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When people play coy

Playing coy is best depicted in the third chapter of the great Philippine novel “Noli Me Tangere,” where the Spanish friars display their boorish behavior at Kapitan Tiago’s welcome party or bienvenida for Crisostomo Ibarra, who had just returned from Europe, dressed in trademark black from top to toe, and with a complexion and rosy cheeks suggesting that he had just come from a cold climate.

At the beginning of the chapter we see the line jele jele bago quiere that did not require a translation or explanation at the time. This corrupt Spanish phrase with a funny resonant rhyme simply means that one is pretending not to appear interested in something, though in reality one is desperate to have it. One plays coy as a way to fish for compliment or be persuaded to take the supposedly unwanted thing one wanted all along.

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By force of habit, the two friars head toward the head of the table and are confronted with only one, presumably high-backed, chair. Rizal’s scene is evocative of competitors for a university position, who loudly proclaim the superior traits and qualifications of their opponent when they actually mean the opposite. But after a decision is made, the person who is not chosen sulks and grumbles. So the friars loudly exalt the honor of the other, with each keeping firm hold on the chair:

“‘For you, Fray Damaso.’

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“‘For you, Fray Sibyla.’

“‘An older friend of the family—confessor of the deceased lady—age, dignity, and authority—’

“‘Not so very old, either! On the other hand, you are the curate of the district,’ replied Fray Damaso sourly, without taking his hand from the back of the chair.

“‘Since you command it, I obey,’ concluded Fray Sibyla, disposing himself to take the seat.

“‘I don’t command it!’ protested the Franciscan. ‘I don’t command it!’”

Before Fray Sibyla takes the seat, to spite the protesting Fray Damaso, he calls the lieutenant of the Civil Guard and offers the place of honor with the words: “Lieutenant, we are in the world and not in the church. The seat of honor belongs to you.” His true intent is clear from the tone of his voice, so the lieutenant declines the seat to avoid both a social situation and the misery of having to sit between the two quarrelling friars.

That Rizal’s influence extends beyond his time can be seen in a short “postelection comedy” published by Rafael C. Londres in 1947, where he makes up a rivalry between two Batangas notables, Jose P. Laurel and Claro M. Recto, for the 1925 senatorial elections. A fact check shows that there was no contest because in 1925 Laurel was elected senator for the fifth senatorial district comprising Batangas, Cavite, Marinduque, Mindoro and Tayabas, while Recto was elected to the House of Representatives for the third district of Batangas. Nevertheless, the author mirrors the jele jele bago quiere dialogue in the “Noli” of the friars Damaso and Sibyla in a conversation between Laurel and Recto after the 1925 election:

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Laurel: Now that the election is over and political passions have, in a way, subsided, I wish to be among the first to congratulate you on your election as senator from the fifth district.

Recto: I deeply appreciate your wishes, all the more because they come sincerely from a worthy opponent.

Laurel: I don’t mind losing to so enlightened, so noble, so great a man.

Recto: Believe me, you have not lost at all. You are greater in your defeat than I in my victory. My triumph has not given me happiness, because it is totally unmerited. I am not fit to tie the laces of your shoes.

Laurel: You do yourself a great injustice. Certainly, no honor is too great for one of such transcendent merits.

Recto: No defeat can ever dishonor a man of such shining gifts. I am not fit even to shine your shoes.

Laurel: When the gods decided to do the Philippines a good turn, they could think of nothing better than to send us a Recto.

Recto: And you, my friend, the flower of the Malay race, the wisest, the most virtuous, the handsomest of men, ah! I am not fit even to wipe the soles of your shoes.

Laurel: The best poet, the most brilliant parliamentarian, and farsighted statesman.

Recto: There have been first-rate poets, brilliant parliamentarians, and farsighted statesmen in the future, but there is only one Jose P. Laurel. Ah, believe me, I am not fit even to lick the dirt of your shoes.

Laurel: … The profoundest philosopher, the finest artist of words, the subtlest mathematician.

Recto: There have been profound philosophers, fine artists and subtle mathematicians, but there is only one Jose P. Laurel, for the world cannot hold more than one superman at a time. My friend, I assure you, I am not even fit to pull off your shoes.

Laurel: … The greatest legalist, physicist, chemist, astronomer, biologist, psychoanalyst, chiropractor, the world has yet produced—that is Claro M. Recto.

Recto: There have been great physicists, chemists, astronomers, biologists, psychoanalysts, and chiropractors but as I live, there is only one Jose P. Laurel. You summed up in you, my friend, all the greatness in the universe. Ah! The whole universe put together is nothing beside you. You are more than a superman, you are more than an angel, you are… (stooping low) a god.

Laurel: What are you doing?

Recto: Ah! Alllow me to prostrate myself…

People are so different in 2016. They say what they want and feel, with language unfit for publication or airing on prime-time TV.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Claro M. Recto, Jose P. Laurel, Noli Me Tangere, playing coy
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