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.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Poverty stats and glitz at the SONA

My husband and I were in Negros Occidental last Monday to deliver the second half of the P500,000 feeding program funds allocated by the SSS to each of its commissioners. July is “Nutrition Month” and my husband earlier chose to give the first P250,000 to the Erda Technical-Vocational High School in the depressed area of Pandacan in Manila, where it would feed about 50 malnourished students for the next ten months. 

The  other P250,000 SSS donation he turned over to the Pulupandan Elementary School, about an hours’ drive from Bacolod City, where he had gone to school 62 years ago.  It will feed the 200 most malnourished among the school’s 900,000 students, with snacks daily five days a week (e.g., chicken macaroni with bread, or chicken arroz caldo ) and a lunch meal on the last day of the month, for six and a half months. The feeding program for Pulupandan can be appreciated in the light of the fact that Negros Occidental has the highest incidence of malnutrition in the country, with 44 percent of the kids from five years to 19 years old quite malnourished, vs. the national average of 33 percent.

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With my mind still full from the statistics on Negros poverty and hunger, we returned to Bacolod in time to watch the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Noynoy Aquino from our hotel room.  Malnutrition statistics and watching the SONA were not a good combination, for I found myself reacting negatively to the glitzy parade of Congress members and their guests in their expensive ternos and baubles, as they tried to keep in step with the bevy of celebrities elected in the 15th Congress.

 It was quite amusing that ABS-CBN TV host Tina Monzon-Palma and guest panelists TeddyBoy Locsin and Teddy Pe had to interrupt their serious discussions on the nation’s problems repeatedly, and like the entire nation, indulged in a who-who  game as the elegant lady members of Congress and guests sashayed into the cavernous lobby. I learned later that media termed the passage to the session hall the “fashion lane” where all the media cameras assembled to capture the ladies in their beautiful and expensive ternos and the men in their elegant and expensive barongs, as they paraded down the cat-walk.  Show-biz na show-biz ang dating. It reminded me of the annual Oscar night in Hollywood.  Thank God Kris was in the US that day, for she would have raised the level of glitz even more without trying.

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  Many of the ladies were easily identifiable as they were celebrities-turned representatives, such as the irridescent Rep. Lucy Torres Gomez of Ormoc City, actress Rep. Lani Mercado Revilla of Cavite and Rep. Imelda Marcos of Ilocos Norte in flaming KBL red, as well as the spouses of new congressmen such as Jinky Pacquiao, wife of Saranggani Rep. Manny Pacquiao, and of VIP officials such as Audrey Zubiri, wife of Sen. Miguel Zubiri.  The media lost no time trying to identify the famous couturiers behind the dazzling fashion creations.

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After the inauguration of President Noynoy last June 30 at the Luneta, which I viewed on TV, I wrote in this blog that it was doubtless the most elegant inauguration I had witnessed in 25 years of column-writing, as many lady officials as well as guests came in their gorgeous ternos and jewelry for that morning’s slice of history, unlike in past inaugurals where they came in suits or simple native dress and only the members of the presidential family were in ternos. The same can be said of P-Noy’s first SONA last Monday. I have been attending SONAs faithfully over the past 25 years and I must say that this one outranked them all in glamor and hoopla. If P-Noy accomplishes nothing in his six years, he’d be remembered for the elegance and glitziness of state events. 

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I wasn’t the only one quite shocked at the fashion show last Monday.  The former National Treasurer under President Estrada’s regime, Public Administration professor Leonor “Liling” Magtolis-Briones, has denounced as “scandalous and immoral” the way some lady representatives and their VIP guests dressed up “as though to compete with celebrities for public adulation---in a country where a third of the population live below the poverty line.” Prof. Briones noted that many of the ladies there didn’t want to be upstaged by Lucy and Lani, and so they turned the SONA event into a “huge fashion show.” But did it reflect the true state of the nation, she queried, adding that “Para tayong nasa ibang planeta (it’s as if we were in another planet). She stressed that 33 percent of the population or roughly 27 million Filipinos are considered “poor,” living on incomes below P6,300 for a family of five.

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Watching the members of the diplomatic corps, who looked quite bored as they couldn’t understand the SONA that was delivered by P-Noy entirely in Filipino, I wondered what they thought from their ringside view of the dazzling fashion show of celebrities in their stunning ternos? P-Noy announced in his SONA the invitation to foreign partners to come in, and Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima is due to fly to the US to raise at least another $200 million, part of an intended borrowing of P766.4 billion to finance infrastructure spending.  Looking at the parade of expensive ternos that afternoon, don’t doubt if the ambassadors are tempted to think that, in the unforgettable words of the late Bacolod Mayor Ray Dizon, “ours is a rich country pretending to be poor.”

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