Surreal but real

This is my column today, December 13, 2006 at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

The title is not original. It is a dialogue from the movie Notting Hill. But it’s a phrase that has been coming to mind as I watch in utter amazement, and complete horror, some of the events of the last two weeks.

The House of Representatives stayed up until the wee hours of the morning to flex its muscle and flaunt its power to bully anyone that stands on its way—the opposition, the Senate, the Filipino people. I actually stayed up until around midnight watching the live proceedings on local television. I was initially annoyed and upset, but I eventually ended up laughing myself out at the sheer brazenness of the administration representatives who were vainly trying to conjure a logical case for their audacious move. It was pure madness. I knew what was at stake was no laughing matter, but I was 100 percent certain that they were doomed to fail. Surely, such wanton and reckless disregard for due process was predestined to meet a tragic end.

I figured being livid and getting angry would be a colossal waste of energy, so I opted to watch the proceedings the way one would watch a circus act. The acrobatic logical deductions were quite impressive. The juggling acts and the emotional hara-kiri were awesome.

Even the sideshow featuring she-with-the-streaked-hair (forgive me, I still cannot mention her name without going into a giggling fit over that “If We Hold On Together” dramatic turn at the Palace) was a welcome diversion. If you did not catch it on television (and too bad it wasn’t featured in the newspapers, which seems to indicate that her star is waning, tsk, tsk, tsk), she-with-the-streaked-hair brought a stuffed toy of a puppy into the gallery and made a big to-do of waving it every time a television camera zoomed in on her. It was her way of taunting, or in a manner of speaking, yapping at the administration representatives, calling them tuta (lapdogs) of the President. Surreal but real! But even more surreal was how one female representative stood up to deny being a tuta of the President or of Speaker Jose de Venecia. Why dignify something if it was untrue?

We all know what happened next, how the Palace and the House of Representatives hemmed and hawed over succeeding courses of action. As of this writing, the official word is that the Palace has withdrawn support for the ill-fated constituent assembly proposal and is now throwing its support behind the constitutional convention route. I can only wish them luck since I am sure the recent fiasco over the constituent assembly proposal has put everyone in a very uncooperative mode. Meanwhile, reports indicate that Sigaw ng Bayan is reactivating its signature campaign. Again? Surreal but real.

I have been told that real life was stranger than fiction. What can be stranger than the sight of two educated, honorable, distinguished gentlemen indulging in a water splashing incident eerily reminiscent of that classic dramatic scene from a Filipino movie, recently turned into a television soap opera? Yup, that’s the one where the quintessential dramatic actress Cherie Gil utters the immortal line, “You are nothing but a second-rate, trying hard, copy cat!” before splashing water on Sharon Cuneta’s face. Only this time, the characters involved were males; the scion of a national historian (he actually shares the same name as his illustrious forebear) and a noted business columnist of another national daily. The confrontation happened at a press conference where television cameras and tape recorders were readily available to document the whole sordid turn of events.

Watching the confrontation on television was a weird experience. I was amused that some people have deemed themselves worthy enough to pass judgment on the ethical implications of the altercation. Some people even had the gall to explain the behavior of either party as if there were any excuse or justification for boorish behavior anywhere.

I don’t care who is involved, or if the cause that person is fighting for is noble. As far as I am concerned, the bottom line is that bad behavior is bad behavior.

But this is where we are right now: This is how low we have sunk in the area of social behavior.

We are no longer content with simply disagreeing with another person; we must attack the person and make mincemeat not only of his opinions but of his persona and honor as well. We are no longer content with just shouting slogans and brandishing placards; we must throw rotten eggs at the person.

We are no longer content with merely making public statements and publishing manifestoes; we must march uninvited into private functions or by-invitation-only affairs, diss the hosts and call them serial rapists. We are no longer content with simply shoving and bodily removing from the premises people whose behavior we do not like; we must literally douse them with water.

And the list of surreal events goes on and on.

Immediately after the verdict on the Subic rape case was handed down, one prominent bishop thought he was doing Filipino women a great service by putting his foot in his mouth and dispensing advice that only served to strengthen traditional gender stereotypes. He said: “Women, most especially, should be taught that womanhood is precious and noble, so it is not right for them to be flaunting it around. They should not make themselves appear cheap and practically inviting to be violated by men.” There are those who do not see what harm statements like these do in terms of perpetuating the culture of blame directed at victims of rape and sexual crimes. The suggestion that rape can be “invited” is appalling. And these are words coming from a bishop of the Church!

