I was up late Monday night, anticipating the “happy” news the Malacanang lark tweeted days before. At this point, good news wasn’t good enough after two months under virtual house arrest. Besides, I wasn’t a big fan of the late night show of the equivalent of the mythical Ibong Adarna whose nocturnal droppings were supposed to turn its human victims into stone.
Too, the season for self flagellation was over.
But I defied my better judgment — and experience as well — because I felt the COVID 19 ennui or angst was nibbling at me. A day before, I read that erstwhile COVID 19 victim Sonny Angara filed a bill on the effect of the pandemic to mental health. He knew, perhaps, whereof he spoke.
Then it showed on CNN website that it would be done the next day. The morning after, I turned the boob tube on CNN Philippines. Lo and behold, ” Adarna” came out with the usual sober look and poker face and directed Carlito Galvez, chief implementer of the government policy versus the corona virus, to start the ball rolling.
A few minutes into his presentation, Galvez was abruptly cut by the President who probably felt, as I did, that the briefing was going the technical way only the initiated would appreciate. He then asked Presidential Spokeperson Harry Roque to somehow dumb it down so the general public could understand it better.
That moment gave a good glimpse at Duterte’s continued success in winning the hoi polloi, knowing how get to across to them. The surgical interruption paved the way for Duterte to seque into his own narrative of the scheme of things from his claimed destiny of rising from being a devil -may care- mayor to being “the kapatas” now. Duterte’s metaphors, as always, yo-yo from the sublime to the paralytic. Who doesn’t love a good story teller who does it in a folksy, uninimitable way?
It was interesting but a complete deviation from what the moment was all about, and that is to breathe into the soul of a nation so bewitched and bewildered by the two-month lockdown, so forcefully sucked of its energy by everything from incompetence to negligence — Duterte himself hinted at widespread corruption — it could disintegrate into an irreversible disrepair.
As usual his pet peeve. Kill the enemy before he does you in. And the enemy is not the virus. And then a couple of profanities that was, minutes before, preceded by an exhortation for everyone to pray. Politicians, they say, are, by definition, not pure. Duterte was a contradiction in terms. In one breath, he painstakingly summoned his moral courage to show his uncompromising respect for human life; in another, he nonchalantly urged the soldiers or the police not to show mercy to the enemy. Again, it’s not the virus.
“I must be cruel only to be kind, declared Hamlet, thus bad begins and worse remains behind.”
Time and again, Duterte has echoed Hamlet’s sense of destiny. And, as if a ghost haunted him like Hamlet, Duterte remembered his parents who, he said, could be wondering what happened to the unruly kid they raised up. And he was self-deprecating,a throwback politician, an old-school — a tradpol, if you will — playing to the gallery or his captive audience, his Cabinet and his political base. It’s the song that mermerizes his captive hearers into a stone, or nevertheless, are momentarily fossilized by it.
At one point, Duterte stressed the need to wear a mask — a must he said — only to be made aware that the emperor was naked when an aide came along quickly with a mask that she helped put on. Then the camera panned on a previously mask-less Bong Go put on his. Both were in sync: Hamlet and his omnipresent gofer Horatio betraying some Freudian slip. Adam and Eve probably acted the same way when they were told they were au naturel.
Scale that scene up until it becomes granular, and you have a needling sense of where this country is going.
Once, in the run-up to the historic 1986 Snap election that eventually ran Ferdinand Marcos out of office, I joined a group of opposition meeting where the late Bren Z. Guiao was supposed to go but asked me to be his proxy. Leading the meeting was then Health Secretary Alfred Bengzon. After discussing the political ills of the country, Bengzon sardonically commented that the problem of the Philippines was not political but renal.
Just last week, the Supreme Court junked a petition asking the court to compel Malacanang to reveal the President’s health record. Only two associate justices dissented, perhaps also just as eager to know if what the ails the country is simply political. By the way, history would show that Bengzon was right all along.
To Shakespeare, character is destiny. And character is oftentimes manifested in habit. In Shakesperian plays, the protagonist meets a tragic fate. “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain”, declared Hamlet.
Former Rene Saguisag, while wincing at the flaws in Duterte’s character, prays that the latter succeeds because if and when he does, the nation gains as well. A compelling incentive, a modern currency that,given the currrent dispensation,is a take-it-or-leave it option.
Like a midnight announcement that keeps you awake and waiting but never happens. It grabs you grievously not only with the gnaw of frustration but with the bite of a misfortune of sort.