Friday, February 29, 2008

Pampanga and people power

by Robby Tantingco

The handsome coffee-table book “Luid Ka!” launched last Sunday in Betis, should remind us Kapampangans that, whatever they say about People Power-—that it is outdated, it won’t work again, it will hurt rather than help the nation—-and despite all the bad reputation that People Power has acquired through the years due to abuse and misuse, we Kapampangans did get a glimpse of it in its purest form last May 2007, and yes, it was beautiful! Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

And thank God they made a book that captured the moment and preserved it for all generations, so that our children, their children and their children’s children will never forget that once upon a time, Kapampangans came together, created a piece of heaven on earth, and took a direct hand in altering the course of history.

That moment, unfortunately, is gone. All the heavenly glow that surrounded the key players and their supporters on that night at the convention center—captured so vividly in photographs—has evaporated in the harsh daylight of political realities.

I hope the book will remind us once again that doing good is more important than being right, and that we have the capacity to transcend our daily battles and create moments of miracles where anything is possible.

The book also made me ask why a people power movement succeeded so spectacularly in Pampanga last year, while the rest of the country today is failing so miserably in trying to organize another.

One possible explanation is that People Power is really the desire to install someone, not the desire to oust someone. The People Power in 1986 was fueled by the popularity of Cory Aquino, not the unpopularity of President Marcos, because had the presidential candidate been Doy Laurel instead of Cory, I don’t think millions of Filipinos would have risked their lives at EDSA.

In Pampanga, had the candidate not been as charismatic as Fr. Ed Panlilio, whose spirituality defined the election as a classic battle between good and evil, and whose inexperience made him the underdog against one candidate’s showbiz-style popularity and another candidate’s huge campaign funds—people power would not have happened in Pampanga.

I think People Power, in its purest form, occurred only twice in history: in 1986 at EDSA, and in 2007 in Pampanga.

The one that ousted President Estrada and installed Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (now known as EDSA 2) was motivated by a desire to unseat a corrupt, uncouth President, not by a desire to install Vice President Arroyo. I remember watching on TV how wildly the crowd in front of the EDSA Shrine cheered when they heard the news that Erap had fled Malacanang; however, the moment a giddy Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was introduced as the new President, the crowd applauded only politely. That was the moment, I think, when Filipinos got disenchanted with People Power. The attempts that came after that (EDSA 3, EDSA 4, etc.) did not succeed anymore.

Today, as the political situation in the country continues to deteriorate, Filipinos remain reluctant to do another People Power because there is no overwhelming desire to install anybody, just an overwhelming desire to unseat the President. They’re probably thinking: Whom are we going to risk our lives for—Noli de Castro?? Why change a defective TV set when the replacement is another defective TV set?

Well, come to think of it, why not?

Just because President Arroyo is doing a good job at improving our economy doesn’t mean we have to turn a blind eye to a crime she might have committed. We want her out not because she is not a good manager (she is), but because she may have committed a crime, which leaves the nation no option but to punish her. Even the class valedictorian loses his medal if proven he cheated, and even the company’s best employee gets fired if caught he stole money. No amount of good behavior or excellent accomplishments can immune or rescue you from the consequences of one terrible mistake.

That’s what we call responsibility and accountability, and that’s what we should teach our children. Every time we say GMA should stay even if she may have cheated or stolen money, because she is doing a good job with the economy anyway and her replacement will not do as well—what values are we teaching the next generation?

If indeed she is guilty as charged, and she refuses to go, then the people will have no other option but to summon People Power. Don’t blame the people for resorting to it; blame Malacanang for forcing the people to resort to it.

Last Sunday, the book launching of “Luid Ka” in Betis reminded me how beautiful People Power can be, and yesterday, the 22nd anniversary of the 1986 EDSA Revolution reminded me how proud we all were then. People Power was “our gift to the world.” Today, they’re forbidding us to give that gift again.

Pampanga may have something to teach the rest of the nation.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Our Kapampangan President

by Robby Tantingco
SunStar Pampanga

When I watch on TV the thin crowds that gather for anti-GMA rallies, I can’t help feeling sad—not so much for the opposition as for the country as a whole. Rallies are the yardsticks for measuring not only the popularity or unpopularity of a President, but more importantly, the level of people’s interest in their country’s affairs.

When people stay away from rallies, it doesn’t mean they are pro-GMA; the surveys already tell us that she is a very unpopular president. The thin crowds in rallies simply mean people no longer care whether GMA stays or goes. And that’s bad.

Some call it people power fatigue, others think it is a sign that Filipinos have matured politically because they now rely more on the electoral process than on people power to change their leaders.

Well, I have a more cynical explanation.

