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Aguinaldo the corn farmer

A week into lockdown has not spared us from the antics of our politicians. The House speaker and the executive secretary tried to be cute by holding a huge sheet of Manila paper with a crudely cutout message that resembled a ransom note. People were not amused. Then Sen. Koko Pimentel tried to wiggle out of responsibility for having possibly infected the Makati Medical Center delivery room complex, exposing staff and forcing many of them into quarantine. The S&R branch in Bonifacio Global City had to be disinfected after CCTV footage caught Pimentel shopping there in violation of his self-quarantine, and after he had been exposed to the virus, displayed symptoms, and was awaiting test results that turned out positive.

Ordinary citizens are threatened with arrest when they venture out of their homes without a barangay quarantine pass, but this senator broke home isolation to attend parties and meetings, go shopping, and accompany his wife to the hospital. Ordinary citizens are threatened with penal provisions of Republic Act No. 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act, but this senator was swiftly cleared by the justice secretary, who said: “During abnormal times like this, when people are prone to commit mistakes or violations of the law, the DOJ will temper the rigor of the law with human compassion.” One wonders if the Department of Justice will sing the same tune if the offender is an outspoken critic of the administration. While the virus is a great equalizer, it does not choose between rich or poor, famous or obscure. The sad reality of inequality reveals itself in who gets treated. Most people cannot afford hospitalization and treatment; they even have to wait for testing, while so-called VIPs jump the line.

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All this noise forced two birth anniversaries to go under the radar the past week: Fidel V. Ramos, 12th president of the Philippines, turned 92 last March 18; and March 22 was the 151st birth anniversary of Emilio Aguinaldo, the country’s first president. To lighten the mood, here is an Aguinaldo anecdote from Victor G. Heiser’s “An American Doctor’s Odyssey” (1936), a rare book accessible online from the Filipinas Heritage Library. In prewar times, Aguinaldo was a tourist attraction, a relic of the revolution visited by various foreign VIPs.

Heiser, who served in the Philippines from 1905-1915, said Aguinaldo “…still had a great name. During presidential campaigns, politicians would come all the way from the United States to wring from him his opinion on the progress the Filipinos were making toward independence. Ammunition was always needed for pre-convention speeches.

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“Senator William J. Stone, a Democrat from Missouri, appeared on one of these missions. Americans in the Islands kept telling him that Aguinaldo had no influence whatsoever politically, but Stone naturally considered that these artful Republicans were trying to lead him astray, and prevent him from tracking down the truth. Stone was a guest of the Governor General at Malacañan… and Aguinaldo was produced for him. Since no interpreter was present, I was asked to fulfill that function.

“‘Now general,’ Stone began. ‘Don’t you think the Filipinos would have been much better off if we hadn’t occupied the Islands?’

‘‘‘I really don’t know,’ replied Aguinaldo, ‘but I’m trying to raise some corn in Cavite. Now I understand you come from a great corn-raising state, and I wish you’d tell me something about the essentials of seed selection.’

“‘I haven’t ever thought about it. I don’t know anything about corn. But you, General, know that the Democratic party in the United States has always stood for the release of the Islands. Don’t you think you should have independence right away?’

‘“That’s a debatable question, Senator, but how about fertilizers. What fertilizer do you use on your corn?’

‘“I don’t know anything about fertilizer,’ asserted the Senator firmly and with signs of irritation. ‘But I’d like to get your opinion on what Americans should do right now, and whether it wouldn’t be the correct policy to turn these Islands over to you. What do you think?’

‘“Oh, there are many people who know much more about governmental matters than I. But in Missouri—’

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‘“To hell with Missouri,’ shouted the Senator, and stamped out of the room.”

At one point in his life, Aguinaldo was a symbol of Filipino freedom. At another point, he was just plain, well, corny. Longevity can sometimes be a liability.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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