Last Updated on November 17, 2007
Note: These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the staff and management at Mango's.
The day after the mudslide on the island of Leyte in the Philippines was reported in the United States, I received a worried phone call from a colleague here at the University of Georgia. Tim had seen footage of the tragedy on the evening news. Though unsure where in the Philippines it had occurred, he was concerned that my wife Pam's family had been caught up in the event. I thanked him for his concern and responded that I was confident Pam's family wasn't involved.
Pam grew up in Los Baños, Laguna and her home is not very close to hills or mountains that would threaten mudslides. Over the next week my assurance to Tim was repeated to many others who were concerned for Pam. I was grateful that they cared enough about her family to ask for clarification. On long solitary drives across Georgia that week, I had plenty of time to think about this latest tragedy in the Philippines and to ponder its implications.
My first realizations were that good news from the Philippines is rarely reported in the United States and that most Americans know very little about the archipelago nation. Our countries have shared a very close history over the past 100 years; the Philippines was a protectorate of the United States for nearly 50 years after the conclusion of the Spanish-American War. American soldiers fought and died alongside Filipino troops in the battles against the Japanese in World War II. Strategic American air and naval bases were maintained in the Philippines until the early 1990s. Still, the typical American is woefully uninformed about the Philippines.
More importantly, the little that is known paints a picture of this country that is, at best, skewed, and at worst perpetuates regrettable stereotypes of the culture and citizens. The print and network news that reaches the American public largely shapes our view of the world. If I were to take guess at the most common perceptions Americans have of the Philippines, they would be as follows, not necessarily in any particular order:
Although each of the above points does have some basis in fact, they do not accurately represent this island nation with a rich and very diverse cultural heritage and a people for who warm hospitality and lasting friendships are a way of life. I believe that creating an image and reality of the Philippines based upon the perceptions above would be the same as defining the United States as a land of gang violence, drug abuse, obesity, and lack of regard or consideration for anything that is not "American."
Because my wife is from the Philippines, I have had the opportunity to be immersed in Filipino culture here at home and on visits to her home in Los Baños. As I was thinking about the stereotypes of the Philippines that are prevalent in the US, I also thought about my own perceptions of the Philippines and Filipino culture. When I recall memories and thoughts about all things "Pinoy," I envision the following:
My thoughts of the Philippines rarely overlap with common perceptions from those whose knowledge of the archipelago is limited to what appears on television or is printed in the newspaper. Sure, as in any country, there are serious problems in the Philippines. In fact, the problems facing the Philippines are so severe that one must wonder if the country can ever truly overcome them. However, it is my experience that the richness of the culture, the warmth of the people, and the sheer beauty of the land and sea overshadow these problems in my memory.
I wish that more people in the United States could visit the Philippines and share in a culture and people that have enchanted and embraced me. Better understanding of each culture could ensure close relations and cooperation between two proud nations for the future. Without question, Americans visiting the Philippines would be warmly welcomed and enjoy a destination of great exotic appeal.
Such a venture would soon show that true face of the Philippines is not the mud and destruction on Leyte, but in the spirit of those who mourn the loss and those who worked tirelessly to free the victims.
Bob R. C. Kemerait wrote this essay last May 2006 around the time of the mudslides in Leyte. Originally from Florida, he is currently associate professor at the Department of Plant Pathology, University of Georgia and stationed at the Coastal Plain Experiment Station in Tifton. Bob is married to Pam Lopez-Kemerait, who hails from Los Banos, Laguna. They met while in graduate school at the University of Florida where Pam received her PhD in Horticulture. Married for 10 years, they have a daughter, age 7, and a son, age 3. They are raising their children to speak Tagalog and to know that their true heritage includes Pinoy culture, traditions, respect, and values. Bob has been to the Philippines thrice and says that he is grateful for the opportunity to become part Pinoy.
Living Among the Dead
BATAC, Philippines — He doesn't look like he could cause much trouble anymore, flat on his back in an airtight glass box, toes up, eyes waxed shut. Dead. But almost 16 years after dying in exile and infamy, deposed dictator Ferdinand Marcos — or at least his reputation — is being resurrected in the Philippines. And it's causing a commotion. Filipinos are no longer sure how to remember the man they drove from power in a massive but peaceful street revolution in 1986, turning him into an international byword for dictatorship and corruption.
These days, watching their tired cast of politicians fiddle while poverty deepens and Asia's economy takes off without them, many exasperated Filipinos look at the Marcos era as happier times, the good old days before their hard-won democracy turned into what they now call "democrazy."
Was Marcos really a tyrant? they ask. Or just another Asian strongman imposing order on a country desperate for stability? A crook who stole from his own people and stuffed billions into Swiss bank accounts? Or a politician no different from the rest, in a country where everyone knows corruption is the oxygen of politics? They can't even agree on how to bury him.
The ex-president has never had a funeral. Though he died in 1989, a standoff over where his final resting place should be divides Filipinos, exposing the cleft between those who feel a rosy nostalgia for the Marcos era, and those with unhealed wounds from his rule.
The late president's body rests in the purgatory of a private mausoleum in Ilocos Norte, the rural northern province that was — and remains — the Marcos family's political power base. He lies under soft lighting, wearing some of his soldier's medals.
A few mementoes are hidden away inside his glass casket: his favorite black plastic made-in-America comb, cotton pajamas with a motif of red hearts (an anniversary gift from his perhaps more-famous wife, Imelda, herself an international byword for conspicuous consumption), and a tin in which he once kept coins to parse out to his children. The corpse is seen daily by a trickle of loyalists, schoolchildren and the curious, who come to peer at the local boy who became an accomplished lawyer and war hero before going to Manila and making it big in politics.
Marcos ruled — and defined the Philippines to the world — for 21 years. Twice elected president, he turned to martial law in 1972, when communists and other opponents were jailed and tortured. He was chased from office by street protests in the 1986 "People Power" revolution, and he and his family were "picked up and dumped in Hawaii," as Imelda puts it, by a Washington that cut him loose.
"Yes sir, that's him," says Master Sgt. Catalino Bactot, who served in Marcos' private security detail for 17 years and now makes sure no one gets fingerprints on the glass covering his old boss. Bactot is asked about rumors that the figure on display is just a reproduction. He shakes his head vigorously.
"It is coated with seven layers of wax," he explains. Real or not, the corpse with its combed-back hair and pancake complexion has lain here since 1993, when then-President Fidel V. Ramos stifled his qualms and, bending to indefatigable lobbying from Imelda, allowed her to bring her husband home from Hawaii, where he died at 72.
Imelda Marcos is not just a lady who lunches — though she does that, too, meeting regularly with her social circle at Manila's finer restaurants and hotels. Despite the ignominious fall from power, she refuses to retreat into seclusion. She ran for president herself, twice, and though she failed, she was elected to Congress in 1995.
"The poor people love me," she said one recent evening in the art- and photograph-cluttered living room of her 34th-floor Manila apartment, explaining her enduring appeal. "The poor are looking for a star in the night." But mostly she carries the torch for her dead husband. She wants the Marcos name cleared, rendered as innocent and appealing as the black-and-white framed photograph of a heroic, square-jawed young Ferdinand that sits on her living room table.
Not unexpectedly, Imelda has one more wish. She will not allow Marcos to be buried in Ilocos Norte, no matter how hard her three children plead with her to give their father a Christian funeral and be done with it.
A city of sin
Thus said a 78-year-old Pasay City resident who said he has witnessed the "rites" of prostitution, gang wars, gambling, and burglaries in the city. "The city got that label because it used to be a den of prostitutes and burglars. It was known as a city of lawless elements in the ’50s, and sadly until now, it remains the same," said Lolo Cristobal.
Cristobal said the prevalence of crimes and "immorality" in the city is blamed for its bad image. "Fun-seekers really love our city because nightclubs, and beerhouses are here," he said. In the ‘60s, Pasay City hosted famous fun landmarks such as Pepe’s, Bayside Club, The Wave, The Flame, Romulus, and Eduardo’s which, he said, separated the boys from the men.
Prominent movie artists-turned-politicians flocked to these places, including the two famous drinking buddies — former President Joseph Estrada and the late Fernando Poe Jr., said a businessman in his early ‘70s, who requested anonymity. He said The Wave was owned by the father-in-law of Sen. Freddie Webb, who once had a house along the Edang St. But during the martial law years, nightclubs and beerhouses were closed down, he said. He said nightclubs during those years were not a degrading business.
"Our hostesses were respectable. It is only now that the nightclubs are tainted as conduits of prostitution," he said. He also expressed sadness over the worsening prostitution problem in Pasay and elsewhere. "If we could only understand what’s behind those girls trading their bodies," he said, adding that most prostitutes are products of broken families. Residents said some nightclubs and beerhouses have strip tease shows in which dancers gradually stripped off their clothes to excite the audience, particularly men.
Den of prostitution
Found along the city’s narrow streets are motels, hotels and apartelles, which are considered to be the venues for people looking for instant pleasure. Mayor Wenceslao "Peewee" Trinidad explained that the narrowness of the streets in Pasay is beneficial to people who want to go or live in a motel, saying "going and living in a motel is a matter of discretion and secrecy." Of the 300 streets in Pasay, only a few have escaped as a niche of motels and nightclubs, said a certain Joe who requested anonymity.
Joe, 37, blamed the city government for allowing the transfer of beerhouses on Mabini Street in Manila to their city, saying that it only encouraged prostitution in the area. As part of the efforts of then Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim to curb prostitution in Manila, he shooed away nightclubs engaged in the flesh trade in the ‘90s, said Joe. "Why did they allow the transfer of those beerhouses in Mabini to our city?," asked Joe.
Joe also said a hotel along F. B. Harrison St. provides customers a "mate" as it houses prostitutes. "You could check in alone because you would just pick up the girl you want to sleep with inside the hotel," Joe said.
In 1950, there was an "island" where sexual pleasure beckoned. They called it "Banana Island," a triangular land situated along EDSA, now the location of a franchise of a fastfood chain. "It is a small community where there were a lot of banana trees, and prostitutes were walking around there," said Mayor Trinidad.
Joe described Banana Island as a conduit of harlotry. "The Banana Island is not a tale. It’s a reality and no one could deny it, even the local officials," said Joe. It was not only an eyesore for the city, but an exposition of the sad state of women suffering from poverty, said Joe. A certain Tessie, a resident for 20 years, said Banana Island served as refuge of old prostitutes, who spent their retiring years with "nothing but sad memories of being sex slaves."
Mang Hipolito, 57, disclosed that Banana Island was gone after the martial law years, saying "it is now along Edang Street that pimps transact their business." He said Edang Street is named after the first wife of the late Mayor Pablo Cuneta, who was the longest serving chief executive of Pasay.
Edang Street is formerly Pinagbarilan Street, which got its name following the ambush of a city police chief named Sgt. Mariano Isla in 1970. "It is now along Edang Street that pimps transact their business. It is the new Banana Island," said Mang Hipolito. Besides Edang Street, historic F. B. Harrison Avenue, Cuneta Avenue, and Tramo Street are considered havens of prostitution.
‘Dead’ for rent
Along Tramo Street, the so-called "dead-for-rent" business thrives, said Joe. Because some forms of gambling have been declared illegal, the dead serve as license to make illegal gambling legal, he said. "The cadaver is their (gamblers’) saving grace. They don’t really care even if it means disrespecting the dead. All they want is to gamble," he said.
They will rent a corpse from a funeral parlor and use it for "sakla," an illegal card game. But the city government permits residents to play "sakla" during a wake or fiesta. There was a time when the same corpse was used over and over again, he said.
"Along with my friend, we went to a wake and we saw the same dead person," he said, jokingly calling it, "hindi burol, burong patay na." He said "freak" businessmen went into the business. To erase the authorities’ suspicion, they operated in different areas. Tess, 52, a government employee, said the dead-for-rent business was a "thing of the past." She said Mayor Trinidad has already banned it. "Sakla was rampant in the ‘80s. But during Trinidad’s administration, the card game is just a thing of the past," she said.
Land of terror
Tess alleged that Barangay 184 in Maricaban district is famous for being a source of illegal drugs. Ironically, some streets that surround the eight barangays of Maricaban area are named after saints, including St. Peter, St. Francis, St. Rita, and St. Mary, she said. She said suspected drug pushers and users could easily go out of jail.
"If you want to experience all kinds of vices, then go to this place," she said. Joe said the city’s Queens Street is also known as a haven of illegal drugs. Describing Maricaban as a "land of terror," he said it houses a training school for snatchers, pickpocketers, and robbers. During his college years, he said he was robbed of his wallet and watch by six armed men.
He said a friend helped him recover his stolen items. "We went to the training school for snatchers, pickpockets, and robbers. To my surprise, we easily recovered my wallet and watch," he said, saying his friend’s relatives are among the operators. "All stolen goods are collected first upon the orders of their master. Three to four days are given as grace period to give a chance to the relatives and friends of the operators victimized by the trainees to recover their belongings," he said.Their master usually hangs pants with wallets, and the neophytes would be trained not to shake the clothesline as they snatch the wallet from the pockets, he said.
City government efforts
Mayor Trinidad said the city government is stepping up efforts to erase the city’s bad image due to the prevalence of prostitution, gang wars, gambling, and burglaries. With the motto "Aim High," he vowed to make his city "habitable with a lot of business opportunities," saying that small trading centers surround the area.
Reacting to the issue that the city is lagging behind, he said a small city with a big population could not compete with other cities like Quezon City. Pasay City has a total land area of 19 square kilometers with about 420,000 inhabitants.
"When you have a small city and you have this much population, your money is not big as Quezon City which is 10 times bigger than Pasay. You can’t compete," the city mayor said. Pasay can never be passe with good, old memories of the world’s oldest profession.
