This is my column today at the Manila Standard Today.
There are days when you sit in front of the television set with mouth agape and wonder if you have stumbled into a time warp and been transported into a parallel universe.
Watching the news last Monday night was an experience just like that. I went from utter bewilderment, to complete shock, to various shades of amusement, and finally to helpless mirth all within the span of 30 minutes.
The banner story was the First Gentleman’s early evening travel out of the country. I know that Mike Arroyo’s relationship to the President and previous accusations of his involvement in certain questionable transactions automatically makes anything he does newsworthy. What made this particular travel worthy of the screaming headline treatment was not expressly and directly articulated. But by golly, were they lathering the news story thick with insinuations and innuendoes as to the real reason for the supposed sudden flight, as if the guy was escaping from People Power 4.
Nobody really knew for a fact last Monday night if the First Gentleman was the powerful person who was supposedly present in those clandestine meetings that hammered out the fishy details of the national broadband deal. Still, the news story left no doubt whatsoever about Arroyo’s alleged participation in the whole sordid mess.
It was truly amazing how a simple story of a man’s travel out of the country can be tweaked, twisted and stretched into a matter of national significance, and without directly explaining why. It was astonishing to note the volume of information, accusations, and judgment that can be squeezed into a three-minute story over a seemingly mundane activity.
Of course, the story had to be followed by the latest updates on the current national nightmare that is the ZTE deal. What makes this nightmare more horrendous each day is that aside from the fact that it has all the trappings of a convoluted soap opera and slash thriller combined, we know that the bad dream is not about to end anytime soon and is in fact bound to get uglier and more horrifying.
But what made TV viewing surreal Monday night was that it featured some congressmen brazenly threatening the whistle-blower, who happens to be the son of the speaker of the House (I tell you the whole thing resembles a soap opera), that he can also be indicted because of the law that says relatives of the key officials of this country up to the third degree of consanguinity cannot enter into contracts with the government.
That cracked us up. Excuse me, but hasn’t it been made clear that the guy did not get the national broadband contract? He lost the contract, which is the reason why he is flailing around and singing like a lovelorn canary. The multi-billion deal was awarded to ZTE, thanks to frenzied maneuvering of a really powerful broker in dire need of a sizable nest egg, perhaps to cover impending legal expenses for the many cases bound to haunt him for the rest of his life. Unless of course the congressman is referring to other contracts that have been awarded to the speaker’s son in the past.
But then again, who among our top key officials do not have business interests that thrive on the unfettered access and proximity to the halls of power? Is there anyone among our top key officials who can honestly say that they don’t have spouses, children, siblings, or in-laws that do not leverage on the power of their political connections to corner government contracts?
And as if to illustrate that the House of Representatives does not have a monopoly of lawmakers going berserk, the news then moved on to report on how senators made mincemeat out of Vidal Doble, the controversial witness in the wiretapping controversy. It was truly a grisly sight, the way the irrepressible Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago went after Doble with claws, fangs and chainsaw to rip, mangle and skewer the man’s credibility.
She also had help from her allies who were just as vicious, prompting Doble’s main handler, Senator Ping Lacson, to complain bitterly about the seeming unfairness of it all, which gave the whole thing a tragic comic twist. Lacson complaining about unfairness? It’s beyond hilarious.
The amount of savagery displayed should be more than enough to scare the wits out of anyone who continues to have illusions that those so-called “invitations” to Senate hearings is an honor.
The debate about whether Estrada should be given pardon or amnesty was given a new twist. In the end, everyone, including the newscaster, admitted that there really was nothing to it, it was all conjecture. In other words, they all came out like blabbering baboons.
And then the news suddenly became a lesson on body parts.
There was former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos declaring that she was healthy as ever and denying rumors that she suffered a heart attack. No, nothing is wrong with her heart, she said. And as if anticipating reactions, she poked fun at herself by remarking that even she was surprised to find that she has a heart.
And then the condition of her knees were discussed and eventually her feet. The doctors have prescribed that the madam needs to buy new shoes, ones that won’t aggravate her knee problem (she was also asked to lose weight), a prescription that sent her giggling. Of course, a woman can’t have enough shoes, she cackled. She thought she was being funny.
From hearts and knees, the news soon became about kidneys. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez was doing well, it was reported, after a successful kidney transplant. His system seems to have adjusted well to his new kidney although we don’t know if the kidney is doing the same; and I meant no pun in that last statement, I swear.
I don’t know if it is a reflection of his work ethics, or the man is just plain stubborn and eternally raring for a fight, but there he was being quoted as saying that he considers his hospitalization as incarceration. He says he can’t wait to go back to work.
Former Senate President Jovito Salonga, who resigned as member of Sigma Rho, the brotherhood of dubious distinction that is implicated in the barbaric murder of UP student Cris Mendez, was put to task by loyal members for slurring the name of their beloved fraternity. I don’t think anyone can do further damage to the name of Sigma Rho other than what the members who killed Cris Mendez have already done.
The very livid alumni Grand Archon had the temerity to demand that Salonga apologize to Sigma Rho for what he insisted was an insult to the fraternity and their brotherhood. Darn, some people just have a very twisted concept of brotherhood.
And just when we thought things could not be any more surreal, they showed the clip of Filipino singer Christian Bautista mangling the Philippine National Anthem during the boxing exhibition between Gerry Peñalosa and Bernabe Concepcion in Alabang held last Sunday. He abbreviated the national anthem by omitting two lines (buhay ay langit sa piling mo/ aming ligaya na pag may mang-aapi), directly going to “ang mamatay nang dahil sa ’yo” from “Lupa ng araw, ng luwalhati’t pagsinta.”
It’s forgivable of course, but unbelievable until you witness it. It’s surreal, but it happens.