Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

The tragedy in our midst from the deadly virus---as dished out in ever-growing statistics by competing media orgs---quite heart-breaking and most worrisome for the world's population.

Because of the Covid 19 virus, the world has become captive to the huge media outlets for the latest statistics. 

Everyday for the past two weeks, I have been tuning on, rather obsessively, I must admit, to this Covid 19 pandemic that is upon us, and though I have lived long enough on this earth, so that I should no longer be overwhelmed by anything at all---I cannot help but be just that. 

I am simply overwhelmed by the magnitude of this pandemic that started from a hitherto unknown virus that came from a couple of wild animals in the small, obscure city of Wuhan in China's central province of Hubei. This virus has now victimized over a million dead people, and nearly as many are hovering in the twilight zone.


Among those who are quite ill are very close friends of mine:  former Senator Sonny Alvarez and my radio partner, Cecile Alvarez. They are fighting for their lives in a hospital in Manila and I'd like to implore prayers for these two most patriotic citizens.

I have cried enough, especially since my only surviving sister also finally left this world after many weeks in the hospital---with tubes inserted into her throat to aide her breathing---right at the height of Covid19.


Over the past days I have been transfixed before the TV, listening to all the heart-wrenching stories of families from around the world who are afflicted by this virus, and the bravery and stoicism with which they have put up with it among families and friends.

What overwhelms me is the magnitude of the pandemic and the innumerable lives that it has afflicted in a most terrible way all around the world---either very ill or dead---and how their surviving loved ones have had to deal with these grim realities, despite their being in constant threat of contamination. 


As a result of this pandemic, we who have led relatively easy and rewarding lives will never be the same again ---even if we survive this virus. Our parents and grandparents have had to live with their own pandemic challenges in their time, and now we are going through the same cycle.

Our parents and grandparents have had to confront epidemics which easily turned pandemic in those times of smaller populations and less mobility---as well as far less developed medical science (no antibiotics as yet). Among those were the cholera and influenza epidemics of the late 1800s, and much earlier, the smallpox and the bubonic plague (termed the "Black Plague" ). 

So gripping were these mass plagues in those earlier eras that  famed French-Algerian novelist Albert Camus was encouraged to write his classic work, "The Plague," in 1947. This work won Camus the Nobel Prize in 1957, when he was 44 years old.


Over the past days, as I would shift from one international TV news channel to another, at first I was merely the jaded media person listening to all the stories and the flood of statistics of afflictions from one country to another, and so on. Eventually, what I found intriguing was the inevitable blame-game among various  people. 

But over the past few days I began to be very affected by all the dire broadcasts, especially when I couldn't even say goodbye to my own dying sister as a result of this pandemic. This physical distancing was understandably dictated by the virus, but it didn't also give much allowance at all for emotional distancing---my sister had to be cremated right away before we relatives could gather.  

Since that episode--- where I couldn't even say goodbye to my sister because of the need to keep physical as well as emotional distance---I began to sense that something in me was being transformed. 


It was not only my sister's passing, as that was expected: she had been confined in St. Luke's Hospital in Quezon City for as long as four months. I think it was more like I was drowning in the grim statistics that I was feeding on from the various international news channels day after day---about how people were dying like flies in various parts of the world---most especially in the most advanced countries. They were dying because of the vicious coronavirus and how fearful the peoples of the world have all become, because of it! 

What a time we are living in! Simply unforgettable. This pandemic has changed our world and our lives more than we will ever know or imagine or care to admit.


Each generation manages to live through an epidemic or even a pandemic of sorts. I heard all about the past happenings from my parents as I grew up and in my history studies at the UP.  

 But living through one actual pandemic now---the corona virus --- amid the tireless news about its pandemic nature, as brought into our homes and workplaces every hour on the hour by various highly competitive international media channels--- has assured me of the reality of pandemics, where before these used to be mere stories from my parents and elder siblings.


The super-stiff competition among the huge media channels for thorough coverage of the Covid 19 pandemic has assured us of all the news we want to hear---every hour on the hour. But I'm afraid that it has also produced such a numbing effect on many of us human beings. For many folks around the world, it has fast become just one of those everyday occurrences in the world, cold statistics on who, where, when, etc. 

