Satire is Alive!

Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms, which houses people who have increasingly turned to humor to survive the enchanted kingdom. This piece was published in the in the April 20, 2009 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 and S1/5.

Tragic it is that many Pinoys condemned the piece that described the Philippines “as a nation of servants.”   Being satire, the Chip Tsao column (The War at Home, HK Magazine, 27 March 2009) was actually ridiculing the Chinese government.

Gloria Arroyo—who would forget her “I am sorry”—should again say sorry, this time on behalf of the “nation of servants,” to the misunderstood Mr. Tsao.

Anyhow, Mr. Tsao has said sorry though perhaps his apology was not as sincere as Gloria’s “I am sorry.”

Conrad de Quiros, however, is perplexed.  In his Philippine Daily Inquirer column  (6 April 2009), he wrote: “Frankly, I don’t know how we can fail to understand or appreciate satire.  We have a robust tradition of it. Jose Rizal was past master at it, writing slyly, funnily, and bitingly about the Spanish rulers, especially the rulers.”

Indeed, the way Rizal described and developed some of the characters in Noli Me Tangere—the likes of Capitan Tiago and Doña Victorina—is satire at its best.

And let’s not forget Marcelo del Pilar and his satirical works.  Dasalan at Toksohan, written with Rafael Enriquez and Pedro Serrano, is perhaps del Pilar’s most piercing librito, so called because its size is as small as the novena’s.

Among the prayers in Dasalan is Ama Namain (Our Father).  The prayer’s first line: Amain naming sumasaconvento ka, sumpain ang ngalan mo, malayo sa amin ang kasakiman mo, quitlin ang liig mo ditto sa lupa para nang sa langit.

Del Pilar dedicated Ama Namain to the friars.  Today, we dedicate it to the First Gentleman who married the little girl from Assumption Convent.  It is but proper to offer prayers to the Gentleman because he proxies for Santa Teresa de Avila, who he claims is a blood relative.

Another prayer in Dasalan is titled Ang Aba Guinoong Baria (from Hail Mary).  Its first passage: Aba guinoong Baria nakapupuno ka nang alcancia ang Fraile’I sumasainyo bukod ka niyang pinagpala’t pina higuit sa lahat, pinagpala naman ang kaban mong mapasok.

Today, we offer the prayer to the First Gentleman’s convent girl.

But let’s return to de Quiros’s point that satire has a robust tradition in the Philippines.  It may seem ironic that during the Filipino-American War, an American writer by the name of Mark Twain attacked United States imperialism and defended the Filipinos through satire.

Among his many satirical essays is A Defence of General Funston (North American Review, May 1902).  Frederick Funston became an American hero for his exploits during the Filipino-American War, including the capture of the first Philippine president, Emilio Aguinaldo. But Funston was notorious for the atrocities he committed. Funston even had the gall to tell the American public that he “personally strung thirty-five Filipinos without trial.“  In the same breath, he said “all Americans who had recently petitioned Congress to sue for peace in the Philippines should be dragged out of their homes and lynched.”

Said Twain, “It is plain to me, and I think it ought to be plain to all, that Funston is not in any way to blame for the things he has done, does, thinks, and says.”

Funston’s reincarnation on Philippine soil, I guess, is Jovito Palparan. The little convent girl made Palparan a hero.  But human rights want Palparan in jail.  I encourage de Quiros to write A Defence of General Palparan.

With respect to the war against Japanese aggression, I am ignorant of how Filipinos used satire as a weapon.  The celebrated propagandist then was Carlos P. Romulo, the little brown American.   Maybe I should read his war memoirs to find out whether he employed satire.  Nevertheless, I already find the title of his autobiography funny:  I Walked with Heroes.

Another well-known propagandist during the war against Japan was Raul Manglapus, whose voice with the Arrneow accent was heard in radio broadcasts.  Yet his most unforgettable remark came many years later, which got him into trouble. It was said in the context of smoothening the complex relations between the US and the Philippines:  “If rape were inevitable, one should relax and enjoy it.”

During Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship, the Left and fellow travelers made extensive and effective use of satire to mock the Marcoses, the cronies, the military, and the bootlickers.  I recall the semi-underground paper titled Sick of the Times and the spoofs written by anonymous individuals called Los Enemigos.

History validates de Quiros’s statement that satire has “a robust tradition” in the Philippines.  But I disagree with de Quiros about his opinion that we might be losing that tradition.

Well, de Quiros is one of the best contemporary satirists in the country.  I try not to miss reading his April 1 columns.  In the wake of the controversy generated by Tsao’s The War at Home, de Quiros wrote a satirical piece titled The War Abroad.

To be sure, many Pinoy writers excel in satire.  In our group alone, we have a number of fellows who are satirists.  There’s Manuel Buencamino, a contributor for the other business paper, who is second to none when it comes to writing humorous, witty and comic “dispatches from the enchanted kingdom.” And among the women, I mention Guy Estrada Claudio who knows how to produce “militant irony.”  See her blog titled Pleasure and Subversion. I likewise cite the young Krupskaya  Añonuevo, who just wrote a satirical piece about Manila’s metro rail (BusinessWorld, Traveling Mercies, 13 April 2009).

Outside the circle of wordsmiths, we can find people who can deliver good satire, even without trying.

Mike Defensor is one of them.  He may have developed his liking for satire from his association with his fraternity brods.  Defensor belongs to Alpha Sigma, which can stand for Association of Satirists.  The fraternity has a bunch of satirists or serious writers capable of doing satire—Sol Santos, Randy David, Raul Pangalangan, Butch Dalisay, Ome Candazo, Joy de los Reyes et al.

Why Defensor?  He has quotable quotes that can be considered satirical.  A famous one: “That is the president’s voice, but that’s not the president speaking.”

On second thought, I doubt if he acquired his inclination for satire from his brods mentioned above.  His boss, the little girl schooled by the convent, influenced his type of satire.

The convent girl does satire though unintentionally.  Read her speech during the 2003 vin d’honneur.  She wasn’t intoxicated with wine when she declared: “As you know, I have decided not to seek the Presidency in 2004.  This decision wasn’t easy, but it was the right one.  She, too, said: “I sow, my successor reaps.”

It took us about a year to realize that her speech was clever and funny.

We already know that the little girl’s former allies, now her enemies—that is, the communists—are adept at using satire for propaganda. Take their latest statement dated 6 April 2009.  Its opening sentence:  “The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) today extended greetings to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) for its successful launch into space of a communications satellite yesterday.”

Won’t you, dear reader, agree that the CPP message is catchier, thanks to satire, than the plain statements of condemnation coming from the usually eloquent Barack Obama and the rest of the world?

Lest I be accused of favoring the communists, I will acknowledge that their enemies at the battlefield, the Philippine National Police (PNP), have learned to use satire impressively. Installed near the front gate of its headquarters at Crame and facing busy EDSA is a billboard that calls our attention to the PNP’s badge of honor.  In big letters, the message is that the PNP is “the protector of the weak, defender of the innocent, and advocate of human rights.”

Related to this, we learned from Philippine Star (5 March 2009) that the National Capital Regional Police Office held a competition on reciting the badge of honor “in an effort to promote the PNP virtues of service and to instill in the hearts of every men and women in uniform the honor and pride that comes with donning the police badge.”

That the police have memorized by heart that they protect the weak, defend the innocent, and advocate human rights explains their dogged determination to immediately nab suspects and resolve the killing of Ted Failon’s wife Trina.

With all the examples above, I assure my friend de Quiros that the Pinoy tradition of satire lives on.

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