NEP-OTISM The mimic Willie Nepomuceno (third from left in this composite photo with his comic cast of candidates) transforms into Mar, Rody and Jojo, but meets his match in daughter Frida Nepomuceno, who plays Grace, and actress Geraldine Villamil, who portrays Miriam. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
‘PangGulo ng Pilipinas’: Who’s hardest to portray?
In a small, relatively empty but exclusive-looking Makati nightspot called Behind Bar, the country’s five presidential candidates find themselves chilling out after a long day.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago (talking to herself as she puts her feet on a vacant chair): “Hay, finally I can rest my feet. Imagine standing there for five minutes! I hate these debates, especially when my rivals can’t even express themselves in simple English. Kaya dapat lang na ako ang maging Presidente (That’s why I have to be President). I’m intellectually superior to any of them. Kahit pagsamasamahin pa ang kanilang brains, for sure, kakapusin ’yon. Mga langka! Langkatulad ang pagkabobo, langkaparis sa pagiging corrupt at langkasingbabaw ang pag-iisip (Even with all their brains combined, it wouldn’t be enough. Nothing compares to their dumbness, corruption and shallow thinking)!”
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo “Digong” Duterte greets Santiago as he walks in: “Hello, beautiful! Can I join you?”
She looks up: “My dear Mayor Digong! What a pleasant surprise, please sit down. I didn’t know you patronize this type of bar without dancing girls?”
Duterte: “Sus, put… oops, I mean, put your feet down, please, so I can sit down. You know senator, I have more than enough discipline and political will to control the surge of my testosterone level. I’m glad this bar does not allow smoking, kung hindi papatayin ko ang mag-smoke (otherwise I will kill those who smoke). Alam mo naman kami sa Davao (You know us people from Davao), we hate smoke-belchers, smoked fish, anything that smokes…”
Mar Roxas arrives: “Hi guys! Andito rin pala kayo (You’re also here)” (shakes hand of Duterte and buzzes Miriam).
Duterte: “O, how are you doing in the surveys?”
Roxas: “Oh great, nag-pick up when we distributed my comic book. People now realize what really happened between me and Mayor [Alfred] Romualdez during the [Supertyphoon] ‘Yolanda’ crisis. The media is the one to be blamed ’cause they spliced and edited our conversation. What I really said was, ‘The President is an Aquino, who loves all Filipinos, including the Romualdezes… and you are a Romualdez!’”
Duterte calls a waiter to take their orders.
Sen. Grace Poe walks in and says, “Can I join you?”
Everybody: “Of course, sit down. Mar here has been saying nothing but good words about all of us.”
Poe: “Oh, I’m almost sure he’s harping on my American citizenship. Yan naman ang hirap sa colonial mentality natin eh (That’s the problem with our colonial mentality). We take pride in praising our soccer team na multiracial, si Jessica Sanchez na ‘American Idol,’ si Phil Younghusband of Azkals, even Pia Wurtzbach. Yun nga lang may Filipino na chef sa White House, proud na proud na tayo, pero kung magkakaroon ng Amerikano sa Malacañang, aangal kayo. Double standard naman yan (That we have a Filipino chef in the White House has made us so proud but then you complain about the prospect of having an American in Malacañang. That’s double standard)… Di ba, the world hailed America for having the first black President. Paano yan pag si Binay ang manalo? Masama ba magkaroon ang Pilipinas ng first black President? (What if Binay wins? Is it bad for the Philippines to have its first black President?) Where’s the VP, by the way?”
Roxas: “Guys, ’wag naman (go easy on him). Let’s give credit where credit is due. Let’s admit, the guy is a financial wizard. Imagine, he was able to construct a modest parking building for P2.8 billion! Who could have done that? I’m sure not even Bill Gates could have done that. He won’t do that!”
Boisterous laughter erupts. And then a faint, hoarse voice is heard.
Vice President Jejomar Binay comes rushing in: “Hoy mga walang hiya kayo! Sinisiraan niyo na naman ako. Lahat ng sinasabi nyo ay puro ‘black’ propaganda! Alam n’yo bang nasa Makati kayo and this is not an ordinary bar? (You shameless guys! You are bad-mouthing me again. Everything you are saying is ‘black’ propaganda! Don’t you know that you are in Makati…) You are all under arrest and will be put Behind Bar(s)!”