The double whammy that were Reming and Seniang hit some areas and missed some. I think it is natural for those who were spared from the devastation to heave a sigh of relief. But making public statements taunting the organizers for canceling the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit because typhoon Seniang did not hit Cebu after all, only other provinces, smacks of callousness and feeblemindedness. In those other provinces, people were killed and thousands of people lost their homes and livelihoods to that typhoon that missed Cebu. As it is, I don’t think it is in good taste for anyone to even talk about how lucky they were for being spared by the typhoons. Their supposed “luck” spelled misery for others. The politicians and pundits who used the typhoon as fodder for political hogwash is in the same league as that priest who proclaimed that his prayers produced the miracle that spared Metro Manila from typhoon Reming.

Surreal but real.


Gerry said…
Hi Bong,

As I get my usual, daily supply of Philippine online news from the Star and Inquirer, how surprised am I to find your glorious mug on the Manila Standard's web site! Very, and congrats! How long have you had this column? It also happened that on TFC I saw the very proceedings you wrote about, and I must say I was dumbfounded, initially, and angered, eventually. How little politics has changed in that part of the world, the country still run by small minds. The reasons I left 12 years ago are largely present, and it's really sad.

Looking at the events from the outside, I'm at a loss to explain the temerity of the majority in Congress trying to steamroll their way to what is obviously a self-serving act. Ang kakapal talaga ng mukha! What exasperates me more so is that this is going to be forgotten in a fortnight or less! Why is there no accountability for these people? Why are these Congressmen so chummy with each other after all the shouting is done? As I was watching the circus' final moments, I saw smiling faces from both sides of the debate which says to me that all is right in the country. But all is not right, why the fuck are they smiling. There are millions(!) of people suffering from a seemingly endless string of calamities, be it natural or man-made, yet these nitwits think of nothing but their own agenda. I'm now glad to know that their mission has been stalled somewhat after finally realizing how idiotically insensitive it was (this may be a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc). I'm not a big fan of the catholic church or any religious groups but thank goodness their huffing and puffing made a difference in this situation. I have so many complaints about the state of affairs there but I'll leave that perhaps for a later date.

Congrats again on the column and hope all is well with you and yours. And merry xmas!

Michael said…
Hi Bong,

Great article as usual. The Bishop's statements is really uncalled for.

By the way I mentioned you at The Most Popular Pinoy Blog Posts for 2006
Ben Teehankee said…
Dear Bong,

You said: "I don’t care who is involved, or if the cause that person is fighting for is noble. As far as I am concerned, the bottom line is that bad behavior is bad behavior.

But this is where we are right now: This is how low we have sunk in the area of social behavior."

I agree with your observation. Civility in public discourse on issues is the lowest I've ever seen. This is a drag to moving forward I think.

I think that we should bring back civility. After all, one of the real joys of democracy is if we can argue/disagree and still live to argue/disagree (or agree) another day.

Argument theorist Wayne Brockreide wrote about different ways of arguing and their implications for human relationships in his article "Arguers as Lovers" (see for example

I think that we need to move towards what Brockreide refers to as argument for "consensual validation" instead of argument for personal attacks. He contrasts two extremes: arguers as "lovers" and as "rapists". The labels are meant to be descriptive rather than judgmental.

Arguers as “lovers”
• Regards other as an equal, stresses power parity
• Values the relationship over the outcome
• Emphasizes cooperation, not competition
• Values shared-decision-making, choice-making
• Willing to risk values, self-esteem by engaging in argument

The arguer as “rapist”
• Depersonalizes the other
• Reliance on verbal aggressiveness, (name calling, ad hominems, attacking the other person’s self-concept)
• Use of force, authority, sanctions
• Reliance on threats, ultimatums

Like you, I found the House proceedings appalling. I was on the lookout, however, for representatives who were trying to be civil. Escudero seems to do it for me. Locsin was close but his verbal gifts do lead him to making a jab or two.

If we all love this country as an abstract entity, I think we need to show more love for our countrymen who are, after all THE country, concretely. And this can be shown by how we argue in the public sphere.
BongA said…
am guessing which of the two "gerries-in-my-life" you are, but I think I know which one (grin). Been writing a column since June of this year. Has it really been 12 years since we last saw each other? where did all that time go?

thanks gerry, i appreciate the warm wishes. I hope all is well with you as well.

BongA said…
Ben and Mike,
thanks! and merry christmas!


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