By Mina Paras-Morales

MANY years ago, I was asked to be a godmother in the wedding of my baptismal godson. The time, the invitation said, was 2:30 p.m., quite an ungodly hour for a wedding to be held, especially since it was then summertime. The heat could melt the ladies’ makeup and drench the coiffed and the gowned with unwelcome sweat.

Since I had already accepted to be once again ‘ninang’ to the groom — and you know you can’t really refuse, according to our tradition — I resigned myself to the forthcoming inconvenience.

At two in the afternoon, I was in full panic mode: I was still at the salon, with my hair still undone. There was a power outage, one of the many, nay, daily occcurences in the era of Pnoy’s mother, the sainted Cory Aquino. Her administration was characterized by the brownouts and blackouts all over the country, thus, it was also called the Dark Ages.

I couldn’t be LATE, I told the hairdresser, just do something! A few minutes later, I left the salon, finished or not finished, and rushed to the church, certain that I was the only one they were waiting for.

Surprise surprise, there was no one in the church, no cars parked in front. Inside, I peeked, it was so quiet you could hear a mouse squeak.

Doubt crept through my mind — had I gotten the day wrong? Why, there were not even flowers to decorate the aisle and the altar. The church was as bare as a bikini-clad hot chick by the beach.

As cellphones were not yet a dime a dozen then — IT was still just percolating in Silicon Valley in the US of A — I had no way of knowing what the heck happened? There I was in my expensive ‘ninang’ gown —not a rented one — and stewing in my car, under the sweltering notes of a summer symphony. I told Kap — whom I had requested to drive for me — to get us to a sari-sari store, where I bought us cold Cokes and Skyflakes.

With our Cokes finished, we went back to the church, with a resolve that if nothing or no one was moving in the church, I was going to huff and puff my way home, muttering unprintable effing words. LO and behold, there were lots of men, in workclothes, carrying bunches of flowers into the church. It turns out they were the decorators and were donning the church aisles and altar with calla lilies and other wedding-worthy blooms. At past 3 p.m.!

There was no other recourse but to wait. Any minute now, someone is bound to appear, with profuse apologies. At 4 pm, some people finally appeared. They were guests and, a little while later, the entourage. At 4:30 pm, TWO HOURS after the time printed on the invitation, the wedding march commenced. And NOBODY apologized for the delay.

It turns out — and this happens often ‘pala’ — that the wedding planner and parents and the couple set the time two hours early so that people would come ON TIME! So ingrained is Filipino time in our culture that it is taken for granted that guests would come in late! Even in official meetings, being late is not an act punishable by equally late lawmakers. At a meeting with then President Ramos, he was two hours late! When one of my daughters got married (Kapitana Marjorie Sambo), former President GMA was the principal ‘ninang’ among other equally political heavyweights. We were advised that everybody must be seated when she arrives. Set for a 4 pm wedding mass, guests must be seated ‘daw’ by 2 pm. That’s quite a window of time, too. PGMA didn’t arrive on time; she actually arrived DURING the ceremony already, so all that waiting was for naught and it got everybody, including the other principal sponsors very thirsty and hungry.

It’s an execrable practice, which we may have inherited from our Spanish colonizers, including the manana habit, but it has gained quite a following among Rizal’s indolent ‘kababayan’. We are not alone in this however. Taiwanese make it a practice to be late to show their importance. And in showbiz, Filipino showbiz people just so love to make a grand entrance. When a VIP is horribly late for an event where thousands of people are waiting, it does not detract from his SWS or Pulse Asia ratings. We are so forgiving. But, there you are.

Having legislated it as a Republic Act 10535 aka Philippine Standard Time Act of 2013, how does Pnoy plan to impose this act? Are there going to be sanctions? Certainly it won’t be easy. Especially if you live, work, or study in Metro Manila where the traffic goes on a standstill at the slightest drizzle, or having started out from home under a sunny sky, you suddenly are in the midst of a flashflood. I tell you, those are times that can try men’s souls. So, there you are.

I can only quote George Bernard Shaw (correct me if I’m wrong) who said, in Great Expectations, “This is the best of time. This is the worst of time.”

A great new year, everyone!