Thursday, January 7, 2010

Shattered memories of happier days

My youngest daughter who lives in the United States called last week. She is taking a PAL flight for Manila today, and she gave me a list of food favorites, in fact wanted a huge breakfast the day she arrives. Together with sun-dried tapa, daing na biya and longanisa (three kinds --- Lukban, Alaminos and Vigan), she asked if I could prepare her favourite relish for fried foods, which is chopped native tomatoes and manggang piko, laced with a little salt.

So off I went yesterday to Quinta Market in Quiapo, the old reliable place where my suki always has manggang piko this time of the year. You see, only piko and pajo are good enough to eat when they are green. Kalabaw mangoes are without equal when ripe, but are extremely sour when green. Many consumers these days wouldn’t know the difference between kalabaw and piko, only hinog at hilaw.

It’s been some time since I personally visited what used to be Echague, slowly decayed since they renamed it Carlos Palanca Sr., after the Chinese entrepreneur who made a fortune selling Ginebra San Miguel. Since most of the kids left for the US of A, infrequent have been my visits to wet markets. My old reliable because conveniently located, and with ample parking, is Cartimar in nearby Pasay. But sometimes manggang piko is not available in Cartimar, from the single vendor who gets her supply from a viajera in Laguna. But in Echague, fronting old and decrepit Quinta Market, there always is that single tindera who sells piko, ust as one has to go to San Andres or pricey Rockwell for manggang pajo.

I parked in front of the row of houseware stores where most every restaurant and hotel buys most of their glassware and kitchen equipment. Just a few steps beyond was Quinta Market and Villalobos which leads directly to the Shrine of the Nazarene, now filled with street vendors selling all kinds of vegetables in small portions. Palanca narrows down to a single lane in front of Quinta, as half the street has given way to all kinds of fish and bagoong vendors. Getting back to the car after buying my treasured manggang piko, I passed by the ham store. Not that I haven’t tired of Christmas ham, but I had to buy hocks and bone to flavour the broth for fabada which we always cook in large batches. We divide a cauldron of fabada into single portions, ladle these into microwavable containers, and keep in the freezer for whenever someone in the house feels the urge for a steaming bowl of Asturias’ stew of beans, pork and chorizos de bilbao.

I proceeded northward towards Ayala Bridge after brief market interlude, and instantly felt like Macaulay’s traveller from New Zealand, “exploring the spectral ruins of Manila in the course of his post-atomic war peregrinations’ as the great Claro Mayo Recto once wrote about, warning about getting ourselves involved in the quarrels of the mighty. For in what was once a vibrant commercial street in the days of my youth, all that one could see were hollowed out decrepit buildings. Better-looking were the go-downs of Kowloon in the 60’s, before these were transformed into neon-lit shopping mecca. After passing the bridge where fetid estero emptied its slime into the Pasig River, what was once glorious Echague has become no man’s land. The once proud La Tondena fa├žade had become a testament to long gone glory. Fronting it now were rows of abandoned accesorias where once business bustled. Even the sidewalk vendors feared to tread what had become deserted strip.

I recalled that when I was a boy in short pants, we would go to Echague for a treat of banana split in the cool of Magnolia’s soda fountain, right after a shopping spree at what used to be Manila’s store for the mostest, similar to what Rustan’s today is --- Aguinaldo’s. When I was four or five, we would motor from San Pablo in Laguna to Manila, take a lunch of “comida China” at an Escolta or Sta. Cruz panciteria, then proceed to Echague where my lola would buy “aguinaldos” at the huge warehouse-type building in front of an expensive furniture maker’s atelier, and later walk a few steps for the ice cream treat at Magnolia’s. This was an annual hegira for me. Sometimes my lola would go visit her lawyer in his Escolta office, and then give me a treat at Botica Boie’s soda fountain, where huge sundaes and parfaits were once upon a happy time now mere memories.

Echague, already re-named Palanca, should one day be re-named Calzada de Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. It after all leads to Malacanang Palace in what was once Calle Aviles, now Jose P. Laurel after the wartime president. It also mirrors the decay of the country, from what was once a proud Asian nation during the time of her father Diosdado, into the most corrupt nation in this part of the globe. The row of decay that leads to the people’s palace is vivid symbol of the death of our institutions and the decay of both social mores and political ethos, so very reminiscent of the decade when Dona Gloria held sway with power so abused and morals so debased.

