Column – Fortnight – John Lennon must be turning in his grave


By Roland Rabang

TOWARDS the end of her “exclusive” interview with President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., on Tuesday, host Toni Gonzaga asked the president about the dream that he holds for the Philippines. 

The question seems to bring him to the verge of tears.  “Equality,” he answered.  He then proceeds to cite as example the children on the streets of Manila begging for alms during traffic stops. He keeps the rhetoric about the gap between the rich and the poor. “Masyadong maraming naghihirap,” he expounds.

That’s when Toni Gonzaga knew she clinched the interview’s rising action. She segued into the conclusion of the session with a question on what  the president’s late father, the Apo, might have felt about his son being elected president of the Philippines in the elections held in May this year. It is here that the presidential waterworks began.

         Okay, so what can I say? Touched naman ako. The almost one-hour interview began with softball questions and ended with a melodramatic note.  We could have ended right there and, as any president would have said (possibly including this one), proceed with the business of governing the nation. However, the day did not end without us hearing about a presidential soiree that had President Bongbong Marcos onstage anew, but this time at the Hilton Manila spiritedly belting-out a John Lennon song, “Imagine.”

         Apparently, that video clip posted online by broadcaster and Marcos’s admirer Anthony Taberna was taken also on Tuesday during the president’s birthday bash. With both images side by side, one can clearly see the apparent incompatibility of the messaging that proceeds from the president within a span of one day.  For how can the president speak for the nation’s poor and downtrodden in the morning, and at sundown “fight for (his) right to party?” (sung a’la Beastie Boys).

         My immediate thought was, “Who writes this sheet music for the President?” Imagine putting two contradictory messages in one frame? Is the president even aware of the absurdity created by this, and by extension, how foolish he appears to be as a result?

         But this is more than optics, is it? And because Bongbong Marcos is now, after all, president of the Philippines, his words and deeds are, of course, of public interest thus, no matter how tame and friendly the Toni Gonzaga interview might have been, by reason of his office, a good number of networks and publishers took excerpts from the interview and drew reports from there.

         At the same time, the president or his supporters could not be casual with the argument that it’s the president’s birthday anyway and for this, could he not be entitled to a dinner at the Hilton Manila with a small set of friends and a band. No he is not.  Especially if he cited the nation’s impoverished in an earlier statement to prop-up himself politically, and then later makes a profligate display that only this nation’s elite and privileged could ever pull off. As I said earlier, the fact that he did this in one go, makes the act callous, tasteless, and vulgar.

         Which brings us once again to the Toni Gonzaga interview.  Setting aside for a moment that it was not exactly an exhaustive and illuminating interview knowing the president’s aversion for probing questions (imagine he shunned the presidential debates), then you end up with exactly a melodramatic outcome that both actors would have wanted, and their audience of loyalists would have consumed with relish.  

We then delve into the purpose of the interview. Why was the president only preaching to the choir?  He is the president of the entire nation after all, and not just of the 31 million who voted for him.  And with the interview, the nation could have expected from their president some words of encouragement that he can lead the country in the right direction.

By this I refer particularly to the fireside chats of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, during the Great Depression spoke via radio broadcast to the American people about the need for courageous decisions on the part of the collective in order to achieve economic recovery. True enough, some Americans who withdrew their savings en masse from the banks returned their monies back as deposits enabling the circulation of currencies once again.

I keep coming back to the FDR analogy because Bongbong Marcos keeps crowing about his supposed historic electoral margin. Ergo, a’la FDR, I also keep waiting for a historic “the only thing we need to fear, is fear itself” kind of a battlecry. But I guess it’s a wait in vain because BBM could not even see the irony of the lyrics of the song he so spiritedly sung during his birthday: “Imagine no possessions/ I wonder if you can/ no need for greed or hunger…” 

Pssst…Mr. President, only if you possess an outrageous amount of money could you pull off that kind of party. And, by the way, how much was the cost of food per plate? Did you just happen to pass by a homeless kid begging for food on your way to Hilton Manila? What did you just tell Toni Gonzaga in your interview earlier? Equality?

Imagine all the people.  And that is the sad refrain of the rest of us who cannot afford the cost of sugar, or rice, let alone a plate at the Hilton Manila. The rest of us pack like sardines on a jeepney while the presidential chopper airlifts the vice-president back to her children in Davao. Imagine the privileged few. Imagining the president singing “Imagine” is like watching Nero playing the fiddle while the rest of Rome burns.  John Lennon must be turning in his grave.

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