That imaginary scenario is but a peek into impersonator Willie Nepomuceno’s propensity for satire, which he has developed into his latest comedy show, “PangGulo ng Pilipinas,” scheduled on April 30 at Music Museum.
One of the country’s top stand-up comedy artists, Nepomuceno has been doing hilarious impressions of celebrities and other prominent personalities, especially politicians whose presence and actions are captured in media and become ingrained in the public eye.
It all started from his college days in the University of the Philippines, where he did parodies in protest rallies and demonstrations.
“I became the ‘official’ comic relief in an otherwise very tense atmosphere of fiery speeches and angry slogan chants,” he recalls. “When I shifted to mainstream show business, I still carried that penchant for social commentary in my performances, especially in live shows.”
When martial law was declared in 1972, he says his performances were like “a cat-and-mouse situation” in small bars.
Shortly before the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution, Nepomuceno met Philippine Daily Express editor Neal Cruz, who was then president of the National Press Club.
His friendship with Cruz led to an opportunity to showcase his comedic talent before the media.
“I was the only nonmedia person to perform with legitimate journalists in their annual Gridiron satirical presentations,” he recounts. “I shared the stage with the likes of Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, Louie Beltran, Betty Go-Belmonte and others, with almost all government officials headed by the President [Cory Aquino] as the captive audience.”
Then Kapihan sa Manila was born; there he was given a regular slot to present his take on the presidential elections.
He’s been doing it every six years—from “Balimbing, Atbp.” to “Miting de Avanse” to “Willie Nep for President” to “Presidentiables’ Gut Talent” and now, “PangGulo ng Pilipinas.”
As to which character is most difficult to portray, Nepomuceno says “practically all ’cause they’re relatively new faces in the national political landscape. People are just getting acquainted with them only very recently. But Binay is the hardest to portray because of his dark complexion. Good manners and right conduct tell me the color of the skin should not get in the way of what you’ve got to say.”
The character he enjoys the most is Duterte. “Even in real life, he’s the one with the most entertaining sound bites,” says Nepomuceno. “He belongs to the category of [Joseph] ‘Erap’ [Estrada] who can dish out self-deprecating humor.”
While he says there’s a deep sense of fulfillment when the audience laughs during the show without him endorsing a particular candidate, Nepomuceno laments that, for the May 9 elections, there isn’t enough time to know each presidential bet.
“I can compare the process to that of courtship,” he explains. “They would naturally put their best foot forward, but it takes more than that. It takes time before you really get to know a person. It’s difficult enough to decipher their platform of government, what more of their personal character in such a short span? Do they speak the truth? Aside from that, we still have to contend with the real numbers of ‘less informed’ voters who would most likely encircle the most popular or entertaining ones. The more basic question perhaps would be, ‘Did you really think you knew your husband or wife that well until you got married to each other?’”
Perhaps the most striking aspect of this year’s election is how social media has made the quality of the campaign sink into the lowest depths due to partisanship.
Asked for his opinion, Nepomuceno says he sees social media as “a versatile weapon of construction or destruction. Each one of us has his/her own opinion, beliefs and principles. Are we really pushing ours or somebody else’s and for what or whose interests? Only the ones pressing the keyboard would know the purpose. End result? Possibly a bandwagon or a mob rule. Who wins?”
“PangGulo ng Pilipinas,” he notes, might be his last election-related show.
“It’s a reality check,” he points out. “The politicians are getting younger. I am getting older. Portrayals of older roles are easier and more believable and not the other way around. Secondly, the ‘shame’ factor expected of the subject of satire has tremendously diminished over time, so I’m beginning to think it has lost its desired effect.”
Nonetheless his parting shot is aimed at putting a sobering thought amid the political circus of the past few months that will get more intense in the coming weeks.
“Our country has undergone a lot of sacrifices and struggles,” he says, “but every time we score a win, we celebrate no end and wait until another crisis comes along and then we consolidate again to fight. There is no conscious effort from our country’s leadership to pass on to the next generations the lessons learned from our past.
“I won’t mind putting into law the singing of our national anthem before school or office work begins every day. Add on the recitation of the Panatang Makabayan (Patriotic Oath). We must have a sense of nationalism. Our youth have many distractions from their gadgets that they forget they are part of a community of people who must stick together for their common good.”