Monday, February 9, 2009

Politics in prayer

Hypocrites, especially among the traditional politicians, will not spare anything to score political points. Not even prayer. Nothing is ever sacred.

Remember when her former press secretary now turned presidential legal counsel, whose credentials for both positions are quite specious, used prayer to float his (and hers) ardent desire to keep her in power, “even beyond (2010)”? Years ago, in the time of FVR, a National Prayer Breakfast was held each year at the Manila Hotel, with the president himself as regular guest of honour. Guess who was one of the prime organizers? It was a former congressman from one of the country’s poorest provinces, who gained infamy for having spent fabulous sums on the merienda of his fellows in the “house of thieves”, which according to then fiscalizer Nani Perez, invariably turned out to be “turon”. But there he always was, pious-looking and seemingly fervent in prayer, at each of those breakfasts. Oh well…he may have been contrite after his fall from grace and power. (Incidentally, his poor province is now headed by another set of politicians, just as greedy, if not more so).

The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual event held on the first Thursday of February at the Washington Hilton in Connecticut Avenue, Washington D.C. The founder of the event was Frank Carlson, former Kansas representative, governor and senator . Its first preacher was the Reverend Billy Graham, in 1953, and has since become a congregation of the nation’s power elite, breaking bread, and in prayer together. Later it became tradition for members of the United States Congress to organize the event through The Fellowship Foundation which sought to create understanding that cut through the barriers of religious, political and social divisions. Because the American president was always the guest of honour, it used to be called the Presidential Prayer Breakfast, but in 1970, the event was christened simply the National Prayer Breakfast and through the years, international leaders were invited as special guests, such as Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, even Bono, the Irish singer and humanitarian aid worker. Benazir Bhutto, King Abdullah II of Jordan, President Ricardo Maduro of the Honduras, and other dignitaries have also addressed the luncheons following the breakfast. While the main event is held on the first Thursday of February, the tradition has metamorphosed into a week-long series of inter-actions among parliamentarians and other guests from around the world.

The event organizers normally send their invitations four to five months before February, considering that invitees are generally busy people who must thus arrange their schedules way ahead of time. At times, a senior legislator-member can arrange for some last-minute invitations, assuming there are seats available. Thus, Sen. Francis Escudero claims he was invited to this year’s prayer breakfast as early as the first week of October 2008.

The question that comes to mind is whether Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, president of this benighted land by the machinations of Virgilio Garcillano and “her” loyal generals, in collaboration with Benjamin Abalos, was invited to this year’s prayer breakfast in October or before (by protocol she outranks Escudero), or whether she wangled a last-minute invitation when she was already in Davos, perhaps by calling her friend, veteran Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii.

That she left the country for Davos without plans of going to Washington D.C. does not make sense. It may be that she was no longer invited this year, because she had already attended the event in years past. But surely she knew that the star of the event would be Barack Obama, the newly-proclaimed 44th president of the United States. It has always been like that since Dwight Eisenhower. Could it be that in her desire to preen before the has-beens of the World Economic Forum on its last and sparsely-attended day, she forgot about the possible chance to meet Obama? Most certainly not. Why, she had been stalking the man even when he was yet a candidate, and had to wait in line for her signature call on victory night to be returned, and that was weeks later.

She hid details of her “last-minute decision” even to the Department of Foreign Affairs, whose secretary returned to Manila right after Davos. The resident ambassador to the United States was ignored, and was in Manila when he learned about the “instant prayer” only two days before, enough time for him and his secretary to catch a plane and inveigle Foggy Bottom for a fleeting Hillary Clinton audience with his dona. It turned out to be a consolation lollipop because the “pull-aside” with Barack Obama never materialized. But even Hillary brought disappointment. She was to embark on her first foreign trip as Secretary of State, to Japan, South Korea, China and Indonesia, but not the Philippines. So near of distance; so far in importance.

Did Barack Obama intentionally come in late and pulled out fast, and if so, why? Surely a handshake with the woman who presides over the fate of the benighted land which used to be colony of his country wasn’t too much, especially since she was seated right beside Nancy Pelosi, “his” Speaker of the House who had just whipped every Democrat to pass his economic stimulus fund? Those of us who know how the “West Wing” works, and how nuances of power are communicated or not communicated know full well that these events do not occur by happenstance. They are calculated. They are pre-meditated. They are vetted a priori by closest staff.
And Pres. Barack Obama did not want any spin on a simple handshake to distort the purity of his declaration on January 20 before the people of the world, that “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history…”

For much unlike this country where a local official could easily insert his presence for a quick photo with PARP, likely with a cellphone even, no one gets pulled aside or even allowed to get a photograph with “the” POTUS, unless prior arrangements are made. Clearly, the staff vetted GMA out.

So let’s go back to the original question. Why did she decide last-minute (if we are to believe Malacanang) to attend the prayer breakfast? Surely, if senators of the realm had been invited in October, the one who calls herself president, if she was in the mind of the organizers, should have received a similar October invitation.

