From Bulilit to Advocate: John's the Man

When we were kids, we would tune in every Sunday to Goin’ Bulilit, a children’s sketch comedy show, like a lot of other millennials we know. It was a part of our weekend routine. We laughed at the jokes and cried when our favorite cast members had to graduate. Through this show, we knew John Manalo.

Since graduating from Goin' Bulilit, John has starred in several TV shows and movies (Mga Anghel na Walang Langit, Mara Clara, and Feng Shui, among others). He has also graduated with a Communication Arts degree from the University of Santo Tomas, started several businesses, and created his own YouTube channel.

John is definitely not a bulilit anymore. As a matter of fact, he has grown to be a man who is using his platform as a Filipino celebrity to bring awareness to different sociopolitical issues that are happening in the country. Recently, his videos about the COVID pandemic, ABS-CBN shutdown, and growing Philippine debt have gone viral. What inspired John to speak up?

Going into this interview, we definitely had expectations on what kind of answers we wanted to hear from our feature. We prepared a list of questions that we knew would challenge (and possibly intimidate) a man. In fact, our opening question was: “Do you think men are trash?” Best case scenario, a fragile and toxic man would have dropped the call then and there. Fortunately, John Manalo is not a fragile or toxic man.

When we met John via Zoom, we were pleasantly surprised. We did not only conduct an interview; we also had a real and honest conversation about gender issues with him. We could tell that John sincerely wanted to learn about the struggles that women are facing today. He showed enough humility to ask us questions and to accept that his experiences do not reflect how others are treated in society.

Still, he was anxious to answer our questions. “Stress!” he shouted with a smile before we really got into the interview, which made us laugh. We can’t really blame him. Like we said, we wanted this interview to be challenging.

On men are trash

We’re all familiar with the phrase “men are trash.” We’ve talked about this several times on our platforms. For example, how we were raised, as girls, to believe that men would hurt us if we wear clothes that show “too much” skin. Our dads warned us about boys before we started dating in high school, and our guy friends would ask us to text them when we arrive home safe after a late-night hangout. The men in our lives are well aware of the dangers that their gender imposes on women.

And yet, when the phrase “men are trash” comes out of a woman’s mouth, she’s labeled a feminazi or a man-hater. We wanted to know what John thinks of this phrase.

“Humans, in general, ‘yun ‘yung trash for me. Meron tayong attitudes na hindi talaga maganda,” he said. (“For me, humans, in general, are trash. We have attitudes that are not okay,” he said.) John went on to explain that he’s not keen with the phrase “men are trash” because of its negativity. However, he admitted that men like this do exist.

“Meron talagang trash na lalaki. As in sobra. Ako na ‘yung nahihiya for my gender… Pero feeling ko, malaki pa rin ‘yung factor ng upbringing mo. Maraming bulag na nagsasabi na mas malakas ‘yung lalaki, mas maraming kayang gawin ‘yung lalaki… Kasi namulat na sila sa ganun.”

(“There really are men who are trash. I mean, I feel embarrassed for my gender… But I feel like a person’s upbringing is still a huge factor. There are a lot of ignorant people who say that men are stronger, that men can do more than women… That’s because they were raised to believe such things.”)

Referring to double standards, he added, “Feeling ko ‘yun ‘yung kelangang masira or mabasag natin. Dapat pantay-pantay talaga tayo… Hindi na dapat pinaglalaban ‘yan, diba?” (“I think we need to abolish this mentality. We’re all equals… This shouldn’t be an argument anymore, right?”)

On Activism

Unlike a lot of local celebrities, John is using his platform to talk about important socio political issues in the country. It’s uncommon for actors to speak up, perhaps in fear of polarizing their fans or losing brand sponsorships. John is witness to how politics can turn people against you. Though his viral videos have gained support from a lot of Filipinos, it has also attracted hate from those who hold opposing views.

So why did he decide to speak up?

“Unang-una, galing ako sa hirap so alam ko ‘yung nararamdaman ng mga tao ngayon,” he told us. (“First of all, I didn’t come from a rich family, so I know what people are feeling right now,” he told us.)

People may not know this about John, but acting was not his dream. “Bata pa lang ako, di ko naman talaga pinangarap maging artista.” (“I didn’t really dream of becoming an actor when I was a child.”) He didn’t want the fame or recognition, rather he wanted to enter show business to help his family financially.