Cardinal Sin, who died yesterday aged 76, blithely ignored the Roman Curia's nervous disapproval of clergy becoming directly involved in politics when, amid a blaze of international publicity, he played a key part in bringing down President Ferdinand Marcos's regime in the Philippines.
A man of ready wit, well aware of his comically inappropriate name, Sin initially trod a cautious line on becoming Archbishop of Manila in 1976. Although he and Marcos did not always see eye to eye, he remarked, they could work hand in hand. If he did not attend to the spiritual needs of the president and his wife Imelda by saying Mass at the presidential palace, he asked: "Who will?" But as discontent rose, and the regime became noticeably richer and more repressive, Sin twitted them with jokes.
One concerned an unnamed woman, whom nobody could fail to guess was named Imelda. She was given to pointing to the country's mines and saying: "That mine, that's mine." When Marcos said that he admired the United States because the people knew the result of an election the day after it was held, Sin is said to have replied, "You should admire the Filipino people - they know the results before the election."
On another occasion he even likened himself to Jesus, saying that, seated between the Marcoses, he felt that he was being "crucified between two thieves". The relationship plummeted irretrievably when government troops raided a seminary in the belief that it was harbouring insurgents. By 1978 Sin was on a list of those not permitted to travel abroad, although a protest by his fellow bishops soon freed him to visit Pope Paul VI, who had appointed him cardinal.
But it was after the opposition leader Benigno Aquino was murdered at Manila airport as he returned from exile in 1983 that Sin's criticisms increased. He warned that there was an ugly mood in the country, which could lead to results that would hurt the poor. When Ronald Reagan pushed Marcos into a general election, Sin urged Aquino's widow Cory to run. As the government became more repressive in its efforts to win the vote, the national bishops' conference issued increasingly outspoken pastoral letters.
After Marcos's victory, Mrs Aquino used the Church's radio station to call for non-violent resistance, prompting the defence minister and vice-chief of the defence staff to break with Marcos. As troops marched on their headquarters, Sin went on air calling "all the children of God" to protect the two former government members. During the next three days, hundreds of thousands of unarmed Filipinos formed a human shield in Manila's Avenue of the Epiphany of the Saints, pressing rosaries and sandwiches on the tank crews and thrusting flowers down the barrels of their guns and prevented them reaching the errant pair.
Soon Marcos fled to Hawaii. The whole episode was a miracle, Sin declared, "scripted by God, directed by the Virgin Mary and starring the Filipino people". After attending a large open-air Mass with President Aquino, he visited the Soviet Union and China before arriving in Rome. At his audience with Pope John Paul II, Sin declared that a moral dimension, not a political one, had been involved in the recent events. "He smiled because he understands," Sin explained afterwards. "He comes from Poland."
Jaime Sin was born at New Washington on the Philippine island of Panay on August 31 1928, the 14th child of a Chinese shopkeeper who converted from Buddhism before his marriage to a Filipina of Spanish extraction. Jaime's mother encouraged the boy in his vocation by telling him that, as the ugliest of her children, he would become a priest. He went to the local elementary school, then entered the St Vincent Ferrer diocesan seminary.
When this closed after the Japanese invaded the Philippines in 1941, Sin lived with five retired priests, and transcribed Voice of America broadcasts for parishioners, even though this was strictly forbidden by the occupiers. On returning to the seminary after the war, he found the academic work hard, but kept a notebook in which he wrote down messages asking the Virgin Mary to help him pass his exams. In one, he said that he would never be a good priest because of his asthma, and never suffered an attack again.
After being ordained in 1954, Sin went to work in a mountain parish where he travelled by foot and on horseback around parishes with no priests. He then became the first rector of the St Pius X seminary at Roxas City, for which he first had to raise money for a building. After qualifying as a teacher, he had his own half-hour radio programme; his reputation for breathing life into diocesan organisations led to his being promoted to archbishop of Jaro and then of Manila. When Pope Paul VI appointed him cardinal in 1976, Sin was the youngest member of the College of Cardinals and one of the few from a developing country.
As archbishop in a country of 73 million, of whom 85 per cent are Catholic, Sin was delighted to welcome the Pope; but the Marcoses' determination to milk the trip for every advantage further impaired relations. Mrs Marcos was to be found waiting at each stopping point to greet the Pope. By the end of the visit she was comparing the cardinal privately to the Ayatollah Khomeini. When she inaugurated a Manila film festival to rival Cannes, the cardinal accused her of letting loose "a river of pornography and filth". The president's response was to say that he would have to start arresting cinema managers. His wife was more outspoken: she called the cardinal "a Communist homosexual".
Even the Vatican bureaucracy could find Sin a problem. It was not overly grateful when he visited China and had clergy from the pro-Communist Patriotic Catholic Association pressing notes into his hand claiming that they were loyal to the Pope. However, he reported that when he met Pope John Paul II there was no note of reproof.
Once Marcos had gone, Sin was keenly aware of the continuing threat posed by the Filipino Communists, who were claiming that Mrs Aquino was as bad as the former president. When it was suggested that Marcos might be brought home for trial, he declared that it would do nobody any good.
Sin remained close to Mrs Aquino and, for a while, things went well. Then all the old problems re-emerged: she was succeeded as president by Joseph Estrada, a womanising, heavy-drinking former film star under whom it became government policy to issue condoms to control the birth rate. When the former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell arrived to publicise women's rights to "reproductive health" for the United Nations, Sin tartly declared that he knew she had a record to promote but she should keep out of an issue of which she knew little.
As revelations about Estrada's involvement with gambling interests emerged, Sin and Mrs Aquino launched another demonstration of "people power", which led to a senate impeachment trial and Estrada being jailed.
In recent years, Sin's political involvement exasperated some younger Filipinos, who could not remember the Marcos years; they saw him as bearing some responsibility for the country's continuing turbulence, and he was not unaware of the contradictions involved. When it was suggested that he might succeed John Paul II as Pope, he would remark that a prospective candidate for the papacy must be highly intelligent and prudent - "and I cannot find these qualities in me".
Asked by Oliver Foot of Orbis, the flying eye charity, if he would donate his eyes to them, Sin - not realising that Foot meant after Sin's death - said doubtfully: "Perhaps I could spare one."
When he retired in 2003 because of illness (which prevented him from attending the conclave which elected Pope Benedict XVI), he defended his role by saying that "politics without Christ is the greatest scourge of our nation".
He added: "I beg pardon from those I might have led astray or hurt. Please remember me kindly."
Sin's deft wit is likely to live on. He once quipped that the fastest ways of communicating in the Philippines were "telephone, telegram and tell-a-nun"; and he had a sign proclaiming that those who called on him were entering "the House of Sin".
There is a serious fault common to many people in the Philippines both rich and poor. It is so widespread, so common, that it must be a flaw in the culture itself, a very serious defect in our character. It is the neglect to repay debts. Things are borrowed and never returned. Loans are incurred and not repaid. Good are bought on credit and it is almost impossible to collect payment. This is not a trait merely of the poor, nor merely of the rich. It is common to both rich and poor.
Someone at great cost started an excellent dairy business in a prosperous province. The milk cows were imported from the best breeds in Europe. The milking equipment were the best. The pasteurization and distribution were the most efficient. Almost overnight the dairy had many customers who had fresh milk delivered to them every day. But when it came to collecting payment, very few paid. These were not poor people who could not afford to pay. These were well-to-do families, some of them millionaires. They enjoyed fresh milk daily, but would simply not pay for it. The dairy business had to be closed down.
A well-known thrift bank with a long and distinguished history went bankrupt because it had accumulated two billion pesos in uncollectible loans. These were small loans to poor city people to enable them to do their work better. They could have repaid the loans in easy installments. But they did not.
Several zealous missionaries have had their fingers burned by their misplaced attempts to help farmers. Large amounts were borrowed from banks which were reloaned in smaller amounts to farmers, to be repaid on easy terms. The farmers took the money and, made no effort to repay it.
I have myself made small loans to people in need. Their need was real: tuition for their children, hospital bills, repayment of house loans to prevent foreclosures. etc. The money was to be repaid in installment without interest. Of all the many people to whom I have lent money over the years, only two have ever repaid the loan. It does not seem to occur to our people that when they don't repay a debt, they are committing a serious injustice.
I remember my horror when the manager of a store (a good Catholic) told me he was going to sue a bishop. "You can't do that!" I said. He replied, "I have no choice. We have made every effort to collect. We know the diocese can afford to pay. But they simply won't pay." And yet the bishop in question was a holy man, zealous and compassionate. But apparently, the injustice of not paying for things obtained on credit did not appear to him as injustice.
As I said, it must be a character flaw, a defect in our culture. As such it should be addressed as a serious matter in our educational system from Grade School to College. Students must be imbued with the idea that justice demands that when they incur a debt, that debt must be repaid.
IMELDA MARCOS likes to talk. In a 40-minute interview, the former First Lady of the Philippines discusses everything from the documentary Imelda, which she tried to have banned, to her infamous collection of shoes and philosophy in life. Imelda, directed by America-based Filipino film-maker Ramona Diaz, was nominated for the coveted Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
It was shown here in Singapore in September and will return for a second run at the Canon Digital Media Hub next month. The documentary, which was made in 1998, has extensive footage of interviews with Mrs Marcos in which she discusses the assassination of opposition leader Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino and the imposition of martial law. Although she cooperated with the making of the film, she tried to get it banned in the Philippines in June when it was scheduled for a theatrical release. Weeping in court, she testified that the film painted her as a 'cheap flirt' and an 'airhead, like a frivolous, wanton, extravagant woman at the expense of the poor'. Mrs Marcos, 75, won an injunction to stop the film's release, but the decision was overturned later.
She now divides her time between the family mansion in her hometown of Leyte in the eastern part of the Philippines and the capital Manila, where she is embroiled in a legal battle to retain the Marcos family's US$680 million (S$1.1 billion) fortune. The Philippine Supreme Court ruled in July this year that the money was looted from the country's treasury when the Marcos regime was in power from 1965 to 1986.
LifeStyle's interview request was first met with a counter-request for a list of acceptable questions. After nearly a month of silence, Mrs Marcos, in typically flamboyant fashion, consented to a telephone interview on the morning of the chat itself. The phone call on Nov 3 was routed through two minions before the grand dame herself came on the line, sounding effusively cheerful. This weekend, she will be spending quality time with her family as they are gathering in the Marcos family's hometown of Ilocos Norte in the north.
Daughter Imee Marcos, who is in her second term as Ilocos Norte's congresswoman in the House of Representatives, celebrated her 49th birthday there last Friday. Mrs Marcos, her son Ferdinand Bongbong Jr, 47, and Imee spent the morning at a job fair before attending Imee's birthday bash. Daughter Irene, 44, was absent.
Good morning Mrs Marcos. How are you doing?
(laughing heartily) Well, surviving.
How did you meet Ramona Diaz?
She was a friend of my late staff member. She wanted to know about Imelda because there is so much perception. Perception is real, the truth is not. So I warmly welcomed her in our home in Leyte. She stayed there for five days. So I went on and on and on and talked to her giving her the truth about the whole thing, about life. Unfortunately, she chopped it into several pieces and interviewed all these people who were very negative. I was used. You could see there was malice in it.
When I interviewed Ramona, she said she spent a month at Leyte and had your full cooperation.
It was not a month. It was five days in Leyte. And I did not even know that she was taking pictures. I was really shocked because I never saw the film made. I did not know she was taking some things that were private - for instance, me powdering my face. Fifty years and 50 pounds ago, the picture did not look so bad.
So you didn't consent to the documentary crew following you around?
There was absolutely no authorisation. I gave an authority to a very prestigious British group about three years ago. They thought that I had a breach of contract with them. To show that I did not, I filed this suit to stop Imelda. Later on, when there was so much controversy, I just said in the spirit of press freedom, let everybody get the freedom of perception, but perception is real, the truth is not.
So this British group is making a documentary about your life?
They're doing a documentary and a book. They have been at work for some time. They will document the truth because the truth is well documented - my many trips abroad and my many projects here.
What group is this?
They are very close friends of mine. They are the top, top, top in England. Anyway, they are lords and it is going to be something serious - the role of the Marcoses at the height of the Cold War.
So this documentary will focus on politics and history?
That is really history. Seven heads of state came here to ask Marcos to send a combat battalion to Vietnam, but Ferdinand said, 'No, I'm sending an engineering battalion.' Also we have at this point in time in history, before all of these Middle East things in Iraq, in 1975 I was already in Iraq signing the Tripoli agreement with Colonel Gaddafi, representing the Muslim countries, to terminate the war between the Christians and the Muslims in the Philippines.
Was that your proudest achievement as First Lady?
I'm happy about it because it saved a lot of lives. But the nice part about it was we did not use power for war. We used power for peace.
If you used power for peace, how do you explain martial law?
When martial law was implemented by President Marcos, he never implemented the death sentence on a Filipino. This shows how he upheld the sanctity of life. But he used power for peace. When he was not using the death sentence, I even asked him, 'Why are you not using death sentence?' He said, 'There is art in the use of power. Power is never used. It's only felt.' That's true, he said, of beauty. Beautiful women in history like Cleopatra, Shiva. Beauty was used for seduction, conquest, even prostitution. That is why when they talk about beauty, they think it is a frivolity. And yet what is beauty in this theological sense? It is god made real. Then in the ideological sense, beauty is basically order, harmony, art.
Was this how you saw your role as First Lady? To bring beauty?
Yes, beauty was for giving, for nurturing, for caring, for loving. The opposite of love is not hate, it is selfishness.
