The Notable Teleserye Performances of 2015


The 2015 round up continues for Teleseryes, and this time, we focus on notable performances, which by and large means at least three things, all on the part of the actors: an in depth understanding of the character’s persona, which consequently determines the arc of development towards discovery or transformation; a tempered, nuanced portrayal of this understanding of character; and an expansion of performance towards an articulation of the narrative insight of the teleserye. Artistry is of course always arguable, and for quite a while, there appears a general malaise against the genre, which many quarters consider as anything but artistic.

A teleserye is fundamentally a narrative, sequentially plotted to create a particular effect; characters are created to inhabit the time and space of the plot, and in effect, enable the story’s movement. The performances of actors determine the rhythm of the plot, which intensifies audience interest and encourages following. Performance is being discussed here in a very formalist, classical sense, where external factors like marketability or even the ploy to perpetrate love team fandoms are excluded. This “formalist”, “classicist” discussion is necessary in order to argue that there is indeed artistry involved in the genre, and that it is worthy of critical appreciation. It may have been negligible for its dailiness and popularity, but much of our contemporary culture is embedded in it.

Performance has a lot to do with this cultural embedding and the actors whose performances were selected for this year excellently portrayed their personae considering the three items mentioned. These actors’ characters defined this year’s harvest of teleseryes by televisually embodying personages who went through compelling, transformative experiences that shaped each of the soap opera’s story-ness. Some of the characters were reinventions of original personages, while others were original interpretations that simply leapt out of the television screen to capture the imagination of the audiences. This audience effect—as well as affect—have to be extensively discoursed in order to see how characters basically conversed with the social sphere and became imaginative expressions of current affairs and concerns.

This is when acting becomes—wittingly or unwittingly—political, especially when it transforms into a medium by which social issues, moral dilemma, and domestic drama are taken up. This is the subject of the third item, the performances’ expansiveness, which unequivocally urges teleserye acting to transcend its inherent economic imperative, pacing the soap opera critic Robert Allen. The soap opera—in our case, the teleserye—may have been generically predisposed to this imperative, but it is also a vast space of possibilities where relevant statements may be expressed, performed. 2015’s notable performances offered various manners of expansiveness while also deepening and nuancing portrayals. These performances shaped the Teleserye this year, as it delved, directly or peripherally, on the major themes of the day, aside from tapping into traditional romance and the modal depiction of the family as an important Filipino social institution.

7. Jacklyn Jose, Marimar. Signature camp acting at its finest. Jose’s performance salvaged this remake of Marimar by reinventing Señora Angelica Santibañez, turning the unforgettable and feisty antagonist into a comic, almost metafictive character who owns a classy seaside resort but who is anything but classy. Jose has lent levity to the teleserye by bringing in all sorts of lines and gestures typical of the landed nouveau riche. In an alternative reading, her performance may be seen as a critique of remakes, a statement about its pitfalls and possibilities. It may have been unintended—and it surely was—but her version of Señora Santibañez turned the tables on the soap by exposing the clockwork of Filipino soap opera campiness. Jose’s camp performance in Marimar was but one of a few to be remembered in 2015, and it joins the ranks of Marissa Delgado’s, whose emphatic and queerly phrased English dialogues in Forevermore distinguished her character as a hotel magnate, and Angelica Panganiban’s, who basically made a composite of all her previous campy characters in film and teleseryes to concoct a new Madame Claudia Buenavista in Pangako Sa ‘Yo.

6. Daniel Padilla, Pangako Sa ‘Yo. Many have little faith on this young actor, but thanks to Pangako Sa ‘Yo’s book two, he was transformed into a different Angelo Buenavista after many of life’s challenges. From a bratty governor’s son born with a golden spoon in his mouth, he became the next door, bike-riding baker boy who had to start from the ground up and finally learn from the school of hard knocks. His family’s tragedy motivated him to strive and build his life with his younger sister, who was left to his care. His character’s authentic positive attitude while coursing through the city’s high rises—a sign of a transformed life away from his political and provincial turf—was believable and compelling. Pangako Sa ‘Yo has certainly provided Padilla a good material where he could transcend his matinee image and become a serious actor.

5. Janella Salvador, Oh My G! Distinguished acting for a debut teleserye. Salvador’s Sophie, a sheltered, upper-middle class lass who lost both of her parents to violent deaths, successfully captured the idiom of the times by parsing in social media language into her consciousness, and letting it become the means by which to narrate her adventure of searching for her long lost sister. The use of the current idiolect was part of the ploy to dramatize the timeless search for God in contemporary times, lorded over by Facebook and Instagram, and where there seems to be no time at all for spirituality and reflection. Salvador’s character was lent with moving moments of dialogue with the God-figure, and in these same moments, she constantly embodied the figure of the biblical Job asking the divine the great whys of life. Salvador’s performance was never didactic, but always aspired for the articulation of the self-aware character’s insight and soul.

4. Connie Reyes, Nathaniel. A Connie Reyes performance must definitely be noted since this actress’s body of works in television drama is a dramatic school of its own. This year, she played Angela V. Lacsamana or AVL, a successful business magnate with a dark past, and an even darker present, since quite literally, she was being used as an instrument of the dark forces from hell (mind the semblance of the sound of the word “evil” with the popular initials of Reyes’s character). Some may argue that AVL’s persona reeked of being stereotypical, but again, the soap has to be read as an allegory of the current reign of greed. In the battle between good and evil, Reyes’s AVL personified excessive materialism and hunger for power. Was the teleserye commenting on contemporary morals? In the time of widespread corruption, was this soap of angelic proportions, through Reyes’s AVL, a performance of a final reckoning? Reyes certainly played the part well, and nobody else would have been able to pull it off.

5. Glaiza de Castro, The Rich Man’s Daughter. De Castro’s Althea provided a nuanced rendition of the underrepresented figure of the lesbian in Philippine television. Her’s basically veered away from the stereotype, and attempted to reimagine the liminal figure by internalizing and embodying essential concerns and conflicts. She did not flatten her character into another that aspired to mythologize, so to speak, the similarity of her dilemma with that of the whole heterosexual norm. Althea was brave as a dramatization—and not merely a celebration— of difference. It may be easy to categorize De Castro’s Althea as a lipstick lesbian who happened to help her beloved awaken into coming out of the closet herself, but her natural spunk yielded for Althea a distinct character and bravura.

2. Ketchup Eusebio, Ningning. Eusebio is one underrated fine actor, and has only been given a few lead roles in the past. His performance in the late morning, feel good teleserye was nevertheless a refreshing one. He played the role of Dondon, father to the child protagonist Ningning, played by Jana Agoncillo. Eusebio gave a tempered performance of a father who transitioned from a life of fishing in a storm-ravaged seaside town to a life in the streets in the urban sprawl—indeed a very gripping initiation. He played the part of the father well, employing his signature comicality for levity and lightness, and his restrained pathos, especially when he shares the frame with Agoncillo, who at a very young age already has the makings of a fine actress. His recent exchanges with Agoncillo, as he was explaining to the the child’s character the need to have an eye operation in order to avert blindness, was a moving scene, sensitive to the mood of the situation and the positive disposition of the show.

1. Paolo Avelino and Jericho Rosales, Bridges of Love. The performances of the two actors playing the estranged brothers Carlos Antonio/JR Nakpil and Gael Nakpil, respectively, could not be appraised separately, thus this decision to have them share 2015’s top spot. Both consistently maintained acting intensity, evolving a dynamic that foregrounded their climactic discovery of their relation to each other towards the end of the teleserye. Avelino’s Carlos Antonio was fired up by anger for being abandoned as a boy, while Rosales’s Gael was motivated by the strong desire to succeed and redeem his life after his initial but defining travails. Carlos Antonio’s anger was fomented by the man he considered his father, the construction mogul Lorenzo Antonio, played by Edu Manzano, who has long kept a grudge against the Nakpils. Avelino has finely performed the deeply troubled character of Carlos Antonio, a great foil to Rosales’s Gael, rendered with restraint and intelligence by the said teleserye veteran. The consistent intensity in both was observable in the warranted rage and violence in the final scenes of the soap. In looming death, both had dramatized how blood would always be thicker than water.

