POSTSCRIPT / December 19, 1999 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Erap can try Ninoy's solution to smuggling

PRESIDENT Erap Estrada seems to be having a hard time battling the big-time smugglers. That’s because the enemy is within.

The President knows what we mean. If he doesn’t, may God help us all!

We suggest that he calls in some of his bosom friends who are known to be active in the trade – he should know them – and appeal to them. If not for the country (we mean the Philippines, not China), at least for the President’s sake.

If they don’t listen to him, we pray again, may God have mercy on us!

* * *

AT the risk of being accused of breaking confidence, let me recall part of a conversation with Ninoy Aquino at that point of his political orbit when he was presumed to be landing soon as the replacement of then President Marcos.

I’ve told this story before, so I’ll cut out most of the details.

We were on a private plane winging its way to a hot spot in Muslim Mindanao carrying some heavy crates. The only other passenger was an American who will remain unidentified.

At some point in our conversation, Ninoy said he did not want to run for president anymore. This was shortly before Marcos was to declare martial rule in 1972. The Wonder Boy of Philippine politics explained to this startled Manila Times reporter that the job was just too big for him.

* * *

AS usual, Ninoy the Walking Encyclopedia ticked off statistics to show that population growth had been outstripping the growth of the national product. The resulting economic disaster would be too much for one man, even if he were president, to handle.

There was only one way he could succeed, Ninoy said, and that was if he were to assume dictatorial powers. He elaborated without once mentioning martial law.

To illustrate, he mentioned big-time smuggling sapping the vitality of the economy – the prominent aspect of which at that time was the Bocalan connection at Capipisa in Cavite. How would he tackle that problem?

* * *

TO Ninoy, it was simple. He said he would call to Malacañang all the big-time smugglers and appeal directly to them. Oh yes, he would also leave hanging over their heads an implied threat.

If they persist, he said he would call them again and make clear this time the threat of swift presidential action. If the smuggling continues, he would call them again and make clearer the threat by raising a mailed fist.

If after three warnings, some of them still persist, one of those “some of them” would be found floating by the Pasig one morning. If the big-time smuggling continues, another corpse would also float by. Et cetera.

* * *

WE understand that that was more or less the way some thorny problems in Tarlac, where Ninoy was once governor, were solved swiftly to the satisfaction of aggrieved farmers and victims of cattle rustling.

Erap Estrada knows by their first names the big-time smugglers who are sabotaging the fragile economy and mocking his administration. Maybe he should call them in and read to them this story of Ninoy Aquino.

* * *

LET’S face it. It should not be, but unless you have the innocence of a child, the patience of Job and the pocketbook of a taipan, Christmas could be a season of stress, and not much of grace.

For children still unspoiled by the materialism of the season, Christmas is the most awaited of all holidays. It’s pure joy. Aside from its being a school break, it is a season of endless fun, food, and gifts.

But, alas, we are not all children.

For the beloved masa of Erap, the unemployed and underemployed whose number runs into hundreds of thousands, there is the pressure of having to buy things that are simply not within easy reach.

* * *

THE X’mas merchants have wrought up such commercial pressure that it has been virtually decreed that we must buy some things for some people close to us. Sometimes even for people we hardly know.

That we may not have the money for that long shopping list is no excuse. Poverty or joblessness has not been known to be a mitigating circumstance in this jurisdiction. Crass society dictates: Thou shalt produce thy gift.

Assuming you are finally able to gather enough shopping money one week before Christmas, how do you rush those mandatory gifts?

* * *

YOUR first problem is that you have to work, to labor, during the week – assuming you’re lucky enough to have a job. That leaves you only one or two hours in the evening to rush over to the malls or shopping centers to grab some gift items.

At the turtle pace traffic crawls everywhere, you may reach the shopping center a few minutes before closing time.

Clawing your way through the mob, you end up grabbing the most likely items that you spot through the sweating bodies of fellow late shoppers. There is absolutely no time to evaluate and inspect the merchandize.

Comes next the lining up at the cashier, which also takes forever. Then the long ride home in the dead of night.

* * *

IF your schedule or your boss gives you no choice but to shop only on a weekend, which is the last weekend before Christmas, you will discover too late that a horde of fellow last-minute shoppers had taken over the place.

It helps somewhat if all your gifts – assuming you were able to buy them — are for members of the family. But if you have some for others that have to be delivered, that will be another time-and-motion problem. Not all of us were born with a family driver to run errands.

That’s just gifts for others. It is likely that in allocating your limited time and resources, you may have forgotten about yourself. (Although it could happen that you have not really forgotten yourself, but that you’re just cutting on expenses.)

* * *

THERE is also the matter of cleaning and sprucing up the house, of taking out the old Christmas tree, parol and decor, and of planning maybe a Christmas repast just so you’re not looked upon as a scroogey anti-Christmas holdout.

Good if you have maids to execute your plans with a minimum of instructions. But if you’re the ordinary six-days-a-week worker, you just have to squeeze in some time to do things yourself in your rented apartment.

Going to and from the salt mines everyday is by itself already a debilitating routine (many weary workers actually fall asleep on the bus or jeepney) without its being worsened by the pressures of the holidays.

* * *

WHY must Christmas be this stressful? It should not be. It was never meant to be – until the merchants and some of us adults gave Christmas a materialistic ring.

Actually there is an escape from this life-threatening scenario, but it takes courage and a lot of concentration.

One can just generally ignore the hustle and bustle around him, but hum along with the carols in the air; lend a deaf ear to all the noise and contrived laughter, but reserve a smile and hearty greeting for all who extend their hand; resist being dragged to the malls, but find time to walk to the chapel to talk to Him; refrain from overextending his limited budget, but make sure to have a few little things for the little ones; refuse to think or worry about what the adults would say if he cannot buy them gifts, but be genuinely sincere in wishing them the best of what Christmas promises.

And then… pray that Christmas be cleansed of the commercialism and materialism that had defiled it. Pray that humanity start seeing things again through the simple eyes of a child – as it was some 2,000 years ago.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 19, 1999)

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