Former President Joseph Estrada need not have bothered, and neither should certain other members of the opposition who now stand accused of the singularly bad taste of trying to turn mass grief into anger against the Arroyo government.

Whatever they do and whatever they and others may say, there is no helping it for Malacanang. No matter how much Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita may beg and plead, and no matter how much Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye may whine, among Fernando Poe Jr.’s millions of supporters are many who ascribe the death of their idol to his disappointment and anger over what happened last May 10.

The reason is simple enough even for morons to understand: it is because that is exactly how they themselves feel. That is how sickened unto death they are over what they believe was the fraud, electioneering, and use of public funds that cost Poe the election–and what’s more, lost them their best hopes for the future that they believed Poe could have made possible.

It’s easy enough for middle-class commentators to get on their high horses and to lecture the poor on decorum and proper manners, and to condemn them for demolishing the funeral wreath President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had sent, as well as for the added offense of lese majeste by cursing her and taking her name in vain.

What’s not so easy is to understand that the rage that seethes in the secret hearts of the poorest and powerless is not just a matter of the bad manners the wealthy and the middle classes condemn among the poor, of which they themselves are the prime offenders.

I’m not talking about violations of such Emily Post injunctions as jumping to open car doors for women, or saying good morning to one’s neighbors. I’m talking about the worst manners of all: that of denying workers fair wages, farmers just prices for their produce, and then cheating them of their votes besides. This is the bad manners of social injustice, of the grossly unequal distribution of wealth, and of a democracy only in rumor and name because, among about a hundred other reasons, its elections mock popular will.

In this distasteful enterprise presides a ruling class that consists of less than 15 families which control over 50 percent of the total Gross Domestic Product, while some 14 million households divide among themselves the remaining 50 percent.

This class is ably and ruthlessly supported by a political elite and a middle class that disdain the poor and are absolutely committed to their own comfort and well-being by supporting the entire system with an intricate and corrupt system of governance and ideas justifying it.

Part of that system are editorials that now say without blanching that Poe indeed has a mass following, but which condemn the poor for being so ill-mannered as to “politicize” Poe’s death–which, in the first place, can’t be anything but politicized, given Poe’s having run for president only six months ago, and the scheduled hearing of his protest before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal at the time of his death.

In these circumstances, most acts cannot be other than political–and the sending of a wreath emblazoned with Mrs. Arroyo’s sympathies and good name qualifies. So too do Mrs. Arroyo’s enticing offers, among them a Libingan ng Mga Bayani (Heroes Cemetery) burial and a Presidential Order of Merit for Poe, and Poe’s fellow actors’ campaign in the Senate that he be made a National Artist, given that they belong to the other side of the political fence and are right in there with Mrs. Arroyo and company.

In the same category of “politicizing” Poe’s death belong editorials critical of the poor for being so ungracious as not to meekly and happily accept Mrs. Arroyo’s wreath, and to retreat into their accustomed places where they will be once more unheard and unnoticed until the next elections.

In hoping that this will in fact be the case–that it can ride out what could be, come December 22 when Poe supporters mass by the millions in Manila for his funeral, a general demonstration of mass disgust and anger–the Arroyo administration has adopted the usual two-pronged approach of condemning Poe’s supporters and attributing any unrest to the usual suspects.

Secretary Ermita–he didn’t serve the Marcos military for nothing–has thus warned that the usual “communist insurgents” and sympathizers could “take advantage of the situation” to embarrass the Arroyo administration, or even attempt to overthrow the government.

Missing in Ermita’s world is the cause of it all, which is the government he serves, the actions of whose leading lights are driving its own instability and destruction.

It doesn’t take much to embarrass, in the first place, an administration that hardly masked its use of government funds and resources last May. It has since done little about anything including the fiscal crisis it loudly proclaimed was upon us last August. Although in power since 2001, when mud and logs rolled down denuded hills and floods put three provinces under water two weeks ago, neither had it done anything about the logging that’s at the root of the ecological disaster this country has become.

As far as overthrowing it is concerned, the wonder of it is that it has lasted this long, and that, despite its demonstrated weakness and its inability to command much of anything, and to do anything socially redeeming, it has not gone the way of the reign of Louis XIV, which ended at the guillotine.

Missing in Ermita’s equation is the anger of the people. But knowledge and fear of it is nevertheless at the root of Malacanang’s efforts to appease Poe’s family and followers by its sudden decision not only to award Poe the Order of Merit, offer him burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, and a designation as National Artist besides.

The Arroyo government is running scared, and frantically trying to avert a political catastrophe through the above efforts as well as a visit by Mrs. Arroyo at Poe’s wake in Santo Domingo Church which could very well turn into the very opposite of its intentions.

Mrs. Arroyo has been advised not to proceed, and she will do well to heed that advice, not only because it could hasten rather than dampen the disaster Malacanang’s strategists, such as they are, fear could happen in the next week or so, but also because it would also be in the worst of etiquette and taste.

Malacanang’s efforts to appease Poe’s family and followers are in the same category of tastelessness and bad manners as the social and political system all its residents including the latest one have been protecting for decades. They should leave Poe, his family and his followers alone so they can bury their dead, instead of jumping somersaults in an obscene attempt to buy peace and business as usual.



Luis V. Teodoro

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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