The Sublime and the Ridiculous

by Rodel Rodis on January 19, 2005

Manila – On my way to Cebu City to attend the 3rd Global Filipino Networking Convention, I drop by this entry point city to meet a few friends and to soak in the vibes of the Philippines that can’t be grasped from just reading emails and online articles from abroad.

Within a few hours of arrival, I learn of two contrasting events which capture the current country situation in a nutshell, or which at least provide me with dance lessons.

The first event was the Sinulog, which on Sunday drew an estimated one million people to watch or participate in the country’s largest festival. The second event was the return the day before of disgraced former president Joseph Estrada from a surgical operation in Hongkong.

The Sinulog festival began in 1981 to celebrate the dance ritual that honors the “miracle” of the Santo Nino, a small icon of the child Jesus which was reportedly given by Spanish colonizer Ferdinand Magellan to the island’s queen, Hara Amihan, in 1521 just before he ventured off to Mactan to vanquish the arch foe of Hara’s husband, Rajah Humabon.

Humabon’s arch foe, Rajah Lapu-Lapu of the neighboring rajahdom of Mactan, had other plans as it was Magellan and his men who were vanquished.

The defeat of Magellan delayed Spanish colonization of the islands until 1565 when another Spanish expedition led by Miguel de Legaspi returned to Cebu, only to find the natives still dancing in honor of the Santo Nino statue. What a miracle.

The Sinulog dance consists of moving two steps forward and one step backward, to the pulsating beat of the drums. The Sinulog dancers then rock forward and backward like the river current (“sulog”), which is what the festival celebrates as this heavy rhythmic rocking is called the “sinulog”.

This year marked the silver anniversary of the Sinulog and it promised to be the largest and grandest Mardi Gras-like festival ever held in the country. The parade had 50 dancing contingents, with each contingent consisting of anywhere from 50 to 100 dancers. In the street dance category alone, the parade had 6,500 dancers.

The festival’s theme was “one dance, one beat, one vision”,
showing the country what a joyous celebration could be had by all with a tad of inspiration and loads of perspiration.

The Sinulog contrasted with the return to Manila of former President Joseph Estrada the day before. Estrada had spent 19 days in Hongkong where he had undergone surgery to replace his knees with titanium.

With his new surgically-enhanced knees, Estrada can now do the “Erap dance” which consists of limping one step forward followed by two giant steps backward.

Estrada’s lawyers had succeeded in conning the Philippine courts into believing that Estrada, who is under house arrest in the Philippines and on trial for plunder, needed to have his surgery performed in Hongkong as only his California-based physician, Christopher Mow, could competently perform the surgery. It turned out that Mow had no permission to perform surgery in HK because of a HK rule that bars the issuance of such a permit if any number of HK surgeons could competently do the surgery as well.

Hongkong is filled with competent surgeons, just like the Philippines, and, in fact, it was regular surgeons at the Hongkong Adventist Hospital who performed the successful surgery on Estrada.

Estrada’s ploy worked as it allowed him the chance to leave the
confinement of his mansion in the Philippines and to whoop it up in HK staying in a Parkview suite rented for $77,000 and even having his personal barber flown in (business class) just to give him a trim that no HK barber, he says, could provide. At the hospital, Estrada rented 4 private rooms for $2880 a day each. The local newspapers were aghast that one hospital room was reserved for food alone.

While in HK, Estrada hosted his own Sinulog parade of former cabinet members and cronies and a succession of opposition politicians led by Sen. Panfilo Lacson who pledged to rally around his leadership. Estrada laid out his plans to mount an “EDSA IV” people power uprising in February that would return him back to power.

Estrada is on trial for plunder for amassing a personal fortune of at least 2.3 billion pesos while in office. In the 19 days that he was in HK, he showed the world that he still had quite a bit of that money left to spend on his Hongkong suite and on an imported haircut.

Upon his return to Manila, Estrada told the press that his stay in
Hongkong had given him “strength of will and clarity of vision… to unite the people and set the path for them to see a new dawn.”

But, as the Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial commented, “when he toyed with presidential privilege, to the point of running a criminal enterprise from the Palace, he did not take into account the people’s absolute unwillingness to suffer another corrupt president… He will call it a new dawn, but we only see a return to the old and discredited.”

Last week, an ABS-CBN Broadcasting van, equipped with a mobile TV studio, was fire-bombed by a group of six armed men from a group calling itself “K” which accused ABS-CBN of “suppressing the truth” in its coverage of the May presidential elections.

When asked to comment on the incident, Estrada replied that he
applauded the fire-bombing of the ABS-CBN van as it was a warning to the media to stop its biased reporting against him. He warned the Inquirer that it could be next.

Estrada has now reclaimed the leadership of the opposition to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

How lucky can President Arroyo get?

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