POSTSCRIPT / January 2, 2000 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Solutions are obvious;  will Erap adopt them?

AS you can very well see, we may be a bit battered, but we’re still around. By “we” is meant you and me and the rest of the world.

The year 2000 is just a conventional label for a point in a time continuum, which is in turn just a tiny segment of infinity. With or without this day designated as January 1, 2000, time passes on in one objective sweep, waiting for no one.

If you were among those who stayed up to wait for the dawning of a new day – and a disputed new millenium — you would have noticed that today’s sunrise was just like countless other sunrises in the past.

Each day becomes different only because we make it different. The difference lies not in the day itself, but in the manner we live that day.

* * *

HOW will the nation live this day and the rest of the millenium? How will President Estrada fare in the days ahead?

While it would be a big blunder on the part of Mr. Estrada to just shrug off the drop in his net approval rating to five percent (just two percent in Metro Manila!), it would be an even bigger mistake for his critics to gloat or rejoice over it.

Whatever the survey says, the fact remains that Erap Estrada is still our president, and the only one we have. If he sinks, we may go down with him.

Solving our problems is not as simple as screaming “Para!” and getting off the “Jeep ni Erap.” We’re stuck with him for four more years — whether he goes up or down.

Constitutionally, we can be rid of the President only by impeachment or if he resigns, is incapacitated or dies. It would be foolish to wish or just wait for any of those eventualities – because they are not likely to happen just now.

* * *

ONE bright note is that President Estrada appears to be aware of the reasons for his plunging popularity. He has mentioned some of them: his Concord (Constitutional Correction for Development) campaign, cronyism and corruption, oil price increases and press attacks.

Knowing the reasons for his waning popularity and approval rating, Mr. Estrada now has the option of maintaining his present course or doing something about the perils lurking in the dark, turbulent waters.

Alas, last time we heard, President Estrada is stubbornly sticking to Concord and everything else that has been identified as contributing to his dismal rating at the polls.

* * *

FORTUNATELY for him, Filipinos are a forgiving, forgetful lot. If one needs proof, he only has to look at the national police whose stink is legend.

While most of the other agencies fell in the survey, PNP Chief Ping Lacson got a positive rating, despite his own bad record in the human rights department, after displaying a firm resolve to clean the PNP stables.

Erap Estrada could do a Ping Lacson in tackling cronyism and corruption. The barkada and the kamag-anak have done enough damage not only to his political stock but more so to the limping economy. It’s high time Erap told them firmly to stop it, or jail some of them.

As soon as he shows the first sign of really cracking down on these opportunists and economic saboteurs, as he has promised, he can expect widespread support.

* * *

THE Concord is one heavy albatross around the neck of Mr. Estrada. But can he scuttle it against the wishes of those cashing in on it?

The campaign to “correct” the Constitution is actually one big industry by itself with at least P500 million in public funds earmarked for it.

To stop Concord at this point would throw in disarray the many sly operators who have cornered huge chunks of the juicy Concord budget. These are the same operators who are whispering to the President the alleged wisdom of charter change.

* * *

THE predicament of the President reminds us of a story we told in this space at around this time last year:

ONCE upon a time, in a faraway land, there was a King. His Majesty had the biggest kingdom in the whole world, the most powerful army on earth, and a Queen who was the prettiest among all the women in the royal court.

What a lucky man, everybody thought. But actually the King was not happy.

He would sit on his golden throne, give orders, preside over fabulous banquets, go hunting in the Black Forest, and do all things he simply wanted to do. But he was not happy.

The sadness was beginning to tell on his health and his disposition, so he decided to do something about it.

ONE day, the King called in his jester. As soon as the funny fellow tiptoed into the royal chamber, the King barked:

“Tell me, why am I not happy? Why this emptiness within me in the midst of plenty? Why the darkness in my soul despite the glitter of my court? Tell me, what must I do?”

The jester was taken aback. Taking a deep breath, he then said: “King, if you want to be happy, have someone who is truly happy sit on your lap!”