This is what a pandemic produces in the ultimate---most worrisome, most frightening. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

With COVID19 afflicting world leaders & personalities as well as tens of thousands of ordinary folks all over the globe, there's tremendous clamor to postpone for next year the Tokyo Summer Olympics & Paralympics---originally scheduled for this July to September at a whopping $1.4B.

Everywhere in the world the sense of urgency about the coronavirus is so palpable and one reason, aside from its pandemic proportions, is that it has become a celebrity affliction. Famous folks are being downed by it all over the globe. 

Consider, for instance, that German Chancellor Angela Merkel, 65, had to be quarantined after having been exposed to the virus from her doctor who had been giving her injections for an illness.  Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his wife were afflicted and so were Spanish Ministers Irene Montero and Pablo Iglesias. Top Iranian leaders were also stricken. 

On the other hand, erstwhile disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was diagnosed with Covid19, as were US Senator Mitt Romney, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, among the prominent folks in the US. 70-year old New Orleans Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond has also tested positive for the virus.

Here in our country a number of prominent people have also shown up positive for the virus. 


But it's not just celebrity folks who are being afflicted--even businesses that cater to the broad masses are being affected. All McDonald's outlets in the United Kingdom and Ireland will be closed to protect their customers, as well as their staff who number some 130,000 in both countries. 

As expected, world travel is the worst-hit industry. Reports indicate that planes from Europe, where the virus appears to be more widespread, are banned from flying to the US. 


On the other hand, some 70 million to as many as 180 million Chinese tourists have been banned by their government from travelling abroad. This ban will definitely affect world tourism, e.g, airlines, hotels, restaurants where the world's new-affluent Chinese have been roaming the world and wowing it with their seemingly bottomless wealth over the past decade. 

Interestingly, China now wants to insulate itself from the very scourge that it has infected the world with---the virus that started from a species of wild birds in a little city in Central China called Wuhan. 


But perhaps the biggest seismic quake in the tourism business, due to the pandemic, is the fact that the Tokyo Summer Olympics 2020, scheduled from July 24-Aug 09 this year, as well as the Tokyo Paralympics that will run from Aug. 25-Sept. 06, have a very fat chance to be postponed. Already a couple of countries have withdrawn from participating, owing to the virus that has stricken their sports people.  

Recall that this Olympic event will be the first in Tokyo since it hosted a similar event in 1964. This 2020 World Olympics was hard-fought by the Japanese government, with Madrid and Istanbul in tight competition in 2013.


Now plans are all set---with a beautiful Olympic stadium designed by famed Japanese architect Kenzo Kuma already in the finishing stage---despite running into high-profile criticism especially over spiraling costs. 

The fabulous stadium is said to have involved 70,000 cubic feet of timber from each of the 46 prefectures of Japan, and can seat 68,000 spectators for the opening and closing ceremonies. 

Olympic facilities in Tokyo are said to be budgeted at a whopping $1.4B!


Write-ups about the fabulous Olympic Village in the outskirts of Tokyo spoke of "capturing people's thoughts on the environment or the Earth at the time." Athletes competing in the games are supposed to sleep on bed frames made of cardboard and mattresses made of plastic---"to reduce the event's carbon footprint."

With the COVID 19 assuming pandemic proportions, however, there's increasing pressure from various countries that the Tokyo  Olympics be postponed, as the COVID 19 could still be in its fullest rage by opening week.  A number of countries have already indicated their stand for postponing for next year. 

Will the pandemic be the huge spoiler to the much-touted Tokyo Summer Olympics? 

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Well Worth Your While to Watch the Netflix series on “The Crown”

Like perhaps tens of thousands  around the world, I have been watching the fascinating series on the British Royalty in the Netflix film titled “The Crown,” now on its second season, and I have found the series so riveting and entertaining. 

One reason may be because I have been fascinated with the British Royals since my late high-school days, when the romance of Princess Margaret---the  younger of the two daughters of then King George VI and Queen Mother Elizabeth---with Group Capt. Peter Townsend of the Royal Air Force had to be broken up on orders of the Crown.  

The reason was that Capt. Townsend was a divorcee and the Anglican Church, headed by the English Sovereign, did not allow marriage between divorcees. Recall too, that King Edward VIII, uncle of Queen Elizabeth, was forced to abdicate the throne a decade earlier, because of his marriage to the French-American divorcee Wallace Simpson. To help out the former king, who was 
Queen Elizabeth's favorite uncle, she bestowed on him the title of  “Duke of Windsor” so he could at least live in style in Paris. 


