Saint and Tippler

This week there were columns by David Pilling in the Financial Times, an obituary in the BBC, in even as Time Magazine devoted its Asian edition cover to Cory Aquino, Ellen Tordesilla came upon a shining example of the President getting some foreign media exposure too -in the (in)famous page six section of The New York Post. The Post reported that the President spent a cool $20,000 on a dinner at Le Cirque. The bill bloat seems to have come from several bottles of wine. The restaurant says its wine ranges from $28 to $12,000. The news item got top billing on Grub Street (in contrast to the American First Lady taking her kids out for burgers).

A Palace reporter tells me the guest list comprised almost 30 individuals: a party composed of lawmakers (plus staff and spouses), a number of cabinet officials, the President’s own people plus US-based allies (FILUSA and its leader) to commemorate the 41st wedding anniversary of the President and her husband.

New York Post page six

We know from the press reports the following were part of the President’s delegation and featured in events during her visit:

Eduardo Ermita, Heherson Alvarez and Alberto Romulo Arthur Yap, Gilberto Teodoro, Cerge Remonde, Bayani & Marides Fernando; Senators Lito Lapid, Miriam Defensor-Santiago; Speaker Prospero Nograles; Reps. Rodante Marcoleta, Daryl Grace Abayon, Catalina Leonen Pizarro, Godofredo & Remedios Arquiza, Agapito & Socorro Guanlao; , Gov. Tet Garcia of Bataan and City Mayors Nitoy Durano of Danao in Cebu and Fernando of Mariki; FILUSA’s Jacqueline Lingad Ricci, etc.

Per Ellen Tordesillas, the dinner was upon the invitation of Rep. Martin Romualdez of Leyte. And Sec. Cerge Remonde confirmed it took place.

A senator shared, online, an email from a Filipino in New York which differs from the information above (perhaps because second-hand knowledge) as follows:

I’m overly sensitive today especially when I have learned from one of my patients who works as a waiter at  a Filipino-French restaurant in New York, that GMA and twenty three of her entourage had a dinner that cost the Filipino taxpayers $40,000 during her recent state visit to the US.  He claimed that their wine alone cost  $16,000 and they paid in HARD COLD CASH. That is the cost of one dinner alone and how many dinners and lunches did they have during their stay in the US?

Here’s the dinner menu of Le Cirque, and here’s Le Cirque’s wine list. Here’s a theoretical breakdown of how the presidential party could’ve racked up the bill:

Dinner expenses simulation

The contrast with the Cory a new generation has come to know and appreciate, couldn’t be more vast. I wonder how someone like Bookmarked! who was touched by the events of the past days, or someone like Quiet Time Ramblings, who went to the wake and described her experiences there, will feel about articles like the New York Post’s.

Anyway, see also Greg Macabenta on the President skulking around Los Angeles.

Show Obama the Money

Well worth bearing in mind an official response to questions why the President wasn’t rushing home as quickly as possible after Cory died:

Remonde said President Arroyo could have flown anytime she wished had she been on a chartered flight, but she was on a commercial flight to save on costs.

Summing up Cory’s life continues among bloggers. Some more noteworthy entries follow.

From Belmont Club, And last, on the funeral:

That procession in the rain was Cory’s last duty of state; the final act in the public drama. It was also, to those who understood it, the concluding chapter in a love story. At the end of the cortege was a relatively modest grave, no grander than that which a successful small businessman might have, dug beside the spot where Ninoy lay. It was where she wanted to go. When she first learned she had colon cancer more than a year ago, Aquino told her family she would refuse aggressive treatment. Her time, she said, had come. Her daughter Kris related how, when the end was near, she was called back into the room by a nurse from the corridor, where she had stepped out to drink some coffee. Cory bade her daughter bend and said, “I can see him now. Your father is holding out his hand to me.” Dylan Thomas wrote of grave men near death, who see with blinding sight”; of those on their deathbeds who, perhaps from the effects of medication, delirium or that blinding sight see before them those to whom they would come. Underneath the story of the People Power revolution was also a story of a woman who avenged her husband and reached out to him across the gulf of death with the frail hand of love.

