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.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

No untoward incident marred the APEC Summit, which calls for congratulations to 10,000 PNP and AFP personnel who kept foreign dignitaries safe, and to the discipline of rallyists. But social events could have been toned down in deference to great divide between rich and poor in our country, the third-poorest in APEC, and tough plight of ordinary citizens in coping with closure of roads. Special efforts to explain to broad masses APEC goings-on would have helped lessen resentment in those most “APEC-tado.”

  Vehicle snarls and kilometric marches on foot for Metro Manila citizens during APEC Week


  President Obama moderating in show featuring Chinese billionaire tycoom Jack Ma and Pinay       salt-powered lamp inventor Aisa Mijeno

The last of the attendees at the week-long APEC Summit of Leaders and related events has left and we can only thank the Lord that nothing untoward had happened to anyone of them. Nor has the Summit been marred by any serious violence and disturbance.

Congratulations are in order to 10,000 police and AFP personnel who stood guard for as much as 10 grueling hours each day, many in the heat of the sun and in eyeball-to-eyeball confrontations with leftist groups who seemed equally determined to stretch their patience and their peace. Plaudits are in order for the discipline displayed by all the unsung heroes who kept the APEC Summit running smoothly. 

Orchids specially to over-all APEC director Marciano “Jun” Paynor, a former military man later appointed Ambassador to Israel and then Consul-General in LA. Jun Paynor has walked just about every President since FVR though innumerable state visits and events abroad, and at the moment he seems irreplaceable.


The Summit organizers strove to project what they interpret as the Filipinos’ best foot forward in terms of glittering elegance that marked the various events, and indeed projected were the exquisite ternos of the Filipino ladies and the impeccably-tailored barong tagalogs by Paul Cabral; the elegant dinner settings at the PICC that brought out Kenneth Cobonpue’s genius at interpreting native themes in furniture, and at the 5-star hotels, the-top-of-the-summit entertainment and cultural fare, etc.

All these glittering scenes duly recorded by  star-struck media were bedazzling to plain folks watching in their TV sets at home,  as the VIPs were unloaded by an awesome fleet of BMWs and Mercedes Benzes. It seemed a cross between the glitzy annual Hollywood Academy Awards in LA and elegant White House happenings of the Kennedy years.


But behind the aura of fabled elegance there was the other face of Philippine reality: the unforgettable photos of long lines of commuters marching stoically along Roxas Blvd. last Monday and Tuesday, likened to the Capas Death March by some commentators; the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the one lane marked for the hoi polloi on EDSA, vs. two empty lanes reserved for APEC participants and their alalays.

There’s the endless stories of plain folk being stranded that inglorious Monday and how they crept into their homes or work place ten or twelve hours late, etc. There were two instances recorded of women delivering on the road, aided by police elements with some know-how about midwifery, while concerned passers-by shielded the instant mothers with umbrellas for privacy.  One baby was named “Coastal"--another inspired thinking from the unsinkable Pinoys.

Many were also stranded with the cancellation of local and foreign flights.


There were endless stories from the broad masses somewhat resentful of what was happening in the PICC and the 5-star hotels, and who, in true Filipino genius, handily coined the word “APEC-tado” to sum up their alienation from the temporary reality and their disenchantment with the glittering events---the great class divide at work even then. For the unbearable traffic, they coined a new term: "TRAPEC." 

Kris Aquino’s viralled comment about how she got “sunburned” while touring the APEC leaders’ wives in Intramuros---so that she’s now even with those complaining about walking many kilometers under the sun---didn’t help the broad masses feel better. My manicurista opined that if Kris didn’t wear a terno with a wide-open back, she wouldn’t have burned at all; in the first place, she asked, why should presidential kid sister show up in a terno for that daytime tour, whereas the visiting ladies were all in pants-suits and walking shoes? 

Kris later apologized in her FB page for this spontaneous remark about being burned, which was in order. 


I think not one Filipino would have been caught wishing the APEC Summit ill; in fact everyone’s relieved that nothing untoward happened, especially in the light of all the tensions stirred by the Paris attacks and now fears of similar imminent attacks on Belgium. But ordinary Filipino folks may have nursed a resentment of the Summit for a number of reasons.

One is that it heightened even more the great divide between rich and poor in this country. In their efforts to project “the best of the Pinoy” to the visiting dignitaries, the organizers managed to rub in that huge chasm. I PERSONALLY FEEL THAT THE APEC EVENTS COULD STILL HAVE BEEN ELEGANT BUT A BIT TONED DOWN, ESPECIALLY SINCE OUR HOST COUNTRY HAPPENS TO BE THE THIRD-POOREST IN APEC and the other countries know about the poverty in our midst. 

What the organizers put on for APEC may be likened to a poor fellow pulling all the stops to entertain visiting rich relatives, out of a deep-seated complex.


Moreover, while it was necessary to cordon off lanes for visiting leaders and their delegations numbering nearly 10,000 people, the physical great divide during APEC week only rubbed more salt on the daily travails of Metro Manila commuters.

 As physician and medical anthropologist Gideon Lasco put it in an article in Inquirer yesterday, Nov. 21: “If you truly understand what people living in the city are going through, then you will understand that EDSA is a metaphor of the things we have been enduring for far too long; the slow traffic throughout the metropolis, the slow internet, the slow justice system, and everything else in our country that moves so painfully slow.”

I really think the APEC should have been located to Clark Freeport or perhaps Mactan in Cebu, but news items stressed that President Aquino wanted Metro Manila to showcase the progress made here in his term. Metro folks, however, are plainly cynical about this "progress"---given the hideous daily traffic, the poor state of the mass transport system and of the major airport and its scandalous scams.  


Filipino inventor Aisa Mijeno
To be sure, there were bright moments at the APEC Summit, but again, these were linked precisely to the problem I cited above—the great divide between rich and poor, and how it is being bridged. 

One was the dialogue between Jack Ma, the Chinese billionaire-founder of e-commerce giant “Alibaba,”and our very own Aisa Mijeno, the youthful inventor of the salt water-powered lamp. The forum was moderated by no less than US President Barack Obama, who had earlier called Aisa from the White House to appear with him in that forum.  Aisa, an engineer and current faculty member of the Engineering Department of De La Salle University-Lipa, explained in the televised forum how her invention will open our islands and remote mountain areas to light (it was during a trek to the mountains of Kalinga where the concept of her project began). 

Obama and Jack Ma were speechless during Aisa's presentation and when they recovered their wits. they pledged assistance to her project---a step forward for SMEs.


I myself am thrilled by this young Filipina's pioneering invention as I have visited a lot of remote areas of our country which, with the help of solar powered equipment from the PNOC, were opened up; students could then study together at night in some communal nipa, instead of using candles and kerosene lamps. Once, too, I was in a small island off the coast of Palawan and I watched how solar power was attached to a hut and the entire island brightened up and became a haven of safety for fishermen during storms. 

Aisa’s invention, using even salt water from the sea, is far more revolutionary for our archipelago. Aptly, she calls her project not an idea but "a social movement."  We're proud of you, Engr. Aisa Mijeno. 


Another bright spot in the APEC Summit was the visit by Japan’s First Lady, Mrs. Akie Abe, to the Payatas dump site in Quezon City where Japanese ladies have been assisting poor families in cottage industries.  Mrs. Abe came dressed very simply, with no jewelry at all, and after being photographed inside the humble shack with a family, she visited the outlet for handicrafts made by these families and purchased items to give as gifts in Japan. Netizens lost no time juxtaposing Akie Abe’s photos in all her simplicity with that of a Kris bedecked with her thick diamonds-studded necklace at the PICC dinner.

As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

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