Ang Sinasabi ng Aldub

Panayam sa Heights Creative Talk, Nobyembre 6, 2015, Pamantasang Ateneo de Manila

12195847_10153461412773110_7982016470246745468_nKahapon ay ipinagdiwang ng programang Eat Bulaga ang “17th week-sary” ng samahang Aldub. Ang tagal na pala talaga, kung tutuusin, at talagang naitaguyod at napanindigan nito ang kasikatan, kung susumahin ang milyong tweets nang itanghal nito ang sinasabing “Tamang Panahon” sa Philippine Arena, ang kabi-kabilang talakay at pagpansin sa iba’t ibang daluyan ng lokat at internasyonal media, at ang sa ngayong walang sawang pagtangkilik ng mamamayan dito. Mahalaga ang pagbibigay-diin sa pariralang sa ngayon dahil nilalang ang Aldub ng kontemporaneong panahon. Dahil kasama naman talaga rito ang usapin ng “panahon”, nais kong magsimula ng aking pagbabahagi hinggil sa mga kahingian ng ating kontemporaneong panahon, na mahalagang pinag-uukulan ko ng sa kasalukuyan ngayon habang sinisikap kong buuin ang mga ideya ko hinggil sa isa pang kontemporaneong anyong pantelebisyon na nauna ko nang ipinaliwanag, ang Teleserye. Mahahalagang susing salita ko sa aking kasalukuyang pag-aaral ang kontemporaneong panahon, at ang Teleserye, sapagkat binibigyang kahulugan nila ang isa’t isa bilang kulturang popular ng ating panahon. Ang Teleserye, sa isang banda, ay ang anyong pasalaysay ng ating kontemporaneong panahon, na nagtatanghal ng mga kasalukuyang kuwento at drama (na maaaring ilarawang “aksiyon”, “pagkilos”, o “pagtatanghal”, sang-ayon sa etimolohiya ng salita). Ang kontemporaneong panahon naman, ang panahong kasalukuyan, ang siyang lumikha at humubog sa Teleserye, batay sa kaligirang pangkasaysayan ng brodkasting sa Filipinas at iba pang pag-aanyong pangkultura na nagbibigay-anyo sa ating mga napapanood ngayon sa telebisyon. Ang tinaguriang “Kalyeserye”, ang pangkalahatang etiketa ng samahang Aldub, ay malinaw na hango sa dalumat ng Teleserye, ang siyang itinatawag natin ngayon sa mga lokal na soap opera. May kasaysayan ang mga salita at pagbabansag, kung kaya mahalagang mapahalagahan ang mga sandali ng pagpapangalan. Nitong nakaraang linggo, nagbahagi ng kaniyang matalim na paliwanag si Dr. Soledad S. Reyes sa hinggil sa kaniyang pagbasa sa Aldub. Pinahalagahan niya ang pag-uugat ng phenomenon sa kasaysayang pampanitikan at diskurso ng kulturang popular. Hindi naman na natin mapapasubalian ang kaniyang nakitang matalik na kaugnayan ng pangyayaring ito sa telebisyon sa napakaraming tinangkilik na aliwan at panitikan mula pa man noong unang panahon. Ngunit sa ganang akin, hindi pa gaanong naisisiyasat o nadadalumat ang pagpapangalan, kahit naman sa Teleserye, na tinangka kong gawan ng paliwanag noong isang taon, nang buksan ng Kagawaran ng Ingles, Pamantasang Ateneo de Manila, ang kursong The Philippine Teleserye (na muling magbubukas sa susunod na semestre). Ang pagbigkas ng host ng Eat Bulaga na si Joey De Leon ng salitang “Kalyeserye” sa isa sa mga unang episode ng phenomena—dahil nga ang mala-mala Teleseryeng umuusbong sa pagitan nina Alden Richards at Maine Mendoza aka Yaya Dub, ay nagaganap sa kalye, sa labas ng malamig, komportable, at makinang na studio ng noontime show—ay isang muhong dapat nating balikan, sapagkat laman nito ang makapagpapaliwanag hinggil sa telebisyon bilang nagpapatuloy na kulturang popular sa Filipinas. Mabilis ang mga paghuhunos sa telebisyon, at ano mang makapagkamal ng tagal sa eyre ay dapat nang itangi, tulad ng salitang Teleserye, na inilungsad 15 taon na ang nakalilipas, nang ipalabas ang unang Pangako Sa ‘Yo. Ang tagal na natutunghayan natin sa Aldub sa kasalukuyan, at ang samut-saring diskursong nalilikha nitö—positibo man o negatibo—ay tanda ng isang mahalagang katangiang dala ng mga telebiswal na teksto ng kontemporaneong panahon: ang katangiang ito ay ang pagiging rebolusyonaryo, mapagbago.

Ano nga ba ang lumikha sa Kalyeserye bilang isang Teleserye? Marahil, isa munang maikling pagbabalik-tanaw sa ating kontemporaneong kasaysayan. Nasabi ko nang ang Teleserye ay rebolusyonaryong lohika ng rebolusyon sa Edsa noong 1986, na nagpabalik at nagtatag na muli ng demokratisadong brodkasting. Mahalaga ang kalayaan sa brodkasting sapagkat hindi lamang nito nabuksan ang mga posibilidad ng mga pagtatanghal na telebiswal; binuksan din nito ang industriya sa daigdig, habang sa isang banda, iniinda pa rin ang pagkakakalat ng mga Filipino sa iba’t bansa dahil sa naunang itinaguyod na diaspora at kulturang balikbayan ng napatalsik na rehimen. Sa yugtong iyon, nagkaroon na tayo, hindi lamang ng tanaw na pambansa, kundi tanaw na planetaryo, wika nga ni Gayatri Spivak. Magsisimulang magkaroon ng kaakuhan ang soap operang Filipino sa pagyugto ng bagong milenyo, at matapos magsimulang magkaroon ng edukasyon sa pamamagitan ng mga kapanabay na “Tagalisadong” telenovela mula sa Amerika Latina at mga Asianovela mulang Taiwan at South Korea, uusbong sa 2000 ang pangalang “Teleserye” (na pagtatambal ng mga salitang “tele” mula sa telebisyon, at serye, na tumutukoy naman sa pangunahing katangian ng soap opera, ang pagiging tuluyan) sa pamamagitan ng Pangako Sa ‘Yo, na masasabing hindi lamang unang yugto ng paggulang ng soap opera matapos ang Rebolusyon ng 1986, kundi pagsapit din ng soap opera sa pagiging kulturang popular na Filipino sa antas na global. Tandaan natin na nag-trending din Pangako Sa ‘Yo sa iba’t iban panig ng daigdig, matapos itong mailako sa merkadong pandaigdig. Ang pag-tetrending o pagsikat sa isperang pandaigdig ay isang mahalagang idinulot ng rebolusyong pantelebisyon sa Filipinas, na nagsilang nga sa Teleserye. Kung tatanungin ako hinggil sa kahanga-hangang pagsikat ng Aldub, madaling maipapagunita ang birtud ng Pangako Sa ‘Yo, na sumikat at pinag-usapan sa di ilang bansa sa Africa, sa America, at sa mga karatig-bayan sa Timog Silangang Asya. Ngunit ang planetaridad na aking sinasabi rito ay hindi lamang dapat ituring na nakatuon lamang ang lansin sa banyagang awdyens. Dahil nga nangagkalat tayong mga Filipino sa lahat ng lupalop ng daigdig, hindi kataka-takang makagawa tayo ng ingay bilang isang kultura, lalo na kung mayroon tayong sabay-sabay na tinatangkilik tulad ng Aldub. Ganitong trend, kung baga, ang nakita sa isang narinig kong pagsusuri sa bilang ng tweets ng Aldub, noong kasagsagan ng natatanging pagtatanghal ng “Tamang Panahon”, ang kauna-unahang pagtatagpo ng ating mga bida mula sa kanilang estading split-screen. Sa panahong ito, matapos ng pagbabalik ng demokratisadong telebisyon sa Filipinas, nakatuon na tayo sa pandaigdigang ispera, kahanay ang mga tinatangkilik din nating serye mula sa US, America Latina, at Silangang Asya. At may bentahe tayo dahil nangangkalat ang mga Filipino sa buong mundo. May agarang awdyens na tayo saan mang lupalop na maging mabenta ang ating mga Teleserye. Totoo, nakatulong nang malaki ang social media sa walang puknat na diskurso hinggil sa Aldub, at hindi na natin ipagtatanong pa ang dalang kasikatan ni Mendoza mula sa kaniyang kalát na mga Dubsmash. Ngunit sa isang masusing pagsusuri, makikitang ang tagumpay ng Aldub ay isang pinagsama-samang pormula ng estratehikong pagpapalawak ng sakop ng telebisyon/ mainstream media sa plataporma ng social media at ng isang makasaysayang proseso ng paghuhunos ng soap opera matapos ng 1986, na naghandog nga ng isang pangalang hindi natin akalain ay maitatawid ang sarili matapos ang 15 taon. Kaya talagang nasiyahan ako sa pagdating ng Aldub. Para sa akin, patunay ang patuloy na pagsikat nito, at ang pagiging pandaigdigang phenomenon into, sa nararapat na pagpapahalaga sa Teleserye bilang isang genreng telebiswal na sariling atin. Nang maisip ni De Leon na ipihit ang wika ng umuusbong na pag-iibigan nina Richards at Mendoza patungo sa Teleserye, sa pamamagitan ng katagang “Kalyeserye”, wari’y naigiit ang panimulang haka ko noong isang taon sa umiiral na pagkamalaganap ng konsepto, at ng pagiging ikoniko nito sa kulturang popular.