And also, from the same blog (Belmont Club) in Maria Corazon “Cory” Cojuangco Aquino (January 25, 1933 – August 1, 2009)

There is at the location where the multitudes gathered in Manila to chase out Marcos an artistically inept statue of something called Our Lady of EDSA. It is a hideous representation of the Virgin Mary as she is believed to have come to a poor and desperate nation. It’s a terrible statue – all gray concrete and rain stains. But nobody minds its aesthetic defects because everyone who was there in 1986 saw the real Lady of EDSA in the flesh: a little woman, once beautiful in youth, in a dowdy yellow dress giving multitudes for a moment a glimpse into all that they could be. She could be their mirror because she was empty of normal ambition; and that is the way of miracles, when we see the extraordinariness of it all for the first time because we have learned to see. Goodbye Cory. And thank Ninoy for us.

And from Ricky Carandang:

It has become fashionable these days to say you failed. That the freedom that you helped us win in 1986 has not gotten us any closer to building a just and prosperous society. That while you yourself were not corrupt, your relatives and your advisers were. That we’ve simply replaced one set of thieves and murderers with another.

It has become fashionable these days to blame you for all of that. Because you didn’t do enough to prevent your revolution from being dismantled from within.

But the people who say that fail to see what 1986 was really about. It wasn’t about you saving us from the Regime and everyone living happily ever after. You did your part everytime you were called upon to do so. The problem was we expected you to do it all by yourself while we stood on the sidelines. We didn’t realize that we had a role to play too and that one person would not be able to do it alone. You didn’t fail. We did.

From Hansley Juliano in Spaces of Resistance:

Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino embodies, in ways that people would be hard-pressed to actually articulate, the revolutionary trajectory of the Filipino in their quest for self-realization and the establishment of a true government of the people, for the people and by the people. We see in her the personification of what can be done to make the best out of a bad situation. It has not been new to us. Emilio Aguinaldo was thrust in the global political sphere in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, and exhausted every effort he can in order to maintain the independence his people were able to grasp from Spanish hegemony, if not for the tragic mistake of trusting the “cold, calculating Sons of the North.” Manuel Quezon, for all his flair, pushed on the platform of immediate independence despite its unfeasibility not just solely because he wished to strengthen his political acumen but because he is also among those who wanted a Philippines that truly speaks for itself.

Cacique democracy, it must be admitted, can never be separated from Tita Cory’s political identification. And yet despite this, it appears that, similar to that a creole like Quezon gained Malacanang at the downfall of the Federalistas, she was able to achieve what before seemed already a hopeless effort: an inauguration of a new revolutionary tradition. Though many would say that, in her later years, she is a fading voice of conscience in a society that has already lost its own and is apathetically (and pathetically) bumbling towards a hand-to-mouth existence, no one can claim that all that effort for re-imagining and reinstating what the people seeks for themselves did not make any relevant impact on the people’s fight. Her humble demeanour, never the first to impose but willing to strike back (as witness her denouncement of her own Vice-President, Salvador Laurel, after his turnaround during the Christmas Coup of 1989), appeals to our masses in the same way that we have a fanatical devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary (she herself being one), the essential mother figure. That Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo attempted to ape it (and ultimately failed to do so) shows us how permanent an image she has imprinted in our cultural consciousness.

