“Laman pa rin ng kalye si Aling Precious, tinitingnan ang bawat taong nagdadaan, hawak ang walis tingting pero wala nang winawalis. Maya-maya pa eh tinanaw ng aleng palawalis ang magkabilang dulo ng kalye, saka nangulangot, at tiningnan ang daliri: walang laman. Tinuhog ulit ang ilong nang pagkalalim-lalim (11).”
Bob Ong’s 7th book is not far from what he has written in the past, as the short novel presents a fascinating amalgamation of all the ideals that he has shored up in his former works. It touches on the search for personal triumph (ABNKKBSNPLAko?/Stainless Longganisa), the need to reform Filipino’s negative cultural traits (Bakit Baligtad Magbasa ang Mga Pilipino), the existence of God in relation to negotiating predetermination and creation of a personal destiny (Paboritong Libro ni Hudas/Mac Arthur), the supposed role of a citizen in his/her community and the need to form decisions with sense and wisdom (Alamat ng Gubat).
Bob Ong’s humor is there, kicking asses, albeit a bit generational, because set in the post-EDSA period, and can only be completely understood by readers in their 20s and 30s. The humor is predominantly brought by comical elements in 1980s-90s pop culture, among them the mention of Batibot, RinBee, Bazooka Gum, Hetty Spaghetti, McGayver, Matet, That’s Entertainment, Leni Santos and Rey PJ Abellana, Funny Komiks, Cy Gabriel Soap, and many others. There are, of course, the usual Bob Ong grose punchlines (LBM, tae, kulangot, sipon, uhog, etc.), and ridicule of funny, bakya names (Mhelamyn, Jennavee, Flordeliza, Lucibelle, etc.).
Kapitan Sino depicts the story of Rogelio Manglicmot, a small-time electrician in the town of Pelaez, which is set in the Post-EDSA period. Rogelio is revealed as having superhuman powers, as shown by the narrative conversations of the hero and his bestfriend, Bok-Bok. The book moves fast; in the next chapter, Rogelio is seen trying out superhero costumes made by Tessa, childhood friend and love object. In the next scenes, Kapitan Sino begins to save all the problems in the world.
Rogelio however receives his biggest blow when he has failed to save Tessa’s life. Tessa has been one of the victims of the lurking “Halimaw” in the town, a monster who is later disclosed as Mayor Solomon Suico. Mayor Solomon Suico, in the beginning chapter, is characterized as a kind-hearted and generous town leader. He however has an ill son, Michael, who needs to be constantly transfused with human blood to exist. In the chapter of the tough battle between Kapitan Sino and the mayor, the latter says, “Nagliligtas ka ng bayan, nagliligtas ako ng anak… pareho tayong may obligasyon!” As expected, in the end, Kapitan Sino defeats Mayor Suico, and Michael explodes with all the blood of the victimized citizens of Pelaez.
To celebrate the heroism of Kapitan Sino, a lavish town program is organized by, who else but the person who has assumed the vacated seat of the mayor, the corrupt Vice Mayor Virgilio Samonte. When Rogelio is to walk on the stage though, several Kapitan Sinos also appear, wearing the exact costume of the hero and consequently confusing the denizens of Pelaez. One of the Kapitan Sinos attempts to fire a grenade, but Rogelio successfully prevents the explosion, though leaving his mask torn and face revealed. The end of this episode is very unpredictable, and, like the weird stance of “who-among-the-animals-know-where-the-puso-ng-saging-is” in Alamat ng Gubat, outrageously illogical: Aling Chummy asks the police to arrest Rogelio, blaming the hero for the death of her husband. The town objects: Aling Chummy’s husband died several years back. Aling Chummy replies, why didn’t Rogelio stop it? The town agrees, throwing Rogelio and Bokbok in jail.
While the hero is incarcerated, an epidemic named AVH Fever torments Pelaez. In a quick stance, it is revealed that only Rogelio’s blood can cure the said disease. For this, he is freed, but only to be imprisoned again by doctors and serve as a blood machine of thousands of people desperately trying to be cured. On his way home, a father whose child is suffering from AVH asks Rogelio if he’s the person whose blood can cure. Upon saying yes, Rogelio is knife-stabbed, and dies alongside his parents that he hasn’t been able to heal.
The Jologs Noli Me Tangere?
Philippine novels are said to be haunted by the desire to follow, if not equal, the success of Jose Rizal’s Noli and El Fili, and Bob Ong, the present superstar of Philippine pop literature, in underpinning the problems of the nation in this 7th book, becomes a part of the so-called Rizal-haunting/writing-tradition. Familiar characters and elements of Noli Me Tangere are present in Kapitan Sino. The martyr hero (Ibarra/Rizal=Kapitan Sino), the corrupt government (Spaniards=Vice Mayor Samonte), the social climbing bitches (Victorina&Consolacion/Aling Baby & Precious), and the fucked up society (San Diego/Pelaez). The problematic cultural traits of Filipinos in BBMAMP are creatively highlighted in this book, among them the phony acts and elitist pretensions of the middle & lower classes, the public preference for parties and spectacles over necessities, the tolerated culture of graft and corruption, the vain assumption of debt-of-gratitude, and the superficial sense of community and nationhood in general. Kapitan Sino is very alarming, and saddening in as much as it highlights how the problems of the Philippine nation in Rizal’s Noli, after more than a century, are still the same problems being faced by Pelaez in that Post-EDSA setting, and worse, in the now.