But you were more than a beautiful prize, you were a partner to President Marcos during his presidency.
This is what I'm now trying to share with the whole world about us women and human beings. I was not somebody extraordinary. I just want to show the whole world, give them hope. They can have peace. Peace is not done by guns or nuclear weapons. It is really beauty. The only way to use beauty is for nurturing, for caring. With love you conquer all.
Was Imelda a genius?
No. If Imelda makes it, everybody can make it. All Imelda had was common sense. Something common to all. What is common sense? Common sense is bringing out the natural in you.
When you were a child, did you imagine your life would be this dramatic?
No, I never did. But I had a father who was a very great disciplinarian. He was a tall, good-looking man of 6'2' and he was a doctor of law. He was a Renaissance man. He composed music, he was a concert pianist, he wrote poetry. My father said, if you cannot be beautiful, I'd rather have you all dead. That was terrible. I lost my mother when I was eight and to hear that from your only parent at that point, that if you cannot be good and beautiful and right, I'd rather see you dead... When people ridicule me, I thank God for that discipline. After you have been disciplined to do what is beautiful, it becomes natural.
How do you feel about the fact that Imelda the documentary is travelling the world and being seen by millions of people?
That just shows what is happening in the world today. Might is right. It is not the rule of law but the rule of whores. This film was, by the way, funded by George Soros.
What did you think about the footage about the shoe museum?
The shoes were there to ridicule me. They went in my closet to find skeletons. Thank God they found shoes and not skeletons. They're my biggest defence because these shoes are now gloriously displayed in a museum in Marikina to symbolise my compassion and my care and my nurturing of the shoe industry.
You keep saying that perception is real, truth is not. Do you think you are a victim of perception?
We have a linear, rational thinking. The problem with linear rational thinking is that at the end of the line is a point. A point is sharp and sharp is war. I have precisely a book on that. It's called Circles Of Life. I'm telling my stories and telling my ideology and theology in the binary symbols of 1s and 0s.
What's a day in the life of Mrs Marcos like now?
I have not stopped. I have a great project. My home province has the greatest source of geothermal power in the world. It will be the ultimate source of power because this will take out pollution and ensure the survival of the world to infinity. I have many projects on recycling. I started them when I was governor of Metro Manila for 11 years. I have survived only because of the opportunities I maximise, the problems I recycle to assets and profits. Like garbage. When I was governor of Manila, the city was earning millions a week from the garbage and Manila was clean.
Thank you very much for your time, Mrs Marcos.
Well, I hope I see you one day. And I do hope you give me a break and talk about me. In the end, the truth will out because truth is God. And the best test for truth is time.
IMELDA Romualdez was born on July 2, 1929, in Tacloban City in Leyte province. Her mother died when she was eight and she and her 10 siblings were raised by their father. The Romualdez family produced a couple of prominent politicians. Imelda was sent to live with a rich relative in Manila when she was a teenager. She was a beauty queen, and in an incident recounted in Imelda the documentary, she was named Miss Manila in 1950 after she disputed the results of a beauty pageant with the mayor of Manila.
She met and married then-rising politician Ferdinand Marcos after a whirlwind 11-day courtship. They have three children: Imee, born in 1955, Ferdinand Jr (1957) and Irene (1960). At a time when politicians' wives were placid arm decorations, Imelda redefined the role by actively campaigning on the road with her husband in the early 1960s. The campaign was a hard fought one and reportedly the most expensive presidential election campaign ever, with Imelda pawning her wedding ring at one point to raise funds for her husband. When Ferdinand Marcos was inaugurated as president on Dec 30, 1965, it was generally agreed that Imelda's popularity with the masses had played a crucial role in his rise to power.
In 1972, when President Marcos' hold on power was deteriorating, he declared martial law. A virtual dictatorship and a new Constitution were implemented in 1973, but the Marcoses' charisma proved inadequate to the tawdry reality of poverty and civil unrest. Mrs Marcos became a powerful political figure in her own right. Besides her role as the president's close adviser, she also held posts such as Governor of Metro Manila and Minister for Human Settlements.
She took an active role in building schools, hospitals and cultural centres. She also took a controversial stance in encouraging birth control in the Catholic country. She represented the country on diplomatic missions to such countries as China and Libya, but was also a target of criticism for her flamboyance and indulgence in luxury goods. She had an extravagant wardrobe, including over 2,000 pairs of shoes.
She had a taste for hobnobbing with entertainment celebrities. Actor George Hamilton is a close friend, and escorted her to her 70th birthday celebrations in Manila. There was also a famous incident in 1966 when the Philippines' secret police went knocking on the Beatles' hotel room and demanded their presence at a party in Mrs Marcos' home. Manager Brian Epstein declined and the band fled the country.
The Marcos regime was toppled in 1986 and the Marcoses fled to Hawaii. Mr Marcos died in exile in 1989 and his widow waged a battle to bring his body home to the Philippines. She was finally allowed to do so in 1992. She has also been embroiled in a long-running legal battle with the Philippine government, which is attempting to reclaim over US$600 million allegedly looted from the country's treasury during the Marcos reign.
In 1990, she was tried on racketeering charges in New York but acquitted. Upon her return to the Philippines in 1992, she was convicted of corruption. She ran for the presidency, but was defeated. While appealing her conviction, she campaigned for and won a seat in the Philippine House of Representatives in 1995. She was acquitted of the charges and made another bid for the presidency in 1998. She finished ninth among 11 candidates.
She was arrested again in 2001 on charges of corruption and extortion. The Philippine Supreme Court declared in a July 15 ruling that the Marcos fortune was amassed illegally during Ferdinand's years in power. She is appealing the decision.
Many of us recall the book "Something About a Soldier" and how those who read it laughed hysterically and savored its every word describing. military life in the Philippines just before WWII. The sample chapter below relates the classic tale of the whores and the Honeymoon Lotion. (http://www.dennismcmillan.com/charleswillefo/somethin.htm)
Something About a Soldier (Chapter 7)
The East Indian who had the concession to run a shop in the small room next to the bowling alley was a Sikh. He wore a braided beard, a white turban with his white linen suit, a white shirt, and a brocaded necktie. He slept in the back of the shop behind a curtain, and ate his meals at Charlie Corn's. According to Canavin, Sikhs were a warrior class in India, not shopkeepers, but this skinny Indian didn't look like he could fight off a sick Baluga. I don't know how he survived with his small exotic store. The stuff he carried in his shop was not the sort of merchandise that many white people would want, but he must have sold enough items to officers' wives to get by. He sold a few Filipino woodcarvings and some wrinkled cotton dresses and blouses to those soldiers who had families in the States. But he never sold any of the expensive copper and ivory items he had on display. Incense was always burning in the shop, and it smelled like a mixture of charcoal and cheap perfume.
He always opened his store at Six A.M., just as we came downstairs to stand on the front porch for roll call every morning. He must have thought, in his strange Indian way, that someone would rush over after roll call to buy a hammered brass plate or a carved mahogany Moro head. I never saw anyone enter his shop before ten A.M., ever, but that's the way he operated. His margin of profit must have been very low, and he also gave jawbone. Jawbone is what soldiers call credit. The term dates back to the Indian wars in the West, when soldiers who could not pay had their names and the amount due at trading posts written on the jawbone of a buffalo. Those of us who had jawbone with him had our names on a private list, and if someone didn't pay him after a month or two, he told the first sergeant and the topkick would take the sum from the man's pay and give it to the Indian.
The first sergeant was married to a Filipino woman, and he had six children. He had been at Clark Field for more than ten years, and he could never go back to the States because of this mixed marriage. He came from Sacramento originally, and it is against the state law for a white man to be married to a nonwhite in California. Also, the Asian Exclusion Act doesn't allow Filipino women to emigrate to the U.S.A. Asian men can emigrate, but not Asian women. So as much as I disliked the first sergeant, a dour, unhappy man, I felt pity for him. He was doomed by his marriage to stay in the Philippines until he died. There were two retired soldiers married to Filipino women, who lived like natives in Sloppy Bottom, and the first sergeant would end up like them someday, scrounging cigarettes or a glass of gin from soldiers when they came over to the barrio. If I hadn't felt sorry for the first sergeant, knowing that, my heart would have been made of stone.
But thanks to the Indian and his little shop, I discovered Honeymoon Lotion.
Honeymoon Lotion came in a green one-liter bottle. There was a cork in the neck that had to be removed with a corkscrew. The label was red, yellow, and green, printed with runny garish ink, and there was a drawing of a naked Filipino couple hugging and kissing between two palm trees. In the background of this crude picture a yellow moon above a green sea drifted in a red sky. The predominant ingredient in Honeymoon Lotion was coconut oil, but when you opened, the bottle not only could you smell coconuts, you were also overwhelmed with what seemed like a mixture of a half dozen sweet perfumes that could only be found in a Woolworth's back in the States.
Filipino women loved Honeymoon Lotion. When they had a bottle they would rub the oil all over their bodies after bathing (or instead of bathing), and their brown skins would glisten like highly polished coconut shells. Of course, they gave off a pungent odor of coconuts and a heady combination of cheap perfumes, and they were a little slippery to the touch, but a young man with a hard-on can get used to damned near anything. Once a man got used to the smell, it wasn't too bad; in fact, it probably covered up body odors that would have been much more unpleasant.
Best of all, Honeymoon Lotion only cost one peso-or fifty cents-and I had established jawbone with the Indian.
This was the beauty of being a fire truck driver. I was off every other day, and in the mornings when I was off duty, everyone else except for cooks and bakers or men who had been on guard duty the night before was working.
After the men marched down to the hangars, I would charge a bottle of Honeymoon Lotion to my account and head for the barrio and the Air Corps settlement, as it was called, which was a stretch of huts a couple of hundred yards away from Sloppy Bottom. There were nine, all in a single row, and this is where men with money in the squadron shacked up with their Filipino girlfriends. The men who had this kind of money were either sergeants or men with air mechanic ratings, because it was quite 'expensive to maintain a woman for your own personal use. The huts rented for fifteen pesos a month, and the average woman earned from twenty-five to thirty pesos a month in salary. In addition, there was an electricity bill and a rice allowance for each girl. Each woman had her own little house, completely free of relatives and children. The guys who shacked up didn't want any relatives around, naturally, and they saved some money by buying gin by the demijohn instead of getting it a grand at a time. The shack rats, as they were called, kept snacks around the hut, but they usually slept in the barracks from one to four P.m., during quiet hours, and then ate their supper in the mess hall before coming over to the settlement to spend the night. These guys became very fond of their women in time, and when they went back to the States they usually made an arrangement with another sergeant or rated A.M. to take over their woman and shack when they left. But this was only a short-term solution; none of these guys ever thought about what would become of these girls in another ten or fifteen years. Filipino women age quickly; a woman of thirty-five looks fifty-five, and very few of them live to become fifty-five.
If a woman got pregnant she was kicked out immediately, and the shack rat got another girl. The man who was paying her knew that he wasn't the father, because he mostly practiced anal intercourse to avoid becoming a father. Unlike white whores in the States, Filipino women were not inventive. They didn't give blowjobs, and the only sexual position they tolerated was the missionary position. They just sprawled on their backs, completely motionless, and waited patiently for it to be over. They were all Catholics, of course, and I think this had something to do with their attitude toward sex, but they didn't object to anal intercourse because they didn't consider it a sin. Perhaps when the priests gave them instructions as little girls, nothing about anal intercourse was mentioned. The professional whores in Angeles were all strictly missionary-position girls in the ordinary way, but not the women the shack rats kept in the Air Corps settlement.
At any rate, after I walked across the plains to the Air Corps settlement, about three miles, I would be dripping sweat. The shacks were all on stilts, with bamboo ladders leading up to split-bamboo porches. I would stroll casually down the dusty street, wiping my forehead with a handkerchief. The bottle of Honeymoon Lotion, in a brown piece of wrapping paper, was in plain view. Either the girls would be sitting in the shade of their porches, or else two or three of them would be sitting on a neighbor's porch, giggling and talking. They all knew me, and finally one of them would say, "Hey, Wirrafold, come up and have some lemonada."
I would climb the ladder and accept a glass of lemonada, an acrid and overly sweet bottle of soda pop.
"Hasn't your old man got a demijohn of gin?" I would ask. "You want too much, Wirrafold. I give you lemonada; you want gin in it. If I give you beer, you want egg in it."
They picked up this banter from their old men, I guessed, because I never saw a Filipino crack an egg into his beer, but the women almost always brought out the gin, unless the demijohn was too low or the label was marked with a pen. I would add two ounces of gin to my lemonada and finish my drink. After we talked a little, we would go inside the shack and I would get in some anal intercourse. I was seventeen, so the entire procedure, from the time I climbed the ladder until I left, rarely took more than fifteen minutes. When I departed, I left the bottle of Honeymoon Lotion. These women knew that I wouldn't say anything, and they were loyal to one another. The men who were paying the freight would have beaten me to a pulp if they-ever found out that I was screwing their women while they were working on the line. But no one ever found out, and the only reason the system worked for me was because these guys hated the smell of Honeymoon Lotion. They wouldn't buy it for their women, and the women loved it. The main problem I had was avoiding bamboo "chancres." The woven rush floor mats, or sometimes just plain split bamboo, could cause big blisters on your knees as you slid back and forth. So you had to learn how to screw without touching your knees to the floor. You got up on your toes and held your knees and legs straight. It was awkward. Sores of any kind take a long time to heal in the tropics and they have a tendency to get infected. So a man had to be very careful about scraping his knees on the floor. Also, because you had to accomplish this anal intercourse with the woman in a supine position, not in a prone position, it was not a particularly satisfying sex act. But it was better than nothing, and a bottle of Honeymoon Lotion was only one peso, whereas the whores in Angeles charged two. I used to wonder sometimes how these girls explained the Honeymoon Lotion on their bodies, and where they got it, when their men came home at night. That was their problem, not mine.
