Celebrity talk show host and actress Toni Gonzaga is getting flak for her recent interview with former Senator and defeated vice presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. for her web show “Toni Talks.”
Gonzaga is understandably receiving criticisms for this from critics of the Marcos family, especially the victims of the martial law regime. For instance, the Ateneo Martial Law Museum released a statement claiming that Gonzaga’s vlog contributed to the whitewashing and downplaying of the atrocities during the authoritatian rule of Bongbong’s late father and namesake, former President Ferdinand Marcos.
It must be kept in mind that Gonzaga is neither a journalist nor an opposition activist. She is a talk show host, and she has the discretion to invite her preferred guests. Of course, Gonzaga will invite guests she knows will generate views for her YouTube channel.
And in the past, she has interviewed the likes of Vice President Leni Robredo, Senator Grace Poe, and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno – all possible presidential candidates for 2022. It is not particularly earth-shattering for a celebrity talk show host like her will throw soft-ball questions to her guests, even if they are politicians. Even Kris Aquino asked Bongbong about how FM was when she interviewed him during the 1990s!
For comparison, United States President Joe Biden also made the rounds of late night comedy shows (e.g. with Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah during the 2020 election cycle. Against this backdrop, Gonzaga cannot be faulted for not doing a responsibility she did not sign up for anyway like confronting Marcos re the corruption and extrajudicial killings during his father’s dictatorship.
Now, let’s examine the interview from the point of view of history. It has long been reported that the Marcos family has been running a sustained propaganda operations on social media for years. In 2018, for example, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that there is a sprawling network of some 100 Facebook pages that produce content that disseminate content sympathetic to the Marcoses for their millions of readers.
It is no accident that the Marcoses are using social media as a battleground because they know that more and more Filipinos rely on it as a source of information. Included here are millions of first-time voters who did not live through Marcos’ dictatorial rule. This generation are also most likely did not have a Philippine history class throughout their six years in high school – which is certainly causing a very bothersome gap in historical knowledge that paid social media pages and troll armies are seeking to exploit.
The timing of the release of Gonzaga’s interview with Marcos serves the former senator’s political interests perfectly. There are just three weeks away from the filing of candidacies for the 2022 national and local elections, and Marcos has floated the possibility of him running for president or vice president. It is a very opportune time to further strengthen the efforts to create an alternate account of what really happened during his father’s dictatorship to boost his chances of victory.
For individuals and families who suffered during the dictatorship, the timing of the interview must have felt like rubbing salt into an open wound. The 49th anniversary of martial law declaration will be commemorated next week, and their quest for justice still has not gone anywhere – with the dictator’s son even primed to win a national office again.