Ngunit ano pa nga ba ang rebolusyonaryo sa Aldub, bukod sa pagiging supling nito ng Teleserye, na supling na telebiswal naman ng rebolusyong 1986? Una, wari bang ipinaramdam nito sa noontime show, sa pamamagitan ng Eat Bulaga, isang muhong telebiswal mula sa sumakabilang panahon (tandaang sumilang ang palabas noong 1979), ang tatag nito bilang isang kontemporaneong genreng telebiswal. Agad-agad na masisilayan dito ang agon o tagisan ng dalawang genre na ito, na bumubuo sa institusyong telebiswal sa Filipinas. Nang una akong hingan ng pagsusuri hinggil sa Aldub, ang bagay na ito ang aking pinuna. Ang wika ko, mukhang isinusuko ng genre ng noontime show ang sarili nito sa hegemoni ng Teleserye, na siyang bumubuo sa halos pangkalahatan ng ating araw-araw na danas ng panonood ng madla (tandaang may mga teleserye na nga sa umaga bukod sa traditional na mga teleserye sa hapon; natural na natatangi ang mga teleserye sa gabi). Mag-iisang buwan pa lamang noon ang Aldub nang isulat ko ang pagsusuri, at ang totoo, pinagdudahan ko ang bisa ng walang-plano-plano at biglaang kiligan sa kilalang segment na Juan for All, All for Juan, na sinusundan ko noon pa man sapagkat nakatatawa ang tatlong nagdadala nito na sina Jose Manalo, Wally Bayola, at Paolo Ballesteros. Ang sabi ko pa nga, baka kailangang planuhin na ang takda, ang tamang panahon ng pagwawakas nito. At dahil Teleserye naman ang hulmahan nito, dapat itong magtapos sa isang maatikabo at kapanapanabik na paraan. Mahirap ipanukala ang inaasahang kasal dahil may hibong kusang nangyayari ang lahat sa palabas, nakabatay sa siste at galing ng palitan ng diyalogo, at may epekto ring mala-mala totoo. Kaya kahanga-hanga ang bawat metapiksiyonal na pagpihit ni Bayola, aka Lola Nidora sa tuwing nadadala ang magkapareha sa kantiyawan: aktingan lamang ito, hoy! At saka niya ibabalik ang gunita ng namayapang si Babalu sa kaniyang paggaya sa pagsasalita nito, na magiging hudyat naman sa pagtatanong ng “asawa ni”, na batid naman natin ang sagot. Tuluyang binago ng kiligan ang segment upang maghunos bilang isang Teleserye sa tanghali, isang Teleserye sa kalye, sa ilalim ng sikat ng araw. Ang pag-iral ng segment sa labas ng studio ay isa na ngang inobasyong masasabi: inilabas na ang ispektakulo, inilapit sa mamamayan, at sumusugod pa sa kabahayan ng masusuwerteng tinatawagan upang makapagpamigay ng papremyo. Marami nang dramang inilantad ang Juan for All, All for Juan, at sa ganang akin, malaon nang nagtatanghal ng mga Teleserye ng tunay na buhay, na unang pinauso ni Willie Revillame sa Wowowee, at kahit sa kasalukuyan niyang Wowowin. Marami nang umiyak sa palabas bago at matapos mapapremyuhan. Isa lamang ang Aldub sa inobasyon ng mismong segment, na naghunos na rin nang makailang ulit, sa pamamagitan ng pagpapakilala ng iba pang host, tulad ng aktres na si Marian Rivera, at nito ngang huli, ng paglikha ng samutsari at kakaibang karakter tulad ni Lola Nidora, na lola ng naunang ipinakilalang manggagamot at manlalakbay na si Dora the Explorer. Pinangatawanang tuluyan ng Juan for All, All for Juan ang paglitaw ng isang Teleserye sa palabas, at bumuo na nga ng iba pang karakter na makapagpapatingkad sa paglalahad ng nakakikilig na pag-iibigang Aldub, na karaniwang pag-iibigan sa pagitan ng isang guwapong binata at isang katulong. Nabasa at napanood na natin ang mga pigurang ganito, kaya madaling sundan, at madaling paunlarin. Naging lunsaran pa ito ng didaktikong mithiin nang magsimulang bumigkas si Lola Nidora ng mga aral sa buhay, at hindi lamang sa buhay-pag-ibig. Ikinatuwa ito ng mga taong-simbahan at ginawaran ang Eat Bulaga sa mga handog na pagpapahalaga. Katanggap-tanggap pala ang pagbibihis-babae sa Simbahang Katolika, basta may dala kang aral, ala Urbana at Felisa. Sa maikling salita, ang dami nang nangyari sa loob ng 17 linggo ng pagtakbo ng Aldub. Marami na ring nasabi, at sinasabi pa, tulad ng sa pagkakataong ito na ibinigay ninyo sa akin. May nagbago ba sa unang munakala ko? Marami. At marami rin akong kinamanghaan sa araw-araw na pagsubaybay ko rito, bukod sa likas nitong pagkaintertekstwal at pagkamalikhain. May araw din namang parang walang latoy ang dramahan. Ngunit napatunayan ng 17 linggong pananatiling tinatangkilik ng Aldub hindi lamang ang kontemporaneong bisa ng Teleserye; napatunayan din nito ang tibay ng genre ng noontime show, sa pamamagitan ng Eat Bulaga, na makasabay sa takbo ng panahon.