But these shack rats were fools. No matter how much money a man pays a woman, he cannot expect her to remain faithful if he denies her the one thing she truly wants. And these women wanted Honeymoon Lotion. I learned a few things about women in the Philippines. Women are very simple creatures. If you want a woman, any woman, probe around until you find out the one thing in life she truly wants. Then, when you give it to her, she's yours. It's that simple.
As the sun set over Manila Bay, I extracted a snail from its shell with a plastic toothpick and popped the slug-like morsel into my mouth. At first it didn't seem so bad, but then a strange and bitter aftertaste kicked in. I lunged for my bottle of San Miguel beer, that great soother of injured and tortured palates, and took a long restorative swallow. I'd gone out for drinks with three Filipino friends, who'd insisted we order some bar snacks as well. Hence the snails.
We ate while sitting on the pier of the Harborview Restaurant, which pokes out into the bay like an exclamation mark. From my seat I could see ranks of container ships anchored offshore, and towering clouds on the horizon turning pink with the setting sun. Celso, one of my Filipino friends, skewered a snail and examined it carefully. Like me, he'd never tried one before. He chewed slowly with a grave expression similar to some medieval king's food taster. Will I keel over? he seemed to be asking himself. In the end Celso didn't keel, but he didn't eat another snail either.
As for me, I ate a few more snails, confirmed I wasn't a snail-eating kind of guy, and then let Joma and Oka polish off the plate. Meanwhile, Celso and I ordered more beer. Behind me I could hear the muted roar of Manila, a city of unlimited culinary opportunities. The roar called me like a dinner bell, for if I'd come to Manila for anything, I'd come to Manila to eat.
Hands-on Eating Experience
Dining in Manila offered me a hands-on experience in Filipino cuisine. Literally. At the Kamayan Restaurant, which translates roughly as the "Using Your Hands Restaurant," I dispensed with cutlery and ate the traditional way. This meant a plate of bamboo leaf, my hands, and nothing else except mass quantities of food.
After a round of San Miguel beer, Joma, Oka, Celso and I scrubbed up like surgeons before a lengthy operation. Conveniently, an entire wall of the restaurant had been devoted to hand-washing. A long row of clay water jugs with spigots stood mounted above a tiled water trough, with soap-dispensers spaced strategically between each jug. When we'd washed our hands as clean as silverware run through an industrial-strength dishwasher, we returned to our table to eat. First came papaya slices, which we dipped into bagoong, a sort of fermented salty shrimp sauce. Steamed white rice and seafood chowder followed-the waiter issued us spoons for the latter like a quartermaster issuing special weapons to his troops before a particularly tough mission. Next came curry soup and a plate of impressively large crabs.
At this point a troupe of blind musicians appeared and began to serenade us with a rendition of "Hotel California," and I busted open crab legs so ineptly that bits of white meat and shell exploded across the table. Next came an entire grilled pampano that looked as if it had been caught just minutes earlier. We squeezed kalamansi lime juice on the fish, whose tender flesh flaked gently from the bone. Glutted on seafood, we turned to meat in the form of lechon-roast suckling pig with crisp skin and tender meat that literally melted in my mouth. "Cholesterol," said Joma blissfully through a mouthful of pork. I'd made an unholy mess with my hands, but nobody seemed to notice. The blind musicians couldn't tell, of course, and my friends were too absorbed in their eating. My friends, in fact, ate like an army on the march. This, I soon came to learn, could be said of the entire country.
Patron Saint of Manila
I hadn't come to Manila just to sample the food, of course. I'd come to sample the beer as well, particularly San Miguel. Like a Guinness aficionado who heads to Ireland to sample his favorite suds, I wanted to sip San Miguel at the source. I'd drank San Miguel in Hong Kong and Indonesia and various points in between; now I wanted to drink it in Manila, where it dominates the local market. San Miguel dominates the national market as well, and has become the Budweiser of the Philippines. Fortunately San Mig tastes better than Bud, an assessment shared by its fans across Asia. San Miguel, in fact, is probably the only Philippine brand name widely recognized throughout the region, where it is brewed under license in a number of countries.
I actually jumped the gun by having a San Mig with lunch during my flight from Hong Kong to the Philippines. Upon landing I continued my research and quickly discovered that Manila ranks among the best cities in Asia for beer drinking. I reserve the top honors for Hanoi, with its fifteen-cent draft beer joints that sprawl out on the sidewalks of the city's historic old quarter. Manila, however, comes in a close second. To put it simply, Manila offers good beer cheap.
Though Carlsberg and other brands can be found in Manila, most drinkers stick to San Miguel. I preferred the traditional pilsner myself, though Joma, Oka and Celso opted for the slightly blander but much more trendy San Miguel Light. A refreshing beer reminiscent of European pilsners, San Miguel comes in sturdy old-fashioned brown bottles with labels enameled in white paint. Corner shops sell bottles for about fifteen pesos (thirty US cents); prices vary at restaurants but are in general quite cheap when compared to other Asian countries. As Joma proclaimed at the Harborview, a glass of San Mig in one hand and a toothpick-skewered snail in the other, beer drinking is a national pastime integral to eating, another national pastime. San Miguel, goes the joke, is Manila's patron saint.
My Filipino friends viewed eating as a more or less continual occupation. Like a herd of cows grazing its way across a pasture on the way to the feeding trough, we moved through Manila purchasing various snacks en route to various restaurants. We ate ice creams and drank Cokes; we munched on roasted cashews and watermelon seeds. We stopped in at the ubiquitous 7-11 convenience stores, whose motto is "The neighbor you can count on." From these ever-reliable neighbors I bought Kit-Kat chocolate bars, cheese balls, Keebler chocolate-chip cookies, Ritz cheese-sandwich crackers, Snyder's pretzels, and all manner of American junk-food.
I discovered my favorite Philippine snack at the Baclaran flea market, however, which despite its name doesn't specialize in secondhand goods. Instead vendors offer a variety of clothing and other items, including a wide array of edibles. In a neat juxtaposition of traditional and modern food, a man stood in front of a Dunkin' Donuts delivery truck selling bite-sized spotted quails eggs. I'd never tried quail's eggs before, so we bought a bag to sustain us on the ride to lunch. I mangled the first egg I tried to peel and wound up with a mushy pulp of egg-white mixed with crushed shell. Embarrassed, I chucked the whole mess and started in on a new egg. Under Joma's tutelage, fortunately, I soon got the hang of things and began peeling like a local. The quail's eggs tasted like miniature hard-boiled chicken eggs; with salt they became nothing short of delicious. Give me a couple quail's eggs and a can of Coke and I've found the perfect snack.
Dampa Wet Market
My Filipino friends loved seafood, and the fresher the better, so one morning we headed out to the Dampa Wet Market near the airport. Advertisements for Colt .45 malt liquor adorned the outside of the market building; inside the market dozens of stalls offered a variety of seafood, from fish-heads to squid tentacles. Standing beneath the bare bulbs that dangled from the crossbeams, the women minding the stalls clamored for our business with the gusto of sports fans at a playoff game. After extended bargaining we left the market with bulging bags of raw seafood-but no Colt .45-and then strolled over to one of the adjacent restaurants that maintain a symbiotic relationship with the market.
We told the waitress how we wanted our seafood prepared, and she whisked the bags outside to a cook standing before a large charcoal grill. We watched as he went to work with an off-handed expertise. Or rather, I watched. Everyone else in the restaurant watched a local TV program called "Feeling Sexy." As near as I could work out, only moderately heavy women were allowed to compete for prizes in this beauty contest/game show complete with a cheering studio audience. As a prelude to the hot food, we started with two whopping platters of tuna sashimi, dipping the pink squares into a soy-sauce and wasabi mix as airliners roared low overhead. By the time we'd polished off this unusually good platter of raw fish, our waitress had arrived with a bowl of sinigang.
A common dish, sinigang is a sour soup that never quite contains the same thing twice. In our case, we got radishes, onions, tomatoes, greens, and entire jumbo prawns. By this point I'd begun to lose my momentum like an overloaded truck laboring up a steep grade, but we'd barely started. I still had a long gastronomic road ahead, including steamed rice and an entire fish prepared in the inihaw (grilled) style. Since I'd selected the fish in the market, my friends insisted I eat the largest portion of it. After the first bite I knew this wouldn't be a problem, though I also knew I'd have absolutely no room left for the late-arriving bowl of oysters. I leaned back in my chair and gave up long before my companions, who managed to consume just about everything on the table. The total price of this feast? Roughly $24, or six dollars each. I thought surely we couldn't beat this price, and then we went to Chinatown.
The next day the four of us walked down Ongpin Street, which runs through Manila's thriving Chinatown like a main artery. As is true of streets in Chinatowns everywhere, much of Ongpin remained devoted to food. Chinese groceries, bakeries and restaurants abounded. The street flowed with a swirl of Tsinoys-as Filipinos of Chinese descent are known-laden with bags of fresh fruit and vegetables, packages of noodles and boxes of tea.
We crossed a bridge over a fetid canal, passed under a Chinese arch, turned right and entered a narrow covered terrace that ran like an alleyway alongside the muck-clogged canal. This alleyway housed a half-dozen outdoor kitchens, each competing against the rest for a share of the lunch crowd. Women shoved competing menus at us with a flurry of "please sirs" as they tried to get us to sit at their tables. Eventually we settled for a private room equipped with a wheezing air-conditioner, where we ordered somewhat haphazardly and then cooled down from the blazing heat outside. The waitress brought our food with a relentless efficiency. Black bamboo clams. Viscous soup laced with bits and pieces of various seafoods. Sweet and sour pork. Lumpia-fried spring rolls that are a national dish. White rice. Greens with oyster sauce.
So much food arrived that we needed a second table just to hold the various bowls and platters. I surrendered first, as usual, and pushed my plate away. We'd barely cracked twelve noon, and I'd already eaten enough for the entire day. My friends soldiered on until the table resembled an after-action battlefield, with broken-open clam shells, orange spatters of sweet and sour sauce, bits of rice, and crumpled napkins littering the table. For a while we just sat, stunned, until Joma finally mustered the energy to summon the bill. "Do you know what all this cost?" he asked as he examined the bill. "Just eight dollars."
The American Legacy
Though I never would have thought it possible, I'd actually begun to tire of seafood. The sheer mass of fish, crab and shellfish had simply worn me out. I needed a break; I needed something with bread and cheese. And so one night I walked over to the shopping mall near my hotel, where I encountered a man with a very large pump-action shotgun. "Table for one, sir?" he asked cheerfully as he opened the door to Pizza Hut. After being seated by this dual host/security guard, a waitress named Chona immediately appeared and asked in perfect American-accented English if I was ready to order. I perused the English-Tagalog menu, then ordered a small pepperoni and onion with the obligatory San Miguel. I almost felt like I'd teleported back to America somehow, since this Pizza Hut mirrored those in the States so exactly.
America has profoundly influenced the Philippines in many ways, most obviously in the proliferation of fast-food. Manilenos have taken to fast-food with a vengeance. Aside from Pizza Hut, I could have ordered a pizza at Shakey's, Dominoes, or California Pizza Kitchen. If I'd wanted burgers, I could have opted for McDonald's, Burger King, or Wendy's. Other possibilities included Subway, Sizzler, Mr. Donut, Dunkin' Donuts, Kentucky Fried Chicken, TGIF, Sbarro, and Orange Julius. Jollibee, a local chain serving Filipino fast-food, bravely does battle with this American invasion. Pressing its home-court advantage, Jollibee more than holds its own. With 384 restaurants, Jollibee's red and white bumblebee gives Ronald McDonald, that multinational heavyweight of fast-food, some very painful stings. The two dueling restaurants often occupy the same block, and along with 7-11 convenience stores, comprise an integral part of Manila's urban landscape.
Though not all fast-food restaurants boast armed security guards, they all do offer extremely affordable prices. My bill at Pizza Hut came to two dollars, for example. Another hallmark of fast-food restaurants is attentive service by an English-speaking staff. In yet another example of American influence in this former US colony, English is spoken widely, fluently and enthusiastically by Manilenos. In fact, I know of no other city in Asia where you can reliably find English, fast-food and shotguns on just about every street corner.
Bulalo and the LA Lakers
Only one thing can distract a Filipino from his food, and that thing is NBA basketball. I discovered this when the four of us drove up to Tagaytay, a city close to Manila known for its volcanic mountain lake. We made our first stop at the People's Park in the Sky, site of a half-finished mountain-top mansion for Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. On a ridge running below the park the tradition of private retreats for the elite continued in the form of a planned community called Tagaytay Highlands, complete with golf course and perimeter fence. No one gets in without an invitation, said my friends, and not many invitations are given.
Far beyond and below Tagaytay Highlands we could see Lake Taal, a huge crater lake with an island in the center. This island featured its own smaller crater lake with an active volcano in the middle. "An island within a lake within an island in a lake on an island in an ocean," said Celso as he described the scene below. Then he pushed back his black "Do the Dew" baseball hat and handed me an ice-cream cone. We all stood eating our ice creams and enjoying the view, an experience marred somewhat by a booming karaoke machine-the bane of modern Asia-and the boyish croon of a man singing Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight." Not long after finishing our ice creams my friends began rubbing their stomachs and talking about lunch, though we'd barely cracked eleven o'clock. We drove down into Tagaytay City to a diner-the many American terms used in the Philippines never failed to surprise me-serving the local specialties of bulalo and tawilis.
