BY JB BAYLON
‘This is how a scandal becomes a scandal: someone refuses to stay silent, or someone is not silenced.’
I AM part of a group of weekend regulars, consisting of some of the most respected journalists and media practitioners in the Philippines plus me and friends, who meet usually for breakfast to share stories, express opinions, trade in libelous gossip and otherwise enlighten ourselves further about our country and its people (actually, its elite).
In our group actually are two very well known authors, both much-sought after biographers of the rich, famous and powerful – which makes the exchanges very rich and very informative and if you miss one session you miss a lot.
When I told them that I had the autobiographical materials of Enrique Zobel – who had been putting to paper his life story for a few years prior to his death – they were very encouraging; the knowledge, however, that whatever I write must compare to theirs makes me balk at the task.
What makes our discussions most fascinating is something what the average Pinoy will not get – perhaps never get – over the breakfast (or dinner) table. It is a glimpse into the doings, the comings and goings behind the scenes – like the backstage of a play – that you and I almost never get to see. But what transpires behind the scenes is almost always just as important – sometimes even more crucial – than what we see onstage because what we don’t see if what provides the context, the logic and the texture to the unraveling history that we are able to witness.
I had the privilege of spending nine years as Enrique Zobel’s executive assistant and seven more interacting with him on many matters even after leaving his employ. This opened my eyes to how rich the backstage drama can be given not only what I witnessed myself but what I had been told coming directly from the horse’s mouth. And this is precisely why my friends think I should go on and write the book; but this is also precisely why I don’t want to do it.
Then again, I do believe that our people suffer because much of what we see and have seen is but the tip of the iceberg, and we are not allowed to see what lies beneath. Especially for a country that has been undeniably ruled by an elite class that has hardly changed over the years, what we – the 90% of the people who make up the overwhelming though influence-poor majority of its society – see is sometimes not what you get. Or the reverse: that what we get is not what we see, precisely because of the subtext that lays hidden behind the heavy drapes shielding the backstage from our sights.
Sometimes, the drapes are parted and we are awed by what we see and/or hear, even if the awe then turns into disgust – talk about how the highest officials of the land conspire to (choose one) 1) steal public money, 2) hijack an electoral mandate, and/or 3) mortgage our future. This happens when one member or group among the intertwined socio-political-economic elite could no longer bear the “injustice” of not having a slice of the pie that he breaks the group’s code of silence and goes public.
This is how a scandal becomes a scandal: someone refuses to stay silent, or someone is not silenced. Think Chavit Singson in 2001.
Contrast him to Angelo Reyes in 2011 and you’ll realize how these revelations happen so very rarely. The silencing of Reyes – by his own hand – is no different from the Mayuga report that the AFP top brass released at the height of the public clamor for accountability following the allegations of cheating in the 2004 elections. That report was a classic example of the ruling elite doing damage control: it tried to do the least damage to the status quo by hoping that the public will be assuaged with a report whose contents were declared as imbued with national security concerns, hence top secret.
Of course there are other forms of scandals, with the more personal ones the one most titillating to know about. When our conversations take this turn I become all ears to the more elderly in the group, because they can tell you stories about so and so and how he and the wife of so and so became such and such while building this political fortune or that business dynasty. You wonder how family M has such a vast landholding? Come and join our breakfasts. Wonder how family Y was able to get a piece of family M’s real estate empire? Come join our breakfasts. Want to know about the history of collaboration among our elites that span every colonial era – from the Spanish to the American to the Japanese and back to the American? Come join our breakfasts.
Speaking of collaboration (in its pejorative sense), our discussions have sometimes left me so angry and so disillusioned at the same time that I wonder whether the only rational thing to do is to accept that this is what our elite does and does best to survive. Think about it: we never hanged anyone who collaborated with the Spaniards, nor with the Americans, nor with the Japanese. We never jailed any of the so-called Marcos cronies or the Cory kamag-anaks and will surely not do anything with those who profited with and under Gloria.
And now even the matter of making Gloria pay for her “sins” is tainted with the feeling that there is a matter of vengeance and counter-vengeance here, over a very elitist matter: the vast landholding called Hacienda Luisita. When Cory turned against Gloria it is said that Gloria then used the powers of the State against the hacienda that is very personal to Cory and her kin. And now that it is Cory’s son who is president it is Gloria’s turn to feel the wrath of the State – best exemplified by the newfound speed of its otherwise glacial-moving judicial system – because it is payback time.
That’s the ruling elite and its power plays for you, part of the day-to-day drama that can only be detailed in an unauthorized history of the Filipino people!