After that short stretch of no-man’s land where happy memories paled before harsh reality, one turns into Ayala Bridge. And then the motorist gets overwhelmed by a cornucopia of lampposts and plastic-encased lamps, all presumably imported from the land of cheapo’s, what used to be derided by Filipinos as “communist” China, now the global economy’s grandest emporium, where signature labels are mass-produced for the “exclusive” salons of Europe, and faked for the “hwa-na” 168 and SM.

I recall one night last year when I passed the same arches, and got my senses enveloped in a maze of multi-coloured streaks of green and was that violet, mish-mashed with UFO-inspired orange contraptions of undisguised kitsch every few meters, making a once-historic bridge look like a cheap copy of Hongkong Disneyland. Don’t take my word for it. Try passing by Manila’s historic bridges --- Jones and MacArthur, Quezon and Ayala, even Nagtahan, and Roxas Boulevard as well, Quirino Avenue in Paco and Pandacan, and weep at the phantasmagoria of Yiwu and Shenzhen illuminati, in all its tacky tastelessness.

Sometimes one wonders if Dona Gloria, she with the high-class gustatory cravings a la Le Cirque, has ever bothered to call up Manila’s hizzoner to inquire about that queer mix of street lighting that has peppered the once proud and beautiful City of Man. Oh well…she probably would use her pork as congresswoman to do the same for Guagaua and Lubao, and metequ!... Betis and Sta. Rita of the hundred iglesias y capillas.

One likewise wonders what the average man feels about all the decay encased in selectively-laced bright lights. Or have we as a people lost both pride of place and sense of history?

Sadly, one concludes --- matagal na. What a city. What a country.

Have a nice week-end!

“Her” man

The last reputable surveys done after the filing of certificates of candidacy show three presidential candidates at the top: Noynoy Aquino in the mid to high forties, Manny Villar and Erap Estrada in a virtual tie at 20 or 19 percentage points. And Gilbert Teodoro, the man anointed by the once humongous Partido Lakas-Kampi founded by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, incumbent and long-staying president of the benighted republic, at low single-digit numbers. The rest are also-rans, at 1 percentage point or even lower.

Why the regime’s anointed is languishing at bottom lows, despite the vaunted party machinery, the well-placed ads projecting competence and intelligence (“galing at talino”), and despite inarguably better speaking and debating skills than the competition, is attributable to the public belief that he is “Gloria’s man”, the chosen “one”, the person she deems most fit to succeed and most acceptable to her. Unfortunately for him, the person who chose him above all else happens to be most distrusted by the population. That distrust for his patroness drags Gibo down, never mind his personal qualities. It carries over to his persona, reinforced in no small measure by his having expressed not only the usual paeans of gratitude, but a public admiration for her “ many achievements”, something clearly the people do not share. To do a volte face at this time will no longer be credible. Gilbert Teodoro’s chances are thus virtually nil. Even Ronaldo Puno’s vaunted skills cannot resurrect flagging hopes. Nor Virgilio Garcillano’s magic make the trick. Perhaps if Norberto Gonzales succeeds in discombobulating everything and upsetting the applecart of elections… perhaps, but that’s a big IF, and assuming the guy and his patroness can pull it through, will the people ever be so supine as to take such adventurism lying down?

It does not help Teodoro one whit that his patroness has filed her certificate of candidacy for the second congressional district of Pampanga. The undisguised attempt to pull strings even beyond her wished-for political demise, ruling beyond the grave as it were, makes Teodoro look all the more the puppet that he is unfairly made to be. Yesterday, the papers carried Speaker Prospero Nograles’ inclusion of the call for a constitutional convention, as if to further stress the GMA plan so obvious. But because Gibo’s presidential ambition is singularly anchored on the support of her party and its minions across the archipelago, he cannot publicly balk. In fact, he is on record as supporting a change in the Constitution. While amending the fundamental law is right, espousing it at the moment when people so clearly distrust the sincerity of the incumbent is off-key. Gilbert cannot even publicly state that if elected president, he will wield his influence to ensure that GMA does not become his Speaker of the House. So, whether for better, or predictably for worse, Gloria’s distrust rating will be albatross around Gilbert’s neck. His goose is cooked, never mind how often Prospero Pichay or Mitos Magsaysay whistle in the dark.

Which brings me to this story: A few days before Manny Pacquiao knocked down Ricky Hatton in early May, the spouses Cynthia and Manuel Villar flew to Spain. Likewise, Gloria flew to Egypt and Syria for official visits. Why she had to go to these North African countries the public was never clear at, but in any case, they took it as just one of her usual flights of fancy. The Villars were waiting in Spain for cues from a well-placed Gloria crony, who was supposed to arrange a rendezvous with her in some warm Mediterranean coast.