Subalit, ang totoo, hindi madaling makita ng maraming nasusuya at nagtataas ng kilat ang mga sinabi ko na, maging ang mga inilatag na patunay ni Dr. Reyes sa kaniyang artikulo noong isang linggo. Hindi madaling makita sapagkat mas pinipiling huwag makita. Hindi pa rin tayo makahulagpos sa mababang tingin natin sa mga tekstong tulad ng Kalyeseryeng Aldub at ng mga Teleserye sa pangkalahatan. Nang ipakilala ng Kagawaran ng Ingles ang kursong Philippine Teleserye Elective, pinagtaasan kami ng kilay ng marami sa social media at binansagan pa nga tayo sa Ateneo de Manila bilang kapritsoso sa paglalaan ng panahon sa halos walang kawawaang bagay tulad ng dramang pantelebisyon. Malaki talaga ang kinalaman ng panahon sa usaping ito, sapagkat maraming bahagi ng kultura ng pang-araw-araw ang madalas na ituring na karaniwan at hindi na kailangang pag-isipan pa. Noong isang araw, napakamot ako sa ulo nang mabasa ang isang letter to the editor mula sa Inquirer, kung saan nagrereklamo ang lumiham hinggil sa “lubhang kababawan” ng Aldub. Siyempre, narinig na natin ang mga ganito nang makailang ulit. Nabasa ko rin ito sa kung saan-saan nang ilungsad ang Philippine Teleserye Elective. Malalim na paratang ang kababawan sapagkat bukod sa matagal nang nagkaroon ng paglilinaw ang mga tagapagtaguyod ng Araling Pangkultura o Cultural Studies hinggil dito, nakapagtatakang babaw pa rin ang ating isyu sa kabila ng dami ng talakay na nahalukay ng pag-iibigang Alden at Yayadub. Binaybay na ng phenomenon ang usapin, mula sa tagumpay nito bilang isang brand sa merkado, hanggang sa pagiging panitikan nito, na tinupad nga ni Dr. Reyes noong isang linggo, at sinisikap tuparin ng inyong lingkod sa pagkakataong ito. May binabanggit si Michel Foucault hinggil sa transdiskursibilidad (transdiscursivity) ng mga teksto. Ang mahusay na teksto, sang-ayon sa basa ko kay Foucault, ay hindi lamang nakapapaslang ng awtor (na siya ngang nangyayari sa mga kasalukuyang Teleserye, na may mga “awtor” mang naka-byline ay talagang pinatatakbo ng makinarya ng produksiyon); nakapagtutulak din ito ng iba pang diskurso. Hindi na marahil pagmamalabis ang sabihing angkin ng Aldub ang transdiskursibilidad, hindi lamang dahil laman ito ng usapan, mulang palengke hanggang pulpito. Sa isperang madalas nating binabalingan, ang ispera ng talakayan, marami na itong nasabi, at marami pa ngang sinasabi, bukod sa natural na pagkiling natin sa mga pigura ng api at marhinal tulad ni Yaya Dub, ang kakatwang katulong, na noong una’y hinahadlangan ang kaligayahan at halos wala ngang tinig maliban sa kung ano ang ipatugtog para sa kaniya, na siya namang kaniyang ida-dub. Sa kawalang-tinig ni Yaya Dub, maraming mga naisatinig, tulad halimbawa ng kapangyarihan ng mga tagasunod ng Aldub, na hindi naman makatarungang bansagan na lamang na “bulag” na mga tagatangkilik ng nasabing sikat na textong telebiswal. Sa panahong nalalapit ang pambansangb halalan, wari bang pinasisilay sa ating lahat, lalo na marahil sa mga nagtataas ng kilay, ang potensiyal ng mistulang kilusang ito, na nakapagpapuno ng dambuhalang Philippine Arena matapos ng ilang oras ng paglalako ng tiket at nakapagpatrend sa phenomenon sa social media sa buong mundo. Laos na, para sa akin, ang pag-alipusta sa mga textong telebiswal tulad ng Teleserye, dahil binubuhay lamang nito ang tinalikdan na’t nilumang pagpapahalaga sa pag-uuri ng mga sining at kultura. At hindi tayo nangangatwiran sa paraang ad populum dito; ang sinasabi ko lamang, kung nakapagpapakilos nang ganito ang isang textong telebiswal, malaki ang potensiyal ng mga tulad ng Teleserye na makapagtulak ng maraming mithi o kabaguhan sa bayan nating sawi. Kapuri-puri, sa ganang akin ang “kilusang” inilungsad ng pagtatanghal ng “Tamang Panahon”: ninais nitong magtayo ng mga aklatan. Sabihin na nating pinakikilos pa rin ito ng kamay ng komersiyo, na nakauumay ding laging marinig, lalo sa bayang ito kung saan hindi magawang masugpo ang isa pang nagtetrending ngayon sa social media, bukod sa Aldub: ang tanim-bala sa mga airport. Isa sa mga epektong transdiskusibo ng Aldub ay ang paghuhunos nito bilang isang pagkilos para itaguyod ang edukasyon, bagay na bahagi ng malaon nang proyekto ng All for Juan, Juan for All na mangolekta ng mga plastik na bote para gawing silya sa mga paaralan. Sapat nang negosasyon sa para sa akin ang gayong mithiin, kahit kailangang kabakahin ang lintsak na kapital. Sa akin, higit na isang matalinong pagharap sa pagtatakda ng kapital ang gayong mga interbensiyon, kaysa isang lubos na pagpapalamon dito. May sariling etika ang ating telebiswal na konteksto na kailangang lubos na unawain, lalo’t madali itong problemahin sa paninging Kanluranin. Ang hirap kasi sa mga arkanghel ng media ethics, nakaliligtaan nila, o marahil ay hindi talaga nila nakikita, na likas sa midyang Filipino ang interbensiyon, ang matalik na ugnyana ng midya sa awdyens, lalo’t kinakabaka araw-araw ang pagkainutil ng mga institusyon ng estado. Oo naman, may masama itong epekto sa tao, lalo kung umaasa ka na lamang sa mabuting gulong ng palad. Kaya katanggap-tanggap din sa isang banda ang pagsasabing problematiko rin ang palagiang pag-asa sa suwerteng dala ng mga pakontes ng palabas na tulad ng Eat Bulaga, o mga reality show kung saan maaaring maging daan sa pag-ahon mula sa kahirapan ang pag-aartista.

