Wednesday, September 07, 2011

More of the same

This post is antedated. I am trying to recover the online version of my columns before the Manila Standard Today deletes the archives for 2011. I made the mistake of assuming the archive will be online for five years. Sigh.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. In fact, a cursory look at the top issues of the last few days will bring us to the inevitable conclusion that certain things in this country have not changed at all. We seem to be caught in a time trap where the same things happen over and over again.

The President’s state visit to China was trumpeted as a huge success but the news bit that many members of the international press picked up was Mr. Aquino’s off-the-cuff remarks about his zero love life. Aquino started his address to the members of the Philippine community in Beijing by poking fun once again at his love life. “Someone asked me, how is your love life? I said it’s like Coca-Cola, before it was regular, then it became light, now it’s zero,” the President cracked. People found it funny. What was funnier actually was the rejoinder of Pepsi Cola, which were full-page advertisements published over the weekend showing a can of Pepsi max and the tagline: “Love life? Go from Zero to Max.”

Only in the Philippines can such an equation be possible: President + love life = cola wars.

I am not sure this is funny, but the President’s remarks about the state of his love life and the subsequent cola wars that it ignited are probably what people will remember most about the state visit to China. Talk about shooting ourselves in the foot!

This is something I continue to be flabbergasted about and will continue to rile about for as long as the President keeps doing it: Why this President persists in making references about the state of his love life in major public affairs when he claims he doesn’t want people to speculate or even talk about it. As a consequence thereof, local media went all agog over the supposed brewing romance between him and actress Iza Calzado, a rumor that the actress quickly squelched. I can understand his youngest sister’s incessant desire to tattle about the state of her heart – Kris Aquino is extremely fascinated with anything that has to do with Kris Aquino. But surely a President has many more important things to talk about other than the state of his love life.

Of course when I say that the President has better things to talk about, I don’t necessarily recommend that he pick a fight with Kristie Kenney, former ambassador of the United States to the Philippines, currently holding court in Thailand. But again, some people’s amor propio got the better of them and compelled to dignify the “alleged slur” on the President.

Revenge is a dish best served cold— so a simple “we will not dignify the issue with a response” would have been more appropriate. Actually, Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang was already on track when he said “we normally don’t comment on purportedly leaked cables but it’s quite consistent with talk that went on in the diplomatic community at the time that Ambassador Kenney had been co-opted by the Arroyo regime.” Unfortunately, Deputy Spokesperson Abigail Valte didn’t follow Carandang’s lead.

And then the President, himself, joined the fray, which was quite unfortunate because of a number of reasons. First, the comments attributed to Kenney came from non-official sources—anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. I don’t think it makes for good policy to respond to unverified information. Second, the supposed analyses attributed to Kenney are really mere first-hand observations of someone on-the-ground; they are hardly definitive conclusions drawn from empirical processes of data collection. In short, they were subjective perceptions. Third, Kenney’s alleged perceptions were quite representative of those “critical” of Aquino during the campaign. Fourth, the reaction only served to validate perceptions that the President is onion-skinned and cannot roll with the punches.

In fact, we could all have gotten a hint from Kenney’s reaction on her Twitter account. The ambassador simply tweeted: “Good morning! Don’t believe all you read.”

Former First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos was not part of President Aquino’s official delegation during his state visit to China last week but many kibitzers noted how the Imeldific managed to upstage most everyone else. It’s almost tragic, just how the former First Lady seems intent on recapturing the heady days of the dictatorship when she couldn’t be anywhere else but in the spotlight. Why, just a few weeks ago, she managed to put herself in the maelstrom of that unfortunate controversy over Mideo Cruz’s art installation, even to the extent of claiming credit for that ill-advised edict from MalacaƱang to pull the curtain on the exhibit.

Our senators continued to shoot their mouths off over the plunder case filed against former First Gentleman Juan Miguel Arroyo and 25 others including former military officials over the allegedly anomalous sale and purchase of two helicopters in 2009. Of course we all know there is now intense competition among our leaders as to who gets to outrun the Arroyos and be the first to pin them down to the ground, but really, we don’t have to do the game of one-upmanship so publicly. Senators bewailed the fact that someone beat them to the chase in terms of filing a plunder case against Arroyo. And then they announced that they would file their own cases as if doing so was their main job description (weren’t the hearings supposed to be done in aid of legislation?). I can understand the need to pursue cases against the Arroyos; do our leaders have to salivate in public while doing so and act like canines fighting over spoiled meat?

Baguio City, which used to be the cleanest and the most popular summer destination in the country (long before people discovered getting seen naked in Boracay was more fun) was in the news all week long last week, thanks to the landslide of garbage that happened at the height of the last typhoon that descended on these islands. We all know Baguio City is decaying—it’s a tragic shadow of what it used to be. And the decay is getting worse every year. We still have to see more concrete actions to stem the decay. Nothing is being done to preserve Baguio City.

Another congressman is alleged to have been involved in another mauling incident, this time involving a security guard who was simply doing his job at an Ayala Mall. Denials were initially made, but as more information and more witnesses came forward, revisions in the story were made. We don’t expect anything to come out of this regardless of how many people feel outraged.

Increasing concern over the fate of four overseas Filipino workers supposedly part of the household staff of one of the family members of Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddhafi threaten to come to a boil as media begin to pay attention to the issue. We smell attempts to sensationalize as media networks begin competing for better coverage of the emerging human-interest issue.

Some things never change.

All these, however, seem less important with the Christmas spirit already hovering in the air. It seems most everyone wanted Christmas to arrive earlier this year. Why not? We probably need cheering up today more than ever.

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