Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Our struggle for meaning

I have been to many funeral wakes in my 57 years of life. I’ve seen simple ones inside squatter homes to grand ones of business tycoons and that of a former president. The latter, though well-publicized, still didn’t even have a tenth of the many flowers which Doña Mary had at the Pinaglabanan Church . Her floral offerings were so plentiful that President Estrada had to appeal to other flower-givers to instead re-channel the money to several of Doña Mary and the family’s favorite charities, like the Damas Filipinas orphanage and the Erap Para sa Mahirap Foundation. It is indeed a testament to President Estrada and his mother’s significance to this nation that such an outpouring was demonstrated.
For Erap, the passing of his mother was a real existential shock, even though it had been expected for some time. Yet it comes after a series of other sad separations from long-time associates and friends, including his beloved stalwart Rolly Ramirez whom he entrusted with the building of the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP). Rolly, who passed away last December from a cerebral tumor, was quickly taken in few weeks’ time—from his diagnosis to the surgery which he never woke up from. Months earlier, another trusted confidant, Ping Fernandez, also had a sudden death. Ping was a key Estrada political ally who helped wrest City Hall from Gloria Arroyo’s Lito Atienza.
During the past few days I was with Pres. Estrada in his moments of reflection, he was never short of recollections about his mother, including the barrels of “puñeta” he got as a child for being naughty. There in his home, a favorite portrait of the Ejercito clan, also published in Doña Mary’s coffee table book of Filipino recipes, offered a peek at the Erap the public has gotten to know: with a chinned up, cocky face that made him an absolute stand-out in contrast to the stoic faces of his siblings. His reputation as the “black sheep” was already cemented early on; but such was only because he favored the underdog, especially when he took food from his family’s cupboards to give to his poor playmates in the neighborhood.
On the last evening of the wake, it seemed that almost all of those who have grievously wronged Pres. Estrada came to express their sympathies. Never one to be ungracious and improper, Erap welcomed all of them with open arms. What was surprising, though, in the case of Chavit Singson, was that he made an earlier afternoon visit when few were still around, perhaps to probe if there were perils to his visiting later in the night. And while some loyal Estrada followers didn’t savor the idea of Chavit setting foot, Erap nonetheless didn’t display any incivility and even allowed the cameras to take pictures despite the political capital Chavit was obviously angling for. As a gregarious fellow, Erap rarely shows anger; but cry like a child he does when the time for goodbyes come.
The day after Doña Mary’s burial, I received a call from Pres. Erap on his confusion about Atty. Alan Paguia’s take on his eligibility to run in 2010, which was again misrepresented by the anti-Estrada media. Since I had a Saturday evening radio program with Alan, it was fairly easy to clear the air at once.
This shows that we have to be extra careful when it comes to media reports on Estrada’s eligibility, as there are plenty of vested interests against his possible candidacy who have launched a campaign to confuse the public about it. It started with Jovito Salonga’s well-funded book, to compilations of other writers’ old columns and comments on Estrada’s impeachment which are full of holes, all in support of the Malacañang line.
Atty. Paguia himself was also subjected to a similar media manipulation just the day before, when he was featured with pro-Puno supporters in a Kapihan but was disallowed from airing his anti-Puno views to give a false impression of where he actually stands.
Now it is clear the so-called Puno impeachment move is but a trigger for a communication plan to boost Puno’s chances for a political role in the coming months--maybe even as transition leader in a regime change against Gloria. I have nothing against this if it’s just for a transition period to clean up the Comelec and the judiciary, and pave the way for clean elections, as well as, the release of idealistic soldiers now languishing in jail for standing up to truth and justice. But in the long run, Puno just won’t do as he has no political base nor visionary programs to speak of, and thus, cannot introduce progressive changes to this country. Furthermore, he is not the principled man his supporters, like the drifting Nilo Tayag, make him out to be. After all, the ponente of the totally illegal “constructive resignation” theory can never be a principled person--not now, and not in a million years!
In one moment of angst, Pres. Estrada wondered why the sad parting of his mother and several friends had happened in such quick succession. I thought that perhaps he can find meaning behind such loss by pondering on why he had become special to these people to start with, and to the millions of Filipinos who continue to believe in him--or to those who sacrificed and died in Edsa III. Despite not having Doña Mary to hold on to now, I’m sure Erap will still hear the whispers of his mother wafting in his soul, like the whispers of our Inang Bayan, which led him back to the Barasoain Church in the not-so-distant past.
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