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Libmonster ID: PH-30
Author(s) of the publication: Alexander Pumpyansky
Source: New Times, 04-01-98

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Two visits to the Philippines at a twenty-year interval. A report of a travel in which the reader will find the crystal vase of my youth as a Young Communist League member, the true story of one thousand and one shoes, flirting with a dictator, a great geographic and a lot of minor historical discoveries

O Lord, how beautiful they are! If you rest your glance on a goldfish, it may seem to you that it is not golden but silvery. But there are so many of them: a brisk whirlpool of shining eyes and smiles, and none of the miniature live statues is at rest even for a moment....

Heart-beat in a supermarket, or The advantage of being a gaper

I am standing outside the aquarium-like windows of a supermarket, beholding the faerie sight of what is taking place inside like a downright gaper. This is my very first minute in the Philippines, to count the net time, and not the time spent at the airport, one-and-a-half hours of inching forward (when your taxicab is both moving and standing idle and no silver can help you) in an eight-kilome-ter-long traffic jam from Manila Airport to the business quarters Macati, one of a dozen city-districts making up an absolutely unruly Greater Manila.

Eight p.m. has just rung. The doors of the supermarket close for entry, and during several minutes the last rivulets of customers pour into the street; now the goldfish in the aquarium are performing a sophisticated ritual dance, evidently, the parting dance.

A Manila supermarket is an exact replica of a contemporary supermarket in America or in Europe, with one important exception: its trading premises accommodate ten time as many attendants per square meter. They are girls and young women wearing symbolical skirts and shirts - praise be to the sun outside and the air-conditioning inside; the colour of their dress is the only difference between them, depending on the floor and section. There are so many these motley but equally charming beings there that an embarrassed newcomer may forget why he is there at all.

And now is the highlight of the show: the exodus of spicy female bodies. In the empty supermarket, girls are running downstairs laughing and joking, forming a long snake. Especially because every cell of the snake is full of life. Perhaps, this show must have a very simple explanation, like the cast before "The End" when the film is over. For instance, the girls are counted either by the guard or by supervisors as they leave the premises. However, this is of no interest to me now. The main supervisor now is the man standing on the pavement outside the windows, with his mouth wide open, i.e., me. This sight is worth flying as far as the Philippines.

However, it is not for the first time that I am in that land. Twenty years ago I left it with the firm conviction that the most beautiful girls lived in the Philippines, and I professed this truth ardently for several months. Of course, I told the skeptics, if your sole ideal is Marilyn Monroe or Venus of Milos, not to mention Rubens's exuberant female bodies, you must forget my words. But if you are not an accomplished slave of European-Hollywood standards, if you are a pluralist at the bottom of your heart - in terms of pure aesthetics, of course - you will not avoid feeling your heart beat at the sight of these exquisite shapes, these shining eyes, these tender faces carrying sunburn from birth.... It seems as if the tropic sun and the oceanic breeze have worked on that amazing genetic formula. As well as all the winds of history which brought endless crowds of conquistadors, travelers and traders there. Wave after wave: Spanish, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, American, they added to the Malay blood until a killing cocktail resulted. Was it not then that my ideological principles shattered? I worked for the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda then, in a section which published the life-asserting column, "Youth Exposes Colonialism". I knew that colonialism spelt violence. But can unhappy history bear such beautiful fruit?

Dinner with Ramos, or The importance of dropping bad habits in time

This time I arrived in the Philippines not only to confirm the correctness of my great discovery. I came to Manila to attend a meeting of the Board of the International Press Institute. This event marked the creation of the Philippine committee of the Institute, a rather symbolic event.

The International Press Institute (IPI) brings together editors and publishers. This organization is worldwide in its scope and Western in its criteria. It defends the ideals of free press. A country which has no free press and, consequently, no democracy, is an object of the institute's attention rather than its agent. The creation of a national committee means that, in the opinion of the International Press Institute, the press of the country in question has reached a certain degree of freedom and the country, a certain standard of democracy.

All unfree periodicals resemble one another, be it in the USSR, South Africa or North Korea. All free periodicals are free in their own specific way, like the countries themselves. The leaders of countries in transition are especially sensitive to such signs of attention. In Manila we were received by President Ramos and the cream of politicians of rank.

