Friday, September 25, 2009

Misplaced contempt

Published last August 12, 2009 at the op ed section of the Manila Standard Today.  

When the Marcos siblings Ferdinand and Imee dropped by the Manila Cathedral to condole with the family of the late former President Cory Aquino last week, I refused to see political color in it even if I must admit that I felt a little queasy about it. It would have been better, of course, if the Marcos siblings tried to be a little more inconspicuous, which I guess was asking for too much given their holier-than-thou stance. I also had the feeling that there was a major “statement” made by the Estradas when they descended on the wake and funeral mass along with a whole coterie of former Cabinet officials.

But as I wrote in my Web log, what was more important to note was that the death of the former President had brought upon this country a rare moment of unity no matter how fleeting and temporary.

I don’t think people should simply gloss over and forget their differences without the benefit of win-win solutions or an appropriate resolution to whatever it is that they are in conflict about. But I think that people, particularly those who fancy themselves as role models in this country, should still be able to set aside bitterness and animosity in public and behave with a certain degree of civility towards each other even if they feel like strangling each other with their bare hands.

Thus, I chose to ignore the fact that a number of groups used the Aquino funeral procession for their own political purposes. At the junction of Vito Cruz Street and Osmeña Highway where my family and I stood under the rain to pay our last respects to former President Aquino, I noted that people immediately dispersed—many among us clucking our tongues and shaking our heads with disappointment—at the sight of the usual ideologues carrying the usual political protest banners.

But it seems that was not it yet. I saw the Marcos sisters—Imee and Irene—at the Cultural Center of the Philippines during the “funeral” rites for the supposed death of the National Artists Awards last Friday. If the sisters simply went there to express their solidarity with the other artists and kept their peace, there wouldn’t have been any issue at all. They are citizens of this country and they have every right to join protest marches. The problem was that they couldn’t keep their mouths shut. Both regurgitated quite a mouthful about how this latest snafu around the President’s interference in the selection of National Artists was an affront to their mother’s cultural legacy to this country. Excuse me, I feel like throwing up.

First of all, their mother is still very much alive. She is still fluttering around in her trademark designer clothes and sparkling jewelry oblivious to reality. She doesn’t seem to need a more eloquent spokesperson to articulate whatever sentiments she may be harboring. Second, Imelda Romualdez Marcos may have built the CCP and supported the development of, for want of another term, high-brow arts during her stint as first lady but her vision of “the true, the good and the beautiful” wasn’t exactly something that made people’s hearts sing or spirits soar. Oh please, Imelda Romualdez Marcos used the arts to deodorize the stink of the conjugal dictatorship. Imelda used the arts to elevate her stature as some kind of a goddess-like patroness.

Wasn’t it only last year when National Artist F. Sionil Jose walked out of the CCP during a tribute to National Artist Lucrecia Kasilag when Imelda basked in the limelight and started to do her “I am a slave and a star” routine?

Ironically, the presence of the Marcoses at the protest only served to highlight a painful divide that used to exist during the time of the dictatorship and provided further ammunition to the other camp.

On one hand, there was the kind of art—the one Carlo Caparas now disdains as elitist and intellectual —championed by the CCP and the artist’s groups that benefited from Imelda’s political munificence. On the other hand, there was the kind of art that was championed by community and peoples groups, notable among them the Philippine Educational Theater Association, which were at the forefront of the struggle against the conjugal dictatorship. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, PETA and Cecille Guidote Alvarez were at the other side of the divide. They—all right, I was part of that group as a community theater organizer in College—were the subject of persecution and harassment during the Marcos years.

I don’t particularly agree with the gibberish being spewed by Caparas about how the protest against his selection as National Artist is indicative of the kind of elitist and intellectual snobbishness being displayed by his antagonists. However, the nature of the protest and the undisguised contempt directed at Caparas and Guidote-Alvarez does leave a bad taste in the mouth.

As I wrote in this space last week, I also think that the way President Arroyo and his advisers circumvented the selection process was deplorable. I empathize with those who are up in arms against the interference. I am with them in condemning the brazenness in which people from Malacañang simply imposed their own preferences without respect for process or the competencies of the people who conducted the initial screenings.

The issue is that Malacañang should respect the process and free it of political interference. This is what the protest should be and the anti-government slogans and the attempt by certain sectors to drag other political issues into the protest makes the whole thing not only muddled but highly suspicious as well.

Unfortunately, the protest got very personal and ugly and seemed directed at the artists rather than at the selection process. Caparas and Guidote-Alvarez got demonized, cursed at, and generally reviled because they got selected and wouldn’t give in to the clamor not to accept the award. The shouting match between National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera and PETA executive director Angie Ferro was regrettable and uncalled for.

I can understand the sentiment of certain national artists who said that they would not be attending the conferment ceremonies of this year’s batch of national artists. However, I wonder what message they are sending to the other national artists—the ones whose selection this year they deemed acceptable. Artists are a passionate lot and I can understand the dramatic statement made when some of them buried their national artist medallions. But what I can’t understand is the general drift of the sentiment that their stature has now been diminished because their lot has been “dirtied” by the selection of unworthy people.

Pray tell, how does one’s stature as an artist particularly when such has been achieved through a lifelong passion for the craft and an established body of works be diminished by an external factor such as the selection of another person to be considered alongside one’s self? It smacked of the kind of contempt directed at muggles in the Harry Potter series.

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