BY Lito Banayo
Ang Pahayagang Malaya
13 August 2009
L’addition, s’il vous plais, Ferdinand Martin Romualdez must have told the head waiter at Le Cirque. He could have added, "The President has a funeral to catch in Manila".
Le Cirque does not get this large a crowd of diners these days, the economy being in recession. In any case, the celebrities that come to the East Side restaurant which boasts of a wine collection like no other in Manhattan, caters to twosomes and foursomes mostly, not boisterous over-dressed gaggles unable to distinguish between osetra from the Caspian or caviar from California.
Looking at the reported dishes ordered for the celebration of the wedding anniversary of our Fourth World presidenta y su esposo, you notice a clear divide. It reminds you of one of her state of the nation addresses, where she decried "two Philippines", "a Philippines for the rich, and a Philippines for the poor". And thereafter vowed she would make us in her watch — "one Philippines".
Clearly neither Cerge Remonde nor Eduardo Ermita did the ordering. Cerge would probably not know the difference between a "torchon of foie gras" from "Dover sole." Ermita would have wondered why "isdang dapa" should fetch such a high price of 75 dollars per order, or 3,700 pesos, when out in Balayan Bay (during his childhood, for "isdang dapa" has become a rarity these days), it would hardly fetch 200 pesos for a kilo, or 75 pesos (not dollars) per fish. But Dover is veddy British, and the English Channel must have something in it that makes the "dapa" more fleshy than the emaciated ones that Ermita used to feast upon from his hometown. Cerge is Cebuano, Ed is from West End Batangas; both are penny pinchers by upbringing.
It could have been Remedios Poblador on her last night before flying to Syria upon her Doña’s express orders. Why go to Syria instead of Tita Cory? Ask Medy, if she would speak, or better yet, Gloria and Mike, if they would ever, ever say whatever was so important in Syria. For Medy would know what to order for the coven of hangers-on, and what La Doña y su esposo crave for. My guess is that El Esposo had the Dover sole (doctor’s orders), while the Doña feasted on her "dry-aged" prime striploin, and compared it to the best that Mamou’s at Serendra served her.
Or Medy and Martin Romualdez together. For the "paisanos", the chef’s seasonal menu, a three-course meal of soup, salad and main course, likely a chicken timbale or some bourguignon of beef. That’s what Cerge complains about, "just set menus". He must have been treated like a pobrecito paisano. Far, far away from the table reserved for the elite of the elite, who had a menu degustacion avec vin, at 180 dollars each, for appetizer rather than main course, out of which they chose their entrée of sole, or halibut poached in coconut milk (tastes like lapu-lapu sa gata), saddle of lamb and "dry aged" prime steak.
But why eleven bottles of champagne, Krug at 510 dollars a bottle (25,000 pesos per? (Still cheaper than a bottle of Erap’s vintage Chateau Petrus, at 80,000 per bottle, but Erap opened just a bottle or two at a time, as if that makes any difference). The toasts must have been "plenty" that night of August 2 at Le Cirque. Like "plenty of sex", remember the interview?
Three worlds and twelve time zones apart, people of her country were lining up, braving the heat of scorching sun and outbursts of soaking rain, to pay their final respects to the simple bier where their first lady president lay in state. This was the president whose husband was murdered in the night of the dictator’s reign, the dictator whose wife used to dine in the same elite restaurants her full-blooded nephew Ferdinand Martin Romualdez now fancies as well. This was the president who, brought to power by the people, called upon the same to oust a duly-elected president for excesses she found too scandalous, only to rue the day she did it, because she ushered into power a woman whose excesses far outweigh everyone else’s. And had the grace to accept her mistake, while the woman she brought to power could only say "I am sorry", for nothing she would admit.
Ferdinand Martin, if indeed he was the one who paid for the million-peso dinner tab, must have rushed the check, lest dessert of fraiche au chocolat and after-dinner liqueurs push the "chit" beyond a million, not to forget the 3 to 4 thousand dollar additional "tip" that he would cough up, lest the waiters of Le Cirque snub him when next he visits the Big Apple. "The President has a funeral to catch back in Manila…" ne c’est pas?