Sa huli, kailangang maigiit ang ilang bagay. Likas na mapaglaro ang Aldub, parang pusóng, naghuhunos araw-araw, dala na rin ng inobatibong katangian ng mga magulang na genre nito na noontime show at Teleserye. Mahirap tuldukan ang hindi pa natatapos na pangungusap nito, at araw-araw na pangungusap sa taumbayan. Ang hula ng ilan sa amin sa Kagawaran ng Ingles, baka umabot pa ito ng Valentine’s Day. Marami pa sa hanay namin ang ngayon-ngayon pa lamang nakasusumpong sa birtud at kilig ng Teleseryeng aksidenteng sumulpot sa pusod ng noontime show, at hindi iilan ang hindi nakaiwas magulumihanan sa pangyayaring sinakop ng drama ang isang institusyonal na palabas na nakamihasnan nang may sarilng anyo at katangian. Sa yugtong pos-estruktural at posmoderno, madaling bigyang pakahulugan ang Aldub bilang isang imbensiyon ng kontemporaneong pag-aanyo ng kultura, kung saan kaibang-kaiba na ang mga danas ng panahon at espasyo. Iyan ang itinuturo sa atin ng romansang split-screen na masasabing pangunahing balakid sa pag-iibigan nina Richards at Yaya Dub. Ngunit sa mga yugto ring nabanggit, totoo, walang forever, at kayhirap makita nito. Papaano kasi, lahat ay nangyayari ngayon, sa kasalukuyan, at hindi agad-agad mapipiho ang bukas. Kaya rin, sa aking palagay, noong papasimula ang Kalyeserye, naging mahalagang bahagi ng karakterisasyon ni Lola Nidora, na tiyak namang sagisag ng luma, makalumang pahahon, ang nostalgia niya sa nakaraan. Hindi nga ba iniugnay pa niya ang kaniyang sarili kay Adolf Hitler? Nakakagitla, nakatatakot, lalo ngayong parang hinahangad ng taumbayan ang pagkakamit ng pamahalaang may kamay na bakal dahil na rin sa lubhang pagkabigo ng mga institusyon sa bansa. Iyon kaya ang subliminal na mensahe sa atin ng mga pagbabalik-tanaw ni Lola Nidora, ng paglitaw ng kaniyang mga retokadong larawan sa social media, na pangunahing plataporma ng pagsikat ng Kalyeserye? Mahirap talagang ilugar ang mga sinasabi ng phenomenon ng Aldub. Kaya talagang ipinagtataka ko ang palagiang paimbabaw na paghusga rito. Mahirap manatili sa nibel ng rabaw nito sapagkat puspos ito sa siste at parikala sa kaibuturan, may puso pang naghahangad ng paglilingkod sa panahong natatalikdan ng estado ang mga responsabilidad nito sa mamamayan. Siyempre, may politikal na ambiguwidad din naman ito, lalo’t kung isasaalang-alang ang mga kakatwang posisyon sa ispera publika ni Sen. Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, na nananatiling ispektro ng palabas sa pagiging tanging monumento ng tagumpay ng Eat Bulaga sa larang ng politika. Matagal nang may politikal na kapital ang Eat Bulaga sa katauhan ni Sotto, na makailang ulit na pinulaan dahil sa kaniyang pangongopya ng teksto, maipagtanggol lamang ang kaniyang inaagiw na paninindigan hinggil sa Reproductive Health Law. Ganitong mga polaridad, ng paglingap sa mamamayan at pamomosisyon sa politika ang napanagumpayan ng Eat Bulaga sa higit tatlong dekada nitong pamamayagpag, bukod sa pagiging muog na hindi matibag-tibag sa oras nito ng pagpapaligaya. Papaano mang tanawin, isa lamang ang Aldub sa isang libo’t isang tuwang naihandog ng palabas, matapos nitong itawid ang genre ng noontime show mula sa lumang panahon ng Bagong Lipunan patungo sa bagong panahon ng mga milenyal. Tulad ng sa pamamayagpag at pagkamalaganap ng Teleserye, ang sa Aldub ng Eat Bulaga ngayon ay lohika rin ng rebolusyong dala ng Rebolusyong 1986 sa daigdig ng telebisyon sa Filipinas, kung saan makikita ang lakas ng taumbayan bilang isang pamayanan ng mga manonood. Lohika din ito ng paggigiit ng Teleserye sa kaniyang sarili bilang isang umiiral na kulturang Filipino na nakasumpong ng sarili nitong bait at kakanyahan. Napakaraming sinasabi ng Aldub hinggil sa kalakarang pangkultura at panlipunan na humihinging tunghan. Hindi na makasasapat ang pagtataas ng kilay o paghuhusga rito bilang “unmitigated kababawan” at “idiotization” na lamang ng masa. Hindi ba sila bahagi ng masang tinatawag nila, silang mga naunang pumukol sa hitik sa kahulugang phenomenon ng Aldub? Ang salitang “masa” naman, sa etimolohiko nitong pakahulugan ay ang kabuuan, bagaman sa matagal na panahon ay tumutukoy sa pangkatin ng mabababang uri. Kung mayroong ganitong uri ng texto na mapaglaro, nakalilinlang, at malikhain, kailangang sumabay tayong lahat at magtakda ng mga praktika ng pagbasang higit na magdudulot ng kritikal na pananaw sa tinaguriang “masa” na ito na sa ganang akin ay hindi mangmang, bagkus may angking ahensiya at tigib ng katalinuhan. Ang Aldub ay isang mataginting na handog na pagkakataon na makapagbahagi ang lahat, mulang kanto hanggang bulwagang akademiko, ng mga diskurso hinggil sa ating pang-araw-araw na pamumuhay. Mahalaga ang diskurso sa ano mang panahon dahil patunay ito na talaga ngang nag-iisip, napapaisip pa tayo. Ang kasalukuyan ang laging tamang panahon para rito.

What’s up with Aldub?

COMv6XEUkAA0BdNThe “Aldub” Sensation has been going on for more than a month now in the longest running noontime show Eat Bulaga! since that fateful moment when the protagonists in the “kalyeserye” so called started exchanging charming greetings between split screens and what used to be live locality encounters lorded over by the triumvirate of Paolo Ballesteros, Wally Bayola, and Jose Manalo. The success was accidental, and the “lead” couple known today as “Aldub”—up and coming matinee idol Alden Richards and Dubsmash celebrity Maine Mendoza—suddenly became the talk of the town after Bayola’s character Lola Nidora started to wear the villain’s hat to prevent the romance, while at first seemingly raising the conservative “sa tamang panahon” card.

Mendoza’s online following might have also made the “accidental romance” trend, as social media discussions definitely propelled the popularity of the segment. Richards’ growing following may also have contributed to the rise of this new “love team”, where he plays the “bae” next door evoking the usual “kilig” energy, and thus providing the natural chemistry with Mendoza. There is much to explicate about this event on many levels, and I will try to work on some of them in this essay. While many “experts” have already weighed in on the phenomenon, I will focus on its televisual value and attempt predicting its directions.

The emerging “kalyeserye” genre—at once taking off from the teleserye in the middle of daily, “pedestrian” living—has provided a new shot at life for the genre of the noontime show, known for its variety, but is observably reaching a plateau in all its tricks and treats. Eat Bulaga’s competition, It’s Showtime!, is currently dominated by Vice Ganda, with some help of course from the antics of Vhong Navarro, Anne Curtis, and the notable Ryan Bang and Kim Atienza, who are performing well in their lip reading contest segment that exoticizes Korean culture. Eat Bulaga! meanwhile continues to innovate, and for quite a while now has been bringing its show to various places through its “All For Juan, Juan For All” community bash, where the show also does its signature “Sugod Bahay” promotions, giving out prizes to lucky community callers.

Both Eat Bulaga! and It’s Showtime! have transcended their initial formats from their first encounter, and the plot continues to thicken, this time with a challenge that emerged from something very random and rather unplanned. Richards and Mendoza—totally unrelated because of their different segments and even separated by the studio and on location set ups—have suddenly started a story that the producers saw as potentially interesting to pursue. De Leon was prophetic when he started calling the “phenomenon” a “kalyeserye”, as the event indeed propelled a plot that may be “serialized” and followed by viewers. Eventually, as in typical teleseryes, it started to introduce characters—like Richards’ Lola played in cameo by Celia Rodriguez; the mystery caller who seems to be extorting money from Lola Nidora in exchange for keeping a secret; and much lately, Manalo’s Frankie Arinolli, the third wheel in the “Aldub” romance.

The virtue of the “kalyeserye” is its randomness, and its “found”, almost incoherent story residing within the structure of the noontime show, has opened a new possibility for Eat Bulaga’s daily fare. In contemporary times, two televisual genres dominate the airwaves—the variety show, where Eat Bulaga! basically falls under, and the teleserye. It is the first time we have seen what seems like a fusion of both through the “kalyeserye”, though the phenomenon, as well as the usual stuff noontime shows are made of, have always been reminiscent of the “sari-sari” format of the bodabil of yesteryears. However, the mere fact that the romance was unplanned became particularly refreshing, and definitely a respite from the usual drama of promo winners crying their hearts out before being granted their prizes, as if sob, poverty stories are requisites. We can all blame Willie Revillame for “founding” this entertainment model—that of “poverty pornography”—as much of this has been staple during lunchtime.

That was, until Mendoza, Lola Nidora’s ever loyal Yaya Dub, got a bit distracted upon seeing Richards’ smile which showed those endearing “national” dimples. The segment, which also hosts a slapstick “Problem Solving” portion naturally reformatted itself to become lunch hour’s newest craze, where the aforementioned triumvirate and the Aldub couple are to be seen on their toes daily exchanging dialogues in teleserye fashion and “dubsmashes” of love songs by the star-crossed lovers. Like the TVJ—Eat Bulaga! main hosts Tito Sotto, Vic Sotto, and Joey De Leon—in their heydays, the “JoWaPao” (an acronym of the first names of the triumvirate) show their mastery of improvisation and popular humor and push the envelope by embodying other characters aside from their usual selves. The Aldub “kalyeserye” would have not been sustained without the three’s wit and natural gift of gab.

