In outraged social media posts, the event was described as “shameless,” “unacceptable,” “tacky,” “offensive,” “a well-planned PR stunt” that “was glorifying corruption.”
At the very least, the fancy dinner that the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) hosted last week for former first lady and graft convict Imelda Marcos was as sensitive and appropriate as fiddling while Taal burns.
But wasn’t that smart? When nobody was looking, when people were busy gathering relief goods for Taal-stricken evacuees, when media was monitoring the latest updates on the volcano, CCP’s coiffed class pulled a fast one, just like that clandestine burial of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in 2016. The phrase “like a thief in the night” never sounded so overused than in these times.
The appreciation dinner was part of the CCP’s 50th anniversary celebration, CCP officials explained, and was meant “to recognize (Imelda’s) contribution as founding chair of the institution.”
As if to defend its terrible timing—just three days after Taal’s eruption forced thousands of evacuees into makeshift shelters—the officials said the dinner also “launched a fund-raising campaign for Taal victims.” A belated thought, it seems, because that supposedly redeeming detail was nowhere mentioned in the invitation. And neither could CCP chair Margie Moran-Floirendo and CCP president Nick Lizaso name the sum so far collected in that dinner despite their official statement that was released days after. “The fund-raiser is ongoing until Jan. 30,” was all they could manage. Those waiting for something more than that—a whiff of an apology, an expression of regret at the insensitivity of the occasion—would have to exhale now, because none is apparently forthcoming from these officials.
Could the lavish event, in fact, be another attempt to socially rehabilitate the Marcoses, reminding the masses of those glorious days when Madame fancied herself a patroness of the arts and engineered to bring world-class artists to Manila? “As one of the first performing arts centers in the region, the CCP has sponsored talented Filipinos who have gained worldwide recognition, brought international artists to the Philippines and in general, helped revitalize and raise awareness of Philippine arts and culture,” the CCP statement read. Absent in that tribute, of course, are memories of how, as one columnist recalls, “patronage was exercised…with all the wild abandon and disregard for expense of renaissance tyrants.” But having enjoyed such patronage, who can blame some lackeys for feeling grateful and nostalgic for those halcyon days, and seek to bring them back if only for a night?
The dinner also comes barely a week after Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., feeling triumphant following another favorable court decision on yet another Marcos hidden wealth case, felt bold enough to urge education officials to set history aright. Textbooks are teaching “lies” about his family, whined the losing 2016 vice presidential candidate.
And so, despite the Sandiganbayan’s November 2018 verdict finding Imelda “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” of 7 counts of graft, when by now the former first lady should be shuffling about in orange prison garb, there she was instead at the CCP’s cavernous lobby, once again dressed to the nines and ever-giddy to party, surrounded by her beaming brood and her preferred perfumed crowd even as the rest of the country was scrambling to rush to the aid of tens of thousands of Filipinos suddenly made bereft by calamity.To be fair, the CCP would also be showing, as part of its 50th-anniversary activities, the award-winning documentary “The Kingmaker” by Lauren Greenfield, in what appears to be an attempt to balance this distasteful tribute with a recounting of the Marcos excesses. The more cynical would see this, however, as too small a concession, and plain damage control.
And what of the bill for this grandiose exercise? If the argument is that no taxpayer money was used, the CCP having lots of friends and sponsors willing to fork over money to throw garlands at the former first lady, consider how such largesse could otherwise have gone directly to relief operations without the CCP having to commandeer staff and resources to organize this soiree. Urgent, straightforward help would have been a more fitting fulfillment of the Madame’s constant invocation of the True, the Good and the Beautiful. But apparently, since opulent partying remains, after all these years, the way to the woman’s 90-year-old heart, then party she and her minions would, through ashfall and all.
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