Listening to Bong Revilla is Worse than Cancer

Listening to Bong Revilla is Worse than Cancer

In July, I got the news I had breast cancer. In August, my surgeon told me it was not only cancer, it was a BRCA2-positive, triple-negative basal-cell carcinoma—a kind of super-duper invasive genetic mutation that sounded like a cross between alien kryptonite and at least eight of the ten plagues that descended on Moses. In September, I had a bilateral mastectomy with one-stage reconstruction using acellular dermal matrix thingamaboobs (yes, I think that is what they are scientifically called, actually made of pigskin, I think; like a good Filipino, and Angelina Jolie, I have pork in my breasts). Then I had eight weeks of bed rest and nonstop eating of barbecue-flavored garlic-ridden Boy Bawang. A lymph node was taken out, examined, then declared negative for further cancer—but despite the good news, the procedure was torture, numbing me on my right side so that I thought a zombie had eaten up my flesh while everyone kept telling me all was good. Then, because of the high incidence of second cancer recurrence given my newly discovered mutant genes, I had four toxic doses from November to March of Taxotere with Cytoxan, despite being “cancer-free,” meaning for four months I lost my hair and my taste buds, gained gastroesophageal reflux disease (fondly nicknamed Gerd, like some just acquired pet iguana), and, what the hell, could get no pedicure for weeks (nail cells are fast-growing, like carcinoma, and chemotherapy eats up everything that looks alive). In addition, my oncologist packed steroids into my veins because, she said, it turns out in her experience, hello, every single human being is allergic to chemotherapy. No kidding, I said, skin burns all over the place but flushed with that steroid high.

And yet, when I woke up to my FB feed this morning and saw the message some “friend” was sending around, I thought—fuck Jesus and all of the seven dwarves.

The sight was worse than cancer.

Like this page, said my so-called friend (now not)—Bongbong Marcos for President in 2016.

And as if this were not enough to make me want to zap my news feed until the world looked like the dunes of Paoay, I then clicked like a masochist on Senator Bong Revilla’s privilege speech.

I mean, those are two oxymorons in one mouthful. “Senator Bong” and “privilege speech.” The first sounds like no senator and the second is no privilege nor, as far as I could tell, speech.

It was a comedy routine.

As I told a friend, this is the kind of thing you do for art. In my job as a writer, I have taken the dictum of Flannery O’Connor to heart when it comes to the Philippines: “The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.” Unquote.

And this is true of Vhong Navarro as of Bong Revilla.

So I clicked play.

While a grim, ineluctable rage and dawning sense of tragedy came over me looking at the page for President Bongbong for 2016, a nonstop run of giggling took over as I listened to Senator Bong.

I mean, this is too much fun in the Philippines. As another friend, survivor of Thatcher’s Britain likes to say—I laughed so hard I cried.

Batter my heart, three-personed, music-video playing, tearful pop-song-writing pork barrel demonyo, Bong Revilla. And was that a trinity of pigs I saw hugging each other in inexplicable self-congratulation, unashamedly bunching together at the end of the speech (screen shot below), like a trio about to sing “My Way” before (I hoped) a righteous gunman shoots them—or was it just my imagination running away with me, damaged by basal-cell carcinoma?

How on earth could a snapshot like that be possible?

Only in the Philippines is not my answer.

Only among public servants with a brutal lack of shame—this aggressive candor that smiles and smiles and is a villain, so Hamlet says, is not endemic only to the Philippines. But it is perfected and limitless in people like Enrile, Revilla, and Estrada—three consummate, incredible pigs. We need to remember they are actual people who have kicked back real people’s taxes and blood and tears. They are not abstract ghouls. To say “only in the Philippines” diminishes their atrocity, as if they were only a trope.

On the other hand, the sight of triplet pigs smiling unabashedly all in a row does not diminish the scene’s irreality.