The Philippines is an Americanized country, which, at least in some respects, is not a drawback. The local style of rhetoric (and perhaps, the Philippine political style in general) is characterized by a mixture of American democratism, Spanish pathos and friendly Philippine humour. Prefacing President Ramos's speech, Editor-in-Chief of The Philippine Star, Sullivan, or simply Max, told a story of twenty years ago - about Ramos and himself. It was in the times of dictator Marcos. Martial law was in force in the country, curfew in the city and censorship in the press. General Ramos personally arrived to arrest the opposition journalist....

"Of course, Ramos was a little different then, he was younger," admitted Max magnanimously. "Do you see that cigar with which he does not part... (Indeed, a cigar appeared in the President's hand from time to time. He brought it up either to his nose or to his lips, never striking a mach, however). "But in those days he smoked like a locomotive!" Max concluded angrily.

President Ramos was not in the least embarrassed. "Twenty years ago both of us were different", he said reconciliatorily. "We both smoked a lot. I remember giving the prisoner a box of cigarettes, recommending him not to smoke more than half a pack a day, because it was bad to his health. I also added that, if he stuck to that norm, it would be enough for him. Max, wasn't I right?" In fact, all political prisoners were released within a month. The military, led by Ramos, turned their troops against Marcos who escaped from the palace where dinner was served in our honour now, and from the country in which we arrived in order to confirm that it had achieved something.

"Since those days I have dropped the bad habit," Ramos went on to say, "while your colleague is still fighting, both against his health and against the environment...." "Curiously, rather similar relations formed between Wojciech Jaruzelski and me", said Adam Michnik, a well-known Polish dissident and editor, with whom we found ourselves at the same table as Slavonic brothers. "At first he jailed me, then we learned to understand each other. In any case, I tried more than once to convince my irreconcilable friends in Solidarnosc ,who were eager to see him scalped, that the general sincerely wished Poland well ".

Mygift to Marcos, or How I betrayed the cause of the Sans-culottes

...However, it was not my first visit to the Malacanyan palace. In the remote year 1974 arrived in the Philippines and at the palace in- the strange role of "the leader of a delegation". The role was indeed a surrealistic one. A world youth chess championship, organized by the would-be FIDE star Campomanes, was held in Manila. The Soviet delegation was made up of the young and promising Master Kochiyev, his second Grand Master Vasyukov and me. One of us was fighting at the chess-board, one was assisting him, and I tried not to bother them. I think I succeeded, although incompletely, because the talented Englishman Antony Miles won the championship. But I could do nothing about that. Instead, I really distinguished myself when all the participants of the championship were invited to the President's palace.

There were no diplomatic relations between the USSR and the Philippines - either at all or from the moment when the Philippine representative at the United Nations provoked another leader of a Soviet delegation, Nikita Khruschev, to stage his famous shoe. voting. Few remember the details of the historical moment when the UN nearly found itself under the Soviet heel. Trying to win the votes of newly liberated states, the Soviet delegation proposed a resolution condemning colonialism. Everything went on smoothly until a slim Filippino took the floor. Having fervently supported the Soviet proposal, he suggested the replenishment of the list of countries suffering from the burden of foreign domination with Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and USSR's other East European satellites. A base yes-man of American imperialism! At that moment emotional Nikita behaved as befits an avowed leader of Sans-culottes.

Perhaps, I ought to do something of the kind at the reception in Ferdinand Marcos's palace. Instead, obeying an inexplicable impulse, I handed solemnly the dictator, the owner of a five-billion-dollar-worth fortune, as they wrote afterwards, a crystal vase costing 13 rubles and 60 kopecks which I had received for representative purposes from the Komsomolskaya Pravda steward, having signed a receipt. Evidently, I the interests of friendship between nations instinctively, or maybe, in the spirit of new thinking, albeit somewhat prematurely.

Afterwards I looked involuntarily tor the tamiliar object on the numerous photos that showed revolutionary chaos in the palace after it was taken by rebellious soldiers and sailors who made it look similar to the Winter Palace in 1917. It was not there. Of course, a lot was smashed and broken into pieces by the enthusiastic masses, or thrown out. including, as I remember from reports, 2.000 pairs of shoes that belonged to the incomparable First Lady lmelda Marcos who did not flee to the Hawaii barefoot.

But the crystal vase of my Komsomol youth was nowhere to be seen. Nor did I see it this time in the Palace where President Ramos received us in a most unofficial atmosphere.

The dinner included several courses in which seafood prevailed, which was only natural for a country which is an archipelago made up of about 7,000 islands, and a concert in which Philippine artists showed that they were as good as their American prototypes, and even better in their movements. Politicians proved that they were not second to the artists as they.joined the latter, singing with pleasure into the mike. Everybody sang, including President Ramos who turned out to have a good baritone and a fair knowledge of Broadway musicals.

