In 2000, at the turn of the century, ABS-CBN soap opera Pangako Sa ‘Yo promised to be the new face of the Philippine soap opera for the new millennium. It promised to be larger than life, to become Philippine drama at its finest. Its multi-character, three generations narrative sought to redefine Pinoy romance by entangling parallel characters in an against-all-odds love cycle. Above all, it introduced the term that basically “Filipinized” the soap opera, making it our own, as the world was struggling to come to terms with globalization. Dubbed as the very first “teleserye”, Pangako Sa ‘Yo was instrumental in founding the idea of a local soap opera tradition, deserving of critical attention and distinct estimation. The “linguistic turn”—the turning into language of this truly Filipino television culture—signified the Philippine soap opera’s coming into its own, many years after the Americans brought it along with broadcasting. The neologism “teleserye” (“tele” for television, and “serye” for series) will mark its 15th year in 2015 with the upcoming remake of the soap featuring the love team Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla, reprising the roles of Kristine Hermosa’s Yna Macaspac and Jericho Rosales’ Angelo Buenavista. Meanwhile, the very fact that the word has stayed on in popular culture, and is in current use by all networks when they refer to their respective soap opera productions, prove that the television genre as Filipino has indeed established itself after it sought to name itself, the way the Latin Americans did with their telenovelas.
But before the promise was the premise: the original Pangako Sa ‘Yo, to my memory, sought to become a different soap opera after its high successful predecessors lorded over the airwaves—these were Mara Clara, Esperanza, and Mula sa Puso. This was towards the end of the Latin American telenovela fever, when Filipino viewers have already started to clamor for fixity and tightness in soap operas. Pangako Sa ‘Yo was true to its precursors’ form, though it aspired for more complexity in its conflict which still propelled the narrative. The length of airing was, of course, still determined by the audience, and the landscape back then was changing. Looking back at Pangako Sa ‘Yo, I can’t help but surmise that it was an experiment of sorts in a broadcasting period that had already seen soap opera resolutions in a span of a few months. For how else can the Filipino epic imagination still be sustained in that new environment, post-Marimar? Pangako Sa ‘Yo’s response was simple: narrate multi-generationally, compress the time periods, make the characters evolve the soonest, and invest on good old hubris. Plus, provide a cinematographic gloss to the soap, add more dimension to the rollercoaster ride of the love stories (in the plural). Since the soap is multi-character too, the subplots have to be put in, though to a certain extent, it became detrimental to other parts of the narrative. Pangako Sa ‘Yo was trailblazing in its own right; like the recently concluded Be Careful with My Heart, it resisted the imposition of the foreign form (in Pangako, the Latin form, in Be Careful, the Korean form) by insisting on what it is—an authentic imagination of Filipino romance experience, in its own time.
Time is again very important to discourse about here as the teleserye has its own temporality. While it had already adapted to the temper of the times with regards to soap opera airing lengths, Pangako Sa ‘Yo elucidates our conception of time as particularly shaped by our relation with the past. The past is never a foreign country to us, as it is as much a part of the present—to a fault. In Pangako Sa ‘Yo, the past is pivotal in the dynamics of the story, and in how the lead characters turned against each other. It is interesting to note that the original’s backstory, the love between Amor Powers and Eduardo Buenavista, played by Eula Valdez and Tonton Gutierrez, turned out to be the most important story. It was a deceptive ploy to put together parallel love stories, and consequent triangles, converging and connecting in a singular plot line. Time then had to be bought in order to carry out this complex project. A good number of episodes had to be mounted to dramatize what I’ll call at this point as the origin story, which in turn heightened the love story of the present. In a way, this is how the very first teleserye claimed its being an epic story—it actually played with time present and time past by not only putting them in predictable chronology, but also putting them in parallel with each other, where the main actors interact in constant tension and flux. More than its production design, scenic settings, realistic references to some of the major events of the day, and even the presentation of alternative ending options, Pangako Sa ‘Yo’s virtue is that of time, which may also be read as the capacity to traverse fictional time and current affairs. The teleserye was bold enough to discuss issues of feudalism, man-made tragedies (remember the Payatas tragedy), political dynasty, organized crime, diasporic migration, and domestic labor, to become a testament of not only the times of the star-crossed lovers, but also of real, historical time.
Space also played an important part in Pangako Sa ‘Yo as it has been clearly located by way of the setting in this first Philippine teleserye. While most soap operas currently running neglect the idea of location in its narrative discourse, Pangako Sa ‘Yo has clearly situated not only Philippine experience, but also Philippine space as meaningful plane of signifying the said experiences. The selection of what seems like the Payatas Landfill to open the soap, where Amor Powers lost her young daughter Yna, recalled back then, the very tragic reality of urban congestion and the sorry state of people making a living through dump. The Buenavista Hacienda meanwhile served as testament to the land reform problems still hounding society. On the other hand, the election scenes in the story portrayed the ruthlessness of our political, as well as our business cultures, both run by the reign of vengeance and greed. On a more interesting note, Pangako Sa ‘Yo as a border-crossing soap has put the Philippines in the map of the global drama world, a space dominated by Hollywood, and other emergent drama cultures like the big telenovela players from Latin America. Aside from performing well in countries from Southeast Asia, Africa, and even America, it also earned a local remake in Cambodia, which is currently on air. In ABS-CBN’s Pangako Sa ‘Yo promotional video used for international trade shows, the word “teleserye” is flashed prominently, identifying the soap opera as a Filipino text. In hindsight, Pangako Sa ‘Yo remarkably carried out the two-fold task of locating at once the Philippine setting, and setting the tone for the teleserye as a global text. These distinctions need to be mentioned now that a new Pangako Sa ‘Yo is set to return to Philippine television, 15 years after it launched the word and the genre.
What then is the promise of this new Pangako Sa ‘Yo? The cast promises to be an interesting one, and the tenor is one of maturity. Jodi Santamaria comes of age here, and she receives a rightful prize after her successful stint by being Be Careful with My Heart’s Maya. She will play the bidang-kontrabida Amor, and is expected to perform exciting dramatic exchanges with Angelica Panganiban, who will play the equally unforgettable archrival Madame Claudia Buenavista. Pangako Sa ‘Yo is primarily a narrative of women, and the confrontation scenes of these two are worth anticipating. Also, there is the “Kathniel” craze to reckon with. As contemporary TV’s most favorite love team, Bernardo and Padilla represent current kilig that never fails to sweep the audience off its feet. It would be interesting to see how their kilig would reinvent the best-remembered kilig of Hermosa and Rosales. What looks promising at this point is the network’s emphasis on the maturity of this new pair—that they are now capable of taking on more serious dramatic endeavors. Pangako Sa ‘Yo could be the coming of age of the two, as it is definitely a coming full circle to Santamaria, who played the role of Angelo’s sister Lia in the first version. Meanwhile, for the teleserye at large, Pangako Sa ‘Yo promises to be another landmark, a highpoint in the continuing development of the Filipino television genre. After 15 years, it looks like the term is here to stay, continuing the definition of the soap opera as truly Filipino, and as worthy global drama for the world to see.