Fortunately, this writer found out about the Villar travel plans. And so, just as Dona Gloria landed in Egypt, the cat was out of the bag. Expectedly, Malacanang made denials. Senadora Jamby Madrigal got into the act, and denounced Villar for desperately seeking La Gloria’s support in his attempt to derail the Senate ethics probe. This after all, was Villar’s immediate problem. The attempted rendezvous panned out.

But then, and here our travel facts jibe with the veracity of highly reliable sources, a top-level meeting was supposed to have yet pushed through here in the country. And GMA, wanting for a strong contender her PaLaKa simply could not pull off from its hat, warmed up to the idea of Villar as her “secret” candidate. Classified as opposition, though not an “obstructionist” nor a GMA basher as the rest of the presidential pack, Villar qualified as an acceptable alternative bet. Moreover, he was already ahead of her vice-president, Noli de Castro in the May surveys. Better yet, he had wherewithal to the max, the result of “smart” transactions capped by an even “smarter” IPO of his real estate empire the year before. Noli she had to spend for, while with Manny, she gets a free ride.

The result of the “transaction” as my source confided, is that GMA would endorse a “weak” but credible enough candidate, and not “encourage” Noli to run for president, a prospect that the not-so-ambitious vice-president was not inordinately “lusting” for. And on his part, Villar would keep dangling a “repeat vice-president” string, loaded with generous freebies, to his bosom friend Noli, a “red herring” of an offer. If GMA would have a weak official candidate, Manny with his huge war chest would prevail in the 2010 derby, the ideal surrogate. Neat.

After all, Lacson had withdrawn; Escudero had no money and would have to rely on Danding and Ramon Ang’s promises; Mar Roxas and Loren Legarda were languishing in single-digit survey static; and Erap would be disqualified. And true enough, when the SWS polled in mid-June 2009, it was a statistical tie among Villar, Chiz and Erap, with Noli behind, Loren and Mar even more so. Teodoro had launched his clumsy disaster preparedness infomercial a month before, its debut timed with Hatton’s early knock-out from the Pacman’s fists, and while everybody shook his head at his “late” entry and doubted his chances, most agreed he had intellectual credentials, credibility as candidate but not enough to win. Gravitas, but not votes.

And then the Lord writ His providence with sad tidings. On August 1, Corazon Aquino died after a long bout with cancer, and the political stage shook underneath. Forty days later, a game changer came in with Noynoy on the presidential trail. All previous assumptions changed, including the fortunes of Gloria’s pre-arranged surrogate. Likely unstoppable winner became a distant second, despite tons and tons of creative advertising and a bevy of turncoats. From September till December of the year past, Noynoy kept his commanding lead. Escudero withdrew, Erap persists, but Gibo continues to languish in the political netherworld.

And that is where the woman of the decade finds immediate political dilemma at this point in time. Her anointed has not risen, and her alternate, though far from victory, presents the single most “possible” threat to the front-runner she could not accept because he is the least likely to “transact”.

If creative advertising and a well-run because well-funded campaign pulls Villar up in the next three months, and a demolition job somehow pushes down Noynoy’s lead considerably (or so the evil are planning), then it’s game for Manny and goodbye for Gibo. Garci and the “operators” should be able to do the trick, with Smartmatic laying the predicate.

But would Manny the new president be faithful to his “no me impune” assurances? Why not?

They would need each other most after a certifiably controversial “election”. She with her residual powers as “commander-in-chief” between May 10 and June 30 just might be able to quell the tumult of the rabble. That’s why Del Bangit and the Class of ’78 are in the “proper” places. And he would at least be able to recover his billions, while stopping prosecution for “smart” deals made as congressman, Speaker, senator and Senate President, charges with enough documentary evidence to prosecute, but parried successfully by “smart” propaganda so far. Never mind if he has to deal with “her” congressmen with her, (misma!) as Speaker. If he is off to wobbly start, he would not get his bearings composed, and she, as “Speaker” and alternate “power center”, just might be able to pull off her parliamentary dreams of becoming the prime minister.

There you are --- “her” real man for the May elections. God save this country.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Man and woman of the decade

The last ten years have been most traumatic for democracy which was re-established with the ascent of Corazon Aquino to the presidency in 1986. The decade began with the usurpation of political power in the throes of what has been labelled as Edsa Dos, when a legitimately elected and duly constituted president was thrown out of the seat of power without benefit of the formal processes of a concluded impeachment trial. The beneficiary of that illegitimate effort was, and still is --- Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. She is the woman of this decade.

