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Excess and ostentation

Leave it to us Filipinos to trivialize a serious occasion. President Benigno Aquino goes to Congress to report on his work and his audience turns the event into an over-the-top fashion show.

The President’s State of the Nation Address is an annual summing up of the executive branch’s accomplishments and plans. And yet every year legislators make it a parade of expensive clothes (and jewelry) designed expressly for the occasion.

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Women lawmakers and their male counterparts’ spouses make grand entrances to blinding television lights and the gushing inquiries of breathless journalists (not only high-society recorders, but also hard-news reporters) about what they’re wearing, who designed it, and other such minutiae. The scene is no different from the glittery “red-carpet” spectacles put on by Hollywood as it touts its stars for the whole world to see. As even the maverick Inquirer put it: “It’s the  ‘Oscars’ for PH politics.”

Congress’ administrative staff oblige the egos of the participants by providing especially mounted photo-op backdrops to make the whole process even more enchanting for the viewing public.

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Why this excess and ostentatious display?

The President reports on the government’s efforts to rev up the economy and reduce the number of poor people in our midst and his audience comes to the occasion dressed to the nines, parading in the creations of the country’s top and most expensive couturiers. No need for the President to highlight the great contrast between rich and poor: His audience provides visual proof of it.

It’s proper to welcome the President with dignified attire. To overdo it with a display of extravagant dresses and showy bling is not. The event morphs from a serious reporting by the chief executive to something like what the show biz industry puts up during its awards rites, or like a gala of the Philippines’ wealthy.

Next time, the President must politely ask the members of the legislature and other government officials to take it easy on the glitter and makeup and instead come in business attire. At this last Sona, makeup must have been on sale because the unlikeliest people came smeared heavily with it.

What makes it worse is that the journalists also came decked in gowns and elaborately embroidered barong, as if competing with the people they’re covering.

It’s so typically Filipino to overdress. We’ve mastered the art of overkill in everything we do, whether in the way we build huge houses or our penchant for expensive cars and garish jewelry. And then we’re surprised when the poor wonder how our elected leaders are able to live sumptuous lives.

Is this overcompensation by an insecure people making up for an inferiority complex? People build palatial homes even though they don’t need them, buy showy cars instead of utilitarian ones, and throw bashes that can make the poor disgorge their last spartan meal. Is this just plain showiness and bragging, or is ostentatious display the refuge of the insecure?

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This is a poor country, and this kind of excess is, or should be, a no-no. For example, the news that Rolls Royce is opening a dealership here and that orders have been coming in should make us all throw up. Show biz stars and socialites are reported to spend a cool million pesos on a single designer handbag. If asked why, their typical answer is callous, like: Because I can.

People in Congress must really be making big bucks to be able to custom-order expensive gowns and suits or barong. The people have ceased to be surprised at this because they know that people in Congress use creative ways of making money.

But shouldn’t a sense of proportion prevail? Why not come dressed in attire appropriate to the occasion, which is an honest-to-goodness oral reporting by the President on the state of the nation? Why turn the occasion into a fashion event which is, if you think about it, a disrespect toward Mr. Aquino because it trivializes his visit to Congress to report on his work and distracts everyone from the serious business of the state? Do they think they’re honoring the President by dressing up like that?

We borrowed the Sona tradition from the United States. But in the United States, everybody who attends the Sona, including their president, comes dressed in daily business attire. For them, it’s just another day in the office. But for our people in Congress, it’s just another fashion show.

Unwittingly, our legislators cut a telling caricature of themselves. Leave it to us copycats to lampoon ourselves by doing things in excess. And at the most inappropriate times.

No wonder the poor want to have their own Sona. The men and women in those expensive costumes look so different from them, they can’t really be their representatives.

Leandro DD Coronel’s commentary has been published in various Manila journals and is currently carried by Fil-Am newspapers in Washington and Toronto.

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TAGS: Aquino Sona, congress, Fashion, SONA 2013, State of the Nation Address
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