By Danton Remoto
Views and analysis
1st of September 2009
(Excerpt from Wings of Desire, a novel)
The Bank for International Reconstruction and Development (BIRD) based in Washington, D.C., held their XXth Annual Meeting in Manila.
"This historical event," crowed the President that night on all the TV stations (which again zapped Wonder Woman off the screen, she who pilots an invisible plane) "proves that the bankers of the world agree that we have indeed marshaled our resources very well and turned our history of defeat into a future of hope."
From that point, a flurry of questions had to be answered. How to house the world’s bankers in the luxury they had been accustomed to? Faster than Harry Houdini, the money from the Development and Aid Package of BIRD was diverted to the construction of seven new five-star hotels.
And so the commuters and office workers from Manila to Makati had to suffer monstrous traffic jams as one hotel rose after another by the bayside. One wag compounded the nightmare by suggesting that brick walls be erected between the city and the bay. The people protested it would deprive them of a view of Manila’s magnificent sunset. Others grumbled the government only wanted to hide the squatters, who had begun to build their shanties of tin roof and cardboard, by the seawall. The truly wicked said no, the government only wanted to raise more revenue by charging P50 for anybody who wanted to see the sunset flaming barbarously beyond the wall.
Both hotels and fences were finished, along with a sprawling international convention center that could rival anything found in Japan. What about the bankers’ cars? Seven hundred late-model Benzes were imported, and the citizens of Manila were treated to the sight of Benzes gliding by, absorbing the shocks from the potholes and the uneven paving of the roads, their windows tinted against the harsh tropical sun.
After the bankers, the beauty contest.
Margarita Mon Amor was chosen Miss Philippines the previous year. Many people thought the judges should have chosen somebody fairer, with a more aquiline nose, to represent the country in the Miss Universe contest held in Athens. They said Margarita won only because she graduated summa cum laude from an exclusive girls’ school and had a grandfather who was a Justice in the Supreme Court.
But Margarita – with her wide forehead, her big and intelligent eyes, her full, sensuous lips – won in Athens. Even before the coronation night, the Greek press was already gushing about the "dusky beauty from the Philippines who walked regally like a queen." "Like Helen," another paper gushed, "who could launch a thousand wars, er, ships." And so on coronation night itself, Margarita Mon Amor went to the Parthenon in a simple silk gown the color of mother-of-pearl shell, her blue-black hair in a bun. She played a haunting kundiman on the bamboo nose flute before the stunned audience, and went through the rigmarole of the Q & A.
Bob Barker: "Miss Philippines, what is the square root of 11,250 divided by 40 then multiplied by 99?
Margarita Mon Amor: "How much time do I have?"
And now she was here, walking on the stage of the Folk Arts Theater, while the wind from the sea fanned the audience crowded in the First Lady’s latest project. Manila being Manila – this mad, maternal city of our myths and memories – everybody was jumping at the prospect of the city hosting Miss Universe that year. The machos were especially ecstatic, as day by day the tabloids splashed photos of their favorite candidates in their skimpiest bathing suits, getting their lovely tan from the Philippine sun.
So on this night of nights, the candidates flounced onstage, speaking in various tongues, a babel of greetings that were beamed worldwide. Miss Brazil came in a dress whose colors could make the parakeets in her country blush. Miss United States of America came from Texas and wore the tightest cowgirl jeans Manila had ever seen. Miss Philippines was Guadalajara de Abanico, a mestiza who had the habit of turning her finely-chiseled nose up at every social function and who, Manila’s reporters’ complained, always arrived late. "I’m sure there’s a friar somewhere in the family line," snapped Istariray X., mother hen of Manila’s society columnists, in her bitchy column called W.O.W. ("Woman of the World").
The favorites of the Manila press included Miss Wales, Helen Morgan, because she had pendulous breasts; Miss Spain, Amparo Muñoz, the 20-year-old señorita from Barcelona who looked like the Blessed Virgin Mary; and Miss Finland, Johanna Raunio, because she looked like the girl in the Bear Brand milk commercial. The country exploded with joy when the three were called as finalists, along with Miss Aruba, Maureen Ava Viera, whom the Manila press called "Black Beauty" even if she were brown, and the señorita from Colombia, Ella Cecilia Escandon, who had the face of an angel.
The judges, please:
1) Gloria Diaz who won the Miss Universe in 1969, just when the Americans were landing on the moon. Like Margarita Mon Amor, she was not your typical Filipina beauty queen, for she was short, brown, sassy, and smart. After she won, she was asked if she had a message for the three American astronauts. She said: "The United States has conquered the moon, but the Philippines has conquered the universe."