The world today is so much more complex than the world that produced the People Power movements in the 1980s and the 1990s. Whereas before we only had five TV channels, now we have over 50. We also have cell phones and iPods and malls and DVDs and the Internet.

In other words, people today are so distracted by so many things happening at the same time that they can’t focus on any single thing. They tune in to the Senate hearing for a few minutes, then switch to American Idol and Desperate Housewives. They drop by the rally in Makati and after a few boring speeches under the sun, they rush to Greenbelt to cool their heels at Starbucks and later to Glorietta to catch the last full show. And how can corruption in government arouse anger in a teenager whose head is swimming with Justin Timberlake’s music from earphones plugged in all day?

Of course they read the papers and follow what’s happening in politics, and for a few moments they probably feel stirrings of patriotism and even send their politicized thoughts to their friends and co-workers through text messages, but to go beyond that—like march in the street and risk being hosed down by the PNP—that’s probably stretching it a bit.

It will probably take a tyrant like Marcos to reignite people power, and for all her repressive policies and dictatorial tendencies, GMA is no Marcos. I think it will take a series of earth-shaking events, instead of just one, to really create the critical mass that will erupt in a phenomenon called people power. In the 1980s, the assassination of Ninoy began the chain of events that led to the rigged Batasang Pambansa elections and the snap elections and the walkout of Comelec tabulators and the mutiny of Defense Minister Enrile and Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Ramos. In the case of Erap, the nightly TV coverage of his trial that showed a steady procession of witnesses and damning revelations, with defections by friends like Chavit Singson and even Nora Aunor, sustained the people’s outrage long enough to finally push them to spill into the streets.

In the case of GMA, the scandals are as earth-shaking as the others, but they are spaced so few and far between that the people’s anger keeps rising and falling. The Hello Garci episode could have been it, except that the crowds didn’t show up. FPJ’s wake and funeral aroused people’s sentiments for about a week, then also fizzled out. Joey de Venecia’s expose came and went, too, and now, this Jun Lozada thing looks like a noisy circus that is also doomed to fade away, like all the others before it.

Well, I sincerely hope not.

This government has corrupted itself with such impunity that if the people would not bring it down, I am certain God would.

As a Kapampangan, I truly wish GMA well and I am grateful for all the preferential treatment she has given Pampanga. However, as a Filipino, I cannot be so selfish that I don’t care if she robs the rest of the nation blind as long as my province benefits from it. Our love for our province should stop where our love for our country begins.

Sometimes we should sacrifice provincial interests for the sake of the nation—I emphasize sometimes, because other times, we shouldn’t (like in the case of language). Whether we like it or not, all the regions and tribes in these 7,100 islands came together at one point in history and decided to be one nation, so even if our own Kapampangan Nation antedated the Philippine State by 400 years, this is where we find ourselves now, struggling to coalesce with other regions under one flag.

We cannot privilege our province at the expense of the nation. The attitude that we should stick to the President because she is a Kapampangan or because she has done so much for Pampanga—is selfish and unpatriotic.

As the political events unfold in the next few days, we Kapampangans should start thinking as Filipinos instead of just Kapampangans so that we can assess the situation more objectively. I support GMA for her wise decisions and enlightened policies, and I will abandon her if she is proven to be a crook. Our cabalen who will stand by her come what may, who will stick their neck for her and even take the bullet meant for her—that’s their choice.

But when you are loyal to one person, you can expect reward only from that person. Those who put the country’s welfare above all—they can expect the gratitude of an entire nation.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Abe, Larry Cruz and my begukan

By Robbie Tantingco

My friends often told me that my begukan (pork pieces sautéed in shrimp paste) was the best in the world. They told it so often that I had started to believe it. Until Larry Cruz walked into my life and tasted my begukan.

I first met Larry Cruz two years ago when a common acquaintance, Vic Torres of the Intramuros Administration, linked us up for a book project. Before I made that trip to Makati to meet him, I Googled his name to make sure I had my facts right about the man I was going to do business with.

I learned that Larry Cruz headed the LJC Restaurant Group which owned a chain of restaurants that included Café Adriatico, Café Havana, Bistro Remedios, Larry’s Bar, Abe Restaurant and Bollywood. I also learned that Larry Cruz was credited for popularizing the so-called bistro lifestyle in Manila, i.e., the subculture that thrived in the Ermita-Malate area, specifically around the Remedios Circle, where the culturati and the literati mingled with tourists and transvestites in coffee shops, bars, antique shops and restaurants, dining, drinking and who knows what else until the wee hours.