A live game involving the LA Lakers played on the diner's TV. Nobody sat at the tables far from the action; instead everyone crowded around the tables close to the TV. Every pair of eyes in the place focused intently on the TV screen, while mouths, teeth and hands worked on autopilot. I'm not much of a basketball fan, so I focused on my meal. I had to choose carefully what to eat, since I'd not yet digested breakfast and like an already full ship, could only take on so much more cargo before I headed for the bottom. I feasted on tawilis, small fried fish from Lake Taal about twice the size of smelt. I doused them in vinegar and salt and ate them whole. Head, tails, fins, bones-the whole package. In between crunchy mouthfuls of tawilis, I worked on a plate of spring rolls. My companions left me to the tawilis and split their attention between the Lakers, lechon kawali-fried pork fat-and the bulalo. A carnivore's delight, bulalo is a beef broth served up in a huge bowl. It has many interpretations, but in our case the entire socket-bone of a cow's leg joint sat dead center of our bowl. Joma went into overdrive, lifted the softball-sized joint from the bowl and started gnawing like a starved caveman. "The ligaments are the best," he opined between mouthfuls.
Once he'd gnawed the socket to a clean white knob, he began scooping marrow from the bone with his finger. His expression matched that of a kid stealing batter from the cake bowl. By meal's end my stomach had begun to protest all the fried food that I'd consumed, so I self-medicated with another bottle of San Miguel pilsner. San Miguel cuts grease like a sharp knife cuts lechon. In fact, I discovered that San Miguel works like a curative tonic for just about any kind of stomach complaint, from indigestion to gas. Their stomachs undisturbed but certainly distended, my companions rounded out the meal with Sprites and Marlboro Lights, attention still locked on the basketball game. In the Philippines, it seems, only the NBA takes precedence over eating.
Coffee Trumps Tea
My last meal in Manila wasn't really a meal at all. It was a beverage. A coffee in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport departure lounge, to be exact. I thought this an appropriate ending to my culinary exploration of Manila, where java reigns supreme. Unlike most Asians, the Filipinos prefer coffee over tea. This can be ascribed to the colonial influence of Spain and America, two nations that love their coffee. As an American I certainly regret my country's colonial experiment in the Philippines, which suppressed Filipino independence for some fifty years at great cost in life, but if any good came of the colonial era, it was this legacy of coffee. I wholeheartedly approve of the Filipino love of the black stuff, for though I've drank gallons of tea in my Asian travels, I've never come to love the leaf the way I love the bean.
Foreign colonization continues in Manila in the form of Starbucks and Seattle's Best, not to mention Japan's UCC, but local competitors like Figaro and Brew's Buddies more than hold their own. Perhaps some day a Filipino coffee-house chain will be as well known across Asia as San Miguel beer. As for my coffee at the airport, it came from a no-name lunch counter. As I stood at this counter dumping sugar into my styrofoam cup, I got to thinking about the new culinary habits I'd acquired during my gastronomic tour of Manila.
Most obviously, though I'd always drank my coffee black back in the States, I'd started loading my coffee up with high-octane sugar loads while in the Philippines. This reflected local taste. I'd also acquired a peculiar lust for quail's eggs and Kit-Kat chocolate bars, neither of which I eat back home. My dining habits had changed, too, for I'd begun eating early and eating constantly. With that last thought in mind, I finished my sugary coffee, then glanced at my watch. It read 10:30, and I thought, just about time for lunch.
A Briton is driving one of the Philippines’ jeepneys, which fascinate tourists with their gaudy designs and riotous overcrowding, across Asia and Europe to bolster the commuter icon that is under threat from Japanese imports.
The open-sided jeepney, a stretched version of the US military jeep splashed with bright colours, chrome and slogans, has been the backbone of Filipino road transport since the 1950s. But many riders have shifted in recent years to air-conditioned Japanese vans, known as FXs, that provide a more expensive but saner, cooler and cleaner alternative on hot, dusty roads.
FX fares are more than double the minimum jeepney rate of four pesos. Many commuters, especially the poor, remain loyal to the diesel-powered jeepney – orphans of technology that leave trails of black soot as they loudly putter past.
Paul Farbon, a 42-year-old from Norwich who has worked in the Philippines as a farm volunteer, said today he bought a jeepney fitted with local decor and plans to drive it across several Asian countries, slicing through China’s Gobi desert, to Russia and on to Europe, to bolster the jeepney’s image. Since the Philippines is a chain of islands and the jeepney isn’t amphibious, he’s shipping it to Bangkok and plans to start the trip in about two weeks.
Farbon said he fell in love with the jeepney because of its important role in far-flung communities where it ferries people, produce, mail, cargo and news, written or by word of mouth. A familiar rural scene features a jeepney so crammed with people and cargo that they overflow to the roof. “It’s a real lifeline,” Farbon said.
He said the jeepney embodies local working-class traits: the warmth of rural folk, who struggle to chat above the engine noise, and improvisation. The current jeepney is designed after the US military jeep, has a Japanese diesel engine and carries paintings of Philippine rural scenes, he said. The engine hood is often topped by a chrome horse below a sign reading, “King of the Road.”
Farbon said he paid £3,900 for his, which he named Stranger in a Strange Land, then installed seats that unfold into a bed for three, a cabinet drawer, water tanks on the roof and a CD video karaoke player. After the three-month journey, Farbon said he plans to take his jeepney home to Norwich where it could be used for occasions like weddings. He hopes his compatriots would catch the warmth of Filipinos that the jeepney represents.
“People, when they travel in the United Kingdom, they prefer their private cars. People are generally not very communicative on them,” he said. “The nice thing about a jeepney is everyone is sharing a ride and chatting with their neighbours. I’d like to see people in Britain taking some of that on,” he said. “But I think that will take a little while to change.”
Frank Sinatra in
by Ted Lerner
Asia Times Online
(For more information about Ted Lerner's latest book, The Traveler and the Gate Checkers, visit www.hey-joe.net or email Ted Lerner at email@example.com.) Published by Book of Dreams, Verlag, Germany, 2003
Whenever you are invited back to "have a beer with the boys," you know immediately that you have reached the pinnacle of whatever program is being run in that part of town. And whatever program I had just put myself into, it was pretty obvious that Fidel was in charge of it. Fidel told me that he was a retired cop. I had no idea what his relationship with this photo shop was nor did I care to ask. This was his hangout and I wasn't asking too many questions. He obviously appeared to run things, at least amongst the guys hanging out with him. In the conversation everybody deferred to him. Every time we needed something he flashed a huge wad of cash and then slipped some bills into the hand of one of his runners. He was the kind of guy who clearly enjoyed spreading his hospitality and living big.
And speaking of "the boys," that's exactly whom this get together was for: Fidel and his various buddies. As soon as we reached the back room, the women suddenly disappeared. Even the ones running errands, getting beers, snacks and cigarettes were guys. I was introduced to Jun, Rene, Johnny and Fred, all of whom smoked incessantly. Several young guys kept coming and going at the behest of Fidel, who also chain-smoked. Everybody was extremely friendly, perhaps too much. It wasn't in a bad way, though. It's just that Filipino guys always seem to want to know everything about you. They want to do too much for you. Well, I figured, they probably didn't get too many foreigners stopping by for cocktails in these parts.
Sure enough what had been a promise to myself that I would only have one beer-yeh, right-quickly turned in to three beers, then four, then five. More would sure be coming because amidst all the beers, cigarettes and laughs, Fidel decided that we would all go down the street to get something to eat. And, of course, drink some more.
Eight of us piled into two local style jeeps and drove around the block. We ended up at one of these big restaurants that are quite popular in Manila. The place was a big noisy hall with dozens of well dressed waiters walking around carrying huge trays of food, people carrying on at tables loaded with bottles of beer, rum and brandy and a huge expansive menu with all the Filipino favorites including lots of Chinese food.
Naturally Fidel sat at the head of the long table. As befits the guest of honor-I didn't even know these guys!-I sat in the first seat next to him. Fidel was obviously a regular here, and a respected regular, as he was instantly surrounded by several waiters. Within seconds cold bottles of San Miguel were placed on the table. Within minutes the table was covered with a huge array of food, including sizzling platters of meat, soups, a giant fish and fried rice. From there on in, whenever we needed anything, Fidel would just stick his arm in the air and two waiters would come running.
Fidel and I picked up where we had left off at the shop, talking about Miss Belgium. We soon had a handshake deal to promote nude photos of Miss Belgium in the Philippines, with him being the financier, of course. At first we agreed I would go to Belgium and convince Miss Belgium with a pile of money to pose nude. Better yet, I proposed, we could save a lot of money by simply superimposing a voluptuous naked body on to the head of Miss Belgium. Nobody would know the difference.
Fidel laughed out loud at this idea. He was so happy he started offering me women. First, he said, I could have the waitress. Then he told me that his son would give me a girl. Then he said he would pick me up tomorrow at my place and bring me to his home in the Baclaran area of Manila. He was practically adopting me.
The rest of the guys at the table looked like they were salivating at the huge amount of pesos Fidel and I were about to make with this brilliant idea. What exactly these guys' jobs were, I couldn't quite figure out. Likely they didn't even have any. Perhaps "friend of Fidel," or "hanger-on," might be apt job descriptions. Fred, who sat directly opposite me, laughed a lot. He said he spent a lot of time at the cockfights. Johnny, an old geezer who sat next to me, also smiled a lot. But he kept interrupting me and asking dumb questions. Fidel yelled at him in Tagalog, telling him to shut up. Rene, who sat at the end of the table opposite me, didn't look too high on the totem pole. He was one of the drivers and he just sat there quietly sucking down beers. Jun got pretty drunk and he talked a lot, constantly trying to make deals with me. He promised girls, money, probably the presidency. With all the beers, the laughs and the outrageous deals flying around, I couldn't even pay attention after a while.
At one point I was startled by a loud noise coming from two tables away. A man was standing up and holding a microphone, the cord of which snaked on the floor to a machine with a television on top. Uh oh, I thought. There goes the evening because here comes the karaoke.
The man stared at the television, did a little drunken sway, mumbled the first few lines of the song and pretended to be Jon Bon Jovi. No, he didn't have the frizzy blonde hair or the face and body of a model. Actually his black hair was cut basic and square and his stomach protruded noticeably over his belt. But still, he thought he was Bon Jovi. And his tablemates, six of them, obviously thought the same as they cheered him on. And then the man yelled at the top of his lungs. "I want to lay you down in a bed of roses! For tonight I sleep on a bed of nails!" For a second I thought whatever I had consumed over the last few hours might come flying up and out all over the table. He believed he was singing. But it sounded more like he was screaming. "I want to be just as close as, the holy ghost is, and lay you down on a bed of roses!"
On their table sat dozens of empty beer bottles, two half consumed bottles of rum and many varieties of food, including a half eaten piglet whose pried open mouth made it appear that the pig was singing along with the drunken Jon Bon Jovi. What I found interesting was that nobody in the entire restaurant, except Bon Jovi's buddies, paid the man any mind. His voice sounded similar to a giant buzz saw carving up a piece of steel, but still nobody even looked up from their table. I wondered how people could put up with this ear splitting, appetite squelching noise. Karaoke was a fine invention, but do like the Japanese do. Keep it in a small room amongst friends. But in a very public dining hall?
I saw Fidel flag down a waitress and then, sure enough, the microphone made its way over to our table. "Ted you like karaoke?" Fidel asked. "You like to sing?"
"Nahhh," I said. "I can't sing. Maybe later." The boys wasted little time in joining the fun. Fred sang Tom Jones' "The Green Green Grass of Home." Johnny and Rene belted out Tagalog love songs. Fred sang well while Johnny and Rene sounded like overgrown nails digging two inches deep into a slate blackboard. Good or bad, though, we all followed proper drinking and karaoke etiquette and gave them rousing ovations. Then the microphone went over to Fidel.
If we were playing "Name That Tune," I would have guessed the song in a note and a half and walked away with the grand prize. I instinctively knew what Fidel would sing and sure enough, it was true; the quintessential karaoke song, the tune that has, all by itself, been responsible for the Philippines having one of the highest murder rates in all of Asia: "My Way."
"Ted this is my favorite song," Fidel said before the words on the screen started filling up with color. "Did you know Frank Sinatra will be in town tomorrow night? Are you going to go see him?" I said no and then Fidel turned back to the screen and started singing.
"And now … the end is near…" the whole table erupted in wild applause and we all paid rapt attention. "And so I face the final curtain…" Fidel had a smooth and pleasant voice and, as he effortlessly segued from one line to the next, his booming voice filling up the entire hall, the whole scene suddenly came into sharp focus.
Sinatra had never before been to Manila, but it seemed like the two were an ideal fit. Yes, Manila was the perfect Frank Sinatra kind of town. Sinatra with the quasi-mob connections and the persona of the charming street thug. That's a near perfect description of the kind of people you often meet in Manila. They are guys who, like Fidel, could well be called Mr. Hospitality, Mr. Action, Mr. Excitement. In Manila you always see guys snapping their fingers to call somebody's attention to do something for them. Even the language comes from the Al Capone era. People call each other "boss." Congressmen and senators are referred to as "solons." "I've had my fill, my share of losing. ... And now ... as tears subside ... I find it all, so amusing ..."
Manila's a city that has thousands of little fiefdoms, subject to dudes who, like Fidel, run their own program in some corner of a little neighborhood with a dozen or so loyal associates and hangers-on. Lord knows what these guys did on a daily basis. But whatever program they were running, nobody messed with it. Charming wheeler dealers, big shots, guys who like to spread cash, gamblers, wise guys, big bosses, punks and partiers all in a 24 hour town where you can get anything you want-and don't want-whenever you want it. That's Manila, a city that's got everything people associate with the Frank Sinatra persona, all played out openly.