However, this “kalyeserye”, to my mind, is not really being followed for its story, though the network and the producers spin specialists attempt to depict it as becoming a real teleserye in their follow up social media and publicity operations. The humorous senselessness of it all is the point, the incoherence, the randomness, and these, I hope, should not be lost on the show, which must be finding itself today being gifted by this opportunity to renew its lording over the ratings. But all things considered, where is this “kalyeserye” really headed? I see only two possibilities after its being exhausted by the noontime show, which historically introduced countless innovations, as well as a good number of sensations. The first one is to go on and risk being eventually dropped by the audience altogether. The second, which may be more palatable for the producers, is to begin thinking about a grand, top-rating, ending.

But first, some personal conjectures before the predictions. What has led us to this noontime madness, and what does it suggest about our changing viewing behaviors? Are we now running away from the “real” that we have paradoxically turned to the “kalyeserye” to be entertained? And what do we make of the fact that its randomness, that is, its proximity to the real, is also something slowly being shaped, orchestrated, being turned into fiction, the province of the teleserye. Which “reality” do we really turn to now when all that seems to exist is the “unreality” of things, even of the everyday? The “Aldub” sensation resides between reality television and the teleserye, which it begins to aspire for, perhaps because it has to stand true to its being a derivative of the Filipino soap opera genre.

Which brings me to the most logical but looming possibility: like all else, the “kalyeserye” will have to die soon. It is fated to end, as it is slowly becoming an odd thumb to its segment, if the producers continue to pursue what it is really not: a teleserye. It is more of a serialized sketch, where various complications are applied, but is rather self-reflexive as it laughs at itself more often than not and has a blurred distinction between performance as acting out, and performance as mere free play. Typically postmodern, if one asks. The randomness and incoherence of the act tend towards the latter; the former is basically the turf of the teleserye. The noontime show in general cannot afford to drown in a perpetrated sensation such as Aldub, unless it yields to the teleserye form to be finally conquered by it. Of course, that will never happen.

In the past we have seen sensations come and go in Eat Bulaga! like the segment dancer Gracia and the Sex Bomb Dancers; even the fixture Bulagaan classroom jokes session gets to be displaced quite recently by the various new segments of the show, like Bulaga Pa More, where singers are pitted against each other to belt out pieces while performing other “challenging” tasks, as implied by the trending phrase “pa more”. The “kalyeserye” is but one pleasantly confusing moment in the noontime show format, where the genre experienced a crisis in comic proportions, and was redeemed by it nevertheless. It would have to end however, and eventually, Lola Nidora’s “tamang panahon” would need to come right on cue as the dubsmashing couple pursue a fictional happily ever after.

Some might find me a bit severe, but knowing how a noontime show works after practically a lifetime’s worth of watching Pinoy television, a hit is usually ended best during its climax, as people are still at it. Yes, discourse is endless, but there are other pop culture texts to keep up with, like the real teleseryes, and the political teleseryes that are still or are yet to unfold, pacing 2016. The Aldub “kalyeserye” is an interesting reprieve from all the teleseryes we have been following, from Pangako Sa ‘Yo’s fictional town of Talimpaw, Forevermore’s La Presa which for a while became a tourist disaster, to the august halls of the Senate during blue ribbon committee hearings. There’s hope, love that conquers all, kilig, and everything dramatically pedestrian in the “kalyeserye”, but it will remain to be what it is, a “kalyeserye” that is but merely a segment to the larger body of the innovative noontime show format. It was an interesting experiment, nonetheless, best done once, not to be ever repeated, much less copied.

Love in the Time of the Teleserye

At the core of all the adventures (or misadventures) of a teleserye, the Philippine soap opera, there is but one important element that is often undervalued, simply because many people have been conditioned (perhaps by class consciousness or education) to dismiss it for its tawdry performance and lack of sophistication: love, romance. But romance is a timeless theme, even in the high literatures of both the East and the West. Thus the dis-ease comes to us very curiously since it basically has been propelling all thinkable plots in all of literary history.

All histories (that is fictional or real) are basically narratives of love, animated by desire for the other, fired by this desire which compels people to move mountains, so to speak, and even to come up with all sorts of tropes and treatises. This desire for the other is structured on a premise of possibility, where two individuals could eventually become one—and this precisely is the focal point of all orchestrations of fictional fulfilment or impediments. In the classical narrative sense, a tragic one directs us to frustration; a comic one, though traditionally sporting distortion, promises attainment. The possibilities of love commence depending on the trajectories.

Love is not lost on the teleserye as it is its important element. As a popular cultural text framed by the importance of the basic social unit of the family, it thrives by perpetrating the strengthening of this institution, which weathers the storms and becomes, in the end, a stronghold of characters. Any aggression towards an individual is an aggression towards the family. In our current social disposition of various familial dysfunctions, the teleserye family, as in Angel Locsin’s The Legal Wife, Piolo Pascual’s Hawak Kamay, or Sharon Cuneta’s Madame Chairman, the recovery of any form of equilibrium, by all means, is a necessary resolution to all present conflicts.

The love of the family, as well as the love between family members, situates the character as part of the institution, which is the primal symbolic order—which is also what governs the laws of friendship. Friends are like family, and they usually play the role of the other voice providing perspective and foresight. The recent resurgence of the “best friend” figure embodies this philic love. Every time Matet de Leon’s Rowena bathes Maja Salvador’s Nicole in the choicest sarcasm, she acts as a mirror that only shows genuine love and concern, despite the uncouthness, which the audience loves, and even discourses in social media. All the unrelated figures performing some didactic roles in teleseryes are basically to be considered philic.

But love above all is the fulfillment of the eros, the commencement of the romantic unity. And this unity may be prevented by certain things, at the very least: poverty, a familial difference (usually between two warring political or feudal families), or circumstances, natural or man-made. In her articulations of the romance plots of popular novels, the poet and scholar Joi Barrios mentioned of capsizing ships or volcanic eruptions as preventing couples from eloping.

The idea of love in popular texts, as in a teleserye, is to purify the feelings, to heighten desire, to reiterate the fragmentality of one without the other, en route to the romantic fulfillment. Love is the expression, as affection, as it also is the very journey by which this feeling, this articulation is narrated. While love is told, several other discourses are consequently implicated, like notions of differences, aside from the obvious character polarities. Our value system upholds the belief that love must be a way of bridging disparities since it is the universal forger of relations, the closer of all arcs. But it is, in a way, also a creator of forgery, as it offers givens, which if left uncontested only perpetrate particular ideologies.

Yesterday, I listened to a lecture by the scholar Resil Mojares, who revaluated—in the language of theory, “metacriticized”—his own “blind spots” in a 1979 study of published Cebuano popular fiction. In his clearly empirical survey, he uncovered in the stories the configuration of the “poor boy-rich girl/poor girl-rich boy” plot formula he called in “gugmang kabus” and demonstrated “the value in analyzing “symbolic action” (enactments on a symbolic plane of social desires and fantasies) in large masses of Philippine literary texts, as a way of understanding Filipino popular mentality.”

Though his arguments centered on the need for a larger, more encompassing study of Philippine regional literatures, his analysis directed me towards important insights on Philippine literary romance that may also be found in teleseryes, the subject of my recent studies. Truly, gugmang kabus is still a configuration very much entrenched in Philippine literature and popular culture, though in a follow up question which delved on the current landscape of romance plots and character configuration, I felt that there were very notable differences, especially in the observable placement of male figures in the privileged position (rich, educated, mobile).

Mojares, if I am not mistaken, observed that the prevalence of rich male characters may be associated with the observable lack of women writers in his survey (there were only two, he said). This was in the 1920s, or course, and the tenor was obviously patriarchal (but aren’t we still patriarchal, in the first place?). In the discussions that ensued, I offered some insights about the configurations of the plots, particularly of the teleserye, since, in the earlier part of his lecture, he mentioned a similarity of the plots with that of a recently concluded feudal teleserye, Ikaw Lamang.

