A close ally of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was savaged online by supporters of South Korean boy band BTS on Thursday after he launched a coalition using their name, the latest in a series of dramatic and bizarre stunts from the controversial politician.
Alan Peter Cayetano was Duterte’s running mate in the 2016 election, but he lost the contest (vice-presidents are elected in separate races in the Philippines) and was elected Speaker of the House in 2019.
The 50-year-old has been a staunch supporter of Duterte’s bloody war on drugs. He was also in the top House role when prominent broadcaster ABS-CBN was shut down after lawmakers refused to renew its license. At the time, he was criticized for launching an exhibit in the House related to the career of late basketball star Kobe Bryant instead of prioritizing hearings for the network’s franchise.
Announced at a press conference in which some speculated that he would accompany the news by dancing to music from the hit band, Cayetano’s new political bloc “BTS sa Kongreso” (BTS in the Congress) comes three months after he was ousted from the speaker’s position in October last year.
“BTS sa Kongreso” stands for “Back To Service” in Congress, Cayetano explained. But critics accused him of trying to use one of the most searchable terms in the world to fuel a comeback. Just like the band BTS, Cayetano’s political bloc in Congress is made up of seven people, all of them men (though one did not appear in the above picture).
“It just means we’re back to service,” Cayetano told reporters. “If we had publicity, whether positive or negative, we did not intend to offend the fans.”
The first K-Pop group to ever clinch a Grammy nomination, BTS is a global sensation whose influence has expanded from cultural issues to social causes. Their fans, known as ARMY, are also fiercely protective of their idols. As word spread that Cayetano was going to use the BTS name, Filipino Twitter erupted in condemnation. On Wednesday, the hashtag #CayetanoStopUsingBTS trended in the country.
“Alan Cayetano’s use of BTS name for their new bloc reeks of his desperation to stay relevant,” fan Pauline Bolisay told VICE World News. “Ironically, Cayetano stands on the opposite end of what BTS stands for, authenticity, humility and sincere desire for social justice.”
Others see a more calculated ploy with 2022 national elections around the corner in a country where voters have catapulted showbiz personalities, anchors and well-known athletes like boxing legend Manny Pacquiao to top posts.
“It’s corny but it’s actually been a tradition,” said Dr. Jean Encinas-Franco, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines. “It also reflects to a certain extent the weakness of our political parties. Political groups would rather resort to faddish or popular names to differentiate themselves from other groups. It speaks of the lack of ideological or policy-based parties.”
But Franco said using the BTS brand was “ill-advised.” She noted that fans of the group are progressive and have adopted causes championed by their idols, who have spoken out against racial discrimination and other issues. They have also mobilized online to drown out racist tweets during Black Lives Matter protests in the United States last year, and to thwart attendance at a rally for President Donald Trump.