"For what is a man … what has he got? … If not himself … then he has naught …" And as Fidel reached the crescendo and with gusto finished it off, "The record shows … I took the blows … and did it my way", and as our table burst forth in wild cheering and applause for the chairman of this board, I realized then and there that I absolutely had to see Frank Sinatra in concert the following night.
An evening walk down the promenade of Manila Bay along Roxas Boulevard normally offers a pleasing, if somewhat smelly breeze, which cools perspiring skin and relaxes a frazzled mind. But not this night. The hot sultry air of late June seemed to stand completely still. The air felt thick and heavy and if you waved your hand you'd swear you could actually push the air from here to there. With the faint hint of sulfur wafting in from the Bay, I felt like I was walking through industrial soup. Every breath sent a warm, pungent spoonful of this special Third World, urban recipe right down my gullet. Mmm, mmm, yuck.
Not that I actually cared, though. In fact, at that moment, with sweat hurriedly beading on my face and arms and the air acting like some kind of invisible, odorous obstacle course, the world seemed nothing short of perfect. And the reason that I didn't have a care in the First, Second or Third World was because in my pocket sat two tickets to see Frank Sinatra on opening night in Manila. Manila, even on an ordinary night, is a city that always offers up many interesting possibilities. But with the Chairman of the Board in town and, it being his kind of town, the possibilities then seemed that much more intriguing.
After he finished singing "My Way" the previous night, Fidel once again asked me if I was going to see Sinatra. I again told him "no."
"Anyway," I said, "after listening to you sing "My Way," I have no reason to go see Frank." The large smile on Fidel's face when I said that indicated that that was perhaps one of the biggest compliments he ever received.
"Well, I was supposed to go see Frank Sinatra," he said. "I even went and bought some tickets for tomorrow night. But I forgot that I have a baby baptismal to attend. I am the godfather to this baby so now I cannot go see Frank. So how about you? I'll give you the tickets and you can go see Frank Sinatra."
"Really?" I said. I thought for sure it was just the beer talking. "You want to give me two tickets to see Sinatra? No, no I couldn't do that. Maybe your son or one of your friends here wants to go."
"They cannot," Fidel said. "We are all going to the baptismal party. So I will offer the tickets to you." And with that he reached into the small pouch he had brought with him and pulled out an envelope containing two tickets to see Sinatra on opening night in Manila. He handed me the envelope.
"Fidel," I said shaking my head in disbelief, "they call Frank the 'Chairman of the Board.' But you are the real chairman of the board." With that he raised his arm in the air and a waitress appeared out of nowhere by his side. Seconds later another round of beers appeared on the table.
"One for the road, Ted," said Fidel raising his bottle. Actually, as I expected in a city where there are always so many roads on the way home, that wasn't the last beer. There were more songs, more crazy deals, more laughter and two more calls of "one for the road," before we finally left.
All along since the first beer, I had wondered how I would ever get back to my pension house, or even if I'd get back that night. The two jeeps drove together over the Pasig River and to the Ermita area. As we pulled up to my guesthouse, I climbed out and made the rounds of the boys, shaking everyone's hand and promising we'd hook up "real soon." I promised Fidel I'd get right on that Miss Belgium photo and I'd call him in a few days so we could start writing checks on the account. I thanked him profusely for the Sinatra tickets.
"Have a good time tomorrow Ted," Fidel said as we shook hands for about the fourth time in a minute. "And give my regards to Frank!"
Manila's Folk Arts Theatre was nearly packed with over 6,000 people by the time I strolled in. I found my seat about three quarters back in the arena. The air was stifling hot and thousands of women tried to cool off by fanning themselves with their foldable fans as they talked excitedly.
After twenty minutes the night got going with several opening acts. First a local Filipino orchestra played some uninspired big band jazz. After four songs they gave way to Lea Salonga, a Filipina who was the original star of the musical, "Miss Saigon." Her first song was some frilly, silly number about how she liked being a girl. The crowd went wild for her, but I couldn't bear it. Perhaps on another night, but I had come to see Frank.
I walked outside and cruised around the grounds looking for somebody selling a beer. Two dozen men dressed in army fatigues and carrying machine guns stood around smoking cigarettes. They congregated near a group of black-tinted Mitsubishi Pajero wagons with the presidential seal on the side. The President of the country was here to welcome Sinatra to the Philippines.
The grass lawns outside the theatre were covered with people spread out on blankets and having nighttime picnics. The theatre is open at the sides and you could hear the music from inside fairly well. I couldn't find a beer so I bought a Coke and sat down on the grass next to a casually dressed Filipino guy who was sitting by himself. I asked him if he was going in to see the show.
"I don't have any money," he said. "So I just came down to sit outside here and listen."
"So you like Frank Sinatra?"
"Oh yes, he's been my favorite all my life. I know all his songs." We talked for a little while longer when I heard the announcer say, "Ladies and gentlemen, Frank Sinatra!" I stood up to go in and suddenly remembered I had the extra ticket in my pocket.
"Here," I said to the man. "Do you want to go to the concert? I have an extra ticket." The man had a look on his face that suggested he was about to nearly faint. He stood up, took the ticket and shook my hand, all the while thanking me as if I were the Pope. Then we walked in together to see Frank Sinatra.
Up to that point in his illustrious career, the 78-year-old Sinatra had probably had his share of off nights, nights where the voice simply wasn't there or he just couldn't muster the energy to properly entertain his rabid fans. But it would be difficult to imagine that he had experienced anything as bad as that opening night in Manila.
Frank simply couldn't sing. His voice sounded raspy. He often couldn't keep the melody. He kept forgetting the lyrics to the songs. He must have flubbed the lyrics 25 to 30 different times. Constantly he had to be prompted by his son, Frank Sinatra Jr., who was conducting the huge orchestra. When he would forget the song lyric, the orchestra would play on while Frank Jr. leaned over and prompted his dad on where to pick up the song. There were other times Frank got ahead of himself or he simply mumbled the words.
On several occasions he kept repeating himself. After the first song he said how happy he was to be in Manila and how he loved the sun. "I can just lay out like this," he told the crowd with outstretched arms, "and in one hour I'll look like Sammy Davis Jr." Right after the next song, he immediately said the same thing, delivering it like it was the first time he'd said it. Later, four times after four straight songs, he heaved a big sigh and wiped his brow. "Boy you could lose a lot of weight up here." Each time, he said the line like it was the first time.
Granted it must have been 150 degrees up on that stage and, with the oppressive humidity, Frank probably thought he had mistakenly walked into the hotel sauna instead of the theatre. Furthermore he had flown half way around the world just two days prior and he had to be completely exhausted from the trip. And at 78, trying to belt them out at the top of your lungs in front of 6,000 fans cannot be an easy task. But what I found astonishing was that he would forget the lyrics to such standards as, "New York, New York," and "Strangers in the Night." Surely by any normal standards of entertainment, Frank Sinatra simply sucked that night in Manila.
But, of course, when you're talking of Frank Sinatra, the word 'normal' doesn't come in to play. And so even though Frank mumbled and stumbled his raspy way through one hour of classics, I can honestly say, with a very straight face, that on that steaming and sultry night in Manila, Frank Sinatra gave one of the greatest performances I've ever seen by an entertainer.
Call it an irresistible charm, charisma, that "certain something," whatever. Sinatra had it by the boatload. Exhausted? Drunk? Stumbling around the stage? Who cared? Frank had this way about him that made the audience want to root him on. What Sinatra did really well was act. During each song, he pumped and thrust his arms to the rise and fall of the music. He endeared himself to the audience by being self-deprecating. He was humble, but rough, like a lovable street thug. He was straight to the point, almost blunt. He introduced his wife, Barbara, in the audience and he said, "That's my girl!" Before one song, which he labeled a "Saloon Song," he told a story.
"Back when I first started out," he said, "I used to sing solo in bars. My only accompaniment was the piano. In these types of bars, guys would come in and sit down at the piano and ask the piano player to play their favorite song. Usually the songs were blues songs, sad songs. These guys were losers. And this is one of those songs."
Certainly one of the reasons for the electric atmosphere and the excitement was the crowd itself. I saw several people murmuring to each other when Frank would flub a line, but nobody really cared. If there was ever a forgiving people, it is Filipinos. They have a few warts of their own, but they never let that stand in the way of having a good time. Frank could have messed up 100 times and they wouldn't have minded. After all, it was Frank who had brought them to the dance so many times. It was those Sinatra classics, whether on records or in karaoke bars, that had been a part of so many of these people's long nights over the last 40 years. Frank was the man who had brought so much joy to them over the years. And so the crowd allowed Frank to do whatever he wanted.
Right from the opening number the audience was hanging on the edge of their seats. Once they recognized the tune, they cheered wildly. It was an hour of the classics: "Witchcraft," "Mac the Knife," "The Lady is a Tramp," "Strangers in the Night." When the orchestra struck up the familiar opening bars of "New York, New York," the roar from the crowd practically tore off the roof. And then, after nearly an hour, came the one song that, for Filipinos especially, was worth the lofty price of admission.
Frank introduced the song by simply saying, "I think you'll recognize this next song." The orchestra began playing the slow opening notes. Frank stood on the stage, engulfed in the lone spotlight, gazing downward and looking reflective. The audience held its collective breath. And then Frank started singing. "And now, the end is near …" If "New York, New York" had elicited a roof shattering roar, "My Way" brought forth something that surely shook the solid concrete foundation of the theatre to it's very core. Once the cheers and the squeals died down, the crowd settled in with rapt attention. Frank actually flubbed the second line of the song, but got himself situated and poured whatever was left in his gas tank into the task at hand. As he crooned the well known lyrics, lyrics that each and every one of the people in the audience had themselves sung countless times at parties, get-togethers and any old afternoon around the karaoke machine, I was certain I could feel the collective chill racing up the spine of the entire Filipino people.
It occurred to me then that "My Way" is surely the perfect song for the Filipino people: proud, dramatic, defiant, emotional. No wonder people slaughter each other over it. Their entire lives were encompassed in those four moving minutes. And as Frank reached the end of the song, and he stretched out his arm, closed his eyes and belted out the last famous line, "The record shows… I took the blows… an did it my way…" and the crowd rose to its feet and engulfed this legend in their applause, their cheers and their love, I was sure that there were buckets of tears welling up in the eyes of many in the house.
Manila wasn't just Frank's kind of town. For this night, at least, he owned the town.
The murderous landslides in southern Leyte are making headlines all over the world. Every hour on the hour, over the past two days, they’re being mentioned on CNN, BBC, Channel News Asia, and other international cable newscasts, which harp on the hundreds of missing and the mounting death toll. The massive flash floods and killer mudslides in Leyte and Mindanao are being blamed, as always, on non-stop deforestation, illegal logging, and the destruction of watersheds and forest cover. This means that we never learn.
Remember the horrible flood which suddenly deluged Ormoc City in Leyte and swept almost a fifth of the city’s population into the sea? Homes, buildings, and other structures were simply flushed into the water and many of the victims died from drowning. That was on November 6, 1991. The cause of this terrible flash flood? Deforestation. Four thousand perished in that disaster.
You’d think this should have been a wake-up call for a crackdown on greedy loggers and their military-police as well as political confederates. It turned out to be the same old story. After the usual recriminations, "investigations", loud condemnations, media frenzy, lurid headlines coupled with pathetic photographs of the victims and panorama of the immense swath of devastation, the furor died down, and the exploiters and log-smugglers went back, everywhere, to business as usual.
Now we have this tragedy being replayed once again on the very threshold of Christmas. The dead will soon be buried and forgotten. Many of the dead, anyway, were already buried by the mudslides and landslides suffocated and unrecoverable by the "rescue and relief" teams (a term we keep on dusting off everytime there’s a catastrophe). Didn’t you notice? They’re using the same futile methods of 40 years ago. As the CNN and BBC mentioned, rescuers are trying to dig victims, whether dead or alive, out of the muck and debris "with their bare hands".
Sanamagan. When the Ruby Tower fell apart in the big Manila earthquake of August 5, 1968, there were Joaquin "Chino" Roces and myself, among scores of would-be rescuers, scrabbling amidst the rubble of that completely collapsed building in which dozens of residents were crushed to death or buried alive. We desperately tried to claw through the wreckage "with our bare hands". We had to bring in jackhammers to drill through slabs of concrete and mobilized some acetylene torches to bend back twisted steel but we ran out of time. Today, it’s clear, would-be rescuers are using the same, if not more primitive methods. As usual, too, we’re trying to borrow aircraft Chinook helicopters and C-130 transports from the Americans.
Gee whiz. Don’t we have such aircraft and equipment up to now, despite our "big talk" about independence, pride, self-respect and nationalism? If we’re this pathetic and unprepared to assume the burdens and responsibilities of an independent, self-reliant nation, then we might as well invite the Americans back to "rent" bases here, and make some money out of it. Then, with their aircraft, rescue choppers, and other paraphernalia "in country", we could conveniently borrow them for our own use in case of emergency.
We cannot have it both ways: Talk big and act small. That phrase about digging the victims of the mudslides and landslides out "with bare hands" says it all. No nation can be great, indeed survive in this cruel and unforgiving world, without national pride. I’ve said it often enough: What we must strive for is a resurrection of the "national spirit" that our forefathers had in their fight for freedom. Those who love their country and have pride in themselves don’t stoop to corruption, and are untainted by cynicism or defeatism.
That’s the long and short of it. There’s too much flag-waving in this country without true reverence for the flag. "Sound the bugle, beat the drum: We’re the greatest, ram-a-tam-tam." It’s all, sad to say, empty rhetoric. Nowadays, it’s even more confusing. We’ve begun to brag, "We’re the worst." It’s the same thing really.