During the short wake for the beloved lady, text jokes were being passed around, about a Pinoy who, seeing that it would take him five hours of lining up just for a fleeting glance at Cory, told another — "Hihintayin ko na lang ang burol ni Gloria. Doon sigurado walang pila".
Such insensitivity, everyone now says. Wining and dining while the nation was in grief. Was the Doña y su esposo ever affected, when they went back to the presidential suite of the Waldorf Astoria, the same address in Manhattan Imelda Marcos favored?
But why ever be affected, the Doña must have thought? She paused for an ersatz prayer for Cory’s worsening health on July 27, just a pause, not even a minute, before she mouthed her SONA lies. When Cory breathed her last, Hillary Rodham Clinton was calling on her at the Willard Hotel, only to find that her cabinet had left for shopping or sight-seeing, because of a mix-up in their schedules, one of several egregious errors in the comedy that was her Washington visit. (Ellen Tordesillas has already written about how SND Gibo and how SOF Gary were bumped off from the Oval Room encounter with Obama, in favor of He-he Alvarez and Medy Poblador). The "singit" displeased their American counterparts, Gates and Geithner, who thought they could say anything substantial in the abbreviated call on their POTUS of this little lady who was given nothing more than a sop — coordinator for the Asean, merely because she spoke Georgetown English with the funny nasal twang.
Now back to the Willard, which was after Barack Obama’s photo op with her, and the asinine press conference where Cerge chose a non-journalist, voice modulator Rey Langit, to ask the only question that floored both Barack and his Doña because of its pusillanimous inanity (pardon the quaint redundancy, the editor would have excised my initial choice of expletives).
As her staff support were told that the Hillary call was cancelled (by whom, Ed or Cerge or Medy?) there was hardly anything to talk about. Whether the Doña was told about Cory Aquino’s last gasp of mortal air before she faced Hillary or whether the Doña intentionally withheld information about the same to Hillary with Kenney, one could only deduce from the pained and surprised reaction Hillary had when she was informed by the ABS-CBN correspondent, Ging Reyes.
Now comes the Doña’s "official" reaction. Hours later, she declared a ten-day mourning period, dressed in appropriate grey propped over a red settee. Caught on cruel camera, right after reading the message of "grief", the Doña quickly stood up, then breaks into some indescribable laughter, half-nervous, half-acting, definitely a give-away to insincerity. Sans the audio, the lip-synch expert would have sworn that she was asking her "handlers" (was that you, Lupita?), "O, okay ba?" How many takes? Surely less than the 21 or more when she pronounced "I am sorry" over Hello Garci four years back.
I saw the footage after Cory had been interred. I briefly greeted Lupita Aquino Kashiwahara as she strode to her seat in the funeral mass at the Manila Cathedral. I could not ask, as I had not yet seen it, nor had I opened my e-mail in days.
At about three in the afternoon of Friday, August 7 (Manila time), I was caught by rain and heavy traffic rushing from one meeting in Quezon City to another in San Juan. My driver took a circuitous route upon seeing the traffic bottled up at Aurora Boulevard and Gilmore, and went through 6th St. to Balete and a round-about route past N. Domingo in a narrow street whose name escapes me.
There in the middle of the street were an emaciated couple, looking like zombies, skin and bones put together only by God’s amazing grace, looking like they were in their sixties when probably they were half that age. The woman was pushing a small dilapidated makeshift cart while the man was picking what litter in the street they could sell for repast. The rains had slowed down to a "tikatik", and my driver was about to honk because the couple had blocked a narrow street where cars had double-parked. I stopped him, and allowed the couple to pass, painful step after each slowed step. I caught a glimpse of those faces wearied by suffering, the torment etched for eternity. I noticed how the lady’s mouth foamed and her tongue whitened in what seemed like clear signs of hunger, if not starvation.
And then, later that evening, a friend sent me a copy of the New York Post, where the million-peso dinner was reported on Page Six.
Where is justice in this benighted land? How can those who style themselves as leaders even sleep in their opulent settings, or gouge on astronomically-priced cuisine and libations, while countrymen survive on picking trash?
Insensitivity most gross is the kindest descriptive. Just because the provenance of wealth is thievery, and conscience is barren.
What a country!