Our Illicit Love Affair with Kabit-Seryes

by Matthew Escosia
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by Patricia Ramos


Undoubtedly, teleseryes are one of the most popular sources of daily entertainment for Filipinos. Ever since they first aired decades ago, countless households continue to tune in everyday to the latest episode of their favorite soap opera.  The first soap opera in the country was shown in 1963 by ABS-CBN, entitled “Gulong ng Palad”. Fun fact: the term “soap” opera originated because the first ones were sponsored by soap manufacturers abroad (ABS-CBN News, 2009). Eventually, the Philippines adopted new names and developed variations of these serials, such as fantaseryes, sineseryes, and even kabit-seryes. But despite the decades that have passed, there seems to be little evolution in the quality and plot of teleserye genres. They all seem to be heavily saturated with the same themes of drama, love, and family.

However, if there’s one plot that stands out as the quintessential Filipino TV show, it would be the infamous kabit-serye subgenre. Every year, TV networks churn out a new variation of the same old plot regarding a couple and another woman. Typically, this culminates in a showdown between the scorned wife and the mistress as they scream, slap, and pull each other’s hair— like in Pamilya Roces, Halik, The Legal WifeTwo WivesTemptation of Wife and Ika-Anim na Utos. The popularity of the kabit theme extends to films as well, with notable titles like The Mistress, My Neighbor’s Wife, and A Secret Affair.

But given how prominent shows about infidelity are, many people can’t help feeling exasperated at how often they’re produced. Kabit-seryes get a lot of flak for being unoriginal and poorly developed—especially due to the gender stereotypes they propagate. According to a 2016 study by Mendoza & Recuya, kabit-seryes reflect the problematic querida system, wherein Filipino married men are given leniency for having a mistress. The wife, on the other hand, blames herself for “not being enough” and thus burdens herself with the duty to save her marriage. Meanwhile, the mistress suffers the brunt of condemnation as the shameless, manipulative homewrecker. Because of such stereotypes, kabit-seryes are criticized for perpetuating the double standards that it’s fine for men to cheat, while women must contend against each other to win a man’s heart.

Surprisingly though, no amount of cheating, dramatic confrontations, and awkward love scenes seem enough to stop people from patronizing these shows. Despite the criticisms, Filipinos continue to eagerly watch and buzz about kabit-seryes and movies. Naturally, this has driven many critics to question why Filipinos seem to be so endlessly fascinated with infidelity. The first reason, however, is simple: audiences crave excitement and entertainment. It’s no secret that Filipinos can be incredibly melodramatic. Kabit-seryes are action-packed with wild catfights and intense verbal spats. Not to mention, it’s also incredibly satisfying to see the demise of the unfaithful husband and the mistress burned at the stake. Obviously, incidents of cheating are never usually as dramatic as the ones shown on TV.  However, as with any other genre for shows and movies, these storylines give audiences an escape from the comparatively mundane reality of their lives.

Others, meanwhile, appreciate such shows because they hit close to home. Unfortunately, infidelity is a common relationship issue encountered by people in real life. Kabit-seryes reflect a reality that many Filipinos have personally experienced for themselves. As such, it’s natural for these viewers to feel more emotionally involved and sympathetic with the story. Watching how the plot unfolds also helps viewers reflect on lessons and learn tips that can be applied to their own situation. As said by entertainment columnist Mel Navarro in an interview by Ervin Santiago for Inquirer Bandera, “Siguro nakaka-relate sila, sa mga karakter sa story. Nakikita nila ‘yung mga personal experience nila. And maybe, gusto rin nilang makakuha ng pointers o mga tips kung paano iiwasan o iha-handle ‘yung mga ganitong sitwasyon in case mangyari rin sa kanila. (Maybe they can relate to the characters in the story. They can see their personal experiences. And maybe, they want to get pointers or tips on how to avoid or handle situations like those in case it happens to them).”

Indeed, there are a lot of things that needs that teleseryes need to improve in terms of originality, writing quality, and character development. However, TV networks continue to make these shows because there’s still a high demand for them. Rather than merely criticizing these people for having “poor taste”, it’s also important to understand the heart of why many Filipinos love these shows. Beyond the dramatic embellishments, teleseryes nonetheless serve as a reflection of Filipino values, society, and culture. Although these tropes tend to be overused and melodramatic, the essence of these plots are what Filipinos have come to enjoy and relate to. Ultimately, it allows viewers to not only find entertainment, but find comfort and solace as well. It may not be a high-brow, sophisticated outlet, but if it helps them channel their emotions, then perhaps these kabit-seryes deserve some slack.

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