FPJ's Ang Probinsyano is celebrating its fourth anniversary this September. In an age of streaming and quick attention spans, the unusually long run is quite an achievement for the ABS-CBN series.
But the Kapamilya action drama's history is not without its controversies. When an issue is connected to the top-rating series viewed by millions every night, it makes headlines.
One such issue was its July 15 episode, which showed the gang rape of powerless police women. Viewers were appalled that ABS-CBN allowed the show to exhibit such a sensitive and violent scene, especially during early prime-time when many young viewers were tuned in. Many took to social media to say how inappropriate it was for FPJ's Ang Probinsyano to do this.
The scene also revived the uneasy relationship between the show's production staff in ABS-CBN and the Philippine National Police (PNP). Although the show is a work of fiction, it still needs to be made in consideration of the police agency's sensibilities.
FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano started airing on September 28, 2015. Adapted from the 1997 Fernando Poe Jr. film Ang Probinsyano, the story has Coco Martin playing the character originally portrayed by the The King of Filipino Movies.
The story goes thus: Ricardo "Cardo" Dalisay had to leave his peaceful life in the province to act as Dominador de Leon, an estranged twin who was a policeman and died on the job. Ricardo was tasked to replace his brother to finish the mission that he started, and to make his killers, a family of kidnappers and drug lords, face the law.
Filipino viewers easily warmed up to the show in its first episodes because they presented a strong sense of justice. The other characters also exemplified solid family values, including Lola Flora (Susan Roces), Cardo’s grandmother, Carmen (Bela Padilla), Cardo’s first romantic partner, and SPO1 Glen Corpuz (Maja Salvador), his partner in the police force.
Ratings were high in its first year. The pilot episode garnered a 41.6% rating, according to Kantar Media. This is the highest rating for a pilot so far in the history of Philippine TV.
The ratings have also stayed consistently high even years after the pilot episode. The finale of Book One or the first story arc, which aired on May 24, 2017, reached a rating of 42.7%. The episode showed how Cardo was able to end the life of Police Inspector Joaquin Tuazon (Arjo Atayde), the drug lord scion who killed his brother.
Because FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano’s storyline centers on the life of a cop, ABS-CBN had chosen to consult with the PNP from the very beginning to make sure that the portrayal would be accurate. They also needed assistance in producing the show itself, be it some endorsement to use police uniforms and other imagery, or assistance in shooting in remote or crowded public areas.
This relationship was tested when the show ended its Book Two or second story arc, and started its Book Three or third story arc, in March of 2018.
The third story arc raised the stakes by moving Cardo away from the police force. This time, he realized that the institution that he had been serving was full of corruption, so he joined a rebel group called Pulang Araw. He later formed a vigilante group named Vendetta to stamp out the corrupt cops.
This storyline caught the attention of PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde. At the beginning of November in 2018, Albayalde felt that he had to defend his ranks against the show’s “disturbing” portrayal of his men.
"Hindi naman fair sa PNP yung mga ganyang portrayal. Parang yung the chief PNP himself is a villain. Hindi naman po siguro kailanman nangyari sa amin. In reality, well, hindi puwedeng mangyari iyan,” he said in an interview.
In response, ABS-CBN assured Albayalde that the show was a work of fiction, and that there was no intention to harm the image of the PNP.
"FPJ's Ang Probinsyano assures the Philippine National Police that the characters, places, and incidents in the program are purely fictitious as stated in the disclaimer aired at the start of the show every night. There is no intention to smear the reputation of any organization or portray any person in a negative light,” stated the network’s official reply.
Despite this statement, the PNP still withdrew its support for the drama series on November 17, 2018. An official memorandum from the state institution ordered its departments to “immediately refrain from assisting, to withdraw their support to the production of the said teleserye in terms of PNP resources like patrol cars, firearms, personnel, venues, and other items and gadgets being used in the teleserye.”
Fortunately, PNP and ABS-CBN reached an agreement more than a week later. The new Memorandum of Understanding between the two resulted in a more positive portrayal of police officers. In turn, the PNP started to supervise the provision of uniforms, equipment, and facilities used in the program.
FPJ's Ang Probinsyano ended its rebel storyline in April 2019 by making Cardo and his team of rebels train to join the ranks of the police.
Now in Book 4 or the fourth story arc, FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano is showing Cardo as a dutiful policeman. He is currently the leader of Task Force Agila, composed of a troop of elite cops chasing several villains, like a bank heist specialist named Bungo (Baron Geisler), a serial killer named Jane (Judy Ann Santos), and a corrupt political opportunist Lily Ann Cortez (Lorna Tolentino).
FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano had received many accolades due to its cooperation with state forces. In 2017, Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Mike Sueno praised the show for giving a good example to the police.
Coco Martin had also received a certificate of appreciation from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG).
The PNP isn’t the only government agency that FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano had a rocky relationship with. There are a few others that had cried foul over some elements in the show.
In November 2018, Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) Chief Persida Acosta complained that the show was portraying her agency to be weak-willed. The infamous lawyer also called out ABS-CBN for a mistake in procedure.
“Sumangguni para hindi Wow Mali,” Acosta said, alluding to a now-defunct TV5 prank show.
In July 2017, government officials from the Arayat town in Pampanga decried how their place was shown in FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano. The episodes during that period showed a group of rebels holed up in a town that resembled Arayat.
The Arayat officials released a resolution aimed to make the Kapamilya network apologize for depicting the town as “a haven and breeding ground for terrorists and hoodlums.” The officials also wanted to protect Arayat’s ecotourism opportunities.
ABS-CBN responded that no scenes were shot in Arayat, and that the network was careful not to make any reference to the people of Arayat as rebels.
“We apologize if the story has offended and caused distress to the local government and the people of Arayat. We recognize the importance of ecotourism to Arayat and would not want to do anything to harm its image and reputation,” said the network.
FPJ's Ang Probinsyano also came into conflict with the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB). In July 2016, officials of the MTRCB summoned the show's production team for airing an episode with sexually suggestive themes.
The July 25 episode showed guest star Vice Ganda’s character Ella changing a flat tire in the rain with the help of Coco Martin’s character. The two used words with double meanings during the whole scene.
The artists behind the show dutifully attended a developmental conference with the review board. After that dialogue, MTRCB accepted their explanation and lauded the show's efforts to improve.
MTRCB Chairperson Eugenio Villareal said this in a resolution. "During the conference, it surfaced that the sequence of shots coupled with language employed in the said episode may potentially impact on certain sensitivities. In this connection, we note your twin manifestation that (a) you had no intention to offend anyone in regard to the subject scene, and (b) be that as it may, you believe that there is room for improvement for the program as regards sensitivity to particular types of audience, for instance, the young and women.”
FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano celebrated its fourth anniversary this September 28, 2019. While that is a happy occasion, the cast and crew of the show should not forget the issues they had to overcome while making the show.
Will Cardo Dalisay ever die?
Coco Martin’s character has faced several controversies throughout the years, and all of them have made him and his show tougher. Perhaps he’s already immortal.