Noli Me Tangere and the APEC Summit

THE APEC summit, for which the Aquino government was willing to create horrible incoveniences and economic losses for the country, concluded amidst self-congratulatory applause and back-patting by its organizers.
The good news is that, in spite of the threat of a terrorist attack, in the wake of the massacre in Paris, the delegates clearly enjoyed the warmth and goodness of the Filipino people,  even while they might have shaken their collective heads in amusement at the efforts of the Philippine government to impress them.  Surely, this was not the first time that international conference hosts had gone to great lengths to put up a good show. Some simply did it better than others. Worldly wise heads of state could easily see through the pretensions.
One thing the APEC delegates were assured of, however, was that the hospitality showered on them at the conference was heartfelt and sincere. We are a genuinely caring and friendly people – to a fault. In truth, the monstrous inconvenience that the government made the citizenry suffer, in order to offer the delegates an “impressive” experience, was a typical manifestation of that fault.
If they were to visit a Filipino home, be it ever so humble, they would be offered the most comfortable bed (even if the hosts themselves have to sleep on the floor) and served the choicest dishes (while the family members make do with morsels).
This curious characteristic of our people is by no means new. In Dr. Jose Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tangere, Kapitan Tiyago, hosts a reception for everyone in town, particularly the most important personages, namely, the Spanish friars and colonial officials.  In the course of the party, discreet instructions are given to the house help that the kind of fare served the guests would depend on their stature. There would also be a code to distinguish the important guests from the ordinary ones: tsokolate eh, a richer, tastier blend, for the former and, for the latter, tsokolate ah, a watered down serving.
Not surprisingly, the Spanish friar, Padre Damaso, the quintessential villain in Rizal’s novel, had nothing but contempt for the lowly Indios and for the pretentious Kapitan Tiyago, who was falling all over himself to impress his colonial masters.
Dr. Rizal wrote with bitterness and bluntness about this unsavory trait and other instances of hypocrisy, decrying them as symptoms of the social cancer afflicting the Filipino people. To this day, many of us are subconsciously burdened by this colonial mentality. Inflicting inconvenience and economic losses on the Filipino people in order to look good in the eyes of foreign dignitaries was just one more indication of this mindset.
Thus, the APEC delegates saw a spic-and-span Metro Manila, specifically in the vicinity of the conference and the routes taken by official convoys. Airline flights were cancelled, schools and offices closed, beggars and vagrants rounded up and kept away from view, neighborhoods with unsightly shanties boarded up and painted over, and the main thoroughfares reserved exclusively for APEC delegates and the omnipresent security personnel.
The daily traffic anarchy, which became even worse, was consigned to the areas that the delegates did not visit. It was pretty much the equivalent of dirt being swept under the rug.
In a manner of speaking, the APEC delegates were served tsokolate eh, while the rest of our people had to make do with tsokolate ah.
Of course, now that the conference is over, things have reverted back to normal, meaning congested airports, congested highways, urchins and the homeless populating the streets, vendors hawking their wares in the middle of traffic, and shanties and ramshackle store fronts exposed once more.
To the credit of the organizers, stringent measures were taken to guarantee the safety of the delegates. In fact, had there been a terrorist attack (God forbid), security personnel would not have hesitated to take a bullet for them. Our police force may not be the most efficient or best equipped, but the courage of our uniformed men and women is beyond doubt (ask the Americans who fought alongside Filipinos in Bataan and Corregidor).
People have wondered: couldn’t the government have planned a successful and impressive conference without exacting a heavy toll on the citizenry? Why did the government decide to stage the APEC summit in Metro Manila which, aside from being overcrowded and traffic-plagued, presented a security nightmare?
It was simply a case of good intentions but poor decision-making owing to incompetence or, at best, lack of experience.
It may be recalled that the first time the Philippines hosted the APEC summit, back in 1996, it was held at the former Subic Naval Base which had already become a bustling export zone.
The president then was Fidel V. Ramos, who was not only steeped in operations management but also had the support of an efficient and competent team. The Subic Freeport itself was under the management of Dick Gordon who, with the help of volunteers, had taken over an abandoned US naval facility and transformed it into a showcase of the Pinoy can-do spirit.
In contrast, planning for the current APEC summit began during the incumbency of President Benigno S. Aquino III, whose qualifications, capabilities and work ethic pale beside that of President Ramos.
In fairness, PNoy never claimed to be anything more than being the son of illustrious parents when he was swept to the presidency by a wave of grief over the death of President Cory Aquino and disgust over the alleged corruption of outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.  As it turned out, this was a classic example of the Peter Principle – promoting someone to his level of incompetence – and many of us should say mea culpa for that.
In presiding over preparations for the APEC summit, Aquino could at least have sought the advice of Ramos. Unfortunately, Aquino seems averse to seeking advice on things he knows not. Worse yet, he apparently knows not that he knows not.
At any rate, the APEC summit over and done with and one can almost hear Noynoy Aquino tell the loudly complaining Filipino people: “Pasensiya na kayo sa tsokolate ah. Buhay pa naman kayo, hindi ba? “ ([email protected])

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