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Lazarus at the gate

Juan MercadoBy Juan Mercado
MANILA – In the raw world of 7/24 journalism, a colleague dashes off a piece with hard-nosed panache that makes one mumble: “Wish I wrote that.” Three articles come to mind:
Patricia Evangelista’s “Woes of Ms Marcos” is one. She documented, with professional thoroughness, hard evidence on still unaccounted for sleaze. This Inquirer column polished off the so-called ‘Marcos restoration’.
The second is Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s series on the President and First Gentleman’s “Statement of Assets and Liabilities”.

Ms Arroyo’s net worth ballooned from P6.7 million to P143.5 million between 1992 to 2008, PCIJ’s Malou Mangahas revealed…President Arroyo’s portfolio bolted 41% even as the local stock index nosedived by 21%..The Palace shrugged off Makati Business Club’s request for clarification.

The third is Inquirer’s column “Circus Stories”. In it, Manuel Quezon III set a new standard for brevity when he demolished Malacanang justification for the President burning P2.7 billion in foreign travels since 2003.
Quezon used two sentences. “The President’s people justify her travels in producing press releases promising Foreign Direct Investments,” he wrote. . “For 2008, Bangko Sentral reported actual FDIs were negative by $81 million; for 2009 to date, they are negative $102.9 million.” Period. End of Paragraph. End of Column.
These examples help answer why Mrs. Arroyo twists in the wind over hefty restaurant bills racked up in her last US trip.

At “Le Cirque” restaurant, the President’s entourage ran up a $20,000 tab, New York Post reported. Washington Post’s Reliable Sources blog added Bobby Van’s Steakhouse’s bill for $15,000.
To tamp down the uproar, her spokesmen pledged to publish receipts.

They never did.
Why not? After all, no one claims the President’s watering hole preferences matched excesses of others.
Whoever entertained Emperor Charles V for lunch had to serve 400 dishes. Chinese Dragon Empress Tz’u-his ( 1861-1908) had over 200 dishes paraded…

“No fool can be silent at a feast,” Greek legislator Solon concluded after Athenian excesses sapped reforms. And 2,600 years later, Mrs Arroyo is learning Solon’s lesson: her feasting ‘barkadas’ leak like a sieve.
“The President’s chatty congressional traveling companions pointed out there were other meals,” Quezon III revealed. “Rep. Hermilando Mandanas said there was dinner at Bouley’s… on Aug. 2; Rep. Amelita Villarosa referred to a meal at Wolfgang’s Steakhouse on Park Avenue.” Indeed, “a tame tongue is a rare bird.”
To take the heat off the President, Reps Danilo Suarez ( Quezon ) and Ferdinand Martin Romualdez ( Leyte ) were named as hosts.

“Greater love than this no man hath, than to lay down one’s credit card for a boss nailed off-base.”
Suarez couldn’t get even size of entourage right. Romualdez didn’t deny or confirm. But aide Nick Esmale, said it was Architect Daniel Romualdez who ponied up. . “One of the striking differences between a cat and a lie, “Mark Twain said, ”is the cat has only nine lives.”

Romualdez and Suarez are in clover. Million-peso meals are no sweat for them. . However, both represent constituents who are dirt poor.

Of 77 provinces studied by Philippine Human Development Report 2009, Leyte ranks a low 49 in “poverty incidence: depth and severity.” Quezon is even poorer at slot 58.

Life expectancy is the most telling indicator. For Leyte, it is 67.7 years. And Quezon is a fraction shorter at 67.5. Both are almost a decade shorter than La Union’s 74.6 years. In Leyte, one out of five lacks safe potable water. In Quezon, it’s four out of ten.

Almost 22 percent are functionally illiterate in Leyte, higher than Quezon’s near 15 percent. It is only four in Ilocos Sur. In Leyte, 42 percent graduate from high school. And 48 percent do in Quezon. Both are dwarfed by Laguna at 72 percent.

“These are not another race of creatures bound on other journeys,”
Charles Dickens wrote “These are fellow passengers to the grave.” Thus, President Corazon Aquino’s commissioners stitched into the Constitution a provision that’d curb the miniscule Filipino elite from battening off on the weak.

“The use of property bears a social function, ” it reads. “(And) it is the duty of the state to promote distributive justice and to intervene where the common good so demands.”

It means the right of the First Gentleman to Le Cirque’s ‘tete de veau vingerette’ ( crispy pata,) ends where the farmer’s right to some rice begins. Entitlement of Erap and midnight cabinet to $1,000 bottles of Chateux Petrus wine peters out where the fisherman’s right to anti-biotic starts.

All too often, “the nakedness of human need, pungent with the smell of urine and fetid slums, never quite get to us,’ National Scientist Dioscoro Umali told the UN subcommittee on nutrition. “We do not see Lazarus at the gate.”

This blindness refers to the rich man, of Luke’s parable. He feasted everyday, blind to the beggar Lazarus waiting for crumbs to fall from his tablee. This blindness is “the human propensity to prop up teetering positions of privilege with the pain of vulnerable and impoverished people,.” Harvey Cox of Harvard University explains.

The press will have to articulate, far better than we managed so far, the constitutional principle that the marginalized have the single most urgent claim on our attention. And that is what Patricia Evangelista, Malou Mangahas and Manuel Quezon III did so well.
E-mail: juanlmercado@gmail.com

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