People ask me why I have never written a novel about current events in my country. My response is—how can you write fiction about real but unbelievable things? Writing a novel requires crafting a suspension of disbelief. Listening to Bong Revilla’s speech, I was beset with one weird travesty of sense after another. Did he really wag his finger over the ills of the country—families with no food or jobs, lack of money to fight crime or help sick people in hospitals—when he is accused precisely of stealing the money needed to combat those ills? Am I missing something? Did he really ask us to unite with him against—well, him? Did he really invoke a list, like Napoles’s or Schindler’s, and so incriminate even God in his crimes? Did I really hear him issue a death threat in the Senate chamber (to the sitting president, no less) like some junior Nardong Putik or something, a gangster without a cause? The imperviousness to artistry in his script combined with the moment’s clueless cinematic posturing was breathtaking.

Comedy is tragedy plus time, so said Mark Twain (I think)—but in the Philippines, we keep getting comedy minus time equals tragedy. The depths of inanity in our political circus are not only an assault on citizens—they are also the despair of any novelist. When I began writing novels, I never wrote directly, but only in ‘side-view,’ with a peripheral eye, about Imelda, because, growing up as I did in Imeldalandia, I kept thinking—how can any writer top that? Imelda is a novelist’s burden to bear, because the story of her continued existence, the eye-opening fact that she is not in jail or at least once-upon-a-time crucified, is simply incredible—and yet for me, a citizen of Leyte, she’s a zombie reality that is also painfully true (in Tacloban, she’s a literal walking zombie, going around hugging people during high school reunions that are not even hers).

So instead I keep sitting at my desk writing about the horrors of the Filipino-American war—that gruesome history is less traumatizing than the surreality of Imelda.

But WTGF, our current events keep confounding my youthful rhetorical question—how can anyone top that? This indicted clown, Bong Revilla, has had not only one but two privilege speeches. Jesus Christ, did Senator Drilon not learn from his mistake already? Goddamn, Senator Drilon—two Bongs do not make a right! Is it the fault in our stars that there is no word as far as I can tell in any language, not even ours (which has the capacity for punning in at least seventy-three ways) that can sufficiently describe the nightmare of relentless irony attacking the defenseless funnybone of the Filipino public the minute Bong Revilla opened his mouth? Anak ng teteng does not cut it. In all of his elaborate, exhaustively catalogued, in fact slightly obsessive-compulsive ordering of sinners in his Inferno, not even Dante Alighieri imagined the circle of hell for that dense inversion of moral intelligence that typified every gnomic note in Senator Bong’s speech—not to mention the circle of hell in which we, the public, were cast into, merely for being alive at the time of his criminal privilege.

And then—he sang.

As one commenter, Anonymous, wrote, Karimarimarim. Or as another, also Anonymous, judiciously said—Just kill me now.

Of all the trite, unbelievably inevitable tropes of fun-in-the-Filipinisms he could have pulled out of his comedy ass, he did exactly what no self-respecting novelist would expect—or, he trumped the modernist (who still believes a story must be meaningful) with exemplary postmodernism—he reminded us in that moment, as the Senate turned into a music-video karaoke bar before our ears, that as a nation, we’re better off as fictions. The truth is a wound.

Worse, he composed a song, put it on an immortal youtube loop, and now we can make it the theme of our lives.

Huwag kayong mag-alala, he more or less threatened as he shifted into what he thought was his moving, musical valedictory—hindi kami mawawala.

The most truthful moment of his speech: Don’t worry, we will never be gone.

We know, Senator, we know.

Though there is no decent human being who is not allergic to frontal assaults on the sense of right and wrong—there is also no steroid to kill the toxic chemicals of moral perverts like Bong Revilla and all of his ilk in the Senate who hugged him without shame or fear of catching his disease after his speech (and I don’t mean just his twenty-seven hundred polygamy-bred blood relatives who have probably long sucked on the nation’s teat). Worse than cancer, these zombies will keep coming back, in different guises, in virulent strains, singing the same songs, as they eat our flesh into a numbing eternity. Don’t worry, we will never be gone. As folk wisdom knows—there is no such thing as cancer-free.

