Honorable Crocodiles

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Today in the news: Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales files a resolution appealing to stop portraying members of the House as villains and crooks in movies and telenovelas.

Gonzales claims that by typecasting the Congressman as a villain or a crook – much less a crocodile – the general public forms a negative impression of our hardworking, august, and honorable elected officials. Gonzales appeals to the entertainment industry to stop doing so, that it somehow sullies the good name of those Congressmen who do their part in uplifting the conditions of their constituents.

Yet consider the crocodile; unlike other reptiles, crocodiles have a cerebral cortex, a four-chambered heart, and a very prominent spine. The cerebral cortex – grey matter – has an important function in attention, memory, thought, language, and attention. Crocodiles wait for their prey to come close before they attack, and can survive long periods without going for the hunt. Crocodiles may eat pork, but they prefer to hunt. Crocodiles may be thick skinned, but they are adept at absorbing heat. Crocodiles may thrive in murky water, but definitely not polluted ones.

Some of our honorable Congressmen like walking around bearing the title “Solon.” Solon – the Athenian statesman who lay the foundations for ancient Greek democracy – saw his polis in very different ways that sought the growth of the city-state to be of prime importance. Solon was a lawmaker who saw greed and arrogance as the greatest threats to the Athenian moral code. Solon set slaves free, for one. Solon shook off the burdens of the common man in Athens, getting rid of debts and abolished sharecropping. Solon saved his state from decline.

I think that the “Congressman” is more than a stereotype; it is a satire. The national satire around the caricature of the Filipino Congressman – from the glad-handing Tongressman Manhik Manaog of Leo Martinez to every barong-wearing cigar-chewing poltroon surrounded by polo-shirt-wearing yes-men who fight off the Pinoy Action Hero in lopsided gunfights involving Armalites on their side and a lone .357 on the other – reflects a reality for many ordinary Filipinos. If anything, this caricature of the Congressman is a manifestation of ill-gotten wealth, political ineptitude, and moral decadence that have marked people in a position of power. Those who rose to abuse, to make themselves even richer, and on somewhere on the less extreme end of the spectrum, literally painted their legacy on the roofs of schoolhouses. Or perhaps created an amazing portfolio of bills declaring this street to be renamed to that street in honor of this guy.

If anything, it reflects the sad state of trust we have with our elected officials, that trickles down to the sad state of trust we have with our institutions. As long as an elected official is embroiled in a corruption scandal, takes shortcuts in governance, or does one or everything expected from the caricature of the Congressman, the stigma – the shame and the reproach that comes with it – will be there.

And yet there’s that name many a Congressman likes to tout around: “Solon.” Granted, there are a lot of Congressmen out there who do their jobs, who live up to their mandate, who lead their constituents, but are all too often sullied by the bad apples in their midst. Solon led by example and set standards of frugality, modesty, and circumspect behavior expected of the statesmen of Athens. Solon stood for political and social moderation in Athens during his time: an outstanding character who is, for the moment, a little too far-fetched to expect from our Congressmen. For our Congressmen to be beyond reproach, their conduct should also be beyond reproach.

Rep. Gonzales should take his cues from the logic (or the absence of it) of his proposed resolution: that for anyone to break the stereotype against the “typical Pinoy congressman,” the Filipino Congressman should act more like Solon, or for that matter, take his cues from the honorable crocodile of the wild. For the entertainment industry, which all too often relies on the hyperbole of things to make the art mirror reality (and even that is debatable, but that’s another story), it’s legislation like this that reinforces the stereotype further.

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