“Nag-start ako sa commercial, four years old ako. ‘Yung dad ko OFW, tapos ‘yung mom ko housewife. Nung bata ako, wala kaming sasakyan. Naglalakad kami papunta sa mga VTRs, sa mga commercials. So alam ko ‘yung struggle ng nasa laylayan talaga.”

(“My career started in commercials when I was four years old. My dad was an OFW, and my mom was a housewife. When I was a kid, we didn’t have a car. We would walk to VTRs for commercials. So I really know the struggle of not having a lot in life.”)

John’s roots allow him to empathize with our fellow citizens who are struggling during the pandemic. A lot of Filipinos are not able to work. Poor families are literally starving because of the extended quarantine. Parents are wondering how they’re going to send their kids back to school with remote learning. These are struggles that John can relate to, because he wasn’t born with privilege.

Therefore, he took it as his responsibility to speak for those who can’t. He’s using the privilege he has now to educate his audience about the harsh reality that a lot of Filipinos are living with at the moment.

“One of the reasons why very vocal ako about it, kasi meron akong mga employees.” (“One of the reasons that I’m very vocal is because I have employees.”) Being a business owner who also experienced the economic consequence of quarantine, John understood how crises like this more significantly affects those under his employment.

“Alam ko ‘yung nararamdaman nila kasi bukas ‘yung mga mata ko sa mga nangyayari sa society natin ngayon, na hindi talaga tayo pantay-pantay. Ang nakakalungkot lang, ang dami pa ring nagbubulag-bulagan o tanga.”

(“I know how they feel because my eyes are open to what’s happening in our society now; inequality does exist. What’s truly sad is there are still people who are ignorant or stupid.”)

This post is sponsored by Amisto Activewear.

As activists, we also encounter ignorant people on a daily basis. They use phrases like “dura lex, sed lex” (“the law is the law”) to justify the oppression of the poor, but fail to uphold privileged people in positions of power to the same standard. Why? Because the latter is politically aligned with the officials they deify. In the Philippines, nationalism has been replaced by idolatry.

On the subject of dealing with trolls, John said: “‘Yung mga argument ng mga haters sa ‘kin, hindi talaga pumapalag. Kasi four years old pa lang ako, nagbabayad na ko ng tax. Sasabihin nila, ‘Wala kang pinag-aralan. Artista ka lang.’ Graduate ako ng UST! Saka nag-UP ako ng one year!”

(“The hater’s arguments against me don’t affect me because I’ve been paying my taxes since I was four years old. They even say, ‘You’re uneducated. You’re just an actor.’ But I graduated from UST! I even went to UP for a year!”)

This made us laugh hard. Even in the face of hatred, John still has a way of using humor to lighten the situation.

When asked about his message to the youth and how young people can become effective activists, he said:

"First, kelangan mo munang aralin ‘yung isang bagay bago ka magsalita about it. Mahirap magsalita ng nabasa mo lang ‘yung isang bagay sa Twitter or social media, tapos makikisawsaw ka na without researching it. So kelangan, para maging credible ka, do your own research. Tapos siguro irespeto mo din ‘yung elders mo. Pero don’t be afraid to call them out din. If may mali, pwede mong sabihin pero in a magalang way. And isatao mo muna ‘yung mga sinasabi mo. Baguhin mo muna ‘yung sarili mo bago mo baguhin ‘yung iba. Saka…bawasan Tiktok."

After two hours of conversation, it’s clear to us that John is an activist. He’s using his privilege to help defend the rights of others. That’s activism. (And activism is not terrorism.)

But it is also obvious to us that he’s not a feminist…yet. Despite that, we believe that we need more men like John who see everyone as equals. We need more parents like his who raise their sons in a non-patriarchal way. We need more people to have open conversations about gender and class issues so we can inspire a bigger and more significant change in society.

We want to thank John for not only answering our questions but for also being open to new and different perspectives. To know more about him, his work, and his advocacies, follow him on Instagram.

In the exclusive PDF version of The MAN Issue, John also talks about toxic and fragile masculinity and his favorite Goin' Bulilit memories! You can get this version for P99 or grab a bundle of six issues for only P299! What a steal, right? So head to this link to get your own copy!

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