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Human Face

‘Let them eat cake’

“Let them eat cake,” the famous callous remark attributed/misattributed to Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI, went down in history and was used as an example of the powerful rich’s contempt for the poor hungry peasants clamoring for bread.

“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” or something similar, historians say, could have been uttered by someone else long before Marie Antoinette’s time. Her contemporary Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote that there is no proof that she said it. If she said it at all, she was not the first to say it.

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Whatever the context and the intent of that utterance, it has taken on a negative meaning over the centuries. More so because Marie Antoinette was guillotined for the crime of treason during the French Revolution. She became the caricature for the matapobre profligate rich.

In a Philippine context, or in a movie perhaps, an emaciated crowd could be chanting, “Bigas, bigas!” (Rice, rice!) to which a disdainful despot might respond with, “Palamunin nga ninyo ng litson!” (Shove roasted pig into their mouths!)

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I smile while I write this piece because I suddenly remember a scene in the Mike de Leon 1980s movie classic “Sister Stella L.” (Vilma Santos in the title role) where a group of us women writers became women-in-black extras chanting “Welga! Welga!” at the picket line. We were crying for “jobs and justice, food and freedom.” Yes, you’d spot me there. The movie was shown despite its antidictatorship overtones.

We could very well have cried “Bigas, hindi bala!” (Rice, not bullets!) because the labor leader (Tony Santos) in the movie was gunned down. Street slogans were the rage then, the more alliterative the better. But I digress.

These rainy day thoughts crossed my mind while I was watching on TV the Senate investigation into the allegedly overpriced City Hall II building in Makati where the Binay family—three Binays alternating—has been in power for close to 30 years. We all know, and Vice President Jejomar Binay admits it with moist eyes, that he is gunning for the presidency in 2016, while his junior has taken his place in wealthy Makati which has its share of poor residents.

What do cakes have to do with the Senate investigation? The Binays’ accusers thought they might as well bring in the issue of cakes that are home-delivered to Makati’s senior citizens—poor and rich—on their birthday year after year after year. For a long time this cake thing has been a subject of speculation among suspicious Makati residents. How much, who are the cake suppliers, who rakes in the profits if at all?

But besides the who and the how much, there is also the why. They can simply say, well, the senior citizens of that rich city deserve to have their cake and eat it, too, to borrow a figure of speech. This cake issue takes the cake (to use another figure of speech) because it is close to home.

While writing this, I called up the home of a friend whose house help are now senior citizens. Manang Fe (not her real name) answered the phone so I asked her right away if she continues to receive cakes on her birthday. Yes, she said. Do they taste good? Hmm, parang okey naman, (Hmm, seems okay) was her answer. Even her boss, a more senior citizen whose memory is fading fast, also receives a cake on her birthday.

Someone in the know told me that the cake making really started in someone’s garage. Whose garage? This informant adds that also worth looking into are the rolling food vehicles from which meals are sold to Makati employees. These vehicles are rented out for so much per month. Who owns them?

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Who wouldn’t be thrilled to receive a cake on one’s birthday? The very poor cannot afford birthday cakes. It is precisely the poor that these cakes are meant for. But why cakes for the diabetic old? Why cakes at all? Why not, say, Makati City gift certificates (in addition to the P1,000 cash) that can buy anything in many Makati supermarkets or drug stores?

Why give senior citizens (those with so-called “dual citizenship”) cakes when many of them have elevated blood sugar? It is a good subject for jokesters, seniors among them, who do not run out of jokes about themselves and their privileges. Please bear with me.

Joke: Why are senior citizens entitled to free movie passes? Answer: They are not likely to watch movies because of poor eyesight and hearing. (Not true. First showing is full of senior citizens, many of them couples with hearing and walking aids.) Joke: Why are senior citizens given 20-percent discount in restaurants? Answer: They do not/cannot eat that much because of high blood pressure, diabetes and other ailments.

Not a joke: Why are the senior citizens of Makati City given cakes on their birthday year after year after year? Why did the Makati City government—okay, the Binays—think senior citizens should be given cakes on their birthday? Some answers: To make them happy, to make them feel special, to express gratitude, to show their families and the young ones, those of voting age especially, how thoughtful their city government is. And so the supplier is laughing all the way to the bank.

Let me say this straight: Someone must be making a lot of money out of these cakes, overpriced or not. Think of hundreds of cakes to be delivered every day. There should be several thousands of senior citizens in Makati.

So, let them eat cake.  Qu’ils mangent de la brioche. Pakainin ng keyk.

Send feedback to cerespd@gmail.com or www.ceresdoyo.com

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TAGS: French Revolution, hungry peasants, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Louis XVI, Makati City government, Marie Antoinette, Mike De Leon
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