We had enough time to hear President Ramos speak.

"I have very good relations with the press," he emphasized beginning the conversation. "The press often gives me a headache, but I proceed from the assumption that this is part of my job and a rule of democratic play. Not a single journalist has been arrested during my time in office only because he referred badly to me".

One of us asked about a well-known journalist who was killed recently. According to the official version, unidentified gangsters attacked the taxi in which he was driving to rob him. The President rejected the police version point blank. "His destruction was in response to his investiga tion of the activities of a criminal narcosyndicate in which influential per sons of rank proved involved who were dis turbed by possible expo sures", he said.

This spring new presidential elections will be held. According to the Constitution, the President is elected for a six-year term.

"Mr.President, how do you visualize your place in history?" He was not surprised by the question. He wanted the epitaph to his presidency to consist of four words: Peacemaker, Builder, Reformer, Trouble-shooter.

The footprint of the Spanish boot, or the disadvantage of being a hole of mankind

Do not search for any special historical sights in the Philippines which were discovered by Magellan himself for the Spanish Crown in 1521, although there are enough marvelously beautiful natural sights there, for instance, the island of Borakay one hour's (lying distance off Manila. A soft and tender December ocean: snow-white, thick, powder-like coral sand and the green curls of palm-tree groves surrounding hotel bungalows - an exact replica of paradise. However, the Philippines are short of monuments of architecture. Of course, the Spanish fort in the Manila Bay is recognizable as a footprint of the Spanish boot on the sand. But it is no more than a footprint of a soldier's rough boot. No refinement, not claims on beauty. Who woulfl make special efforts in that god-forsaken corner, and for the sake of what? I flew to Manila from Moscow for nearly 24 hours, changing from one flight to another. It is hard to imagine what a faraway province that colony was for King Philip II who gave his name to it. Neither gold nor silver; a lonely entrepot for Spanish galleons on their way to rich Mexico or for missionaries of the true faith desirous to evangelize China and Japan.

For centuries an alien or almost casual role was the Philippine's lot. Late in the 19th century, after three and a half centuries of Spanish domination, the Philippines became America's first and last colony for a short period of time as a result of the Spanish-American war which broke out not even because of the Philippines but because of Cuba. During the Second World War the archipelago changed hands as the American- Japanese battlefield.

The American military cemetery near Manila, exactly like the one on the Potomac near Washington, is a monument to that epoch. A wide immense space and the triumph of calm. Endless rows of white posts on a cut green lawn; rare trees. On the crust of the hill are stelae with the names of soldiers who fell on Pacific battle fields. Everybody who could be identified was taken to America to be buried in their native land. Those unidentified were buried in that cemetery: a white post crowned with a cross or a Mogen David - God and army quartermasters know who is who. There were no unknown soldiers in the American Army; there were only unidentified soldiers.

In the 1960s the Philippines became valuable as a close rear in the Vietnamese war. The American military machine restored its resources there, while GIs restored their bodies and souls in hospitals and brothels - the latter also can be regarded as moral rehabilitation centres. Also, Manila played the role of a virtual geopolit-ical bridgehead of the international anticommunist front. The Pentagon rented two military bases in the Philippines around which passions ran high. The bases are no more, but as a veteran of the "Youth exposes colonialism!" campaign, I still remember their names: Clerk Field and Subic Bay.

The 20th century reached resolutely beyond the equator, but the Philippines still remained an exemplary hole in mankind. For 21 years this geographic and historical hole was ruled by the iron hand of Ferdinand Marcos and his beautiful and domineering wife, former Miss Manila. The luster of the regime enhanced the contrast with the poverty of general life. While dictatorship is total war against its own people, Marcos' regime waged wars on two more fronts. On the southern island of Mindanao, governmental troops fought mercilessly and hopelessly with Muslim secessionists and in the jungle of Luzon, with the so called communist insurgents.

