For over two decades, content creator AC Soriano looked up to actress Toni Gonzaga as his life's hero, wanting to become "just like her" since her early days as a TV host on "Eat Bulaga" up until she switched stations and became one of the biggest Kapamilya stars.
And become her he did—well, sort of—as apart from sharing the same surname with her after the actress married filmmaker Paul Soriano, AC is the genius behind "Otin G", the internet's latest viral character that was borne out of Gonzaga-Soriano's involvement in the presidential campaign of late dictator son Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr, her wedding godfather.
Much as it's a proof of his idolatry given the mastery he's shown at copying her mannerisms, "Otin G" is AC's way of expressing the disillusionment he faced as a long-time fan of a celebrity whose political views he could no longer stick out to for.
Ang sumabay bibigyan ng 500 wag lang ipapakita sa COMELEC! Please! I’m begging!? original sound - itsacslife
"In denial pa ako no'n," he tells reportr, recalling how long it took for him to make sense of Gonzaga-Soriano's politics. "I think ganon naman lahat tayo sa mga idol natin. Parang for a certain period, ipagtatanggol mo pa, magiging apologist," he said, sharing that what really marked the end was her "ToniTalks" interview with Marcos, Jr, titled, "The Greatest Lesson Bongbong Marcos Learned From His Father".
"Having dinner with a president who’s not so presidential was one thing but enabling someone who committed grave sins sa bansang ito na binabayaran pa natin continuously, that really was my last straw," he added.
The Making of 'Otin G'
Aired on Instagram live during ungodly hours, thousands would tune in to watch the self-proclaimed "ultimate multidogshow superstar" impersonate his former idol. During his last broadcast as of March 24, for instance, over 9,000 users stayed up past midnight to witness him call out virtually to his audience "Sabay-sabay!", and mutter the phrases, "Catherine, ano ba?", and "I love you, Ate Tin. Wag mo ko latiguhin," in between performances.
"The way I present my former idol and projecting it towards me is more of self mockery na parang ito 'yung idol ko dati at kaya ko pang gayahin with such detail, nagagaya ko pa 'yung boses niya, mga one-liners niya," he said.
AC said the character was "spontaneously" born about two weeks ago in one of his late night Instagram live sessions. He had just moved to the province and remembered bringing wigs he could play around with.
"Sobrang random lang na 'ay may wig ako dito na pang Toni Gonzaga so sinuot ko'," he said, sharing how right after, clips of it that were spliced by viewers themselves started spreading on Tiktok, and soon enough, "Otin G" was officially born, as coined by fans. "It's a collaborative process," he said.
These videos aren't being made to harm anyone in a way, he says, adding that as a filmmaker, he is merely using the power of satirical comedy as a vehicle for opening one's eyes to the world's realities, his chosen way of helping the country.
"It's just me expressing na, ito 'yung idol ko before, but it turns out, wala eh. May choices pala sila na maaaring gawin na hindi talaga tama on a very political level, one that could really affect actual lives in this country. It's never [done] naman in a place na bullying, in all honesty," he said.
Tiktok, 'Flop Eras', and 'Cancel culture'
AC, with his social media handle @itsACslife, first came to internet popularity in 2014, first as a YouTuber, then sustaining his virality on platforms like Dubsmash (RIP), Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, and most recently, Tiktok.
Through it all, he has seen how social media changed to become a political tool. In particular, Tiktok, like the other social media platforms that came before it, is a "mix of good and bad", he said.
"In a good way, nagagamit natin 'yung platform, pero maganda ba siyang medium talaga to talk about it? Character limit pa lang, time limit, pati 'yung algorithm, kapag longer yung video ang hirap mapunta sa FYP," AC said of how social media platforms can be a restricting place for people who need more context.
"Pero ako naniniwala pa naman ako sa goodness of it kasi may mga tao na nakakarating sa kanila ang fake news on different platforms, pero naniniwala ako sa chance na makarating sa kanila ang totoo sa kahit anong way, mapa comedy man 'yan, or 'yung mga dictated ng Google Translate, na sana, in the end, makarating sa kanila yung katotohanan," he added.
"Nakakafrustrate na the same place kung saan nangyari 'yung very enlightening discussions before, political movements, it's now become a place kung saan nangyari 'yung disinformation, fake news. We really need to reclaim social media as a place for good," he said, explaining how eight years later, he's active as ever online, but it was only recently that he began taking content creation as a "real job".
So how, then, did he manage to stay relevant this long?
"I guess, one thing that's always been constant is ‘yung authenticity ng stories na kaya kong mai-share at ‘yung lawak non," he said. Years ago, he came to Japan to work as an OFW, during which he spent free times coming up with content that was inspired by his experience.
"Ipinagmamalaki ko 'yun, na hindi lahat alam ang story ng isang OFW at nakakagawa ng funny pero inspiring content about it. And then 'yun naging fan ako ng KPOP, ni Toni.. so laging hinged 'yung ginagawa ko sa ganoong realities... I know I can only do so much but I guess ang kaya ko ipagmalaki is that i’m doing my part with all my best," he said.
Noting how he's also had his fair share of "flop eras", wherein he would find it hard to come up with content, AC said he's long accepted that it won't always be a "one note of hits, but it’s the rollercoaster ride that makes you interesting," he said.
Going back to his former idol, does he think it's just Gonzaga's "flop era" or is it "cancel culture" at work?
"For some people, maaari nilang ma-redeem sarili nila because namumulat sila sa kung anong tamang gawin. Pero kasi, 'yung enabling the son of a dictator, it's hard for me imagine na may redemption sa ganoon," he said, noting he also experienced being "cancelled" online before.
"Hindi lang ito simpleng away sa internet, sa Twitter sa Facebook. At hindi ito Filipino culture, hindi po Filipino culture ang mang-enable," he added.