 I remember how, like perhaps tens of thousands of young girls in those days, I wept buckets over the sad ending of that royal romance between the pretty Princess Margaret, the socialite younger sister of the Queen, and the dashing RAF captain.

I found that forbidden marriage, however, a paradox of sorts, for precisely, a century earlier, King Henry VIII was refused marriage to his paramour, Ann Boleyn, by the Catholic Church because the sovereign was already married to Queen Catherine at that time. Henry VIII decided to break away from the Catholic Church and found his own church, the Church of England, a.k.a. the Anglican Church, which is the institution behind the Crown until the present.


Queen Elizabeth II, the major figure in the Netflix series and Britain’s longest reigning monarch, was very powerfully portrayed here, and it did justice to her as she faced crisis after crisis with queenly calm. Not the least of these crises was the controversy over her younger sister’s love and proposed marriage to the divorced RAF Capt. Peter Townsend, which Elizabeth, as head of the Church of England, had refused to allow. This led her younger sister to a life of drift and despondency for a while---finally settling down with  a society photographer, Anthony Armstrong-Jones, who became Lord Snowdown, in a loveless relationship.

Through all the vicissitudes of royal life in contemporary English history,  Queen Elizabeth proved to be the epitome of strength and grace, as she ruled over the succession of Prime Ministers---especially in the crisis years of Britain during World War II and  its subsequent post-war economic turmoil. During the war years the two royal princesses would be photographed in army uniforms, driving military jeeps. London saw the fiercest dog-fights in the air between the RAF and German invaders. 


 It was Queen Elizabeth’s luck that she found support most notably during the long incumbency of Prime Minister Winston Churchill at No. 10 Downing St.  Two actresses actually portrayed the Queen:  the lovely Claire Foy as the young Elizabeth in the first series, and the stately Olivia Colman as the more mature Queen, in the second series, whose face had somewhat hardened, due to the numerous pressures on the Crown.

I adored the characterization of Prince Philip as the Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen’s consort,  who in real life had belonged to Greek royalty. In the film series, Prince Philip was often just seen and not heard, and yet he was the pillar of strength for the Queen, with his great sense of humor and constant support.  


Unflattering in the beginning was the portrayal of a teen-aged Prince Charles who was enrolled in a school in Wales, preparatory to his assuming of his official title as the “Prince of Wales.” The film series portrays him as the typical teenage boy living in the shadow of an over-powerful mother who was also queen of the realm, and feeling quite lost in his new surroundings.

Charles’ wedding to the beautiful Lady Diana Spencer was no longer covered in the film, but history recalls that that marriage appeared doomed from the start. Princess Diana was later killed in a car crash with her French beau in a little street tunnel in Paris --- the Place de L’Alma---as they tried to escape from the odious paparazzi. At that tragic episode, Queen Elizabeth sought refuge within the Palace walls, but British public opinion demanded that she share her grief over her daughter-in-law's misfortune with her people. She then sauntered out and was seen shopping for flowers and chatting with people from all walks of life.


Watching the series of ”The Crown” amid all the splendors of various palaces and country homes of the Royal Family, the question on my mind, doubtless shared by millions of viewers is:  was the film series actually filmed in Buckingham Palace and the various other residences of the Royals? The answer was provided in the film series’ background literature: various nobles’ homes and palaces were RECREATED to look like the real palaces of the Royals----  among them the Wilton House in Wilton, Salisbury, that was home to the Earls of Pembroke for 450 years.

On the other hand, the weddings of the Royals and Elizabeth’s coronation were recreated inside Ely Cathedral, an 11th century Romanesque church in Cambridgeshire, and passed off as Westminster Abbey.

This long-playing series on “The Crown” did not spare funds to produce, what with each episode costing US$13 M each, and there were perhaps 15 such episodes. I also found it fascinating that so many vintage Rolls Royce cars were still running and featured in this modern-day TV series. One also got a glimpse of  Her Majesty's yacht, the Britannia, during the Duke of Edinburgh’s ocean voyage aboard it. 

Everything in this film series is grand in scale---be it the upside or the downside of history. Well worth your time watching this series on “The Crown.”