Larry Cruz, being a native of Magalang town, was a Kapampangan who, like Ricco Ocampo of San Fernando, was one of the country’s best-known restaurateurs and, like Claude Tayag of Angeles, was one of the country’s most sought-after culinary consultants. Like Claude, he had an art-house filled with antiques and paintings, where he loved to entertain friends and visitors with the best that Kapampangan cuisine had to offer, but unlike Claude, he didn’t cook.

We met in his Bollywood Restaurant, located on the third level of Greenbelt 3 in Makati. I sat facing him, a little intimidated by the combined gravitas of his personality and reputation, and as I pretended to know exactly what to do with the exotic Indian food on my plate, he pretended not to notice my clumsiness. But there I was, a probinsyano being asked by Larry Cruz to be the publisher of the biography of his father—writer, painter and diplomat E. Aguilar Cruz—written by no less than the greatest Filipino writer in the English language, Nick Joaquin. It was Nick Joaquin’s certified last book before he died (I emphasize certified, because there are other books claiming to be the National Artist’s last works), and it was to be Larry’s tribute to his father.

To cut the long story short, the book was launched on the same day Larry’s Abe Restaurant opened. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that it was probably the cultural and social event of the year, because it had everything in it: Larry Cruz, E. Aguilar Cruz, Nick Joaquin, the hottest restaurant at The Serendra, the most upscale spot in the upscale Bonifacio Global City, performers that included Ballet Philippines and the country’s top soprano Rachelle Gerodias, the emcee a Binibing Pilipinas title-holder, and the guest list with such names as Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, Bencab, Gilda Cordero Fernando, Armando Doronilla, Ambeth Ocampo, Claude Tayag, Adrian Cristobal, Kit Tatad, Gemma Cruz, Krip Yuson, Patis Tesoro, Serafin Quiason, Manolo Gatbonton, Italian Ambassador Rubens Fedele, Rep. Cynthia Villar, the Mayors of Taguig and Magalang and the family of Nick Joaquin. I was grateful to Larry Cruz for the honor of being a part of such an important book, and Larry was equally grateful to me for convincing Holy Angel University to publish it.

Larry Cruz and I became text mates after that. He never failed to invite me to parties and meetings, sometimes at Café Havana where Carmen Guerrero Nakpil’s group regularly met, and other times at his art-house in Magalang, at the foothills of Mount Arayat, which has now been converted into a spa and events village called Abe’s Farm. Sometimes I went, but often I didn’t.

But one time I brought along a friend to Abe’s Restaurant; I think we came unannounced but still, Larry sat with us and told us we should order his green salad which came from his farm’s produce in Magalang, and his begukan. When he heard ‘begukan,” my companion’s face lit up.

“Oh, you don’t serve begukan to Robby,” he told Larry. “Why?” Larry asked, and my companion replied, “You can’t beat Robby’s begukan. Wanna bet?”

I don’t know if Larry took it as an insult or as a challenge, but he left and came back with his chef. My hand instinctively crept towards the knife on the table as I expected the worst, but Larry smiled and said, “Robby, I want you to teach my chef your recipe!” My companion clapped and said, “Go, Robby! This is your chance to have a recipe named after you! At Abe Restaurant no less!”

If you saw the movie “Ratatouille,” the scene where the rat was discovered and everyone in the kitchen stopped for one second and stared at the rat in disbelief and in disgust—that’s how I felt when I entered the kitchen and everyone turned to face me. From the corner of my eye I saw one cook with a chopping knife exchange glances with another cook holding a slicing knife, and I honestly feared for my life. I only relaxed a bit after the chef’s assistant smiled at me and told me he knew me because he’d graduated from HAU and lived just across my parents’ house in Mabalacat.

The chef tried to maintain a straight face as I lectured him on how to cook begukan—my way, or rather, the way my mother had taught me. First parboil (sinkotya) the pork pieces (really tiny pieces), then sautee in baguk until brown, before adding the leftover stock from the parboil. Add a dash of sugar to slightly caramelize.

Larry walked in to tell me to cook, not lecture, it. So I did. You could hear a pin drop as I peeled the garlic and cut the onions; the chef shook his head when I sautéed longer than I should, and when I sprinkled sugar on it, I swear someone gasped.

So, did Larry like it? You can measure the compassion a man has in his heart by his willingness to tell a white lie to save you from getting hurt. That begukan I cooked in Abe’s kitchen was the worst, because when I cook my begukan, I want to take my time and I don’t like people watching and waiting. And I have to cook it in my own kitchen using my own pots and pans.

Yet Larry said it was good, and I knew it was a lie because when I came back to eat at Abe Restaurant months later, the menu still didn’t say Robby’s Begukan.

(Larry died last week in the United States while being treated for cancer. I join his family and friends in praying for his eternal rest.)