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Madame Secretary: Break in Diplomacy and Sanity

Updated on February 11, 2018

The punch seen all over the world.


I must admit, I haven’t really followed ‘Madam Secretary’. I’ve heard about it before but I’ve never really found the time to watch even a single episode until now. When the Philippine Embassy in Washington DC takes time out of its busy schedule to slam the latest episode of the aforementioned TV show, as a true-blue Filipino, I have to check it out to make sense of the uproar.

‘Madam Secretary’ is an American political drama television series about a top U.S. diplomat. It stars Tea Leoni as Elizabeth Mccord, an ex-college professor/CIA analyst turned Secretary of State; a job offered to her by President Conrad Dalton (Keith Carradine) after the mysterious death of her predecessor

It’s based on current global events but it’s in no way, a factual representation of them. That’s why I’m a bit confused as to why the Philippine government can’t separate fact from fiction. I understand that it hits pretty much close to home as the latest episode entitled ‘Break in Diplomacy’ centered around an unconventional newly-elected Philippine President named Datu Andrada (Joel de la Fuente) who out of nowhere, made inappropriate advances towards Mccord during their meeting in Manila to discuss his refusal to join the Asia-Pacific territory treaty in Singapore. Instinctively, Mccord punched Adrada in the nose which left him bloodied and subsequently triggered a fresh diplomatic crisis.

“I clobbered a world leader instead of saving a major regional agreement.” Mccord confessed in the teaser.

OK, I get it, there are some parallels between the fictional character and Rodrigo Duterte, the uncouth and brutally frank currently sitting Philippine President. But any sensible viewer would know that it is an outlandish and hyperbolic depiction of who he really is. The kickboxing moves, the shady business deals, the bribes etc. If anything, the writers tried to kill two birds with one stone with their thinly veiled skewering of the fictional populist leader Andrada because some of the character traits he exhibited can also be applied to US President Donald Trump (e.g. the groping, hush money and narcissistic behavior among other things as per the allegations hurled at him). It is a fictitious TV show that mirrors current events and conspiracy theories and nothing more.

Moreover, the scene that involved Andrada and Mccord was merely utilized as an ‘inciting incident’ to set the story in motion and bring into focus the important issues of the day. It has put politics, foreign policy, diplomacy and even women’s rights under a microscope--albeit a simplistic one—amidst the resurgence of populist leaders around the globe. Honestly, that’s where the show faltered for me because it oversimplified the intricacies and complexities of foreign relations and the repercussions of sexual assault. Having said that, it tried to discuss important global issues and made them more palatable or relatable to the casual viewers—something most shows with similar content fail to do. The only thing that’s not palatable about this episode is de la Fuente’s accent. It was cringe-worthy and horrendously all over the place.

A work of fiction with real world implications.


Which begs the question: Why, with all the problems that the country is facing today, a fictional TV show has evoked a real response from the Philippine Embassy and triggered what seems to be a real-life diplomatic incident?

Well, the embassy had this to say about the episode after watching just the trailer:

"This highly negative portrayal of our Head of State not only casts doubt on the respectability of the Office of the Philippine President but also denigrates the way our nation navigates foreign affairs. It also tarnishes the Philippines’ longstanding advocacy for women’s rights and gender equality.”

I think the above statement is awfully dramatic and misguided. So let me get this straight, a TV show can really cast doubt on the respectability of the Office of the Philippine President? Really? So, let me ask you this: Which is more disrespectful to the country, a fictitious TV program showing a less than favorable depiction of a fictitious Philippine President or the conduct and antics of President Duterte himself? I mean he practices the ‘p*tang ina’ (son of a wh*re) diplomacy wherein he curses and vilifies anyone who is not in favor of his policies. How about his questionable appointments particularly naming his friend and former roommate as Foreign Affairs Secretary who , as records would bare, lied about his citizenship? Isn’t that more disgraceful to the country?

Break in Diplomacy teaser trailer.

Somehow, what ‘Madam secretary’ inadvertently accomplished was provide a glimpse into how the current Philippine government operates. They don’t take criticisms well and therefore susceptible to knee-jerk reactions which serve as both their defense and attack mechanisms to critical stimuli. The very reason why it’s fast becoming known as ‘the administration of retractions’. Which is kinda baffling in and of itself because for a government that likes to dish it out, it’s incredibly hypersensitive.


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