From Rosselle Tugade also in Spaces of Resistance:

The death of President Aquino cornered the Filipino people in such a situation: we are reminded of how we whitewashed our hopes, how fragile we have become in the face of change, how impatient we are at engaging in long struggles, and more importantly, how infantile our democracy is. After her tenure, President Aquino was the subject of criticism because of acts of injustices which transpired during her time: the refusal to repudiate national debt, the Mendiola Massacre, and the exclusion of Hacienda Luisita from the agrarian reform project. These, of course, were all very real but Cory was neither the best executive this country ever had. Amidst the criticism to her government, the spirit of forgetting intervenes to make the most of us surrender to the conditions of what we were born into, hence making us prisoners into another vicious cycle of stagnation. Cory Aquino’s life was a life of suffering, but it was a suffering with acceptance and suffering for a purpose. Her greatness certainly does not lie in her acuity at managing the bureaucracy; it rests within her courage and faith as an ordinary person to heed the call of democracy and freedom which are far larger than her own life.

Forgiveness is the key to action and freedom, Hannah Arendt says. But in order to do so we must know first of which crimes against the country should be placed under the platform of justice. It is only then that we may proceed to making the guilty accountable and to growing more maturely from what has happened. Whatever fate the Philippines has experienced for the past two decades is surely not the result of a case of a quick forgive; it is rather the consequence of forgetfulness and an allergy to learning from the past.

As the rest of the Filipino nation poured out their sympathy for Cory, I cannot help but fear that what we have been grieving over is not the loss of a great woman and her extraordinary life. I fear that what we have seen is regression into the nostalgia of a golden age we enjoyed but did not care to fight for and preserve. The task then is for us to move out of the preference for forgetting and do so as how Cory did: inspire one another with the spirit of revolution and hope.

From A Leftist’s Reflection on the Death of Former President Corazon C. Aquino:

I contented myself with the proposition that my current disposition is valid, politically correct and consistent with the masses’ interest and pulse. Cory will not have my sympathy.

But then again, as I was watching Mrs. Aquino’s funeral service, I cannot help but notice the continuing pouring of support and sympathy from many people. I am not talking about here of middle class people who we often associate with Cory but rather, of ordinary, everyday people; the labanderas, the obreros, the manangs, the urban poor, the probinsyanos; the very same masses we from the broad left movement have sworn to serve with utmost passion and dedication.

They have no anger in their eyes, no impassioned tirades on the Aquino government’s horrible mistakes, no finger pointing, no rage, no resentment. All I saw on television was a long yellow line of sad heart-broken faces waiting for their turn to view their president one last time; mourning as if they too have lost a loved one, grieving as if they too lost something important in their life.

My first reaction was sheer amusement and bewilderment which immediately turned into anger. How could the people have possibly forgotten? How could have they possibly forgiven Cory and her regime when they were never given any exoneration from their misery and poverty in the first place? How could they idolize her and identify with her?

I concluded this could be the result of the Filipino people’s overt romanticism, its legendary propensity to easily forgive and forget which inevitably fused with corporate media’s proclivity for creative spins and spectacles. I said to myself, this would quickly fade as it was quickly created with the people going back to reality; back to their wowowee dreams, back to our same old rubbish shitty lives.

However, each passing day was a revelation. Particularly, what struck me most was when people were asked why they were there. Almost all answered that they wanted to pay tribute to the woman who helped them restored democracy, who helped them reclaimed what was rightfully theirs. From the mother who brought her daughter all the way from Isabela to teach her about democracy, the students who were too young to even remember Edsa 1 up to the laborers and the poor who proudly claimed to have been participants to people power 1, 2 and even 3, all said it was because of democracy.

Then it finally dawned on me why this woman despite her regime’s numerous social and economic transgressions is so loved and cherished by a people representing three generation of Edsas. It’s not so much because she is religious, a mother-like figure to many, a glorified widow or simply a martyr; beyond the labels, our ideological flexing and the comfortable branding of pundits, Cory has been duly recognized by the people as an icon in their transition from despotism to rule of law, their struggle from tyranny towards a sense of freedom and democracy. Cory is first and foremost the representation of that ideal, of that difficult journey towards democratization, of that collective national experience.

And it did not stop there. She will also be remembered as a defender of that particular form of democracy flawed and wanting it may be in so many ways, not measuring up to our Marxist concept of a democratic archetype. From people power 2 which removed an incompetent and corrupt regime up to her participation in the fight to throw out the illegitimate Arroyo regime and its sinister plan to amend the constitution, Cory will be remembered and respected as a person who despite her privileged status joined the people in their most trying and important political junctures.

