It was a casting director’s dream lineup, if the movie were titled “The Dirty (less than a) Dozen” or “The (Not So) Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
Indeed, the photos of the occupants of the head table at the recent 80th birthday bash of former president Erap Estrada reminded many of the early opening scene of the first “Godfather” movie: the crème de la crème of Mafiosi gathered at a wedding banquet.
Well, just note the main actors: Erap himself, of course, with President Duterte, former president and now Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, former first lady and now Rep. Imelda Marcos, former vice president Jojo Binay, former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, GMA’s husband Mike Arroyo, and former senator (and vice-presidential moist-eye) Bongbong Marcos. Not one of them is untouched by allegations of corruption; house arrests and at least one conviction spice up their collective resume.
“They are the reason the Philippines remains poor,” said a commenter on FB, giving the public a capsule lesson on recent Philippine history. So, given their shared and interlinked histories, the sight of them all together cannot but send chills up and down one’s spine. What conspiracies, what nefarious plots and plans, what forms of grand larceny were any or all of these personalities hatching during the socials?
For all we know, they may have been exchanging nothing more insidious than gossip among (and about) themselves and their political allies. Gossip about their enemies would surely have been relished with even more gusto. But seeing them all seated in a row, looking for all the world like distinguished and respectable citizens, one can’t help but shake one’s head at how appearances can be not just deceiving but outright untrue.
Surely, the President dodged a bullet there, bluntly and a little sulkily rejecting the possible invitation by the UP Board of Regents to accept an honorary doctorate.
This came in the wake of a single demonstration on the steps of UP’s Palma Hall by protesting Iskolars ng Bayan angered by news of the honor the university has proposed for the Chief Executive. Of course, this protest was covered by news outlets, and more important, echoed and resounded on social media, with UP alumni throwing in their irate two centavos’ worth.
But given the impunity and indifference with which Mr. Duterte meets most criticism of his rule, especially the loud global protests about EJKs, it was an extraordinarily swift and decisive about-face. Assuming, of course, that the President himself wanted the honorary degree.
To explain his rejection of the offer, the President said he had “always” had an aversion to awards, honors or degrees, perhaps because he hasn’t exactly led an exemplary or even respectable scholarly life. But as if to challenge the truth of even this assertion, netizens quickly came up with “proof” that before the UP honoris causa debacle, Mr. Duterte wasn’t too averse to receiving awards or honors.
Take it for a face-saving response, then. Perhaps learning by now that even the tiniest sparks can ignite a wildfire, Mr. Duterte and his propaganda machine decided the fight wasn’t worth the aggravation, the honorary degree more trouble than it’s worth.
Still, when it was revealed that UP’s grant of an honorary degree to a new president was customary, I couldn’t help raising a brow. If every newly elected president is honored in such a way, then it becomes meaningless, a mere ritual, a way to cement political ties.
Indeed, a side issue in this nipped-in-the-bud controversy was who among the members of the UP Board of Regents first raised the grant of an honorary degree to the President. People cited by sources who based their conjecture on the minutes of the meeting have instantly denied authorship, with UP president Danny Concepcion gallantly stepping up to take responsibility.
Perhaps this would serve as a lesson for UP to drop this meaningless and politically fraught tradition. A newly elected president doesn’t need to burnish his or her credentials any further. And there are other ways for political appointees to suck up to the powers-that-be.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.