I surmised that there are now new configurations, though the traditional (patriarchal, feudal) value system still shapes our collective imagination of class or gender relations. This is not surprising if we consider that the creation of plots and characters, particularly in the teleserye, is borne out of sophisticated market research initiatives, creative brainstorming and pitches, as well as the expected scrutiny and intervention of network management, which puts weight on market opinion. It was easy to conclude that the domination of male writers in the 1920s may explain male prominence in terms of class and gender in popular fiction.

Today, the complex authorship of the teleserye shapes how romantic figures rise and fall. Today’s authorial processes in teleseryes may not easily lend explanation about the configurations of characters. For the most part, I still think that love is still the point of the conquest, whether the characters are poor or not, or merely part of the struggling middle class, since, as many scholars have already observed, much of what we see on Pinoy television drama today are basically fantasy productions that peddle ideas of social mobility or acceptance, as in the case of bolder teleseryes like My Husband’s Lover.

Love remains to be an important literary value as it bestows equity, where class or gender differences are bridged, or where circumstances are undermined, in the name of romantic consummation. Love and its fulfilment are great equalizers, and each possibility is a narrative that animates all consciousness. The world at every turn of history may be enveloped by cynicism, but love in all its myth, is expected to conquer all. Love is a myth, and it is also mythic, and all generations will definitely need their share of its stories too.

My Soap Opera has a Name: Originality and the Teleserye

Delivered at the University of the Philippines Writers Club Lecture Series, Recto Hall, Faculty Center, University of the Philippines, Diliman, February 18, 2015.  

Photo courtesy of
Photo of Jodi Santamaria as Amor Powers, courtesy of

It may sound curious, our configuration of two keywords—originality and teleserye—but reading them together proves to exemplify what Lucilla Hosillos once called the Filipino Literary Achievement. Despite the dissatisfaction of many for its being formulaic, predictable, and derivative, as well as its perceived incapacity to “upgrade with Hollywood Level”, the teleserye, 15 years after it had finally earned a name, has distinguished itself as a distinct Filipino cultural text by precisely being the drama of the Filipino local. Etymologically, drama is performance, and for Doreen Fernandez, performance as “palabas” signifies two meanings: “Palabas indeed it all is—performance, show, entertainment, fun. Palabas—outward—it also is: people-based and community oriented.”

However, what is unsaid in this explication of palabas is the very internality or paloob that it requires, one that enables this outward movement to begin with. The teleserye, as the Filipino soap opera, may be seen as both an internalization and externalization of the Filipino experience in this wide-reaching, border-crossing televisual medium. It is our palabas, as externalized in creation, production, dissemination, and consumption. It is also our palabas, as internalized in our constant search for national identity. We may have missed the point of signification, but 15 years ago, the soap opera in the Philippines sought a linguistic turn by identifying itself as teleserye, in the advent of the emergence global soap operas like the Latin American telenovela and the Asian drama in Philippine television. It may be surmised that the primary landmark of its originality is the daring to give itself a name.

This capacity to dare, this decolonizing gesture of naming, may not be found in the object of calling the soap the teleserye. It was, anyway, a simple network brand in the first place, a mere marketing strategy to distinguish a Filipino soap opera for the new millennium, Pangako Sa ‘Yo. The soap opera then had more promises than the word, but the word stayed on in broadcasting consciousness, at least, to be used by all networks in referring to their soap operas, and to soap operas in general. One may prove this discursive practice by simply going to the respective websites of the networks and typing “teleserye” in the built-in search engines, or even surveying entertainment news reports available in video format. The word, to this day, however stays true to its neologistic nature—it is disputably mainstream, but it has yet to be registered in repositories of Filipino discourses, foremost of which is the UP DIksiyonaryong Filipino, despite considerable public use.

Quite recently, chancing upon a project I was once involved with, spearheaded by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, an ingenious archive of Filipino cultural icons for distribution in the schools and libraries, I was surprised to discover that the word “telenovela” from Latin America was archived, but not the teleserye. I immediately volunteered to revise the entry, since, the telenovela was eventually subsumed under the teleserye—which is historically more circumspect, and more preferential to our cultural discourse, all things considered. While the telenovela may be said to be the catalyst for revolutionizing the Filipino dramatic genre, and while it has also entered our discursive consciousness (since for a time, it had been used to refer to soap operas, like Mula sa Puso), it had remained to be what it is: the foreign, similarly-colonized televisual product that resonated with us by way of Marimar and her tropical dreams and fantasies.

However, it would be facile to merely undermine the Latin American telenovela, and its pivotal role in the rise of the Philippine teleserye. After all, both share not only what may be called the vernacularized colonial language (the local enunciations of the Spanish for Mexicans, Venezuelans, and Columbians, and bits and pieces of the same in our national language, Filipino), but also embedded histories of colonial upheavals, political instability, and economic disarray, that animate their respective dramatic worldviews. Also, the Latin American Telenovela may be just as old as the Philippine soap opera, with the former being perhaps a few years its senior. Both began in the 1960s, with the telenovela curiously emerging from other names, such as “teleteatro”. When the two converged in Philippine space, in the threshold of the new millennium, the Philippine soap opera was still emerging from the return of democratized broadcasting after the Marcos regime, and was awaiting to be transformed, not only by the diaspora of filmmakers and writers to television, but also by the constant demand for foreign dramatic texts in the market.

Marimar propelled the process, and offered to the Filipino market a viable alternative: a more compact and engaging plot with a more time-bound seriality. Take note that it had not really reinvented the romance that we have learned to love; I remember clearly that people followed Marimar because it was fast-paced. No looking for a lost diary for three dragging weeks, like in Mara Clara‘s. The reaction of the broadcasting industry was radical, and it involved a reconfiguration of programming landscapes. Mara Clara, ABS-CBN’s strongest afternoon soap was deployed to battle it out with Marimar and her talking dog. Around this time too, GMA 7 was reconfiguring its primetime, which led to its first primetime drama offering, Kadenang Kristal. If there is any word to this describe this event, it must be resistance, but not in the way that Raymond Williams described it in his Keywords entry on “reactionary”, which is to react to “particular kinds of change”, but more so, to reiterate that it has its own self to bring to bear. Change was bound to happen anytime soon (as it was a “revolutionary” period, anyway), and the telenovela, spectral of our very own colonialism and feudal imaginaries, “incited” in a way, our soap opera revolution.

To be original is to have an access to the source or to launch beginnings, and for Hosillos, literary originality is a means to carry out vengeance by way of assimilating, transmuting foreign elements and influences for “(our) own purposes”, considering our postcolonial realities. Hosillos has observed that same capacity to “transcend the foreign materials that inevitably influenced” Filipino literary works, from the Hiligaynon balac to the Philippine Educational Theater Association’s dupluhang bayan which she has called the “total theater”. This may also be the case for the teleserye, not only during its moment of inception, but also during the course of its proliferation, after the Marimar and the telenovela fever. Sure, the broadcast industry reacted by presenting a more compact, more time-bound, competitive version of the soap opera, but it certainly had a more original sense of what it had wanted to dramatize.

We may point out too easily the many similarities between the telenovela and the teleserye (and it would not surprise us at all, considering the affinities), but the teleserye, as a showcase of Filipino dexterity, has achieved originality by transcending imitation and up to this writing, still transmuting “foreign elements into original works that are truly Filipino” and in one way or another embodying “relevance to social consciousness and the development of nationalism.” In her critical work, Hosillos emphasized that this assessment of literary achievement may only be done extensively, that is, with other works in consideration, and the teleserye fits perfectly this kind of assessment since it is continuously produced and reinvented. While we accept the fact of inconsistency in production quality, the oeuvre of the past 15 years already compels for a vigorous appraisal of the teleserye after it had proclaimed independence from the telenovela, which practically gave birth to it, and which is another text for comparativity. The breadth of the materials, along with the challenging work of archiving information about each of them, makes the task rather quixotic, but nevertheless necessary, if only to show not only how we have managed to create a soap opera of our own, but also how far we have come in shaping the continuing Filipino narrative.

