Lessons from El Bimbo
BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - May 19, 2020 - 12:00am

Reading Patrick Torres’ commentary about the play “Ang Huling El Bimbo, The Hit Musical” left me stumped – in awe of the realization that this pandemic is now laying bare the deep flaws in our society.

My work in the legal defense of farmers facing land tenure issues in Cebu acquaints me with Patrick, a political science graduate of USC, and executive director of the Central Visayas Farmers Development Center.

In his “The End of Youth and the Perils of Petty Bourgeois Anti-Politics: A Response to The Ideology of Huling El Bimbo” published at The New Horizon blog, Patrick reflects on the story of four friends.

The musical, performed on stage at the Resorts World Manila pre-Covid, streamed free online for two days last May 8 and 9, and garnered over two million views on Facebook and YouTube. It was advertised as a story of friendship told through the songs of the most iconic Pinoy rock band from the 90’s, the Eraserheads.

But it was more than just a story of friendship, as Patrick in his commentary sensibly unravels the uneasy, yet unspoken, relationship between the haves and have-nots in our society.

Joy, the young girl who helps her aunt make a living as she dreams of finishing school, is the have-not to her three middle-class friends Anthony, Emman, and Hector who are driven by their petty bourgeois aspirations.

“From these desires each of them develops a special relationship with Joy: Anthony is her bespren (friendship), Emman is her kuya (kinship), and Hector is her “baby” (love). These relationships are ruptured when they came face-to-face with the gender- and class-based violence to which she was subjected.” In the middle of their innocent celebration of friendship, a group of men ambushes them and rapes Joy.

“Disturbed by the violence they experienced but helpless to have prevented it, they decide to do nothing and forget the whole incident agreeing, “Strong si Joy!” All three repudiate Joy in their graduation ceremony – the end of their youth and the hopeful view of life that they shared with Joy. They bury the past, and Joy along with it, so they can live the lives they had planned.”

With none of the proselytizing tone that is often heard from progressive voices, Patrick’s analysis alludes to the reforms of the Ramos administration in the 90’s which liberalized the Philippine economy and laid the foundation for the succeeding two decades’ GDP growth.

Anthony, Emman, and Hector represented the educated middle class which took advantage of the opportunities of the new “globalized” economy, yet “left behind the masa – farmers facing competition from imports, workers perpetually in fear of getting laid off, and the growing informal sector of displaced rural dwellers and odd-jobbers congesting the cities.”

Patrick cites the observation of anthropologist Michael Pinches about the retreat of the Filipino middle class “from public political life and contact with the masa as it embraced a more privatized consumer lifestyle that they could attain with the affluence they gained,” amid the corruption in government and widespread poverty.

In gated communities, secured apartment buildings, and air-conditioned malls, and with increased access to international travel and information technology, the middle class reconfigured their lives away from the violence and exploitation experienced every day by the masa.

“When severe tragedies or disasters that befall the masa pierce this isolation, they can salve their consciences by praising the resilience of the Filipino (“Strong si Joy!”) and return to their isolation,” Patrick writes.

Words that ring so very true of our experience today.

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