Sunday, June 21, 2015

Philippines

Wherever you find large stretches of water, even on an inland lake, you can be guaranteed to find small islands, known as islets usually, that are simply too inaccessible, or too small, for anyone to inhabit. Governments use them as foundations when they need concrete pillars for their extended highways and artificial causeways. Rich people buy them, put up a holiday home, and moor their boat there twice a year in order to spend a weekend yearning to be back in civilisation. Poor people who can do no better lay out a bamboo shack and live there all the year round, surviving on fishing and foreign aid. Usually there are just a handful of these islands, but in the Philippines there are almost seven thousand of them, while the vast population lives, for the most part, on just eleven. 


A Spanish colony for many centuries, the Spaniards eventually got tired of the earthquakes and the eruptions of twenty volcanoes, and abandoned the place to native self-rule in 1935, followed by full independence in 1946, after which things went rather well, with a constitution based on the American and considerable economic growth. Then, in the mid-1960s, Imelda Marcos opened the world’s largest shoe store, but failed to invite anyone to buy the shoes. To support her growing philia, it was necessary to have lots of money, but Presidents are not well paid, so her benign husband, a man known for his warm smile and generous demeanour, appointed himself as Finance Minister, and provided protection for the Treasury through a private security firm called The Philippine Army. Now Imelda was happy. She could travel the world and buy all the shoes she wanted, and if the rest of the country could no longer afford shoes, why that was their own fault for being lazy and unimaginative, and anyway the New People’s Army, whose aspirations her husband had curtailed by imposing martial law, does not believe in shoes, so you are better off under my beloved Ferdinand and should show more gratitude (she didn’t bother to mention that her beloved Ferdinand had been convicted of the murders of Julio, Pio and Mariano Nalundasan, the latter of whom had had the gall, the impudence, the chutspah, to defeat Ferdinand’s father, and not once but twice, in elections for a seat in the National Assembly; nor that his claim to have led nine thousand guerrillas during the Second World War was actually a fantasy).

Opposition to Mr and Mrs Marcos was difficult, to say the least, though his own Parliament did try to impeach him in 1985, for siphoning billions of dollars into his private bank accounts, and constructing a “Film Centre” for his private enjoyment of hardcore pornographic movies; the impeachment failed. Then there was Benigno Aquino, who was assassinated, and later Mrs Marcos was accused of involvement. Killing Aquino proved to be a mistake in a country where wives are very passionate about their husbands. While Mrs Marcos supported her husband taking $58m from the Treasury to fund his next re-election campaign, Mrs Aquino went out for revenge, standing against Marcos (the word “kleptocrat” was invented to describe him) in 1986, and defeating him by almost a million votes according to the international polling group who had been sent to monitor the election. Unfortunately they were only monitors, and Marcos’ own Commission on Elections used a differently-coloured abacus, and disallowed the use of thumbs as well as fingers, so that Marcos in fact won, freely and fairly, by almost two million votes, and complained officially about cheating on the other side. The elections were held on February 7th. By the 25th, the People’s Power Movement had thrown so many shoes at so many heads, and Corazon Aquino’s alternate inauguration ceremony had gone ahead without bloodshed, that Mr Marcos took his cheque-book, and Mrs Marcos as many shoes as she could carry, and slipped out of the country. Slipped may be a poor choice of vocabulary. Four Sikorsky HH-3E helicopters took Marcos and his entourage to the Clark Air Base in Angelese City, where a US air force C-130 was waiting to complete the journey to Guam, and from there Hawaii. Arriving in Hawaii, US customs found that he had excess baggage to the tune of twenty-four suitcases packed with gold bullion, diamonds wrapped in diapers, and certificates for gold bullion estimated at several billion dollars. Mrs Marcos had only managed six pairs of shoes; two thousand seven hundred more were left behind in her closet. 

Not surprisingly the Philippines were left with debts that even hedge funds would not underwrite, and to this day more than half the country’s annual spending goes to pay off these debts – most of them connected with the construction of a nuclear power plant at Bataan (there is no nuclear power plant at Bataan; theoretical designs used to obtain the loans show that it would have been built in the shape and pattern of a shoe.) 


Marcos died in Honolulu in 1989; his body is now in a refrigerated crypt, where worshipers may visit it, and the still living Mrs Marcos does regularly, though whether barefoot, as pilgrims should, or otherwise, is not information in the public arena, though we can safely speculate.

And since the end of this comic-farce that would never get past the treatment stage in Hollywood, Mrs Marcos has been tried and acquitted of fraud in America, stood for President and lost, twice, served as a congresswoman, and spent her remaining years using her influence to get every guilty verdict against her in the Philippine courts overturned on appeal. There are still, at the time of writing, ten cases against her pending. Her favourite shoes, by the way, are Pierre Cardin.

Joseph Estrada, who succeeded Corazon Aquino as President, was forced out of office after protests against alleged corruption. Three coup attempts failed to oust his successor, Gloria Arroyo. And on the southern island of Mindanao, Moro rebels have finally laid down their guns after forty years of civil war in which an estimated 120,000 people died. The traditionally Catholic island is now in process of converting to Islam, and neighbouring Jolo will likely do the same soon, as al-Qaeda have made it a primary target in the region. The New People’s Army, fighting to make the Philippines Communist in the north, also laid down their arms in 2012. One of the world’s most over-populated countries, its high birth-rate predicts a tripling of its population within two generations. We all know what happens when that happens. Watch this space for the plight of the next mass group of barefoot refugees.




Marks for: don't be silly

Marks against: 15 mink coats, 508 gowns, 1,000 handbags, and 1,060 pairs of shoes



Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
All rights reserved
The Argaman Press

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