She will also be remembered for her seemingly incorruptible disposition and her lack of desire to cling to power more than what was bestowed to her. This is in sharp contradiction with the succeeding governments that followed her especially the current Arroyo regime which has shown its penchant to further its illegitimate rule through a combination of brute force and fake consent.

By Jessica Zafra:

To us she was the symbol of the world we wanted: a world where people could speak their minds without disappearing, where public servants actually served, where leaders were honest, just, selfless, intelligent and dignified.

You don’t have to be 35 and up to know that that was not the world we got. These days when we speak of politics at all it is with indifference, anger, or “Please, could we talk about something that doesn’t make us nauseous?” But there was a time when we could discuss government with hope, pride and trust in our leaders, and that was when Corazon Aquino was president.

It did not last. We were cruelly disillusioned: “Pare-pareho lang naman pala kayong lahat.” The revolution had failed us, if it was a revolution at all. Later, whenever Tita Cory urged us to join mass protests against official corruption we still went, but many of us wondered what for. Massing on the streets would cause traffic jams, disrupt business, generate bad press for the country. We should be mature, let the democratic process take its course.

In other words we had resolved to suck it up. Grownups do it all the time.

So we did what was deemed pragmatic. We made compromises and dug in.

We didn’t want any trouble. We got by; some would argue that we did pretty well under the circumstances. But something rankled. If we were doing the right thing, why were we beginning to loathe ourselves?

We heard ourselves speaking with fond nostalgia about how orderly the city was during the Marcos years, how at least there was support for the arts. More and more we found ourselves throwing our hands up and saying, “Whatever.” Is that what being an adult is like, saying “There’s nothing I can do”? No more applying your imagination, just sheep-like acceptance? Because if that’s maturity, it is not a good thing.

When I heard the news of President Cory Aquino’s death I was surprised at how upset I was. I found myself getting teary-eyed when talking about her. Most times I will gouge your eyes out before I let you see me cry, but in this instance it’s all right – my friends are getting soppy, too. On TV, hardcore former coup plotters are weeping because Tita Cory is dead.

Thousands of people with nothing to gain lined up for hours at La Salle and at Manila Cathedral to pay their last respects to our president. They had nothing to gain but their self-respect and the feeling that they had a country. Politicians promise us everything, but sometimes all we really want is to feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

On Monday morning on EDSA I thought it was 1986 all over again. Why this massive outpouring of grief and affection for a symbol we thought we had outgrown?

I think Tita Cory reminds us of our other, better selves – the ones who were prepared to make sacrifices for a noble cause. Politicians and governments have sorely disappointed us, but we never lost faith in Tita Cory the human being. She never mocked our aspirations or knowingly insulted our intelligence. She defended the Constitution from those who would bend it to their own ends; she rejected the idea of perpetuating herself in power. Say what you will about the missed opportunities and lost chances, Cory Aquino was decent to us.

She was a good person.

And after all our “growing up,” “learning to face harsh reality” and losing our illusions, it turns out that character does matter. Being good does make a difference. You will not receive praise or payment for it, and other people will mistake your goodness for weakness, but it resonates among people you won’t even meet.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

53 thoughts on “Saint and Tippler

  1. Why are we so upset with the $20,000 event? It creates the impression that such profligacy is rather unusual under Gloria reign!

  2. It’s premature to jump to conclusions without knowing all of the facts.

    For instance, what if the dinner resulted in more opportunities for OFWs returning far more than the bill? Or, what if potential breakthroughs in government-related challenges facing the country were realized? Or, what if the bill didn’t cost the nation a single centavo?

    Simply finding distaste in an amount of money spent or having the expectation of the President host a dinner based on your budget is absurd.

    Be less critical of this issue and exercise greater concern for affairs having more of an impact on the country.

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