Thursday, November 29, 2007





Where the People Aren’t

This is a very bad day in the Philippines; possibly the worst in twenty years. I am writing this on Thursday evening, November 29. I was planning to post a new entry on this blog over the weekend, but this is not the topic I was planning to take up. A midnight to 5 a.m. curfew begins in two hours. Metro Manila has not had curfew since the fall of the dictator Marcos in 1986,

As I do most every Thursday or Friday I spent the morning reading in the Asian Development Bank library. This is without doubt the best library of development economics in Asia. I usually don’t get much past the magazines and journals, however. Not long before noon there was a notice that soldiers accused in a failed mutiny in 2003 were marching in the Makati central business district and that the area should be avoided.

I got home to Quezon City in mid-afternoon and stayed glued to the television for the next six hours. Some 30 or 40 lightly armed soldiers in fatigues marched to Makati’s Manila Peninsula Hotel and took over. With them was the leader of the failed 2003 mutiny Antonio Trillanes and his sidekick General Danilo Lim. The 2003 mutiny was centered on the Oakwood Hotel, also in Makati. Trillanes has been in jail for the last four years while his trial drags on and on. In the meantime he was elected to the Philippine Senate with 11 million votes (the 24 Philippine Senators are elected at large, with 12 elected every three years) in the May elections. Trillanes and Lim had walked out of the trial in what is portrayed as a spontaneous action.

I am completely disgusted by the behavior of everyone involved: the police, the rebel soldiers, the media, and the rebel’s civilian supporters including the three senile old idiots former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, former University of the Philippines President Francisco Nemenzo, and retired Roman Catholic Bishop Julio Labayen.

The police allowed armed soldiers to march to a five star business hotel and take over. Overwhelming force could easily have been amassed and stopped the march. Once there, the police allowed scores of media people and smaller numbers of urban poor (some still carrying the sack lunches they had been provided in this “spontaneous” uprising) to enter the hotel as well.

During the press conferences conducted by Lim and Trillanes from inside the hotel, they spoke vaguely of the corruption and illegitimacy of the government of President Gloria Arroyo. True, the government is illegitimate. No one seriously doubts that she cheated in the election of 2004. Trillanes is also correct in criticizing the impunity with which the military has gunned down several hundred leftwing political organizers and journalists since she took power in 2001. Arroyo was vice president when a military-civilian uprising installed her in power following the ouster of Joseph Estrada in 2001. But what does taking over a hotel and driving out the guests have to do with anything?

The media poured into the hotel. It was indeed exciting to watch the televised events from both sides, from that of the rebel troops, and from the side of the police. It is the job of media to get as close to the action as possible, but this was a criminal event, this armed takeover of a hotel. It was not the same as covering a revolutionary movement. It was not like going to a rebel zone, then returning to government controlled territory. It was more like covering a bank robbery from the perspective of the armed bank robber.

This will be an important point in the next days and weeks. Was this a criminal or political event? Insofar as the rebel troops have no ideology, and no mass base, I would insist that it was a criminal event.

Finally, there were the civilian supporters. In addition to the three stooges mentioned above, there were also the “running priest” Robert Reyes, former Sanlakas Party List Congressman J.V. Bautista, and a handful of other has-beens. Their presence reflects the near total bankruptcy of the left, including the religious left.

The brave Lim and Trillanes vowed that this was where they would make their stand. An hour or so later, when the police finally began to assert control over the situation and fired some teargas into the lobby, the civilian supporters said this only showed the violence of the regime, responding with brutality to the nonviolence of the rebel soldiers.


If armed bandits knock over a bank without firing a shot, we do not refer to them as “nonviolent.”

As for Lim and Trillanes, they quickly agreed to exit the hotel to the waiting police vehicles. They didn’t want to endanger the innocent civilians, they said. The hundred or so urban poor supporters on the outside, stickers and pre-printed support posters in-hand, quickly abandoned this spontaneous uprising as well.

Along with a significant number of media people who were inside the hotel, the soldiers and their civilian apologists were hauled off to jail.

Bishop Labayen pontificated about the voice of the people justifying their actions.

Hey Obispo, the people weren’t there.

The winner of this fiasco is Gloria Arroyo, who now has further justification for her repressive policies.

Thursday, November 22, 2007



It’s been too long since my last posting, but I do plan to be more regular with this from here on out. In addition to Rick Penner’s comment on the second posting, he recently sent around an email to his wide network of friends endorsing this and several other blogs. So, I guess I’d better say something new.


I’m writing this on Friday, November 23, here in Quezon City. Most of my American friends and family are dazedly digesting their turkey, or trying to walk it off. One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is the leftovers: leftover turkey, then the turkey sandwiches, then the white meat in the chef salad, finally, the soup.

Despite so much else from America that has been adopted by the Philippines, Thanksgiving is not one of them. In very recent years, even American style Halloween has become part of middle class Filipino life, the costumes and candy being pushed hard by the shopping malls. But not Thanksgiving.