Some lawyers told me the other day that a survey was taken which "found" that 80 percent of our judges took bribes and many even demanded bribes. I find difficult to believe that an actual survey produced such a result, not because it’s not possible that 80 percent of our judges are crooked, but because nobody will admit such a thing to a poll-taker. Probably the survey was conducted among lawyers i.e., legal practitioners who asserted in private what they did not have the courage to denounce in public. And there’s the rub. We lack national spirit; ergo, we don’t have the courage to fight to right wrong.
One of my informants, to prove his point, cited the example of a Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge whom he identified, but whose name I won’t mention since thus far no evidence has been shown me to back the accusation up. Recently, an international brokerage firm needed the approval of an RTC court for its "bond". Although there was no "opposition" at all, the judge concerned refused to approve it, unless the company forked over P5 million! Imagine that: Five million pesos for a mere procedural "signature". Do I believe it? The pity of the sad plight of our nation’s judiciary is that folks like me find the allegation entirely "believable" and credible.
In the coming elections, it’s clear we’re once more looking for a Messiah. The truth is that we have to save ourselves. If we don’t win this battle together every man (or woman) pulling his own weight, then we won’t win.
Forget what Julie Andrews sang about in Sound of Music. That was Austria in the late 1930's and we are here in Manila in the new millennium. When it became clear that my stay in the Philippines might end at the close of my employment contract, I thought about whether we wanted to stay on in Manila or not. Just a few months ago, the Chamber asked me to prepare a short article that talked about life in the Philippines. It gave me ample time to reflect upon various positive aspects of life here.
We in the American Chamber can recite the advantages to potential foreign investors here in the Philippines, and most of you have heard them all before: a large English speaking population; an economical and friendly labor force; an affinity for Western things and particularly things which are "American"; a highly educated and literate workforce. All of these things are true, but from a personal standpoint these were some other positive things that might be missed.
As in all things, there is a "flip side" to the positive things. All cultures have their idiosyncrasies and the Philippines does have its own as well. Admittedly, we foreigners tend to pick on the things that conflict most with our own cultures, so there is not a really objective source.
I did, however, ask around informally. Here are some things that many foreigners tend to find grating or, in some cases, even aggravating. No doubt the Filipino readers will view these with a certain degree of detachment and realize, as we do, that there are LOTS of things one could say about Americans in general. Here goes for the "peeves" though:
Keep in mind that these "complaints" come primarily from foreigners who most likely will live here a few years then move on. Our "Expat" expectations can sometimes be unrealistic. That is enough for now. Surely there are more "pet peeves" and positive things we can assemble.
In one of the luncheons he hosted recently for clients of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation, Ambassador Alfonso T. Yuchengco asked the writer, F. Sionil Jose, to share some of his observations of the current scene. This is the paper Mr. Jose read on that occasion.
What did South Korea look like after the Korean War in 1953? Battered, poor -- but look at Korea now. In the Fifties, the traffic in Taipei was composed of bicycles and Army trucks, the streets flanked by tile-roofed low buildings. Jakarta was a giant village and Kuala Lumpur a small village surrounded by jungle and rubber plantations. Bangkok was criss-crossed with canals, the tallest structure was the Wat Arun, the Temple of the Sun, and it dominated the city's skyline.
Rice fields all the way from Don Muang airport, then a huddle of galvanized iron-roofed bodegas, to the Victory monument. Visit these cities today and weep -- for they are more beautiful, cleaner and prosperous than Manila. In the Fifties and Sixties we were the most envied country in Southeast Asia. Remember further that when Indonesia got its independence in 1949, it had only 114 university graduates compared to the hundreds of Ph.D.'s which were already in our universities.
Why then were we left behind? The economic explanation is simple. We did not produce cheaper and better products. The basic question really is: why we did not modernize fast enough and thereby doomed our people to poverty. This is the harsh truth about us today. Just consider these: some 15 years ago a survey showed that half of all grade school pupils dropped out after grade 5 because they had no money to continue schooling.
Thousands of young adults today are therefore unable to find jobs. Our natural resources have been ravaged and they are not renewable. Our tremendous population increase eats up all of our economic gains. There is hunger in this country now; our poorest eat only once a day. But this physical poverty is really not as serious as the greater poverty that afflicts us and this is the poverty of the spirit.
Why then are we poor? More than ten years ago, James Fallows, editor of the Atlantic Monthly came to the Philippines and wrote about our damaged culture which, he asserted, impeded our development. Many disagreed with him but I do find a great deal of truth in his analysis. This is not to say that I blame our social and moral malaise on colonialism alone. But we did inherit from Spain a social system and an elite that, on purpose, exploited the masses.
Then, too, in the Iberian Peninsula, to work with one's hands is frowned upon and we inherited that vice as well. Colonialism by foreigners may no longer be what it was, but we are now a colony of our own elite. We are poor because we are poor -- this is not a tautology. The culture of poverty is self-perpetuating. We are poor because our people are lazy. I pass by a slum area every morning -- dozens of adults do nothing but idle, gossip and drink.
We do not save. Look at the Japanese and how they save in spite of the fact that the interest given them by their banks are so little. They work very hard too. We are great show-offs. Look at our women, how overdressed, over-coiffed they are, and Imelda epitomizes that extravagance. Look at our men, their manicured nails, their personal jewelry, and their diamond rings. Yabang -- that is what we are, and all that money expended on status symbols, on yabang.
How much better if it were channeled into production We are poor because our nationalism is inward looking. Under its guise we protect inefficient industries and monopolies. We did not pursue agrarian reform like Japan and Taiwan. It is not so much the development of the rural sector, making it productive and a good market as well. Agrarian reform releases the energies of the landlords who, before the reform, merely waited for the harvest. They become entrepreneurs, the harbingers of change.
Our nationalist icons like Claro M. Recto and Lorenzo Tañada opposed agrarian reform, the single most important factor that would have altered the rural areas and lifted the peasant from poverty. Both of them were merely anti-American. And finally, we are poor because we have lost our ethical moorings.We condone cronyism and corruption and we don't ostracize or punish the crooks in our midst. Both cronyism and corruption are wasteful but we allow their practice because our loyalty is to family or friend, not to the larger good.
We can tackle our poverty in two very distinct ways. The first choice: a nationalist revolution, a continuation of the revolution in 1896. But even before we can use violence to change inequities in our society, we must first have a profound change in our way of thinking, in our culture. My regret about EDSA is that change would have been possible then with a minimum of bloodshed. In fact, a revolution may not be bloody at all if something like EDSA would present itself again. Or a dictator unlike Marcos.
The second is through education, perhaps a longer and more complex process. The only problem is that it may take so long and by the time conditions have changed, we may be back where we were, caught up with this tremendous population explosion which the Catholic Church exacerbates in its conformity with doctrinal purity.
We are faced with a growing compulsion to violence, but even if the communist won, they will rule as badly because they will be hostage to the same obstructions in our culture, the barkada, the vaulting egos that sundered the revolution in 1896, the Huk revolt in 1949-53.
To repeat neither education nor revolution can succeed if we do not internalize new attitudes, new ways of thinking. Let us go back to basics and remember those American slogans: A Ford in every garage. A chicken in every pot. Money is like fertilizer: To do any good it must be spread around. Some Filipinos, taunted wherever they are, shamed to admit they are Filipinos. I have, myself, been embarrassed to explain for instance why Imelda, her children and the Marcos cronies are back, and in positions of power? Are there redeeming features in our country that we can be proud of? Of course, lots of them. When people say for instance that our corruption will never be banished, just remember that Arsenio Lacson as mayor of Manila and Ramon Magsaysay as President brought a clean government.
We do not have the classical arts that brought Hinduism and Buddhism to continental and archipelagic Southeast Asia, but our artists have now ranged the world, showing what we have done with Western art forms, enriched with our own ethnic traditions. Our professionals, not just our domestics, are all over, showing how an accomplished people we are!
Look at our history. We are the first in Asia to rise against Western colonialism, the first to establish a republic. Recall the Battle of Tirad Pass and glory in the heroism of Gregorio Del Pilar and the 48 Filipinos who died but stopped the Texas Rangers from capturing the President of that First Republic. Its equivalent in ancient history is the Battle of Thermopylae where the Spartans and their king Leonidas, died to a man, defending the pass against the invading Persians. Rizal - what nation on earth has produced a man like him? At 35, he was a novelist, a poet, an anthropologist, a sculptor, a medical doctor, a teacher and martyr.
We are now 80 million and in another two decades we will pass the 100 million mark. Eighty million - that is a mass market in any language, a mass market that should absorb our increased production in goods and services -- a mass market which any entrepreneur can hope exploit, like the proverbial oil for the lamps of China. Japan was only 70 million when it had confidence enough and the wherewithal to challenge the United States and almost won. It is the same confidence that enabled Japan to flourish from the rubble of defeat in World War II.
I am not looking for a foreign power for us to challenge. But we have a real and insidious enemy that we must vanquish, and this enemy is worse. than the intransigence of any foreign power. We are our own enemy. And we must have the courage, the will, to change ourselves.
FILMMAKER ROD PULIDO's directorial debut, The Flip Side, is one of the first films to explore identity issues facing second-generation Filipino-Americans. Set in a middle-class Filipino home in Los Angeles, the movie provides an amusing yet sometimes scathing picture of how Filipino-American families often take aspects of other cultures and incorporate them into their own.
The Flip Side was the first Filipino-American film to be screened at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, thrusting 31-year-old Pulido into the limelight of independent filmmakers. He shot the movie while still a film student in California.
Dressed in a sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers, he told a packed audience at the recent Asian American International Film Festival in New York that he financed the movie by substitute teaching and years of eating mainly ramen noodles. And, only half-joking, he says he chose to shoot the film in black and white "because colour was too expensive." The film was, indeed, shot on a shoestring budget, but the choice of 35 millimeter black-and-white film went beyond financial considerations. Pulido says he wanted to "symbolize how the United States media is polarized between black and white culture, resulting in Filipino-Americans wanting to be either black or white since they had few mainstream role models from their own culture." For Pulido, the movie became a crusade to give voice to Filipinos.
The main character, Darius Delacruz, returns home from his first year in college a changed man, having studied his Filipino heritage. Both his want-to-be-white older sister, Marivic, and his want-to-be-black younger brother, Davis, think Darius has lost his mind, as he insists on speaking Tagalog, wearing bahags (tribal loincloths) and plastering his walls with pictures of Philippine independence heroes. Pulido exaggerates Darius's newfound self-awareness and interest in his heritage to underscore the struggle his two siblings face in their search for identity.
Marivic is a vain, green-contact-lens-wearing mall employee who saves her money all summer to afford a nose-job, which she thinks will impress her white boyfriend (whom she tells she is Hawaiian rather than Filipina). Davis, meanwhile, listens to hip-hop and, despite standing only five feet five inches, aspires to be an NBA All-Star, spending his summer trying desperately to slam dunk. While sometimes spoon-feeding the symbolism--one scene closes in on Davis drowning his glass of milk with dark-chocolate syrup--Pulido effectively drives home his point: Most young Filipinos in America care little, if anything, for their own cultural identity.
The highlight of the movie is the relationship between Darius and his lolo (grandfather), who spends his time depressed and holed-up in his bedroom until Darius's new-found interest in the Philippines brings him to life. Lolo reminisces fondly about the Philippines, and later Darius persuades him to leave his room and eat with the family, culminating in the surprise ending.
Pulido denies that the Delacruz family is a portrayal of his own family, saying, "It is a composite of the Philippine community at large. I made the film largely to let the world know who Filipinos are." Abe Pagtama, a veteran actor who portrays Darius's father, says that until The Flip Side he had never portrayed a Filipino, always being cast as either Chinese or Japanese. Noting that Filipinos are America's second-largest Asian group, he says, "It is amazing that we are not portrayed in mainstream entertainment as Filipinos."
With The Flip Side, Pulido makes the point that the Filipino community in America has not celebrated or been recognized for its distinct cultural heritage. Pulido wants to make more films, though not necessarily about the Filipino experience. "Those aren't the only stories I can tell," he says. "Being successful as a film-maker is as important to me, because the more Filipinos enter the entertainment industry, the more the industry will recognize that there is a sizeable Filipino community with its own culture." The young filmmaker's next endeavor, Hip Hop Don't Stop, looks at the early 1980s break-dancing phenomenon. Given the popularity of The Flip Side, he might even find enough funding to afford to film in colour.
ZAMBOANGA CITY — He’s serving a life term in jail. But it seems even the thick iron grills of the New Bilibid Prison can never prevent Romeo Jalosjos from winning a third term in Congress.
Partial results of the congressional polls in Zamboanga del Norte showed Jalosjos leading his opponent by a wide margin. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) provincial office reported that Jalosjos received 5,092 votes in the municipalities of Rizal and Sibutad while his rival, James Adasa, only got 3,059.
Roderick Soronda, assistant provincial election officer, said the votes in six other towns were still being counted and he refused to comment on Jalojos’s chances until the canvassing is over. However, vacationists from the areas where counting was being done said Jalojos was overwhelmingly leading in tallies at the precinct level.
"It is a clear manifestation that Jalosjos still enjoys the trust and confidence of his constituents despite his predicament in jail," said one Zamboanga del Norte resident who was vacationing here. Jalosjos is languishing at the New Bilibid Prison in Mun—tinlupa City but he was allowed to file his candidacy in March for a third and last term in Congress.
