Wednesday, September 10, 2008

See, hear and speak no evil

This was my column last Monday, September 8.

Those among us who struggled through the long years of the Marcos dictatorship and witnessed first hand the profligacy of the then first lady can only seethe at the fact that not only are the Marcoses back at their high perch in Philippine society but that Imelda Romualdez Marcos’ star seems to have found new luster.

There’s really not much we can do if the efforts to rewrite history and to reinstate the former first lady’s dubious distinction as cultural icon and role model for the young is being propped up by private institutions and organizations. This is still a free country after all, and everyone is still presumed to have the inalienable right to make an utter fool of himself or herself.

But when the effort is spearheaded by government itself, as in the case of her being invited as “guest of honor” yesterday at the annual National Leadership Training for Student Government Officers currently ongoing at the Teachers Camp at Baguio City, it deserves our collective protest and condemnation.

I got to know about the first lady’s impending appearance yesterday at the national leadership conference courtesy of a young cousin who was attending the conference. When my cousin texted me about it last Saturday, I initially thought it was a joke; the idea was not only ludicrous, it was insane. One had to be a rabid and die-hard Marcos loyalist to actually think that there is something inspiring that the former first lady can impart to the youth of this country.

Unless of course the session to which the former first lady was invited to was a no-holds barred discussion where people could freely express themselves and take turns lambasting—or okay, defending if one was so inclined to do so —the so-called achievements of the Marcoses, there was absolutely no way that any thinking government official could consider inviting the former first lady to a national training on leadership an inspired decision. But my cousin was absolutely sure that the former first lady was being invited as “guest of honor.”

I wasn’t surprised therefore to read in yesterday’s papers that a number of individuals and organizations have expressed dismay and condemnation at the decision to invite Marcos to the national youth leadership training.

The gaffe caught many officials of the education department at a loss for words. But instead of canceling the invitation, which should have been the most logical course of action, most of our officials opted to act like the three proverbial monkeys who saw no evil, heard no evil, and spoke no evil. Education Secretary Jesli Lapus said the decision to invite the former first lady was not cleared with him. The justification proffered was a simple “we did not know about it,” which, if we really come to think about it, is a non- excuse.

But then again, it seems that not knowing about what is happening right under one’s nose is now a favorite excuse among our leaders. This is the same excuse being peddled by Intramuros Administrator Anna Maria Harper for the horrible crime committed under the guise of protecting heritage. As everyone knows, 29 trees including full-grown and decades-old narra and mahogany trees at Plaza Roma in front of the Manila Cathedral were massacred last week. The cutting of trees was purportedly designed to enhance the façade of the Cathedral—the rationale being that the trees obstructed full appreciation of the Cathedral.

This is the first time I’ve come across such a perverted view of what comprises a great landscape. Most artists go out of their way to incorporate trees and other works of nature to scenery to add character and context to it. And yet, here we are deliberately felling down old trees in front of a major national and historical landmark because they supposedly take away beauty from it. This kind of reasoning makes you wonder what else is next—perhaps covering the centuries-old walls of Intramuros with white paint?

This reminds us very strongly of how the former first lady built walls around Metro Manila to hide the shanties that lined major thoroughfares when Pope Paul VI came to visit. Actually, this insanity was something that she constantly subjected Tacloban City to every single time there was an important occasion in the city.

I grew up in Tacloban City and I distinctly remember that days before the annual fiesta, the houses that lined the streets where the religious procession would pass would be subjected to a fresh coat of white paint, much to the consternation of the owners of the houses. There was not much the homeowners could do about it because the workers would not even ask for permission before going about their mandate to beautify the city. The problem was that the painting job would be done so haphazardly and worse, was limited to the façade of the houses.

Thus, some houses ended up looking bizarre with one side, the one facing the street, painted white, while the rest of the house in their original colors. It became an annual exercise in absurdity as homeowners struggled to keep their peace for fear of offending the supposed artistic sensibilities of the former first lady only to eventually spend a fortune restoring their houses to their old looks immediately after the fiesta.

And now Harper’s indignation and profuse hand-washing are unacceptable. The dastardly act has been done and those trees cannot be brought back to life again. It will take decades before new trees can grow to the same heights as the ones that were mercilessly cut down to stumps. In the meantime, I doubt if the desired unobstructed view of the Cathedral that has now been accomplished is something that can we can draw pride and appreciation from. Such a waste, indeed.

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