Incidentally, I also received a burn from dictatorship - in a most literal sense. The chess championship which was held under the aegis of the Marcos family had not the most successful outcome for the USSR, but we were not going to bemoan it. So Grand Master Vasyukov and I accepted hospitable Campomanes' invitation to take a look at Manila's night life. I was fabulously lucky in the casino where we were brought after the tournament. I won on end two packs of cigarettes and a heap of chips which was enough for us to pay lor our dinner. But when I consulted my watch, anticipating the deserved night rest. it was so late that the casino became our trap. We had lo sit up until the first sun rays.... In the morning, according to the program, we boarded small military boats, absolutely unfit for carrying passengers, which took us on an excursion to the island of Corregidor. the place of famous General MacArthur's military glory. Wearing shorts and a T-shirt, I settled in the shadow of a mast on the stern, and when I woke up a couple of hours later, the boat was jumping on waves like a ball. the shadow of the mast had disappeared and the tropic sun fired at me like the Big Bertha. Even when we set off for a walk round the isle I did not appreciate the danger of litigation with the sun in the zenith. Look left: immediately after Pearl Harbor perfidious Japanese kicked out the would-be hero of the war from there in 1941.... Look right: General MacArthur returned there with glory in 1945.... Two days later my legs swelled and became covered with detestable damp blisters. Afterwards, in a Moscow hospital. I had enough time to ponder on vicissitudes of life, on what the search for a place under the sun, especially unfamiliar sun. is fraught with, and that it is better not to flirt even with the most lustrous dictatorships....

After dictatorship, or How to grow tigers rather than fat cats

In fact, I was a casual victim and the most insignificant one. Real victims of the Marcos family's dictatorship were too many. In 1986 the revolution of Corazon Aquino broke out in the Philippines. Her husband, a well-known dissident, was killed openly by agents of secret services right on the airfield, as soon as he stepped on his motherland's soil after years in exile. The peaceful revolution spread like a forest fire. 0, what a marvelous time it was! Maybe, it is only we who have lived through the enthusiasm and hopes of the time of glasnost could understand the euphoria which overwhelmed Philippine society after the fall of the dictatorship and the rapid flight of the couple.

In the meantime, not a single problem of that historical hole disappeared; all of them became even more obvious. Like in this country.

Today twelve years and two presidencies separate us from the time of the breakthrough: Corazon Aquino's romantic and general Ramos' pragmatic presidencies. These two persons are often opposed to each other, and not only by the present authorities' yes-men. Order is opposed to freedom as a form of chaos, the time of words and hopes, to deeds. Ramos indeed has made certain achievements. Of course, the epitaph that he invented for himself is the expression of the desired, but not at all of the fictitious.

He really tried to put an end to internal wars: "punitive medicine" proved useless in the times of dictatorship; it was absurd to insist on it in the times of democracy. If the enemy does not capitulate, one can make him a partner. The southern island of Mindanao which only recently was burning in the flames of the liberation war is an autonomous territory now, and the leader of Muslim separatists is its governor. The leader of armed right-wing opposition is a senator.

Negotiations are being conducted even with communist insurgents, directed from a foreign centre, which, incidentally, are criticized by liberal press which reproves the government for pacifying the enemy who does not reject the tactics of terror and scandalous murders.

Social problems are countless. During our stay in the Philippines, Mindanao insurgents took hostage an Irish priest. It was not a rare occasion, so the motive was especially interesting. Five years ago peasants laid down arms after the authorities promised to help them, including by giving loans for survival projects, but failed to fulfill it. The despairing peasants took up arms again.

Acute social problems are far from cured. But Ramos at least replaced military methods of settling conflicts (usually together with the opposing side) with political settlement. Even the struggle to eliminate Marcos's legacy assumed the form of a litigation with the late President's widow over part of his heritage. Besides, the widow is no longer a persona non grata, but a deputy to parliament and even a presidential nominee.

Any tourist will easily read the diagram of the country's dynamic development in the multi-storied landscape of Manila's business quarters. Historical monuments are a rarity there, but there are more five-star hotels there than in Moscow, while offices of banks and corporations and trading malls grow there like mushrooms. Naturally, the financial crisis that befell South East Asia will impair this growth but not stop it.

No matter how many traits of difference are found in the portraits of Ramos and Aquino, much more important is the fact that in the Palace opened a gallery of democratically elected presidents rather than of self-appointed rulers. Everybody knows, after Churchill's aphorisms, how human the nature of democracy is, in the sense of its tolerance of human weaknesses and vices. Philippine democracy is particularly soft on clans and money. Nevertheless Ramos came to power, having won elections. His mandate is expiring now, but there are no conjectures or ambiguous discussions on his irreplaceability as President. The next President of the Philippines will bear a different name.

