I visited the FPJ wake at Santo Domingo church yesterday. I’m not quite sure what I expected but I didn’t anticipate an orderly line stretching back about a mile. Anyone who thinks Filipinos can’t queue should see how the masa do it. I had plenty of time during the half hour or so it took me to stroll from the front to the back of the line (going the other way took 3-5 hours) to ponder the meaning of FPJ but I am no closer to understanding the hold he has on these people.
Perhaps it was FPJ’s on-screen taciturnity that endeared this half American but quintessentially Filipino action star to his fans. His followers are also voiceless and alienated from the circles of power — Tagalog or dialect speakers in a country where the medium of business, politics and power is still English; darker skinned than the mestisos who dominate the television screens; more poorly educated and inarticulate than the middle class fleeing the Philippines for work in the computer businesses of Daly City and London. Perhaps every FPJ fan nurses a dream of one day rising up, like FPJ in his movies, to waste his oppressors. The silent man pushed too far.
FPJ’s massive popularity is also in part because he is perceived as having a good “heart”. Filipinos will forgive people anything—their incomplete education, their illegitimate kids, their American passports—if only they have a good “heart”. It was her “heart” (and her glamour) that helped to keep the masa in thrall to Imelda for all those years, and her perceived lack of a “heart” that prevents them from ever really warming to Gloria.
So now FPJ is gone and Erap is in jail, who is left for them to look to? Who will provide these hundreds of thousands of mourners, this silent majority of Filipinos, with their sense of belonging?
In political terms, FPJ’s death and the possible exile of Estrada (see next post) may mark the end of a short-lived period of populism in the Philippines. For six years from Estrada’s massive election victory in 1998 to FPJ’s disputed defeat in 2004, the masa, the patient queuers, the excluded, could still believe that they had a champion. With the departure of Erap and FPJ, the Filipino elite that still swans around Makati, while poorer year on year it is true, is virtually unopposed.