Monday, August 10, 2009

How A P1Million Dinner Triggered A New Religious War In Our Barangay

It doesn’t make any difference that our country’s president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and her entourage recently dined at the expensive Le Cirque in New York City on the night of the Manila Cathedral vigil for Corazon Aquino, “pushing the dinner tabas the New York Post put itto $20,000 (close to P1 million). It wouldn’t make any difference because we are a religious people.

     It makes a lot of difference for now, because the media have been knocked for six and will—for a time—find it profitable news. But thats just it: the media are for-profit organizations, not public universities, and one day the news will cease to be news because the people won’t care about it anymore. There’s your vicious cycle, as the cliché goes, with the opposition’s hopes pinned on the possibility of a similar but newer future exposé. And the Palace? Oh, the Palace was quick to defend its president, as a matter of course, saying it was all a lie, though for now the media-watchers would not have any of that explanation, temporarily agog the latter are over the gustatory menu (and the $$$ that ordered for it). For now, many in the media and the media-consuming public are angry.
     But, in the end, it wouldn’t make any difference, because this is really what we’re all about: we are a religious people.

Gloria Arroyo is a religious icon. Those opposing her presence in the world oppose the religion of those who believe she’s a good leader, a good person, a model for all those who love Jose Rizal’s archipelago.
     Just this morning I was at my neighbor’s aunt’s diner and she (the aunt) was all over the TV screen, delivering her sermon in defense of her saint. “She was only a guest of the Leyte representative who picked up the $20,000 tab, what’s the matter with you people!”—she asked. Cerge Remonde, the Palace’s press secretary, who may or may not know that people picked to become press secretaries are often those perceived to have mastered the art of lying, had successfully spread that very line. Later, there were addenda-cum-emendations to the line—one being that it was just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill dinner with a Diet Coke and Le Cirque’s cheap wine. My neighbor’s aunt said the same thing. It was just an ordinary supper, what’s the matter with you people!—she said, some omelet dropping from her lips onto the TV remote control. One congressman was saying on the TV screen, It was not much of a restaurant, really, no more glamorous than a hotel resto, and my neighbor’s aunt was about to tell me a tale about how her husband proposed to her at Ma Mon Luk in 1957.

     Don’t get my neighbor’s aunt wrong. She was a Benigno Aquino supporter and loves Corazon Aquino very much. She will love to have Cory beatified. She hated the Marcoses and Fabian Ver. Then, in the early 2000s, she wanted to parade with the young to have the arguably immodest Joseph Estrada ousted from the Office of the President, if only her arthritis allowed it. She had an enemy lady fish vendor at the marketplace of our barangay that she hadn’t seen eye to eye with for years, and when that fish vendor embraced Estrada’s police buddy Panfilo Lacson during a senatorial campaign round at our place, embraced him so to wax him with fish stink, . . . then my neighbor’s aunt decided to end the decades-long silence between her and the fish vendor, and for the first time since The Beatles visited Manila bought two kilos of galunggong (mackerel scad) from the lady.
     My neighbor’s aunt still had an overflow of Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) issues and an abundance of ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC)-watching time during the period of the Estrada administration, so that she had embedded in her soul enough of her hatred for Estrada, and—perhaps thanks to her guilt over the decades-long feud with the lady fish vendor—a later deeper hatred for Panfilo Lacson in her guts. She talked lengthily about the Bubby Dacer/Emmanuel Corbito double-murder case as being one definitely more worthy of a book than the Marcos-era Escalante massacre.
     That hatred for Estrada-Lacson got so embedded in her early, as we said, that when the time for Gloria Arroyo to replace Estrada came around, she decided she would from then on label every Arroyo-critical report that came out on the PDI or ANC, especially the Senate inquiries, as mere Lacsonian propaganda (Lacson did win a senator’s seat, surviving the efforts of the lady fish vendor). Every one of those reports were to my neighbor’s aunt to be known as Lacson’s propaganda, as if Lacson would have the PR guru’s imaginative wherewithal to manipulate all the media’s news editors.
     To my neighbor’s aunt, Gloria Arroyo—the enemy of Estrada and Lacson—has been simply amazing. She delivers her State of the Nation Address without reading from a sheet of paper, ooh who could ever do that among the former presidents? Don’t tell my neighbor’s aunt anything about a teleprompter, because she’d quickly grip her TV remote control as if on the verge of a heart attack and stare at you as though you were Panfilo Lacson himself. Oh, she still buys a lot of PDIs but is more of a National Broadcasting Network (NBN) channel fan now, with a ready answer for anything the PDI editorials have to say, thanks to lines she can cull from Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and that NBN editorialist from San Miguel, Bulacan, parading in front of her new faith like they were her new Pope’s encyclicals.