Fact is, I never thought much about Thanksgiving over most of the years I’ve lived here. A telephone call from a family member, or a greeting card from my mother arriving a week or so after the holiday (mail service has improved even if no one uses it anymore), would remind me of what was happening back home.

That is, until I took over a study abroad program. A week ahead of the holiday, a member of my first batch of students called and said they would pay for the turkey, if I’d be willing to cook it. The party would be at the apartment several of them shared.

That’s when I met Mr. Butterball. I’d never cooked a turkey before. Growing up, Thanksgiving was something we alternated with my mother’s family – one year at our place, next year at there’s. Both my mother and aunt were great cooks, and I don’t recall the turkey ever coming out of the oven less than perfect. And, lucky for us, they went for the white meat leftovers, and we took the dark. My mother and aunt never met Mr. Butterball either.

So, I cooked the turkey for my students, and while it is surely jam packed full of chemicals it’s pretty hard to go wrong with an imported Butterball turkey. The first taxi driver wouldn’t permit us to put it in his trunk. The second one was willing to take the risk and, six years on, he probably still has turkey grease smelling up his cab.

We got it to the party, and if I recall, there were at least a few side dishes. The turkey disappeared almost instantly. That was a big group of 20-year-olds.

That launched a tradition. From then on I’d cook the turkey at home and have my students over along with several other close friends. We’d have a few side dishes, but the students would bring most of the rest. I think the last Thanksgiving dinner had well over 40 people.

Most of my students were second generation Philippine-Americans, so the side dishes might include store-bought pancit (noodles), home-made lumpia (spring rolls), and a whole range of other cooked and purchased items. I learned from an older Philippine-American friend that this would be a pretty typical Thanksgiving dinner for a Philippine-American family in the U.S. I was very proud of one of my few non-Filipino students who cooked up banana cue – bananas cooked in oil and sugar and not too badly burned.

Two year’s ago my wife had her first Thanksgiving in the United States. Again, the turkey was central, but the side dishes included sushi. No one in this brother’s family is Japanese, but it was in the Napa Valley, so one expects culinary surprises.

Last year I was reading in the New York Times that Thanksgiving is the favorite American holiday of migrants. It is vaguely religious, but unlike Christmas or Easter, it doesn’t showcase any particular religion. Turkey is almost always a part of it, but the side dishes might be curries, enchilada, or chopsuey.

I often suggested to my students that we do the dinner on Friday, so they wouldn't have to be concerned with class the next day. But they insisted Thanksgiving had to be on Thursday, and it had to have mashed potato.

One year some of my local friends, Filipinos of course, asked me to explain what Thanksgiving was all about. So, I gave them the rundown of the first Thanksgiving, of how the native people had supported the settlers through their first winter, and how the feast happened before the onset of the second winter. This is more-or-less historically correct, I believe.

Being a university event, however, I couldn’t pass up the “teaching moment,” so I had to say a bit more. After the close of the Civil War, and not long before his assassination, President Abraham Lincoln first declared Thanksgiving as a national holiday. It was a way to bring the country together around a religious theme that wasn't too religious, and to try to move on after the devastation of the war. The sadly ironic thing is that this commemoration of cooperation between indigenous and settler peoples was made a holiday at the very time of the most deliberate and systematic slaughter of the remaining indigenous peoples. Some call it the Westward Expansion.

But as for the Butterballs, you might be wondering what they’re doing here. Well, the Philippines doesn’t observe Thanksgiving, but we do have the longest Christmas season in the world, starting on or around September 1. It’s the berrrrrrrr months of our tropical winter. For weeks now, the stone cold Butterballs have been piling up higher and higher in the shopping mall supermarkets!

Sadly, since the U.S. State Department declared a travel warning on the whole of the Philippines (this will be taken up in another blog one day), and I no longer have students, and I’m less reminded of this American holiday.

Yesterday, at the multilateral agency where my wife works, we did have our turkey, however. There are some 4,000 staffers there, and they enjoy a very good cafeteria with several different national cuisines served for every breakfast and lunch. Upstairs is the fine dinning restaurant. All of this is very good, and very cheap even by Philippine standards.

Probably not more than a few hundred of the staffers are American, but the upstairs restaurant did have a Thanksgiving Special. My wife and I were escorted to our reserved table by the window. It was lovely. The pumpkin soup was scrumptious. Then the main course arrived. I looked down at the plate, and mostly I saw a white plate! Hey! This is Thanksgiving! I shouldn’t see ANY plate below that food. I shouldn’t be able to walk away from here! A little dab of white meat, a little dark, some potato, and two – count them – two sprigs of asparagus. What is that?

My wife reminded me that this was a fine dining restaurant, and it was lunch, on a working day. People are going back to work within the hour.

Oh, okay. So it goes.

Happy Thanksgiving. I wish we could be together.