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ABS-CBN’s ‘Anak ng Dwende,’ GMA7’s ‘Aswang’

 The Manila Times, March 10, 2013

WITH their 6:30 p.m. slots, and with the metropolis’ horrendous traffic, I’m sure very few broadsheet readers, who are mostly from the middle to upper-class, get to watch two of the foremost television news programs that have been running ever since I can remember, ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol and GMA Network’s 24 (“Bente Kwatro”) Oras.

( Video grab from TV Patrol’s website)Korina Sanchez reporting on woman claiming her child was fathered by a dwarf.)

For the first time in many years, I watched last Friday the one-and-a- half hours of these two primetime programs, flipping from one station to the other, every time there’s a commercial, and you wouldn’t believe how many of them are. I strongly suggest you do so one of these days, and you will be either shocked, saddened, or angered.

In last Friday’s TV Patrol, a most distinguished multi-awareded TV journalist, Korina Sanchez, had a feature, maybe even an “investigative” piece, entitled Anak ng Dwende (A dwarf’s child). (I’m sure though Sanchez, a hard-nosed journalist, would not on her own touch with a 10-foot pole this story, and that some inane TV news producer just shoved this on her.)

She travelled all the way to “Sitio Tinago, Talavera town in Toledo City” (that’s on the farther, poorer side of Cebu island) to interview a poor young woman, Jenalyn Gimenez, who claimed a dwarf fathered her child, as she didn’t have any boyfriend or husband.

Sanchez reports ( translated from Pilipino): “Villagers were surprised one day when she gave birth to a child, since she didn’t even have a boyfriend. It is said that the father is a dwarf because the baby was so small, only as big as a soft drink bottle, and his ears were pointed.”

Sanchez interviewed her as she has interviewed probably thousands of newsmakers in her distinguished media career. She asks the woman: How did you get pregnant? The woman answers: “I fell asleep at the punso [a mound of earth, which superstitious Filipinos believe is a dwarf’s home], and that’s where the dwarf impregnated me.” The camera pans the yard of the woman’s home, as Sanchez voices over: “It is puzzling that there are many punsos here and it is said that a dwarf residing in one of these fathered Jenalyn’s child.”

Sanchez in all seriousness asks her: “What will you tell your child when he grows up, that his father is a dwarf?” Jenalyn answers: “I will tell him he is God’s blessing to me.”

TV Patrol may have an earthshaking scoop here. The last time this kind of episode was reported was 2,000 years ago, although the father was not a dwarf but a Spirit depicted often as a dove, and the reporters of the “Good News” weren’t as fortunate as Sanchez to interview the woman, but relied on second-hand accounts. (Jenalyn’s son was named Jesus, of course.).

I suspect though that Sanchez is onto some investigative story, as she ends the segment with an intriguing question: “Jenalyn’s answers to our questions are puzzling. Does she have a mysterious dark secret?” Watch

Rated-K (Sanchez program) this Sunday, she advises.

I can’t wait to watch Rated-K this evening to find out if the Philippines would have the distinction of producing the first hybrid between a human and a mythical creature.

However, I can’t help worrying that TV Patrol is enforcing the superstition of millions of Filipinos—originating from the preHispanic period five centuries ago—that the world is filled with dwarfs, kapres and manananggals. I’ll bet TV Patrol will be deluged with thousands of requests for coverage from young pregnant ladies claiming to be virgins, or who had been taken advantage of by strange creatures, maybe this time by aliens or elves.

TV Patrol is sandwiched between primetime telenovelas, which ABS-CBN claims to have an audience of at least 10 million Filipinos. Living in cramped houses, do the poor waiting for their telenovelas take a break for fresh air in their gardens between their favorite shows, or are they a captive audience of TV Patrol?

ABS-CBN’s competitor, GMA7, was not to be scooped though. Also last Friday, 24 Oras host Mike Enriquez, a highly- respected hard- hitting journalist and veteran of the industry, introduced a segment regarding a security guard’s sighting of an aswang in some far-flung town in Nueva Vizcaya. ( Aswang is another of pre-Hispanic Filipinos mythical creatures, a vampire-like creature whose upper body separates at night from the lower body to fly off and prey on infants, a half-body experience, as it were.)

GMA7 should give a loyalty award to the reporter and cameraman who drove half a day to that Nueva Vizcaya town to cover the story. I can just imagine the reporter’s face when his superior ordered him: Go to Nueva Vizcaya to cover an aswang sighting there.

GMA7 though labored to comply with its high journalistic standards. It got both sides of a story, interviewing a grade-school student there who thought the security guard was loony. Why, the reporter even got an expert to comment, a psychologist who speculated that the security guard was just hallucinating. I can just imagine how the psychologist first reacted to the reporter’s query: “Madame, can you comment on our report of an aswang seen in Nueva Vizcaya?” If I had been asked that kind question, I’d probably punch the reporter on the nose for trying to make fun of me.

Again, worrying though is the fact that TV Patrol’s audience runs into the millions. I do hope those who watched the aswang reportage listened carefully to the gradeschooler and the psychologist who pooh-poohed the security guard’s account. I myself remember more the blurred segment on the aswang’s sighting, made in the home-movie style of hit horror movies like Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. TV news coverage of these dwende and aswang claims are not rare. There was a relatively recent TV news report on a woman claiming to have given birth to a snake, and the video showed her caressing it by her side. There was one reporting on rural gradeschool children being enchanted by a balete tree at the schoolyard, even showing several fainting before it. The masses, they say, after all want to be entertained rather than be reminded of how bad government, politicians, or even companies are.

You will be saddened by this strange backward flow of human knowledge. The urban centers should be transforming the consciousness of rural Filipinos, most of who still live in a medieval pre-scientific mythical worldviews. Instead, media—ironically its technologically advanced section, TV—is strengthening superstitious beliefs and even bringing these to the urban centers.

Ironically, this is the result of modern capitalism, with the business side of media demanding that news coverage should be geared toward the masses, who they say care little about politics, culture, or business news, and who just want more to be entertained as a respite from their miserable lives. The biggest advertisers after all, aren’t those that sell cars, computers and condominiums: They are companies selling what the masses buy, or must buy daily.

Thus, to multinationals like Procter & Gamble and the largest local corporations who have been bankrolling the dumbing-down of TV news: Watch TV Patrol or

24 Oras, and you’ll be angry, tempted to throw the remote at the TV screen, as probably half of the air-time in these programs are commercials for products for the masses—detergents, soaps, shampoos, drinks.

Almost seamlessly packaged in the same primetime TV programs are these companies’ fictions, what their products will do for you if you buy them: Using Safeguard soap will keep your family disease-free, Olay will instantly make a Filipino morena as fairskinned as Kris Aquino; Anne Curtis ( ergo, all young ladies) will see you as a hunk if you drink a cheap 65-proof whiskey.

During an electoral period as we have now, we have a third kind of fiction forced upon TV viewers— the vote- me- ads, the best among them I would say are two: the fiction of billionaire Jamby Madrigal being a fire-brand street activist whose heart is for the poor and Grace Poe, who spent most of her working life in the US, who will be carrying on “the work of FPJ” (what was that?)

Overarching all these political ads is the biggest national fiction now, borne out of superstition, and created by media, especially ABS-CBN: That the spirits of opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr. and his wife the hero of Democracy Corazon have possessed the mind of their arrogant, yet incompetent son.