You’d say I’m making fun of an old lady. You’d ask me to go look for fairer game. And, well, yeah. In fact she’s not alone.
     Just last May I was watching a handful of anti-Gloria rallyists on their way to a Labor Day event, and a group of young lasses behind me, mobilized as a bargain-soap door-to-door sales team jumping off a loudly-“bargain soap!”-crying jeepney (and were earlier nudging me to buy bargain soap), were now saying some lines out of Remonde and Palace Secretary Ermita: “why do they put the blame for everything on Gloria? Why don’t they get real work instead?”
     So you see, Reader, although the polls say Gloria’s rating is low among survey respondents all over the country, I still believe that her party’s candidate would win in the elections if elections were held now. Why?
     Because a lot of Filipinos are like my neighbor’s aunt and a lot of elements of the working class are into bargain soap selling.
     How come? What makes them so blind?—you ask, almost irritated at my reality picture.
     I say: religion. Religion makes them blind. And we are a religious people.
     By a religious people I do not mean that we are a bunch of ignoramuses who have no access to sources of truth and can only lean on nothing but faith. Even affordable tabloids can be sources of truth. Even the New York Post tabloid is respected as a source of truth, the reason why there is seldom one who would dare sue it for libel.
     But truth is nothing compared to religion. Apart from that, a people who have been trained to lean on religion and their faith will always damn any evidence contrary to their faith’s own version of truth. My neighbors hate me for insisting—through a BBC Four docu—that Moses crossed a mangrove swamp called the “sea of reeds” (now part of the Suez Canal) mistranslated from the Greek into a “red sea.” They hate me for telling them that going to the Red Sea from Pi-Ramesses to reach Israel would be like flying from Manila to Legazpi City in order to get to Lucena City. Nobody can topple faith, and we are a people trained to abide by faith.
     Faith can be great. But since faith usually recruits followers using the language of the heart, inclusive of its adorations and hate-crusades, so faith also becomes the tool of liars and manipulators. And, often, once the lying has been passed, we become our own liars to ourselves. Every bit of evidence that drops on our lair we topple with the logic of our unforgiving faith. Social psychologists, should we care about their scientistic opinion, call this attitude or sickness confirmation bias.
     So, Gloria Arroyo has become a religion. As Erap is a religion. As Marcos once was a strong religion. And no amount of reporting on Arroyo in the US from American tabloids can topple the faith of our majority—our neighbors and their aunts and the bargain soap salesgirls who frequent our streets—, no one can topple their faith, or simply the benefits of their doubt, to favor the ignominy brought by paltry evidences.

We are a religious people. And we are presently divided into two religions: those who have faith in Gloria Arroyo’s goodness and do not want your evidences, and those who believe that she ought to be burned at the stake.
     Corazon Aquino was a sort of Queen Elizabeth of the Elizabethan era to us, even a Joan of Arc to our hundred-years-war with ourselves. Though already out of office, she was still uniting those who could not be united to rally against the Spanish mestizo-type malas leches habitually screaming puñetas!in the presidential Palace. But now—like Queen Elizabeth—she’s dead. And some of those who mourned with us Aquino's passing (including my neighbor's aunt) are back to their faith that Gloria Arroyo is more of a saint than Corazon Aquino in the pragmatic front.
     But what about that P1 million dinner? My neighbor’s aunt has a new rejoinder, one the swiftness of which you could only hear from a person devoted to her faith: “she was only invited! Don’t you people see that it’s only the people around her who are devils? But she . . . she is a good woman. She is an angel who only has the recurring misfortune of being surrounded by devils!”
     Those on the opposite faith will remember my neighbors aunt for this, and in their turn may embed upon their own souls an eternal flame of anger at her person. And when the time comes for them to celebrate a victory, should it come, whenever that may be, their angers might carry the same flame of faith towards their new saint, blinding themselves in their turn from all the new evidences against their own whenever that hero commits errors in judgment, the same way my neighbor’s aunt lights her blind torch for her heroine. And as for them that would then be the surely new opposition, including my neighbors aunt, they shall carry on the consistently contrarian role thats expected of them, snubbing everything positive in the new regime. Not because national politics is just a game no different from a student council seat contest, but precisely because its a totally higher contest—where the prize is neither student fame nor academic glory but millions of pesos worth of perpetual dinners within the royalist vision of ce circle dans le cirque. Who wouldnt end up unbiased faced with that elevated temptation, and seek any sort of confirmation concerning their positioncorrectness? And those among the masses who can relate to this royalism and ambition will expand the confirmation bias, waking thus their defeated blind faith to be born again and be resurrected. [END]


  1. Has your neighbor's aunt declared a jihad against anti-Gloria destabilizers, or a fatwa against anti-Gloria terrorists?

  2. My neighbor's aunt is an ardent critic of those who don't follow the rules of the Catholic Church and, like most of us, believes that God is on her side. Then again, the Catholic God only shows up every Sunday, and only for an hour or two, so nobody really relies on Him (the Catholic God is male), so everybody behaves as though God has gone back to heaven after mass, and the Catholics resume judging each one. Like most of us, too, my neighbor's aunt shapes God's godness instead of the other way around. Therefore, I think she---like most of us---is God. No wonder we behave like gods in a forgotten mythology, because we are gods.

    As for jihads and fatwahs, Catholics do it everyday. You don't do as they please they'll promise to destroy your name. They'll terrorize you with gossip, and the town explodes green with envy.

  3. I just realized my reply comment there does not answer your question. So let me answer now, late though it is.

    Yes, though a good woman, I believe that by the way she slices meat at her diner she can by the anchors of her faith resort to such facile modes if placed in the seat of Ronaldo Puno or Norberto Gonzales.