Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Taste and tastelessness

I was in Puerto Princesa last weekend to attend a forum sponsored by the Advocacy for Good Governance, where Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca, Atty. Harry Roque, Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma and Msgr. Boy Salvador spoke before thousands of young men and women from all parts of Palawan. They gathered at the huge, fully air-conditioned Puerto Princesa Coliseum built by Mayor Edward Hagedorn, who warmly welcomed both the speakers and the young people who were gathered there.

But this is not about what Grace and Harry spoke about, nor what the good bishop and his monsignor exhorted the young people of Palawan about, issues which this space has incessantly written about because so little good government exists in this benighted land.

It simply occurred to me, while wondering about the huge logistical problem of feeding some 12,000 youth for a whole day, how these kids hankered for Jollibee. I forgot that I was in the westernmost province of the country, it’s largest in land area by the way, which was separated from mainland Luzon by an hour on a plane. Jollibee and McDonalds, Max and KFC, and soon Mang Inasal may be as ubiquitous a presence in our seminal lives, but hey, only in Puerto does Palawan have these crazy fast foods. Boys and girls from Coron or Bataraza, even nearer Taytay and Roxas could eat these fast foods only in the capital, even as technology has brought television commercials to their homes day-in and day-out.

I remember that in 1994, when the first Jollibee outlet appeared in Butuan City, everybody and his mom and pop went ga-ga over it, and would travel to the city from every nook of Agusan del Norte and every cranny of Agusan del Sur, and as far as Surigao City, just for that Jollibeee “experience”. And they would bring the carton wrappers and napkins home as some kind of a “souvenir”. Now of course Surigao has a Jollibee too, and perhaps Butch Pichay’s province-mates down under in Sur also travel up north for that “ersatz” food feeling.

My, how these fast food joints have colonized Filipino taste. The colonization of taste, by companies whether Philippine or foreign-owned, through the wonders of advertising. Tastelessness is more like it.

* * *

Speaking of taste, or the lack of it, try cruising the several bridges of Manila at night. Marvel at the excessive cornucopia of lights and lampposts that “adorn” these bridges. MacArthur Bridge is like a “perya” with bright lights designed like a carousel, and it’s handrails are coloured pink. Quezon Bridge is blue, Jones is yellow and green, Nagtahan has lights whose colours shift from purple to red to green to whatever-else Mayor Fred Lim’s palette could imagine.

Of course, his predecessor, Lito Atienza started it all with his sputnik globules in Roxas Boulevard, but while these raised eyebrows of the elite, their uniformity and the conviviality it engendered around the Baywalk Area soon got accepted even by those who would have preferred more “tasteful” lightings, such as period lamps. Then Mayor Lito explained that one has to “attract” the constituents, and most of them come from the “masa”, and not impose one’s standards of taste. We grant that he has a point there.

But could not his successor Fred Lim just kept Roxas Boulevard as is? No. He had to “impose” his own standards of taste, rather, tastelessness. After removing all the eateries that used to make the Baywalk a “fun” area, admittedly excessively so, he no sooner dotted the side adjacent to the sea wall with his own new lampposts, which simulate a torch, and then a flying saucer, all a few meters apart. He recently replicated that at the other side of Roxas, with multi-colored plastic nodules of red, green, yellow and blue. And all over the city, wherever there is space available or a sidewalk wide enough, lamps not for the illumination it brings, but for the crass lack of taste with which it adorns, has become the rule.

Worse, this “fad” to light up streets and parks “Manila-style” has caught up with almost every city in the country. The whole country now looks like it was made-in-Shenzhen.

I asked old-time friends who have faithfully lived in Manila, and frankly, they are already repelled by the uglification of the capital city. And these are not from the elite. They are middle-class, some of them from the low-end, friends acquired through the years from the middle and lower strata of Manilenos.

* * *

Taste or the lack of it, as conditioned by television advertisements, also shows in the manner by which minds have been conditioned by the big political spenders. The biggest spender of them all, Manuel Villar, credits his ads for his numbers. His message has always been that he came from the ranks of the poor, and as such, he is always ready to help the poor. Shmaltz and tear-jerkers always work in a country that decides according to heart and never with mind.

In a recent press roundtable, he made a dig at some other presidential wannabe, taunting a fellow senator thus: “Anybody can say I will radically change society, but the question is, has he done anything radical?” Then he segues into an ad hominem: “He has been living with his mother for a long time, and he will be getting married only now that he is past 50”.

Now that is tastelessness.

But his Wednesday Group fellow diner, Vice-President Noli de Castro, is one candidate Villar would welcome most. He had effusive praise for the likely administration candidate. High plane daw ang campaign kapag si Noli. Besides, one newsman quipped, “ano ang dedebatihin nila, pareho namang “no talk, no mistake” sila. Si Noli, no comment muna ako diyan. Si Villar, two things lang iyan”.

Gives you too a portent of the choices we have come election day --- a Gloria surrogate and a Gloria cohort.

Villar even boasted that many from Kampi and Lakas are already making a beeline towards his Nacionalista camp, and at the “right time”, they will root for him. Hindi pa siguro tapos ang transaksyon, something that his “other” official spokesman, Gilbert Remulla echoes, whenever he is asked about the statements of many an “anonymous” Lakas or Kampi member that they prefer Villar and his “sure money”. Instead of looking at these “horses” by the mouth, the party that styles itself as “oppositionist” keeps saying “welcome”. Anyway, wasn’t it a real Nacionalista, then Senate President Amang Rodriguez who coined the trapo motto, that “politics is addition”?

In this country after all, or at least among trapos, nobody asks about where the
money is coming from. Basta’t may kwarta --- ayos! Which is probably why “another” official NP spokesman, Adel Tamano, left Erap and his UNO, as well as his friend Chiz Escudero, for the cushier ( which only cash can provide) comforts of Manny with the money.

* * *

And while we’re on the subject of tasteless low blows, someone in the palace woodwork called up regarding my previous article wondering why Ronnie Puno was given a “low blow” in his absence by Ed Ermita’s announcement of Hermogenes Ebdane as OIC for DILG.

“Wrong impression that it was just an Ermita ploy”, he corrected me. “Kung si Ermita, dapat si Larry Mendoza ang ini-assign”, he explained.

“So what happened”, I became really curious.

“Well, your Dona asked him to do everything possible to ensure Con-Ass convenes come July 27, and his reply left my president cold”, said he.

“He told my president that it would no longer fly, that the numbers could no longer be raised, and when your Dona persisted, Ronnie protested that this kind of con-ass was not his idea anyway, and he advised against it”. She really felt bad”, my source said.

“So it was not Ed Ermita. Besides only my president, your Dona, can order something as ‘grabe’ as totally by-passing, and insulting --- Ronnie Puno”, he added.

As they always say, abangan ang susunod na kabanata. Ronnie the Tree is certainly indispensable to this regime. Not to FVR, and not to Erap, who dropped their precious Tree when it became too hot. But the Dona and the Tree are not easily parted. Few can relish the use of power for ends seemly and unseemly as this duet.

These are exciting times.