The King was amazed at the unusual counsel, but found it worth trying. When the Queen entered his chamber a little later, he asked her to sit on his lap.

“Why, what’s going on?” the Queen asked, a bit surprised because she was not used to the King cuddling her.

“Nothing, just sit on my lap.”

The Queen obliged. One minute, two minutes, three minutes… one hour passed. The King started to feel her weight, but not a hint of him being happy. In fact, he was getting irritated.

“Tell me the truth,” he asked her. “Are you happy?”

“If I must tell you, Your Majesty,” the Queen said pointedly as she pulled herself up, “I’ve never been happy….”

THAT evening, the King’s favorite courtier came in and whispered: “Hey, King, I’ve got a gift for you that’ll make you very happy.”

The courtier snapped his fingers and in walked a beautiful maiden with sex appeal oozing through her gauzy native costume.

“This beauty is all yours,” he told the King with a flourish. “She’s the virgin daughter of the chief of Kaw-awa whose village we pillaged the other day.”

The King’s eyes popped as he examined the fetching figure before him. “Come, sit on my lap….”

The girl refused. The courtier got mad and yanked her, almost flinging her toward the King.

His Majesty caught the girl and held her squirming on his lap. One minute, two minutes, three minutes, thirty minutes…. The King felt not a tinge of happiness creeping into his being.

He let her go.

THE next day, the King summoned his knights and ordered: “Go and look for somebody, anybody, who is happy, someone truly happy—and bring him or her at once to me!”

The knights galloped to all points, asked everyone, and searched every village in the kingdom for anyone who was truly happy. But they found no one.

They went out another time, searched farther out, but came back again empty-handed.

His Majesty was getting depressed.

ONE morning, the King walked out into the royal garden, the first time he did so in many years. He was ambling down a shaded path when something hit him in the head, almost knocking down his crown.

It was a small yellow ball. A girl came running after it, but the King had caught the wayward ball.

“Let me have my ball, please,” pleaded the girl.

“Who are you,” the King demanded. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Mas-aya, sir, and that’s my ball,” she replied, reaching for it.

The King stared at the girl, wondering how she found her way into the royal garden. She was in a faded frock so common among the peasants.

“And what’s your name, sir?” she asked.

“My name?” The King didn’t know how to handle the question. “Well, I’m the King, didn’t you know?

“What’s a king?”

“A king is, well… a king. You know, I’m the ruler here.”

“Ruler?” the girl wondered aloud. “I have a ruler in my bag at home, but it doesn’t look like you.”

“OKAY, okay,” the King finally said. “Come over here, and I’ll tell you everything you want to know about kings and rulers and everything else.”

He handed the ball to the girl, sat on a stone bench, and placed her on his lap.

“You know,” he began, “We have this village, our village, and many other villages beyond those hills and the forest. Now, someone has to run things, you know, making sure everything is fine and dandy. I’m the one doing that, running things here and beyond, telling people what to do and what not to do. I give the orders.”

“So you’re the one they’re talking about….” the girl nodded.

“Oh, and what are they talking about me?”

“You know, some say there is this cranky old man in that cold stone castle who always gets half of what people make or harvest. And they don’t like that, because what’s left for us is not always enough….”

“Really? But my men keep assuring me everybody loves me. Tell me, do you think I’m a bad man?” the King asked anxiously.

The girl leaned back to size him up. “No, you don’t look bad to me at all. In fact, I think I kind of like you.”

“DO you think I can still make the people happy?”

“Yes, King. Just be nice to them. And make friends, and keep smiling… Like you’re nice to me….”

“Tell me, are you happy?”

“Of course, I’m happy!” the girl gushed. “Especially when I play in the garden, chase the butterflies, listen to the birds sing, pick flowers, watch the clouds… What about you, King, are you happy?”

Embracing the girl on his lap, the King whispered to her, “For the first time in my life, I’m very very happy.” ©

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 2, 2000)

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