In This Issue
JAN - MAR 2000
VOL. VI   NO. 1

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  P U B L I C     E Y E   —   B O Y S   ' N   T H E   H O U S E

WHEREVER they go, the Spice Boys are mobbed by adoring followers, mostly young and female. Barbers likens the overwhelming reception they usually get to that extended to rock bands or basketball stars. Yet, it is precisely this mass media-reinforced political culture—the PBA culture of pulitika (politics), basketball, artista (screen idols), as Sonia Soto, national chairperson of the leftist Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya (KPD) prefers to call it—which has hindered instant approbation of their kind among those cynical of politicos.

It has also been no help that the singing group from which they hijacked their name has been called talentless many times. To compensate for this crucial lack, said one critic, the Spice Girls have provided fans with what they "really, really want"—a "liberal dose of eroticism in the name of music." Which therefore prompts this question: Are the Spice Boys similarly without talent, spewing in their case an erotic dose of liberalism in the name of politics?

Actually, when taken individually, each Spice Boy can hold his ground. Commonality of stand on issues may be the essence of being defined as a collective, but each one is as unique a voice as the other. Ideologically, they don't have the same frame of mind, which at times results in disagreements, albeit healthy ones. They have their respective political directions to chart, causes to advance, ideas to espouse, and constituencies to serve.

The Spice Boys come from very diversified backgrounds, which also imply respective areas of expertise and a glimpse into their advocacies. Zubiri—whose movie-star good looks and one-time relationship with actress-singer Vina Morales have made him a media magnet—is an agriculturist and actively supports pro-environment legislation like the total log ban bill and the recently passed Clean Air Act. Andaya, a former laywer at the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) lends his legal competence to the Committee on Appropriations. Sandoval, a marine engineer and businessman, brings his aptitude to debates on economic issues. Barbers advocates for youth empowerment.

Only Defensor and Braganza were weaned on radical activism in their student days, a past they both continue to appreciate in their work. Being two-term congressmen, they have been honed in parliamentary ways, equipped with skills that enable them to participate more in House deliberations. As assistant minority floor leader, Defensor assumes a greater responsibility in that he also sits in the bicameral conference committee handling very crucial pieces of legislation, the national budget among them.

Political pundits note that if there is anything interesting about the Spice Boys—at least with some of them—is that they have substance. "They are not just like a (Robert) Jaworski or an Erap, or worse a (Ramon) Revilla," remarks Joel Rocamora, executive director of the Institute for Popular Democracy (IPD).

The beginnings of what is now known as the Spice Boys germinated in the loose coalition called the Congressional Action Team (CAT), brainchild of Sandoval and Zubiri. At the time, generational and partisan stipulations had yet to hold sway over the CAT's composition. It counted as members congressmen in their 40s like Tony Boy Floreindo, Blueboy Nepomuceno and Benjie Lim. Even the young legislators who would later become the so-called Erap "Bright Boys" lent themselves to the efforts of their counterparts in the minority to effect reforms in the House.

Part of the team's image-enhancing activities were trips to the various legislative districts spread throughout the country. The visits were educational in nature, providing the legislators a first-hand account of problems faced by the people so they could help lobby on their behalf in terms of legislation or budgetary allocations. The CAT's first official trip was a fun dive in Coron, northern Palawan, where the group of Sandoval, Zubiri and LAMP's Juan Pablo Bondoc saw for themselves the practice of dynamite fishing in certain areas. The following day, they filed a resolution in the House calling for an investigation into the environmentally harmful fishing method.

The pull of party loyalty at the height of the charter change debate last year eventually killed the CAT. When the battle lines were drawn, the Spice Boys emerged. The ties that bind them have grown stronger as the personal became more and more enmeshed with the political. The discovery of common gastronomical passions, artistic tastes and sartorial preferences brought them closer—in typical college barkada fashion—even as their steadfast conviction against any tampering of the Constitution pushed by the Estrada administration further crystallized the group.

The issue of charter change (cha-cha), since renamed Constitutional Correction for Development or Concord to give it a more acceptable spin, has in fact been the Spice Boys' shining moment. Even Akbayan partylist representative and Left stalwart Loreta Ann Rosales is quick to acknowledge the way the group positioned itself in the anti-Concord campaign in the House.

"It seems to be a given that, since they all belong to the minority, everyone will be against Concord," observes Rosales. "But the arguments they have taken are real arguments. And for that, they deserve respect."

The KPD's Soto also concedes, "What made the Spice Boys a byword was essentially their opposition to charter change. Some of them may not be completely anti-globalization, anti-foreign land ownership like us. But certainly most of them have made serious efforts in studying the impacts of amendments to the Constitution."

To their credit, the Spice Boys did manage to engage the Estrada camp in a fairly informed and successful tit for tat, enough for a battered presidency to prop up its own group of neophyte legislators in the Bright Boys to defend its proposed charter amendments. They counseled against the government tack to further liberalize the economy, it being tantamount to selling out the national patrimony and sovereignty. They also raised issues beyond economic ones, warning of the eventual lifting of term limits and the dangers of "creeping authoritarianism."

They even brought the propaganda war outside the confines of Congress, believing that their audience was no longer the empty galleries of the House nor their colleagues who are slouched in their seats half of the time—the other half being devoted to merienda.

They began turning up in mass actions, addressing campus forums, appearing in talk shows, participating in a protest run, and on one occasion, singing at a concert-rally in remembrance of martial law. Some of them, like Defensor and Zubiri, took their advocacy a step further, working as part of the organizing committee of the Reject Cha-Cha Movement which the KPD led.

But while they mouth activist assertions, the Spice Boys depart from the fire-spewing, incendiary demagogue that is the trademark of the Left. Neither do they use the stentorian, "throwing thunderbolts from Mount Olympus" style of the old Congress. Some would suggest the Spice Boy advocacy is one made for television-with Generation X, Generation Text and the MTV Generation in mind. Or agit-prop (agitational propaganda) using popular culture categories.

Spice Boys [Photo by Jose Duran]

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