either forget what the whole fuss was all about, or, if the voters still remember, to minimize the seriousness of what Revilla’s being charged with.

The country could end up with Revilla in the Palace and his rivals in the dust by 2016.  For that we can assign a fair share of guilt to his PR people. But for helping turn delusions into harsh realities either through default or proactive intervention in behalf of their favored subjects, the media will have their share of blame for not helping prevent the country from getting there.