And then again, in 2004, democracy was to be tested in its fundamental institution --- the freedom of popular choice that is measured by elections. The election of the woman of the decade was largely put under question. Ironically, that question was momentarily put to rest by the “loser” in said elections, FPJ, who quietly went through the motions of a formal election protest. Observers at the time wondered what could have happened had the “losing” FPJ decided to call on his supporters to march into the streets, or onto the Malacanang they felt was stolen from the people. As fate would have it, a heartbroken FPJ died some six months later, and the grieving widow, Jesusa Sonora Poe, could have used sad occasion to retrieve Malacanang for the people. She did not. It was to her mind, for the people and not for her family alone to reclaim their democratic right.

Confirmation of dastardly electoral deeds came when in the middle of 2005, the tapes of Garci conversing with several, but most importantly, his principal, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (misma!), came to fore. All hell could have broken loose, as democracy foundered on the shoals of discovered cheating and incessant lying.

The man who engineered the cheating, Virgilio Garcillano, commissioner of the Commission on Elections and principal operator of electoral chicanery, was conspiratorially spirited out of the country during those critical times, to surface only when incipient congressional effort to impeach was successfully quelled by the abuse of presidential power and the dispensation of privilege. No man has symbolized the destruction of the electoral institution of free choice more than Virgilio Garcillano and her “Hello Garci”. To this day, election as the most fundamental of democracy’s institutions have yet to recover credibility or trust, thanks to the man of the decade --- Virgilio Garcillano.

Yes --- Garcillano as Man and Gloria as Woman of the Decade. Both personify in the most certain of terms the destruction of the institutions of our fragile democracy.

Runner-up to Garcillano is the woman’s esposo (mismo!), Jose Miguel Arroyo y Tuason. Where Gloria and Garci have epitomized cheating and lying, the perception that Mike Arroyo is behind most of the stealing that has hounded his wife’s leadership persists to this day. Rightly or wrongly, the popular belief that Mike is behind the major corruption practices in Customs, in multi-billion road projects, in scandalous deal after anomalous deed in government, such as the stinking ZTE-NBN fiasco, has persisted to this day. Were it not for my own assessment that Garci and Gloria’s stealing of popular choice and debauchery of our electoral institution is paramount in its scope of evil compared to corruption most gross, El Esposo Miguel would be our choice as Man of the Decade. And how appropriate it should be that this horrible decade should have husband and wife as it’s Man and Woman.

But then again, only a cretin would hold that Mike’s deeds are without knowledge or consent of the woman. She after all, holds the power of appointment, not he. Even if we were to assume that his influence over such sordid appointments as Joc-Joc and ilk stopped after they were given their working papers, the fact is that she abetted their continued stay in power even after stink had been uncovered. And the normal wheels of justice were stopped or re-directed to allow them to stay or cover their tracks, with the woman of the decade abetting the same.

Thus the woman and the man are one and the same --- partners in crime. The sins of the man are subsumed within the power of the woman. And Garci, because he has come to personify the debasement of our electoral institution, is appropriately the Man of the Decade.

Together Gloria and Garci personify corruption at its worst. It’s not just the abuse of power and the plunder of public resources. It is about the destruction of moral values. It’s about the destruction of our institutions. Rightly and indeed, the worsening of the people’s poverty is attributable to the denial of those basic services that ought to have uplifted them from the quagmire, instead denied by the pervasive corruption of Gloria’s regime.

Marcos and Imelda did it by closing down democracy itself. Gloria and Garci did it by subverting democracy. Theirs has been the more creative, the more subtle way to pursue ignoble ends.

Now the whole country looks forward to an electoral exercise five months and five days away as deliverance from the deadly duo. And key to this deliverance is an electoral exercise fraught with the uncertainty of automation both questionable and untested, and players who hardly excite with the message of genuine change. Still and all, superimposed upon these uncertainties is the spectre of the woman of the decade unfurling some tricks up her sleeve, not the least of which is naked military take-over, a la Marcos.

Why, even her grand-daughter, El Hijo Mikey’s own, could not help but express her Christmas wish aloud --- that Lola will remain president forever! Drummed incessantly into her ears by dinner talk? Truly, the desire for perpetual power must be genetic.

We are thus off to 2010 hobbled by fear and anxiety. While elections seem to purvey hope, the same hope founders on doubt and uncertainty. And the aces are yet held by the woman of this horrible decade. Woe unto us.

Optimism reared its presence, albeit ironically, when democracy’s popular icon, Cory Aquino, died last August 1, 2009. With the outpouring of grief came the luminescence of hope, in that Gloria’s days are surely at an end, and attempts to thwart our 2010 hopes shall be met by active public resistance. Would that these shall come to pass.