Incidentally, neither Ramos nor his colleagues in the upper echelon of power yielded to the temptation to blame misfortunes that befell the country on external forces, be it the West, the International Monetary Fund or financial sharks bearing human names. It is useless to take offense, while confrontation is hopeless. For all the intrigues of international stock gamblers, the major reason for the slump is the weakness of Asian economies, by the American and European standards, their insufficient openness and the Asian tendency towards clannish solidarity. Tigers are not grown in cages where they turn into fat cats. This has been demonstrated visually by crises in Indonesia and South Korea where power and money have fused like Siamese Twins. It is with pride that Ramos mentions 165 economic laws he promoted - the Code of Reform. He said the following about the harsh demands made by the IMF. Our neighbors are groaning as they try to comply with them, faced with the crisis, while we in the Philippines complied with them on our own initiative before the crisis, therefore its consequences were not so painful for us.

Everybody seems to agree with Ramos over this issue. No one knows the next President's name, only that it is not Ramos. But everybody knows that the strategic policy will not change.

Philippine girls for the export, or The Face value

The Philippines arc an amazing nation. They are religious and well-wishing. Two million people came to meet Pope John-Paul II in Manila, which is the absolute world record. The Pope had to descend on the field swarming with people from a helicopter in order to reach the F. They believe firmly and pray fervently, but there is no hint of gloomy Spanish fanaticism in their ways. The Mass is a holiday rather than solicitation for them. Isn't that why the main feast, Christmas, lasts for one third of a year there: during all the months ending in "-her". The first stars of Bethlehem are kindled in September and continue to shine up to December 31 on end....

They are doubtless the world's most smiling nation. No matter how hard life might be, they manage to retain a light attitude towards it. Especially women. Is it not because they have the sense of duty rather than of guilt? They manage to do whatever they do with heart and soul. Philippine women are the best housemaids in America. And the best wives in Japan. The best dancers, singers and waiters in bars.... They are most tender, self-negating and devoted to their cause, employer, husband and master;

they never forget those who have stayed back home and who need their support. Perhaps, women are the main export item of the Philippines. Not infrequently they have no rights abroad, are subject to violence and sexploitation, but they bear their cross. Maybe they know something more important about this life, something that helps them avoid facing the dark side of it and retain luster in their eyes.

It is a Sunday, my last and only free evening in Manila: tomorrow I am leaving for Moscow. The omnipresent Pepe, called so by everybody from the very first minute of acquaintance, a Philippine journalist, a Spanish hidalgo, a Eatin American diplomat and a universal cicerone, has materialized from nowhere. There is no error in these words. Born in Spain, he naturalized about twenty years ago in the Philippines where he has a family and a home: he works for the Manila press, acts as a consul for a couple of small Eatin American countries and initiates newcomers to the peculiarities of local life with obvious pleasure. Would you like to drop in for a glass of drink? It remains a mystery' for me why he chose specifically that kind of invitation. Because the house where our car stopped several minutes later obviously was not a dwelling. Bright lights, loud music and dozens of butterflies wearing skirts the size of a handkerchief made of gauze. Several of them danced on the stage to the rhythm of the music, although there were not a single client in the hall: the rest dozed on the petals of chairs. Our appearance set everybody in motion. Poor creatures, they did not know that a breed of cold souls had been grown far off in the North. Something inconceivable began around us: white circling, the fluttering of wings and sweet cooing. I realized afterwards that I had a rare chance of solving all my personal problems at once. The question was only how much time I had at my disposal: one hour, one day or the entire life. But while I was pondering intensely over this doubtless existential issue, I heard Pepe's intonation change suddenly: "Well, girls, the next time. We're in a hurry today". And we found ourselves in the street - only to dive in the next equally brightly lit entrance, then in the third, fourth.... "Well, girls, the next time...." There was exactly the devil's dozen of these ernporia in that garland.

Pepe deemed it his duty to make comments in the intervals. In the morning all those girls attended Mass and in the evening they worked. In fact, this was the most unhappy day for them. On Sundays all men are at home; only casual clients may drop in. But on weekdays everything is topsy-turvy there.

One of Manila's Mayors, a well-known political demagogue, declared war to the knife against brothels. Evidently, it was a crusade like Comrade Eigachev's antialcohol campaign, and with the same outcome. When it was over, the number of centres of male gravity had considerably increased in Manila. Pepe and I inspected the heart of Macati. A similar big heart is pulsating in each business quarter of Greater Manila. Which is only logical. You can't tantalize people making them loose hours in traffic jams - it is impractical and inhumane. Everything must be at hand. And one can explain one's being late from work by bad traffic.

Thank you, Pepe, for the Sunday sermon. But isn't your interpretation of your professional duty too narrow? "Next time, girls!" - when? Why are we always in a hurry?




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