2) Zenaida Carajo, also called Baby, who smiled through her tenth face-lifting and had difficulty walking, because on her neck, arms and fingers glittered the country’s second-heaviest diamonds (after the First Lady’s). She also wore makeup so thick that people called her Kabuki Lady behind her back. Or even espasol, the dessert from the south smothered in layers of flour.
3) Joseph Carajo, Baby’s cousin, who taxed the country’s seven million farmers with a levy ostensibly to fund the planting of mahogany trees to produce "modern antique furniture," but the funds have allegedly been siphoned off to places as far as the Netherlands Antilles.
4) Richard Head, the American Ambassador, called Dick Head by two camps: the grim-and-determined Marxists and the applicants denied visas by His Honor’s consuls.
5) Bernardo Tulingan, who called himself the country’s finest painter, with his grotesqueries hanging like chopping boards in Manila’s seafood restaurants.
6) Zosimo Zaymo, a successful talent manager famous for pimping his female models in Brunei and fondling the male ones before hidden cameras.
7) The young Emmanuel, bright and beady-eyed, opinion columnist par excellence, thinking how soon he could bed as many contestants as possible.
9) Mother China, the country’s number one movie producer, who loved to have zombies in her movies.
10) And of course, the First Lady herself, the Chair of the Board of Judges, Her Majesty Infinitely Brighter than the Blaze of Ten Thousand Suns.
One by one the winners were called, to thunderous applause: Miss Aruba, third runner-up; Miss Colombia, second runner-up; and Miss Finland, first runner-up. And then, only Miss Wales and Spain were left. Both held hands and braced themselves for the announcement, their eyes closed, chins quivering.
Between Big Boobs and the Blessed Virgin Mary, of course the latter would win in this country. After she was called as the newest Miss Universe, Amparo Muñoz gave the crowd a beatific smile, tears running down her face, ruining her makeup. But never mind, for here was Margarita Mon Amor, gliding on the stage, relinquishing cape, crown and scepter, and then the señorita walked around the stage, the flashbulbs popping forever.
Miss Universe would constantly visit Manila as part of the First Lady’s entourage of royalty and celebs, who would be flown to the city to inaugurate a massive new building (part of what critics called the First Lady’s edifice complex), or just have a party aboard the presidential yacht RPS Ang Pangulo on Manila Bay. Later, Amparo Muñoz would star in porno movies in her country, precious copies of which were smuggled into Manila and shown at the parties of the rich and the brain-dead, for they married within the family to keep their fabulous, feudal wealth intact.
Helen Morgan would bare her humongous breasts in a Filipino movie called Nagalit ang Umaga Dahil sa Sobrang Haba ng Gabi (The Morning Got Mad Because the Night was Too Long), then returned to her cold, gray island after the movie flopped.
Johanna Raunio joined the Miss International contest in Tokyo and won. Ella Cecilia Escandon became a writer of Latin American telenovelas, the most popular of which –Mari Mar, Ay! – was shown in an obscure Philippine station, promptly became number one, and wiped the smug grins off the faces of the smart suits running the number-one network. And Maureen Ava Viera married a wealthy Filipino, divorced him, then returned to the Caribbean, to run as governor of Aruba.
* * *
News Item: A Surprise for Miss Nicaragua
During the Parade of Beauties of the Miss Universe contestants on Roxas Boulevard, one man jumped aboard the float of Miss Nicaragua, Mildred de Ortega, and hugged her. Filipino security agents, quick as ever, were already dragging the man away "for routine investigation," when the Miss Universe contestant, who was then already in tears, said, "No, no, please, por favor."
It turned out the man, who was a mestizo, was the brother of Miss Nicaragua. Danilo de Ortega had been in exile for five years. "I was glad to know that my sister had been chosen Miss Nicaragua. I flew from L.A. just to see her. I miss her and my family."
Why did Danilo flee his country?
Perhaps it must have been the series of terrible earthquakes, forcing Danilo to emigrate from his beautiful and peaceful country, opined the columnist Juan Tabaco, a highly-paid columnist and a friend of the President. In a party, said the clandestine Opposition press, a member of the Opposition – with much help from Johnny Walker Black – stood before Señor Tabaco and began to sing, "How Much is that Puppy in the Window, arf arf." And the eyes of Señor Tabaco – who used to write novels before the dictatorship co-opted him – began to fill with bitter tears.
But when he was interviewed, Danilo Ortega simply said, "I cannot stand the military dictatorship in my country."
His statement was dutifully reported by Philippine media whose prime passion and major mania was the government-dictated policy of "developmental journalism."