Saturday, December 20, 2008

Even Christmas is not spared

The trapos have not spared even Christmas from their predilection for graft. It is suggested that the Commission on Audit inventories the cost of “celebrating” Christmas, and “giving cheer” to the constituents, and determine whether these have been laced with the usual larceny of “tongpats”. Hindi kasi halata ang bukol sa Christams decorations, but try quantifying it across the benighted land, and it should be quite a sum.

During the last two week-ends, I have travelled around the country. You see a lot of faces in anguish at the continued misery of their existence. You hear a lot of voices raised in protest, as well as less strident but equally disappointed. Hopelessness and helplessness prevail throughout the benighted land.

But when the early dusk descends, the lights of Christmas, courtesy of the town mayor, goes all ablaze. The municipio is aglow with thousands of firefly lights. The plaza has a giant Christmas tree, certainly taller than last year, and competing with the next town in height, in the number of lights, as well as the tackiness of its design. Never mind if pine trees do not exist in the lowlands. The enterprising mayor will hire a designer and staff to create one out of so-called “recyclable” materials, or some native handicraft, strew them all over a tree made of steel bars and rings welded together to form an isosceles cone, and bedeck it with thousands of power-consuming lights, imported, but naturally, from China where Christmas hardly exists.

“Mapaligaya man lang ang tao ngayong Kapaskuhan”, quipped a mayor as he opened the lights, which was also signal for the band to play and the fireworks display to ooh and ahh his “beloved” constituents. All over the land, the orgy of “panandaliang mababaw na kaligayahan” is played and replayed, in a thousand five hundred municipalities, and eighty or more cities. Why, even the barangays, using meagre IRA funds, must have their barangay hall decorated, and in Manila, their street lamps “beautified”.

My economics-trained mind tries computing the costs. It must be awesome. As your car passes towns like Rosales and Villasis and cities like Urdaneta, or cities like Tarlac and municipalities like Moncada, Gerona and Paniqui, you get enthralled by a phantasmagoria of lights and tacky d├ęcor in poblaciones, while private homes and hovels in between are hardly lit, as if to show that misery among the benighted knows no timeline, and only government can afford the occasional splurge. I am told that the so-called Christmas street, Policarpio in the Mandaluyong fiefdom of Ben Abalos, has toned down their usual “tradition” of bright lights and seasonal displays, from excess to simple. Private money kasi. But go to the tiangge-surrounded Abalos City Hall, and marvel at an island of lights that would put Disneyland to shame, in cost, not necessarily in beauty.

The daily newscasts are on forced Christmas mode too. After detailing news about robberies here and killings there, punctuated by Jocjoc’s serial lying and the lower house dancing desafinado to cha-cha, and jeremiads of gloom for the coming year, with OFWs being laid-off in Taiwan, in Singapore and elsewhere, and factories closing in the homeland, they always end their daily routine with a feature on how brightly and gaily spruced up our towns and cities are, courtesy, but naturalmente, of the mayor. Always and ever, there are the “grand” fireworks displays. He, he, he, the mayor must have thought. May pera sa basura araw-araw. May pera sa jueteng araw-araw. May pera din sa paputok at kuwitis tuwing kapaskuhan. Bonus --- ayos!

And, “nunca te olvidare” as the shmaltzy love line in the upcoming movie, Baler, says --- the gaudy and tacky lampposts dotting the streets of miserably decayed cities, all made in China, all with “tongpats” galore. The royal and loyal city of Manila must take the cake here. Pass by its bridges, and get awe-struck at its monuments to bad taste. Multi-colored lamps on top of multi-colored tiers of gaudy globes whose attempts at luminescence defy all good sense. Even the balustrades of otherwise historic bridges are not spared the orgy of bad taste. Globes of pink, and blue, green and red, alternating in sleazy cadence, dot the sides. And as if these were not enough to proudly display their mayor’s lack of taste and good sense, the narrow islands separating the alleys are not spared. Aarrgh! Words can hardly describe the ugliness of it all. I should next take a camera and documents these monuments to extremely bad taste, and create a column not of words, but images of decadence.

Now I realize why, and thank God that Ferdinand Marcos had the prescience to give the walls of Intramuros to national agencies like the PTA and Intramuros Administration, instead of City Hall. Imagine what decadent plastic and electric Chinoiserie made in Shenzhen or Yiwu those city hall bright guys would have defaced history with, enough to give friend Bambi Harper a heart attack.

I don’t want to sound like the Grinch who stole Christmas. After all, I was born on Christmas Day, which means it should be, as it is, the season where all the world celebrates with me, my private blessings. While other kids got a birthday gift plus another for Christmas, I had to content myself with one, for both occasions. But never mind that. It is the season of grace, and I should not begrudge it the beautiful ways by which it is celebrated.

But not in excessive and tacky flamboyance please. Especially when the be-all is not necessarily grace, but the gracelessness of corrupt larceny, where gazillions of lights are put up as an excuse to “tongpats”, and fireworks are flared, the more the merrier, because how will the Commission on Audit compare the price paid to the blown-up ashes of last night’s fiery display, eh?

Nothing is spared in the trapo’s end-all of greed. Basta’t pagkakakitaan, ayos!
How nice that I spent Christmas in earlier days --- when one would delight in the privately-funded display of the Rosario’s COD, or the privately-funded lights of Ayala Avenue, or the always tastefully-decorated Rustan’s in Makati. And see handmade parols light up the giant acacia tree in the patio of the Las Pinas Church, or the multi-colored giant parol of San Fernando displayed in singular pride at the Bagumbayan of our national hero. And plazas all over the country with simple but elegant displays of affection for El Santo Nino.

Those were infinitely better days. Now my apo’s are regaled by ersatz snow at that other monument to bad taste --- Star City, which belongs to a formerly ilustrado peninsulare who should have learned good taste from his forebears. They go to malls decorated with plastic Santa’s and Christmas balls imported from Yiwu, and buy toys that teach them the violence of outer space wars. And when I bring them up to Baguio for real chill, they see a pine tree made of ugly concrete, and the same gaudiness with which Mayors Lim and Abalos, and God knows who else, have made up for the holiday season. Along the way, where in my childhood, I would thrill to the stop in Rosales for a good stop-over meal of steaming rice and a bowl of higado, the Ilocano version of Pampanga’s kilayen and Batangas kilawin, now all they see are Mc Do and Jollibee, with food as execrable as my taste buds could abide. Sweet spaghetti, among others, which I forbid my apos to ever, ever try. Time was when one looked forward to maliputo and a clear broth of ginger-laced kabute with dahon ng sili when one sallied southward, home-cooked pansit in Lipa and hab-hab in Lukban upon Banahaw. Now it’s the ubiquitous fat and carbo-loading at, wherever else but Mc Do and Jollibee. Uuugh!

For the good old days, when people had both good sense and good taste. Now we are assailed by bad taste all around us, while greed and commercialism envelop the benighted land.


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