34 thoughts on “Listening to Bong Revilla is Worse than Cancer

  1. Your piece goes to the “I wish I had written that” department. To borrow a line from “My Fair Lady,” “I prefer a new edition of the Spanish Inquisition” than to ever go through listening and (gasp) viewing Bong’s speech again.

  2. really great article / opinion. i totally agree with you. however, i hope you can also take time (i know you are sick so this is sort of wishing on a star) to write this in Filipino because only a few can appreciate your grandiloquence. if these words can reach the “masa”, then you can help lessen those ïmbeciles” voting for even greater imbeciles. awareness play an important role in educating Filipinos.

  3. Incredible ‘write’, just perfect, hits deep to the bone. As for the best way to deal with ‘Cancer’, and for other such deadly diseases, including those affecting our corrupt government officials, we will entrust everything to Almighty God, for His salvific Divine intervention, and that’s because the ‘ultimate evil’ can only be conquered by the ‘ultimate good’.

  4. This was a bizarre experience, reading this……what a brilliant writer, to have made me feel revulsion, despair and a sense of going bonkers, all at the same time…..wish you had better material to use your talents on….I sincerely wish that for you and for all of us…….

  5. The three pigs should be fed to the wolf, caged in a pen or made to work at a circus. Your blog made more sense. Painfully funny and true. keep writing.

  6. Here’s my two cents. The fact that Enrile at 90, is still alive and well and still doing all these evil deeds (since we were little kids) with impunity while good people, especially kids,are dying of cancer is positive proof that prayers are useless and there is no god!

  7. Gina Apostol you totally made my day after reading your article on Bong Revilla (i refuse to address him as senator)! Thank you for putting into your most vivid, colorful and intelligent words the exact same sentiments I have about him and that ridiculous performance he did in the senate. I, too, share your horror of the mere mention of Bongbong Marcos running for president for 2016! You have truly entertained me and I was laughing out loud while my heart cried for my beloved country. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m very sorry about your bout with cancer and I pray that you will be completely healed. More power to you! P.S. I have never in my life written a comment to any author/writer no matter how I was tempted to do so. This is the first time that I couldn’t stop myself, but rather felt so compelled to send you my thoughts and more importantly, my gratitude for putting in such eloquent words what I wish I could say out loud!


    This is the first time I read an article that makes me feel like watching a live dramatic scene of a movie being shot complete with the emotion and mental anguish that go with it infecting your whole being. Also you are right that this ‘bong’s disease’ is worse than cancer which means there is no known cure yet which renders us Filipinos still in a hopeless situation because all our politicians and leaders are infected with it.Sana ang mga kagaya mo ang napapakinggan ng mga Filipinos.

    Anyway, salamat sa article mo at sana dumami pa ang katulad mo..

    jess bernardo

  9. Gina Apostol, you have made a fan out of me! I can’t tell you how ecstatic I was to have read this article wherein you wrote your sentiments about this so-called Senator’s privileged speech. You extracted and very eloquently put into words the core feelings generated inside me after viewing the video online. I could not fathom how one being, not to mention two prominent others, can suck the life out of a viewer just by mouthing, okay, sure, a bit of acting too, worthless words…and most definitely worthless singing too. I also was ready to throw in the towel because I thought, every Filipino has turned blind and deaf to the incongruous politics the country has been subjected to. But finally, another soul like me!!! Thank you!

    Bong, Jinggoy at Juan, utang na loob, TIGILAN NA ANG KALOKOHANG YAN! Maawa na kayo sa taong bayan! Kung magpapakatutoo kayo, baka kayo pa ang maging proponent ng NEW and CLEAN Philippine government! ISOLI NA ANG PERA NG BAWAT MAMAMAYANG PILIPINO at simulan nang itaguyod ang TAMANG DAAN!!!

  10. good article! you should try listening to Pnoy and his cabinet members, parang mamamatay na ang mamamayang Pilipino bukas.

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