There is little reason to think that there is — has to be — anything wrong with a Presidential granddaughter doing a photoshoot for her debut in Malacañang. After all, it is the Presidential home, even as President Duterte has made a big deal about not living there. After all, granddaughter Isabelle could just as well live there, and maybe then a photoshoot in her “home” wouldn’t be such a big deal?
But too many things were wrong about that photoshoot that has nothing to do with whether or not she had a right to do it, or whether or not we could all do the same thing in Malacañang. And it has everything to do with knowing to respect the symbols of this country and its leadership, the symbols of faith, the painful vestiges of our history.
So there’s that one that uses the Presidential Seal as backdrop and not much else, a form of disrespect against the highest seat and office in the land. And no, this is not a matter of whether or not her grandfather minds; it’s a matter of respecting the office. And yes, that’s the Philippine Flag, used as nothing more than a prop for what is essentially a fashion shoot.
But there are many other faux pas for this shoot. One set of photos has her using as setting the Golden Mosque inside Malacañang. Place of worship? What’s that?
Though my personal favorite is this shot from what I can only surmise is the Malacañang Museum, because right in the background, to the right of this photo? Framed newspaper clippings of the headlines announcing that Ferdinand Marcos has declared Martial Law. What better way to commemorate that than by using it as backdrop for your ultra-expensive ballgown?
You expect this kind of thoughtlessness from random IG personalities who don’t know any better. But as Presidential granddaughter, Isabelle should have known better. The expectations are higher for her because of the position she holds, and insensitivity to and ignorance of protocol and rules and just plain common sense about what is proper and what isn’t is absolutely unacceptable. Age is not the point. She has parents, she had an adult events team, there is and should be a Malacañang team keeping track of where they were shooting and what each set-up would be.
Even set-ups for magazine photoshoots are well-thought-out to highlight the good in a venue, the subject, the clothes. NONE of that happened here.
Spokesperson Harry Roque has tried to spin the photoshoot itself by saying:
Picture-picture? This is far from it. Isabelle Duterte had events planners, stylists, four gowns by major couturiers and designers, make-up artists, hair stylist, photographers. She had one gown flown in from elsewhere in the world, which according to the designer is “hand-embroidered and fully studded with dark red swarovski crystals.” While Roque (and even Isabelle herself) would like to fashion this as nothing more than a normal thing, even her stylist says: “It was really one for the books because not everyone can shoot there <emphasis mine>. The place is a dream location for every creative team.”
And unlike a standard picture-picture of citizens who might do a Malacañang tour, the goal of the stylist for this photo shoot was to “make Isabelle feel like a princess with the gowns she wore <…> He also wanted the pieces to ‘match the grandness of the Malacañang Palace.’” So, not not at all possible for “anyone” to do it the way Isabelle did, and no, not at all “picture-picture” in Malacañang.
Isabelle herself is quoted on Twitter as saying “not like it’s the first time lol,” though it’s unclear what she means, because what she posted next on her Facebook page was the celebration of the Silver Wedding Anniversary of Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos, which is not a photoshoot as we know it to be done today.
And of course she misses the point. This is not about whether or not this is the first time it’s been done. It’s about the fact that she is the granddaughter of a President who claims simplicity and modesty, who says his government will not stand for excess, who makes grand assertions about being one with the poor, being just like the poor. At least once before he spoke about how expenses in Malacañang are spent for by the people, and how he himself felt that turning on all the lights and full blast air conditioning in the Palace were too expensive. Well, look at all those lights they turned on for this photo shoot.
What Isabelle reveals here is excess and extravagance. The fact of a pre-debut photoshoot is in fact already excessive, because unnecessary. The gowns, the glittering jewelry, the hair and make-up, the stylists and photographer, these can easily cost hundreds of thousands, which runs counter to everything that Duterte insists his government stands for. To an extent it is really this exorbitance and luxury that is offensive, especially given an impoverished country already set on getting poorer given government policies, but also given a President who claims he is not rich, his family is simple, they are just probinsyanos.
If anything, Isabelle is proving that her grandfather is lying about this lifestyle that he insists he and his family stand for. The Malacañang photo shoot was just icing on this very big cake of double speak that Duterte has served us the past 18 months.
PS: Because the Duterte Diehard Supporters insist that I write about this because I am a “yellow journalist” and I am “dilawan,” let me lead you to the first of many essays on Kris Aquino, who was also one of three subjects of my graduate thesis, about the personal as public, celebrity culture and woman power. This piece is about Kris’ shameless display of an excessive lifestyle in the year 2004, which cuts very closely to what Isabelle is doing on her social media and now this pre-debut shoot. And guess what: in 2004, the response of Kris’s fans and supporters was also that I was inggit, I was bitter. So no, Duterte Diehard Supporters, none of what you’re doing is original.