L’ affaire Pangandaman, ten days after the incident at Valley Golf, refuses to leave the front pages. The Inquirer carries an item on page one in which Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman appeals to the public, particularly bloggers, “to stop vilifying his family” and says that he is “hurting“. He states that “the past few days have been very painful” to his family and allegedly refers to bloggers who have posted angry comments against them as the specific source of their distress. This is no doubt true, up to point. That the blogosphere played a key role in bringing the narratives of the parties to public awareness can hardly be disputed. But Secretary Pangandaman gives too much credit to the bloggers in explaining why the issue refuses to abate.
Even persons who have never heard of blogs and wouldn’t know a blogger from an illegal logger have been kept well informed of the incident and its developments, via the traditional media. Why so ? Apart from the fact that the story of the golf course fracas is compelling in itself and therefore newsworthy, there may be social and cultural factors which influence why such a relatively minor episode has grabbed a lot of attention. The factual and legal aspects of the incident are already the topic of much debate, pro and con against either party, and need not be discussed here. Just a few observations, though, on context in which the controversy rages.
The middle-class outrage over the Pangandamans’ alleged bullying of the De la Paz family has been expounded upon in other articles and blog posts and needs no repeating here. But it may be pointed out that the image we have of the abusive politician is a Philippine cultural icon. The “abusado” local political boss, government official or warlord, and his twin, the cruel landlord, is a stock character , and has been so for many decades, in countless Philippine komiks and movies. These are the bad guys who inevitably get their comeuppance at the hands of FPJ, Ramon Revilla, Sr., et. al. Respected actors like Eddie Garcia, Subas Herrero and others have made a good living playing this role, in one incarnation or another, for their entire careers.
The same character is a staple in Filipino comics, at least during the Golden Age of komiks (from the 1950’s to the late 60’s up to the early 70’s before Martial Law, according to comic book writer and artist Gerry Alanguilan). Even before that there was already a clear representation in the public mind of the abusive politician, and how he would behave. The Free Press cartoon from the 1920’s reproduced by Manolo Quezon in his recent post “Impunity” illustrates (pun intended) my point nicely.
Thus, it must have been a shock to many Filipinos, weaned, consciously or not, on FPJ movies and Mars Ravelo stories and later, Carlo J. Caparas, to find that such people actually exist in the flesh. From the published accounts, the Pangandamans behaved in a way that seemed to almost parody the popular idea of the arrogant politico. Even up to the bad dialogue. “Hindi mo ba ko kilala ?” and so forth. Hence, the outcry.
So the Pangandamans are not up against the bloggers, as they seem to believe, but a cultural conception that has been with us for decades, if not centuries. That’s a tough nut to crack.
Furthermore, the Pangandamans lost the war for public sympathy from the onset, the circumstances of the event being what it is. Setting aside the question of who gave provocation, it’s clear from the versions of both sides that the De la Paz family were at the losing end of the encounter. There was the father, no spring chicken, and his 14-year old son and college-age daughter, against able-bodied young men, powerful and influential people at that, and their armed bodyguards. Who’s being bullied here ? Pinoys will always sympathize with the underdog.
And if the rumors are to be believed, the Pangandaman camp have little idea of how the blogosphere operates. They have allegedly tried to find out and “profile” the persons behind the blogs attacking them to find ways to counteract such efforts. If true, then they betray a total lack of understanding of the viral nature of the beast. It’s not the individual blogs that dictate the agenda (not that there is even one) of the blogosphere but the medium itself: the immediacy and rapid dissemination of news and opinion among community members numbering in the tens of thousands. Issues take on a life of their own in the internet, by reason of the sheer momentum generated by information speedily passing from one person to another through blogs, social networking sites and the like. The only way to deal with it is on its own terms, by battling it out in the democratic space provided by the internet.
Moreover, the blogosphere is not a universe unto itself. Bloggers are, like it or not, part of the world at large. They are not immune from political and societal forces and will not be restrained from, at the very least, commenting on the issues of the day. They simply won’t keep quiet and anyone who tries to make them shut up would be like King Canute commanding the tides of the sea to roll back.
Finally, there are other weighty issues against Secretary Pangandaman, related to his performance as DAR chief, which by themselves would have guaranteed that he remains a controversial public figure. The golf brawl merely added fuel to an already raging fire.
Although, who knows, maybe the controversy will die down after the long holiday season is over and people return to their normal routines. It was just the Pangandamans’ ill luck that the incident happened almost at the beginning of the Christmas season when people had a lot of time on their hands and were online and the usual national issues were at the back burner.