Jessica Zafra’s shot at the Pen coup

I like Jessica Zafra’s take on the issue about the coup attempt in Manila Pen. This came out in today’s issue of Philippine Star. Read on…

Republic of hotels
Friday, December 7, 2007


I wake up on a stormy, gloomy Thursday morning, perfect weather for staying in bed, reading Eileen Chang and listening to Ryuichi Sakamoto soundtracks, when Ricky texts me to watch the news. There’s an ongoing coup attempt at The Peninsula Manila, led by the same personalities who attempted a coup at the Oakwood, so I guess they’re moving up in the world. Are there any other countries where coups are staged in luxury hotels? I’m sure many are planned in hotels, but their soldiers are usually in the field, not in the coffee shop.

We do have a longish tradition of coups d’etat in hotels and country clubs. In 1986, President Corazon Aquino was sworn in at Club Filipino. Shortly after that, loyalists of the deposed President Ferdinand Marcos attempted to overthrow the Aquino government from the Manila Hotel. It makes sense to have a coup in a hotel because there’s a supply of food and adequate facilities for press conferences, the media have easy access, and the presence of foreign guests spells international media coverage. During the TV coverage, Tina noticed a man in white uniform and a toque standing behind the general who was talking to the rebels. “What is he doing there?” she asked. “He’s probably checking to see how many meals he has to prepare,” I said. “Alright, do I have to feed an army? I only have a hundred Cornish hens!”

I can’t help but think that demanding the resignation of a president, no matter how unpopular, in five-star comfort sends the message that the rebels are unwilling to risk hunger, discomfort or dirt for their cause. And if they would rather not face hunger, discomfort, and dirt, why should the people buy their eagerness to face death? Idealists are always quick to declare their readiness to die for a cause, but no one actually expires. Why? Because you can run for public office from a jail cell, but it would be extremely difficult to campaign from the grave.

My friends had scheduled a dinner at the Dusit Hotel that night. I took a poll to see if we should push through with our dinner plans, and everyone said, “Of course.” It’ll take more than a coup attempt to keep true Pinoys from their social engagements; witness the wedding party that was gathered at the Peninsula when the action began. Our main concern was not the danger of gunfire, but the possibility of heavy traffic in the Makati area.

After all we’ve been through in the last couple of decades, I think we Pinoys are incapable of being freaked out. In most other countries, if a group of politicians with presumed military support holed up in a hotel and demanded the resignation of the president, the citizens would stay in the safety of their homes and watch events unfold on TV. We prefer to see events happen live, with our own eyes, to make sure we’re getting the unvarnished truth. It’s not that we’re oblivious to danger; we know that no place is one hundred percent safe anyway, so why get stressed?

I decided to keep my 3 p.m. coffee appointment, so I hopped into a cab to Greenbelt just as tanks and armored personnel carriers were rolling up to the Pen. Our dinner was at 7; I thought I’d spend a couple of hours prowling the shelves at Powerbooks. I wanted to get the new Jonathan Lethem novel in paperback, and Janna Levin’s A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines. Just after 4 p.m., word spread through the bookstore coffee shop that shots had been fired at the Pen. So my friend grabbed his video camera and headed for the Pen. I figured I was safe and snug inside the bookstore, away from the wind, rain, and automatic weapons fire. That’s when I learned that the store was closing. The entire mall was locking up.

This struck me as unfriendly to the customers — wouldn’t it be safer to allow us to take shelter from the whizzing bullets? Later it was explained to me that the mall had to be closed so that no rebel soldiers escaping from the Peninsula could run inside and melt into the crowd.

So while events of possible historical significance are taking place, I’m thinking, “Bummer, I wanted to look at books.” It’s not that I don’t give a hoot, but I’m tired. I’m tired of politics and politicians. I’m tired of the cycle of eternal recurrence. I’m tired of getting worked up over corruption and ineptitude, and then seeing them replaced by corruption and ineptitude. I just want to get my work done.

I ended up spending the next couple of hours at a friend’s apartment, poaching from his iTunes library. He has Amy Holland’s albums! Who remembers Amy Holland? The coup fizzled out and we had dinner at 7 p.m., as planned. It was great.

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