In a way, the closedness or terminality of the word telenovela (as in television novel) already signifies a kind of fixity that we had to negotiate with as we were apprehending its procrustean and Western form. The novel, no matter the length, will end, and this is, of course, rhetorical for the much lamented idea of speed, a very contemporary and nevertheless western concept that enthralled us in Marimar.  In contrast, our narratives—from our folk epics and myths to perhaps the Noli and Fili, which had invited sequels and allusions from not a few of our novelistsindulged in seriality, re-emergences, resurrections, even it it turns out to be grotesque, as in the Filipino telenovela Mula sa Puso, where the villain seemed to have had nine lives and had to be violently expunged from the face of the earth in the soap’s ending. That’s more than poetic justice for me. This perhaps explains not only the aptness but also the originality of the term teleserye, as particularly indicative of the kind of narrative that we intended to perform. Our’s is a culture that lingers to hear of stories memorized, that thrives in plot and character complexity, that attends to adventures (and even misadventures) that seem to only always trick us since they lead to darker groves where valiant men are tied to trees and ceaselessly grieving their usurped fates. Yes, the world is used to multi-character, multigenerational plots, but our concept of multiplicity in Pangako Sa ‘Yo, the very first teleserye, was indeed multiplicitous.

On the one hand, a love story of the past was presented in Pangako Sa ‘Yo, between a maid and an hacienda heir, and their love would prove to be epical because of the many years of chasing that unfolded. But the story was not yet over, since, in a manner of mirroring, a similar love story would emerge, this time involving the initial pair’s love daughter and a boy the hacienda heir would consider a son for quite a while. The configuration in itself was already complex, and it was made more complex not only by the twists and turns of the story, but also by the introduction of various individuals that would get entangled with the characters. The nature of the serye in this case is very much observable, and despite the soap’s being shaped by the romance mode, where endings always call for weddings, the seriality—the web of interrelations not only of events, but also of individual encounters—illustrates the distinction of the teleserye from the telenovela. It may look like a telenovela, but it is certainly not one. It may have been compact and fast-paced already, but it refuses to be completely colonized, just as Hosillos has described, in the case of the Philippine Literatures she has revaluated.

There is still however Hosillos’ requirement of works to embody “relevance to social consciousness and the development of nationalism” to consider. Is the teleserye, despite its commercial underpinnings, capable of avenging “with originality to create literary works of artistic significance even in (its) Filipinoness”? For her, “(i)t appears that Filipino writers who transmuted foreign influence into literary achievement of originality were primarily concerned with such transmutations in terms of their personal experiences and social realities.” Pangako Sa ‘Yo, the very first teleserye, immediately located itself in a time and place recognizably ours, where the struggle for land is unending, and the city is but merely boulders upon boulders of trash. Politics was also tackled by the teleserye, and what better way to expose its seething corruption than a dramatization of a festive local elections? Our teleseryes have not gone far from these realities, even if the discussions were peripheral. The very fact that they exist shows how they have became spectral, hounding us even in our fantasy teleserye worlds, from the barrios or urban jungles of Coching and Ravelo superheroes to the imagined realms of Encantadia. When characters in Philippine popular culture desire to find or heal themselves, they usually go abroad, to the middle class fantasy of the United States, but that trope too had also been overcome.

When a teleserye character is relocated abroad, it is more recently in the contemporaneous context of the Overseas Filipino Worker, at once viewing the foreign land as tourist, and as a subjected migrant laborer.  And we have gone so far from depicting the absented individual—usually just a picture in a frame, a voice from the telephone receiver or a tape recording, or an image in a video call. The individual is now imagined in the land of the foreign, among foreign peoples, struggling to make ends meet, in the name of a better future for the family, and making the experience more estranged for the audience. I suppose, we have to thank the Koreanovelas for fuelling our dreams of flight, as seen in the local adaptations of Only You, Lovers in Paris, and even A Beautiful Affair. The teleserye has also participated in historical retrospectives, providing imaginations of our past and heritage, particularly the Spanish colonial period. While most have only remained within the vicinity of romancing the hagiographic and the heroic, like the recent Jose Rizal biopic Ilustrado, there have been notable instances of historical representations like De Buena Familia, and Amaya, a story of an indigene warrior from precolonial Philippines, and loosely based in Panay folk literatures. There was also the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Noli Me Tangere which should have been given space in major networks to reorient audiences with Rizal’s founding narrative.

The teleserye, being the drama of the Filipino local, has managed to locate our experiences. In a way, it has become a parallel narrative to our current historical unfolding, providing retrospects, reflections, and prescience, even in seemingly domestic episodes. The particular is embroiled with the pervasive, in such a way that the two parallel narratives—our historical time and the creative temporality of the teleserye—converge in certain instances. Pangako Sa ‘Yo has alluded to the Payatas tragedy in delineating the life of Amor Powers after her banishment from the hacienda. In an earlier episode, parallel shots were done to show her beloved’s arranged marriage to her eventual archrival, alongside her own miserable state in the dumps, as she was finding out about the wedding from a discarded newspaper society page. She exclaims, just as man and wife were being pronounced: lahat ng hirap at sakit na ibinigay ninyo sa akin, ibabalik ko! This dialogue echoed the same misery and desire for vengeance of people from the dumpsters, of the marginalized in general, as seen in the opening of the soap where the Payatas tragedy was recreated, a pivotal event in the teleserye’s time that spelled the initial fates of the characters. Curiously, political references in history, like that of the Marcos dictatorship, have also been referred to by the teleserye, and this was followed by other teleseryes, like Kris Aquino’s Kailangan Ko’y Ikaw, which dramatized the suicide of a police general in a memorial park, weeks after former Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Angelo Reyes took his life in front of his mother’s grave, being embroiled in a government scandal.

In another front, the use of the national language, and the embedding of the other national languages also articulates located experiences: countering the basic gahum or hegemony of English, which for a time was the language of Philippine broadcasting discourse. Today, English is not really phased out, but is merely embedded in the Filipino corpus, as part of this growing medium slowly defining itself as “national language”. Drama has played a big part in this process, though is yet to be more inclusive to really avenge the minoritized Philippine culture and employ the fullest blunt of decolonization. One can just think of the example of the long forgotten Isabel, Sugo ng Birhen, a landmark in relocating the teleserye locality to that of Cebu, even if it meant dramatizing the experience of a Marian miracle using their own enunciation of Tagalog. Isabel was an exemplar in teleserye decentering, one that could also be seen in the most recent production of Maria Flordeluna, parts of which were shot in Cebu, and the currently running Forevermore, which relocated its story in Baguio, and used snippets of Ilocano for verisimilitude’s sake. We need more archipelagic consciousness in our teleseryes.

“The question of originality,” wrote Hosillos, “is crucial to assessing Filipino cultural achievement.” She continued: “It can be asked: what is original about a culture that bears the diverse cultural influences of other nations?” In this discussion of the teleserye, we cited/sited the instances of its breaking away from the catalytic text that is the Latin American telenovela, tracing its reaction by way of transforming the form (its own and that of the encroaching foreign), transcending and transmuting influences while staying rooted in the discourses of locality. This attempt to explicate the said televisual process that happened after the return of democratized broadcasting in the Philippines in 1986 shows that originality in the case of the teleserye manifested its significant conceptualization in various fields—the first being in its “claim” for a name, which is primarily a linguistic conquest. The act of naming, though not orchestrated or performed as a matter of conscious subversion, surfaced in public discourse, as the word and more teleseryes were continuously perpetrated. As also observed, the teleserye has manifested originality in its imaginings of the Filipino experience, from within and without, and through time. It had certainly unpacked the new form offered by the telenovela, restructured its narrative by way instituting its seriality, and re-languaged it, so to speak, “for our own purposes”.

The promise of Pangako Sa ‘Yo

maxresdefaultIn 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.