But if Malacanang had pre-scheduled her appearance in Washington D.C. before she left for Switzerland, would not questions be raised about the absence by her side of her gracioso esposo, el Senor Don Juan Miguel Arroyo y Tuason? He was not with her in Davos, nor in Milan, nor in Riyadh, nor in Bahrain.

Was she afraid that the World Bank report would tarnish whatever sheen she hoped to gain in her trips, if her esposo was seen beside her? Or is it something else, such as problems her esposo may have, ostensibly from agents of the host government where the “instant” prayers had to be said? Cannot her esposo visit the land of milk and honey anymore?

So what are we surmising? She must have received an invitation for the prayer breakfast as early as October. But the prayers do not mean anything to her. She’s “been there, done that” several times over. The Obama picture, however, was important. She had gone to the US when he was yet a candidate and she could not go near him. She went back when Obama was already the president-elect, yet failed to get a minute of his time. Probably her American connections could not get through. But of course, they couldn’t. They were McCain rooters, friends of Venable, friends of Ronaldo Puno, former associates in the now defunct Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly. So November was a no-go, despite her “punishing” trip to Illinois even.

Next possibility was Davos, but the new president did not want to dignify the audience of unrepentant globalists by his presence. It might send the wrong signals to recession-wracked America, and so Obama wisely rejected Davos. Foiled again for even a chance close-in, Remonde’s boss woman even chided the new president to “please do something” about the world recession. That was enough challenge, she thought, to catch his attention, “nagpapapansin”. So then she hies off to Washington. “Wala ka nang kawala”, she must have mused. Obama would surely attend the National Prayer Breakfast, a tradition of half a century. And surely he would “pull her aside” after his address, she being in the front row, right beside his favourite Speaker Pelosi. Okay na sa kanya yung photo-op, from where she would next visit Clinton on M Street.

How many millions of the people’s money did she spend chasing Barack Obama? She circumnavigated the entire globe for the chance, crossing the South China Sea, the polar caps, thence the Mediterranean, thence the Atlantic Ocean, and on her disappointed way back, across the North American continent, and the mighty Pacific to return to sneers and jeers from the benighted. See to what lengths she would humiliate herself and her country?

“All for a photo-op”, quipped Jojo Binay of the opposition. She might just as well have visited Jobama in Makati. He would not refuse to shake her hand, political differences notwithstanding. Or, perhaps she could have invited the other Obama wannabe, Chiz Escudero, for a cup of tea at her twelve-thousand dollar suite at the Four Seasons in Georgetown. Talk of trivial, but costly pursuits.

Then again, what is trivial to us is vital to Dona Gloria. She had lost Dubya, now whiling away his retirement with his horses in Texas. And Bill Clinton certainly would not intercede with Barry for her, never mind that Georgetown interlude. There is no “terrorism” trump card to play, because Obama has a firm emotional peg on Indonesia, where he is expected to rely upon more. In short, we are off America’s radar screen, and perhaps we are the better for that. But for GMA y su esposo, that simply would not do. She needs to be assured that “the” POTUS would be sympathetic when she pushes her political envelopes in the months to come, because bureaucratic America, as in State and the Attorney General’s office, already know the truth about her. They just could do little for as long as Dubya the shallow allowed her free rein. But how could she possibly impress, let alone fool a leader who would not even want to see her, or be seen with her?

* * *

Others are also sorry for this abomination called Gloria, in reaction to our February 6 article.

Reader Milette, de Pampanga tambien, wrote: “I am sorry too. I always thought I was a good judge of character. When a politician friend introduced me to the then Senator GMA, I thought I saw a decent and hard-working person. We inspected a resettlement project and with her was her best friend Lilia “Baby” Pineda, who was a silent companion, and later shared lunch of simple adobo and rice, which Pineda paid for Gloria. When Erap’s sense of morality was going down, I thought his vice-president was the best alternative --- decent, educated and coming from a good family (Arthur and Cielo have always been very honest and professional), and married to a rich man (I didn’t know the family wealth was long gone). To be honest, I was one of those who after a day’s work in Clark would go to Edsa, along with my kids to press Erap to resign. But when she became president and I saw how guys like Berroya were given positions, along with the characters she appointed at Clark, I decided to migrate to the USA for good. Kung si Erap raw pumapala ng lagay, eto naman, payloader ang gamit”.

And from someone who had worked closely with her in the first half of her presidency, comes this interesting assessment: “We never realized until late that GMA has absolutely no leadership; that behind the taray and temper lives a weakling. FG controlled her like a puppet such that she was just a front act and FG was the real president. That is the reason we don’t see any governance but just a pretext of it. But like Marcos and Erap, they will not live to enjoy the plunder of public coffers”.

Oh well, will there ever be an end to this long and inglorious episode in our history?