Things I learned from Apec

A friend and colleague in the writing trade, Leslie Bocobo, has come up with a list of things he learned from the Philippines’ just-concluded hosting of the 2015 Asia-Pacific Economic summit. Here’s Leslie’s list, with some editing:

“That government can solve the horrendous traffic in Metro Manila if it wants to, except for Filipinos. That government can rid Metro Manila’s streets of eye sores, if it wants to, as well.

“That President Noynoy Aquino will never wear a flag pin like a proper head of state and be proud enough of his country to display it on him for other world leaders to see.

“That no matter who Aquino faces for an audience, his speeches will always extol the so-called sacrifices of his mother and father, and then go on to grab credit for accomplishments of previous administrations. And he will blame Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, even while he speaks inside edifices built and/or rehabilitated by them.”

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To Bocobo’s list, I’d like to add a few things I, too, learned from the Apec hosting:

I learned, as another colleague noted, that when there is nothing substantive for the local media to write about, they can always fall back on the “kilig” factor. This is why the physical attributes of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto have become such big news, much to the chagrin of the international media also covering the Manila event. 

I learned that, no matter how hard the government tries to hide the poor “for their own safety” during such an event, visitors like Japanese First Lady Akie Abe will always find them, if that’s what they want to do. Mrs. Abe was the only among the high-powered visitors to stray from the carefully sanitized itineraries prepared for dignitaries in order to visit impoverished Filipinos living in the shadow of the Payatas dump site in Quezon City.

I learned that Philippine media will go to great lengths to report on the exquisitely prepared and plated Filipino-inspired food prepared by outstanding local chefs for the visitors. But they will not even mention that the thousands of policemen assigned to secure the summit were subsisting on a cup of rice, dried fish and an egg washed down with a small bottle of water just outside the venues they were securing.

(The media also went crazy about the décor and the furniture in the various meeting places and the accommodations and the bespoke designer barongs for the heads of state. The cops, who pulled 12-hour shifts, slept under the stars.)

I learned from the critic Pablo Tariman that the great Filipino concert pianist Cecile Licad must have put a little more extra in her virtuoso performance of Frederic Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude for the Apec delegates, because she and other performers were holed up for 12 hours in a common green room before the show. That, and because Licad learned that some poor woman had given birth in the horrific traffic caused by the closure of several main Metro Manila thoroughfares for the summit.

I learned that P10 billion in government funds spent for hosting the latest Apec summit can’t even buy a single new road, bridge or traffic light. And that three years of planning and building isn’t even enough to complete that flyover from the airport to Manila’s reclamation area, which was conceived for the convenience of the Apec delegates.

On the other hand, I learned that the funds for performing hosting duties can buy hundreds of brand new luxury cars, SUVs and vans, which will all be sold at deep discounts to a lucky few—including certain government officials—after the summit. If your government official-neighbor suddenly acquires a very slightly-used top-of-the-line 7-Series BMW sedan in the coming days, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

I learned from Ambassador Marciano Paynor, who ran the Apec hosting show for the Philippines, both in 1996 and this year, that we didn’t really have to host the summit if we didn’t want to. But we asked to host the 21-nation summit, so I guess we can’t really complain.

I learned from wise economic analysts like former National Treasurer Leonor Briones that there can be no immediate gains from hosting the Apec summit. And that there probably never will be, despite the fevered claims of the pro-Aquino crowd.

I learned that Filipinos are really a hospitable and long-suffering lot, willing to bear almost anything in order to show that we can host a proper summit. But I also think that they will not quickly forget how they were inconvenienced, just so the government can show off economic gains that they can’t really feel.

I am convinced that hosting Apec is nothing more than an expensive boast by a Philippine government that will quickly add it to its long but ephemeral list of “accomplishments.” I wonder, though, if in the coming days some enterprising investigators will not turn up anomalies that attended the hosting and if this will not mean jail time for those who imposed the summit on the rest of us.

And that’s what I learned from our hosting of the Apec summit.

Topics: Jojo Robles , Apec , Leslie Bocobo , Akie Abe , Payatas
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