If there’s anything Filipinos will not be denied, it is the right to their holidays. A tyrant can savage the Bill of Rights, but can remain in power for 14 years. A fake president can turn the country over to foreigners so they can plunder and rape at will, and mock their sovereign right to choose their leaders, but may still get away with it. But don’t ever, ever even suggest that Filipinos can’t celebrate their holidays.

In the only majority Christian country in Asia, those holidays are almost solely Christmas and Lent. Though one marks the birth of Christ and the other his death and resurrection, Christmas is an occasion for the wealthy to hie off to nearby Hongkong, and Lent an excuse to fly to Rome and Lourdes. The middle class has to make do with polluted beaches and Baguio, to which lowlanders mass in such numbers they create huge traffic jams while boosting that city’s commerce.

As for the poor, they stay home, broiling in the white heat of summer, going through the customary rituals of endless community prayer, and, in some cases literally, self-flagellation and crucifixion during Lent. For the Christmas season they gather the family for the one decent meal of the year on Christmas Eve, send off the children to their godparents for a few coins, and spend their last centavos to set off fireworks for the New Year in a mockery of the secret war that’s raged in this country for decades.

Whether wealthy, middle class or poor, everyone except a few Scrooges who detest the hypocrisy, fake piety, consumerist frenzy and sheer length of Philippine holidays gets into the mood of either feigned sorrow or mad enjoyment. Primarily, however, the holidays are opportunities for taking days off from such concerns as high prices, crime, crooked officials and policemen, injustice, plain misery and the thousand and one sorrows of Filipino existence.

Add politics as it’s practiced in this vale of tears to that list. Although it’s supposed to be the national pastime, politics is the least of Filipino concerns during the holidays, especially Christmas. It’s easy enough to see why.

The politicos send Filipinos rolling down the aisles in amusement for much of the year. But in their heart of hearts Filipinos know that it’s these clowns, crooks and idiots who’re responsible for the country’s woes—meaning who’s behind the hunger so many are now familiar with, as well as the bad schools, the non-existent medical care, the high prices, the corruption, and the crime on the streets. They’d rather not think about these during the Christmas season, thank you.

Because Filipinos take their holidays and the escape they afford from the sorrows of Philippine life seriously, the timing of Virgilio Garcillano’s sudden re-appearance couldn’t have been more exquisite. In the one season interminable enough for even a three-act play to be staged, not only has Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s phone pal in the now infamous “Hello Garci” CDs/tapes surfaced. He’s also vowed to “tell all”.

For those who’ve been living in a cave or a desert island in the last six months, Garcillano is the former, Arroyo-appointed commissioner of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) whose alleged wire-tapped conversation with Mrs. Arroyo shortly after the May elections last year triggered the ongoing crisis over her legitimacy as President. In that conversation, Mrs. Arroyo seemed to be asking “Garci” to do something to assure her a lead of more than a million votes over the late actor Fernando Poe Jr. From the tapes of that conversation too, it seemed that “Garci” was willing to oblige. (He’s supposed to have said “Pipilitin ko”—I will do everything I can.)

Garcillano disappeared in the furor that followed. He was sighted in several places all over the country but was finally, it seemed, seen in Singapore from where he. proceeded to London. Escape being a possible indication of guilt, most Filipinos believed that he did help manipulate the May 2004 elections in favor of Mrs. Arroyo. But he now says he never left the country, and that he had only been in hiding because he feared for his life.

No one doubts what Garcillano’s going to tell Congress, if at all he decides to testify in ongoing hearings. All the signs show that his re-appearance and decision to “tell all” is part of a libretto Mrs. Arroyo and her allies hope will effect “closure” to the crisis by taking the wind out of the sails of the broad alliance for her forced resignation/ouster/removal, the increasingly bad press she’s been getting, and whatever findings the Citizens’ Congress for Truth and Accountability (CCTA) will release to the public.

The CCTA—a “truth commission” more than a court– has been conducting hearings on the election fraud charges against Mrs. Arroyo as well as claims that she violated the Constitution, is guilty of graft and corruption, and has sanctioned political killings and other human rights violations.

The Palace apparently believes that Garcillano’s formal disclosures in favor of Mrs. Arroyo and against the opposition—he has said that opposition people too met with him to ask for his help in manipulating the elections in their favor—would discredit not only the opposition but also the groups involved in the protest/ouster/resign movement, Garcillano being at the core of the controversy.

The fact that he would be making these “disclosures” during the Christmas season would be of immense help in further dulling public interest in the crisis. Starting with the premise that no one has ever lost money underestimating the Filipino people, Malacanang and its strategists know only too well that the majority of the public is too tired and too focused on survival and the holidays to care about whether a fake president is in Malacanang or not.

A corrupt and cynical political class begets a cynical citizenry, and this is what the Palace is banking on. The bottom line is that much of the public has succumbed to the cynicism inevitable in a political system of no visible value to the country and its people, and which has instead damaged both.

By assuming the worst of the people they have probably defrauded, Malacanang and its allies are gambling on the probability that a weary nation will just throw up its hands and agree to a Palace-mandated “closure” this Christmas season. This is as cynical as any government of a rumored democracy can get—and during a holiday season that’s supposed to renew Christian faith, too.

(Business Mirror)

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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