He was convicted of raping an 11-year-old girl in 1998 but was able to win re-election even when he was in prison. In this year’s elections, he ran under the Nationalist People’s Coalition and squared off with Adasa of the Lakas-NUCD. Initially, political observers in the province expected the battle to easily go Adasa’s way.
Jessica Zafra, a writer for the Today newspaper in the Philippines had this to say in her column this week, " Is there some kind of World's Most Bizarre Country contest they forgot to tell us about? Because the way the Philippines has been racking up points these past few months, we're probably the year's front-runner."
The story of the man who hijacked Philippine Airlines flight 812 from Davao to Manila on May 26 is a classic PI tale. This guy boarded his plane in Davao which is in Mindanao and scene of the current battle with Muslim separatist terrorists. As a result, Davao airport is subject to some of the most stringent security measures supposedly available. He still managed to board the plane with a gun, a grenade and home-made parachute. This led to one of the funnier comments, from a Philippine Airlines executive, who was quoted as saying "it is not unusual for our passengers to carry parachutes".
OK......No one knows how he managed to get on board carrying all this stuff. Apparently despite the stringent security measures Davao's metal-detector gate that all passengers must walk through has actually been broken for three months. Rather than get it fixed security staff just pretended it was still working assuming it would act as a deterrent. The hijacker then held up the pilot with his gun and grenade accidentally firing a round into the roof of the cockpit. He said he was having marital problems (his wife had left him for a cop) and was short of cash. He then passed around a hat not once but twice collecting a total of P15,000 (US$340). He then forced the pilot to come down to 6,000 feet, depressurize the cabin and open the rear door. He was intending to jump using his recently created parachute when he suddenly froze.
While standing in the doorway vacillating a quick thinking steward gave him a shove. His home-made parachute separated from his body a few hundred feet below the plane in full view of some passengers. His brother would later be quoted as saying, "he had dreamed of becoming a skydiver but he had never jumped before." They have since found the hotel room where he was staying while dreaming up this scheme. Pieces of canvas and rope were left where he designed this aerodynamic marvel. The following day according to police, "The hijackers body when found was imbedded in the ground feet first. Only his hands protruded." The chute was a kilometer away. No money was found.
If this isn't all enough, Gemma Cruz Araneta, head of the department of tourism said, "The Mindanao hostage crisis and urban tourism has given us free publicity. Bad news is better than no news. It would cost a fortune to get all this free advertisement on CNN." Jessica Zafra mentioned above said further in her column, "It's as if some nefarious organization had put LSD in our drinking water."
A Rhose, by Any Other Name By Matthew Sutherland (Editor's Note: Matthew Sutherland's essay on the phenomenon called Manila traffic got rave reviews among readers. Through this column, he hopes to give us glimpses into our own culture by writing about all things Pinoy from an expat's point of view.) "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches" --(Proverbs 22:1)
WHEN I arrived in the Philippines from the UK six years ago, one of the first cultural differences to strike me was names. The subject has provided a continuing source of amazement and amusement ever since. The first unusual thing, from an English perspective, is that everyone here has a nickname. In the staid and boring United Kingdom, we have nicknames in kindergarten, but when we move into adulthood we tend, I am glad to say, to lose them.
The second thing that struck me is that Philippine names for both girls and boys tend to be what we in the UK would regard as overbearingly cutesy for anyone over about five. "Fifty-five-year-olds with names that sound like five-year-olds", as one colleague put it. Where I come from, a boy with a nickname like Boy Blue or Honey Boy would be beaten to death at school by pre-adolescent bullies, and never make it to adulthood. So, probably, would girls with names like Babes, Lovely, Precious, Peachy or Apples. Yuk, ech ech. Here, however, no one bats an eyelid.
Then I noticed how many people have what I have come to call "door-bell names". These are nicknames that sound like - well, door-bells. There are millions of them. Bing, Bong, Ding, and Dong are some of the more common. They can be, and frequently are, used in even more door-bell-like combinations such as Bing-Bong, Ding-Dong, Ting-Ting, and so on. Even our newly-appointed chief of police has a doorbell name - Ping.
None of these door-bell names exist where I come from, and hence sound unusually amusing to my untutored foreign ear. Someone once told me that one of the Bings, when asked why he was called Bing, replied "because my brother is called Bong". Faultless logic. Dong, of course, is a particularly funny one for me, as where I come from "dong" is a slang word for... well, perhaps "talong" is the best Tagalog equivalent.
Repeating names was another novelty to me, having never before encountered people with names like Len-Len, Let-Let, Mai-Mai, or Ning-Ning. The secretary I inherited on my arrival had an unusual one: Leck-Leck. Such names are then frequently further refined by using the "squared" symbol, as in Len2 or Mai2. This had me very confused for a while.
Then there is the trend for parents to stick to a theme when naming their children. This can be as simple as making them all begin with the same letter, as in Jun, Jimmy, Janice, and Joy. More imaginative parents shoot for more sophisticated forms of assonance or rhyme, as in Biboy, Boboy, Buboy, Baboy (notice the names get worse the more kids there are -- best to be born early or you could end up being a Baboy). Even better, parents can create whole families of, say, desserts (Apple Pie, Cherry Pie, Honey Pie) or flowers (Rose, Daffodil, Tulip). The main advantage of such combinations is that they look great painted across your trunk if you're a cab driver. That's another thing I'd never seen before coming to Manila – taxis with the driver's kids' names on the trunk.
Another whole eye-opening field for the foreign visitor is the phenomenon of the "composite" name. This includes names like Jejomar (for Jesus, Joseph and Mary), and the remarkable Luzviminda (for Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, believe it or not). That's a bit like me being called something like "Engscowani" (for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Between you and me, I'm glad I'm not.
And how could I forget to mention the fabulous concept of the randomly-inserted letter 'h'. Quite what this device is supposed to achieve, I have not yet figured out, but I think it is designed to give a touch of class to an otherwise only averagely weird name. It results in creations like Jhun, Lhenn, Ghemma, and Jhimmy. Or how about Jhun-Jhun (Jhun2)?
There is also a whole separate field of name games -- those where the parents have exhibited a creative sense of humor on purpose. I once had my house in London painted by a Czechoslovakian decorator by the name of Peter Peter. I could never figure out if his parents had a fantastic sense of humor or no imagination at all -- it had to be one or the other. But here in the Philippines, wonderful imagination and humor is often applied to the naming process, particularly, it seems, in the Chinese community. My favorites include Bach Johann Sebastian; Edgar Allan Pe; Jonathan Livingston Sy; Magic Chiongson, Chica Go, and my girlfriend's very own sister, Van Go. I am assured these are real people, although I've only met two of them. I hope they don't mind being mentioned here.
How boring to come from a country like the UK full of people with names like John Smith. How wonderful to come from a country where imagination and exoticism rule the world of names. Even the towns here have weird names; my favorite is the unbelievably-named town of Sexmoan (ironically close to Olongapo and Angeles). Where else in the world could that really be true?
Where else in the world could the head of the Church really be called Cardinal Sin? Where else in the world could Angel, Gigi and Mandy be grown-up men? Where else could you go through adult life unembarrassed and unassailed with a name like Mosquito, or Pepper, or Honey Boy? Where else but the Philippines!
ABRA, Philippines (AP) -- A picture of the "Sacred Heart of
Jesus'' in a Philippine chapel has the familiar features, including the heart
ringed by a crown of thorns. But there's one startling difference -- the face is
that of the late Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
Although vilified by many as a ruthless dictator, Marcos is worshipped by hundreds of cult followers in the mountains of Abra province, about 200 miles north of Manila. "We regard him as a saint,'' said cult leader Rodolfo Cabusao, a 51-year-old former tailor.
Wearing white cassocks, cult members -- mostly impoverished peasants -- sing prayers in a thatch-roofed chapel adorned with portraits of Marcos along with traditional religious figures. Their behavior is in sharp contrast to the thousands of people nationwide who held pro-democracy rallies last week on the anniversary of Marcos' imposition of martial rule 27 years ago. They burned an effigy of the late president's widow, Imelda, near the presidential palace.
Cabusao says cult followers do not want to be dragged into the political conflict surrounding Marcos. Instead, cult life is focused around a self-sustaining mountain retreat where members grow rice and vegetables on a sprawling farm and raise money by selling orchids.
The group began as one of several small nationalist cults, collectively called the Rizalian Brotherhood, which have long venerated Philippine national hero Jose Rizal as a reincarnation of Christ. It began worshipping Marcos soon after the former dictator died in September 1989, when Cubasao says Marcos appeared to him in an apparition and proclaimed himself God's disciple.
Cabusao maintains he has found Bible passages to support the claim and says Marcos also fits the description of the government leader cult founders prophesied would deliver God's promises of love and prosperity to millions of Filipinos. "We worship him. We believe the crimes he's been accused of were not really committed by him, but by his men,'' said Saniata Guarin, Cabusao's sister and head of an Abra elementary school.
Marcos was driven from power in 1986 by an army-backed "people power'' revolt that ended his 20-year rule and sent him into exile in Hawaii, where he died three years later. Succeeding governments have accused the Marcoses and their associates of human rights abuses and of plundering billions of dollars.
The Philippines is Asia's only predominantly Roman Catholic nation. Philippine anthropologist Landa Jocano says the emergence of cults worshipping Rizal, and now Marcos, are rooted in the Philippines' struggle against Spain, which colonized the archipelago from 1565 to 1898.
As Filipino guerrillas revolted against Spanish colonial rule in the late 1800s, some nationalist Filipino priests broke off from the Spanish-led Catholic church and established their own independent church, imbuing it with nationalism.
Abra's Catholic bishop, Artemio Rillera, said he was unaware of the cult but said he would look into its activities and try to persuade its followers "to practice the right manner of worshipping God.''
"If they claim that a human person is God, that's idolatry, that's false,'' Rillera said. During worship services, cult members in Abra flank their altars with large Philippine flags. When they pray, they raise their right hand to their chest -- a sign of respect for the flag -- instead of making the sign of the cross. See Story on Imelda Marcos
Remember Beatlemania? It was 30 years ago today that the Fab Four came to these shores, during an extended tour of Asia which included a gig at Tokyo's Budokan Hall and the Rizal Memorial Football Stadium here in the Philippines.
Imagine: Tickets were only P80 back when the peso stood at a strong four to the US Dollar. Unfortunately those present during those heady days say it was not the most joyous expression of Beatlemania on record. In fact according to the Beatles Anthology, a video documentary, the surviving Beatles still have pretty mixed feelings about Manila.
As many will recall it was here that the Beatles --- the biggest pop music act in history, bigger than Oasis, Backstreet Boys or any combination of boy bands you could assemble --- were attacked allegedly by Marco's goons at the Manila International Airport. What was their crime? Snubbing an invitation from former first lady Imelda Marcos that had been scheduled on their 'day off.'
According to interviews with individual Beatles it was a misunderstanding that led to the most frightening and disorienting experience of their lives. "Somebody just set the invitation up," John Lennon tells one interviewer. "We didn't know about it and you just had to go along with it."
Paul McCartney is a bit more testy, " It is indeed a great honor, but it's our day off, so we can't go. We're not stuffing in some royal reception, you know." The palace luncheon had been set for 11 AM. Scheduled to play Rizal Stadium at 4 PM that same day and another show at 8 PM, the Beatles declined the invite from Mrs. Marcos.
But the reigning kings of the pop world made one tactical error: here in Manila there was one force arguably stronger than Beatlemania: Marcosmania. With the usual lightning speed, the chismis (rumors), spread from Malacanang Palace to the media. The following day the Manila Times ran this banner, "Imelda Stood Up."
"I put on the TV and there was this horrific TV program with Madame Marcos screaming you know, "They've let me down." chuckles Ringo Starr, the Beatles affable drummer. "The cameraman would tilt the camera on to these empty plates and up to these little kids faces, all crying because the Beatles hadn't shown up."
Guitarist George Harrison still seems a bit spooked by what happened next: "We tried to get to the airport the following morning. We couldn't get a car. Nothing was available. Finally we managed to get a car" continues George. "We got in and this person drove us to the airport. But it was like two things were happening simultaneously. There were these grown ups or whatever, government officials who were trying to punch us, yelling, waving their fists at us; and underneath there was the young kids still doing the mania..."
When they reached the Manila International Airport, an angry crowd greeted the musicians as they entered the transit lounge chanting, "Beatles Alis Diyan." (go home) That was precisely what the Beatles wished to do but they were about to hit some additional snags. Some say 50. Some say 500 people---allegedly Marcos supporters and goons dispatched to the airport---soon made themselves busy punching and shouting at the Liverpool lads.
"We got to the airport and we got put into the transit lounge," remembers Paul. "And then we got pushed around from one end of the lounge to the other." The interviewer then asks John if he himself was physically injured during the encounter. "No I was very delicate and moved every time they touched me."
After the Beatles 'escaped' Manila vowing never to play in the Philippines again, an acid-tongued John summed up the experience, "Ah, well we'll just never go to any nuthouses again."
The story doesn't end there. The local promoter, Ramon Ramos used the brouhaha over the Beatles 'snub' as an excuse to withhold payment. Then there was a little matter of performance taxes. Misael Vera, then chief of the Philippine Tax Authority, insisted the group could not leave the country, until they remitted some $18,000 for a concert which they were never paid for!
Perhaps fearing for his life, Beatle manager Brian Epstein was forced to turn over the group's performance bond in order to settle the matter. Paul, ever the diplomat, tries to put a positive spin on the Manila trip, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight: "The nice thing about it is that in the end when we found out that it was Marcos and what he'd been doing to the people and that it was Imelda and what she'd been doing to her people and the rip off that the whole thing allegedly was we thought 'Great'. We must have been the only people who dared snub Marcos."