Political dramas are a big gamble in Philippine primetime television. Only a handful of producers and directors dared to wade in these waters for fear of bad ratings.
Take the case of the legal drama “Your Honor” back in the early 2000s starring Richard Gomez and directed by Joel Lamangan. One can hardly remember a thing about after ABS-CBN cancelled the show after a few months of running. But Joel Lamangan would make the same bet again and in 2001 to 2003 he came up with “Kung Mawawala Ka” one of GMA 7’s longest running soaps during the primetime drama craze of that period. The soaps had all the marks of a gripping political drama the masa would buy—a Romeo and Juliet love story set in the backdrop of a corrupt politician’s rise to power from local executive to the most powerful person in the Philippines.
However, nobody followed in the success of “Kung Mawawala Ka” after it ended in June 2003. There were a few soaps which showed some semblance of the same formula such as “Minsan Lang Kita Iibigin” in 2011 and “Dahil sa Pag-ibig” in 2012, but didn’t live up to the very characteristics of a true political drama soap opera.
Not until “Bayan Ko” aired early this year.
“Bayan Ko” (which roughly translates to “My Country” in English) is director Adolfo Alix Jr’s latest masterpiece intended for the 2013 Elections. Penned by Nessa Valdellon and Rodolfo Vera, the story revolves around the newly-elected mayor of the fictional town of Lagros, Mayor Joseph Santiago (played by Rocco Nacino) and his quest to reform the town’s corrupt system of governance and public service. He and his reform agenda is pitted against the corrupt local executive and archetypal strongman of the fictional province of Sibilan, Governor Antonio Rubio (fantastically played by veteran actor Pen Medina of “Encantadia” fame) and his son, Congressman Anton Rubio (played by Medina’s son, Ping).
While “Bayan Ko” has all the marks of a true political drama, it is in a league of its own with its straightforward and righteous attack on the audience’s political consciousness. It attacks issues we’ve all been familiar with recently such as political dynasties, red tape, bureaucracy, graft and corruption, illegal gambling, and even the morality of politicians’ personal relationships. Albert Banzon’s unique cinematography combined with Diwa de Leon’s striking guitar strings as original music makes the “Bayan Ko” even more tantalizing to watch.
Nevertheless, this mini-series is not without the usual touches typical of Philippine soap operas. We have a budding love story between Congressman Anton Rubio and Atty. Karen Canlas, the mayor’s chief of staff (played convincingly by LJ Reyes). We have classic femme fatale temptress/mistress/corrupt contractor Eliza Bauer (played by the ever captivating Mercedes Cabral in one of her early TV stints). And of course, we have the usual comic relief in characters played by Betong Sumaya and Love Añover.
“Bayan Ko” makes not just for good entertainment but serves as a catalyzing instrument against our society’s broken notion of what constitutes good governance and true public service. It is indeed a huge gamble for GMA News and Public Affairs to come up with this kind of political drama, but it is a gamble worth taking the risk for the greater good of Filipino society. Hence, to stifle its momentum to just 6 episode would be an injustice to the creators and viewers of “Bayan Ko”. I highly recommend that GMA 7 extend this series beyond its intended length so it can live up to its purpose and leave a permanent mark in its audiences, if not in Philippine television.
“Bayan Ko” airs every Sunday, at 6:30 p.m. on GMA News TV Channel 11. TSS