Twenty-eight years after

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Saturday, July 5, 2014


AFTER waiting for hours, the son and I finally found seats inside the gastroentorologist’s waiting room.

I took the seat no one wanted: directly underneath the TV screen that riveted everyone in the room.The anchor was reading the primetime news.To take my mind off—the scary news reader or the even scarier specialist reading my lab tests?—I focused on the faces turned up to the TV screen.

My fellow patients’ expressions went the gamut, from serious (father talked about the fraternity hazing victim at the De La Salle-College of St. Benilde), then bland (birthday girl Rep. Imelda Marcos predicted the return of the Marcoses to Malacañang), to amused (stage 4 cancer victim Sen. Miriam Santiago claimed her treatments were making her even prettier).

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Lung cancer hardly doused the impact of Senator Santiago in the highly competitive TV game of sound bites and images.I was grateful Miriam could break out the smiles in a room full of people waiting to hear the worst.

Later, I remembered the discrepancy of reactions triggered by the reports about the hazing victim and the political resurrection of the Marcoses.

In culling another young life, hazing worsens our nightmares of how the suppressed and barbaric can slip in and tear apart our carefully ordered life. In the latest fatality involving a school named after two saints, the anomalies dismay and agitate: not a dysfunctional family but a supportive one; not a school nurturingmiscreants in uniform but one that exhorts its students to say “no” when they are recruited by fraternities, equated with “gangs” for pursuing violence in the name of brotherhood.
Imelda, though, seems a different matter. Who feels threatened now by the wife of a former dictator, a woman celebrating her 85th year, who in her lifetime foisted her Christian name into the English language as a synonym for extravagance and frivolity?

She, who once distracted a people into putting on blinders for 20 years with her ternos and singing, seemed more human during media’s coverage of her July 2 celebration in Batac, Ilocos Norte. Mrs. Marcos wore a red gown that looked familiar. Instead of blinding jewels, her jowls engaged our attention. The birthday cake made of sugar shoes was self-mocking and funny.

That explains why we were entertained. Or unmoved. TV images influence how we process news. A corpse dragged by its feet removes the scene from a condominium and situates it in an abattoir. Mrs. Marcos crowned by Ilocandia with a headdress of red ribbons and dainty white flowers makes us remember prom queens of the past.

The first image turns the stomach; the second, forces us to check our own necks for sagging. Why have varying reactions to images that, far from being opposites, are actually variations of the same theme?

In 1982, Mike de Leon made a film that became a classic. “Batch ‘81” followed seven neophytes seeking entry into a fraternity. Their physical and psychological breakdown at the hands of frat masters did not just indict the brutal code of brotherhood but all systems abusing power.

The movie was made when the Marcos conjugal dictatorship held sway over the country. While Mrs. Marcos sang or theorized about the good, the true and the beautiful and thousands disappeared or ended in ditches (I remember how the “salvaged” regularly dumped in the gutter outside a nearby poultry became a breakfast staple in our neighborhood), de Leon used a fraternity’s systematic destruction of the individual to become a metaphor for life under the Bagong Lipunan (New Society) engineered by the Marcoses.

Once, passing through Ilocos Norte, the husband asked me if I wanted to see the former dictator preserved in his glass crypt. “Might put your ghosts to rest,” the husband joked.

I passed. A mere 28 years after the “People Power” of 1986 forced the Marcoses into exile, his family is back. The son was elected as senator and may run for the presidency in 2016. The older daughter served three terms as Ilocos Norte governor. She is now its provincial governor.
Imelda may still like to party and talk of being the “mother of world peace.” She entertains, even when she talks of her family returning to Malacañang and bringing “more help” to the Filipino people.

She entertains. When you pinch yourself repeatedly and still cannot wake up, that is not a nightmare. That is called reality. (mayette.tabada@gmail.com/ mayettetabada.blogspot.com/ 0917-3226131)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 06, 2014.

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