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Edsa 20/20: Fatigues

Twenty years ago, it all started with men in fatigues. Now, Filipinos are wearing all sorts of fatigues—people power fatigue, coup fatigue, etc. Scott Garceau explains it all in "Coup season," which I am reproducing below because the Philippine Star's archives are anything but reliable.

Coup season
by Scott R. Garceau
Philippine Star, 5 March 2006

I’m almost grateful for coup attempts, believe it or not. It seems to be the only time of the year that I can rely on getting a phone call from one or both of my parents back in the States.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that they don’t think about me and our little family halfway around the world during other times of the year. It’s just that nothing motivates them to pick up the phone quite like CNN footage of coup attempts back in Manila. That gets them all worked up.

"We were worried about you," begins the usual message from my mom on the answering machine. There’s always a faint, deprecating "tsk, tsk" undertone to this message. As in: "What are you doing in such a dangerous place?"

"Are you still there?" my mother’s voice asks. "Have you packed your bags? Is everyone safe?"

How to tell my parents that this coup stuff has now become blasé and routine, especially from the perspective of a daily newspaper desk? We’ve been down this road before, too many times. First there was people power fatigue. Soon after, we all came down with coup fatigue.

My mom’s phone message last Sunday carried that usual worried tone, as though we were sitting on a powder keg over here. How to tell that, on the day of the big "coup," my wife was getting a spa treatment in Makati, while her sister and relatives visiting from the US were shopping and hanging out at a local Internet café?

Coup? What coup?

But Mom had seen that alarming footage – you know, the usual tight close-up shot of a "crowd" that actually consists of about 300 people and gets aired on CNN worldwide every 30 minutes. She thought this meant the government had already collapsed, that the power lines had been cut, that the US embassy was being stormed. I tried to explain: the government is not collapsing, it’s just in a perpetual state of recovery. Like an alcoholic.

Really, I told her later when I returned the phone call, there were more people hanging out in the malls than taking to the streets. So chill-ax! (God, I hate using Gen-Y terms like that, but it was the only way to get through to her.)

When I called my mom back, I was tempted to slip on the Apocalypse Now or Platoon DVD in the background – something with a lot of gunfire and noise, to maybe make her think the AFP was right outside the door. But she’s older now, and there’s no good reason to get her all riled up.

Instead, I told her things were okay, not to worry, and gave her a pleasant update on the everyday surreality of living in Manila. No, nobody really knows what’s going on. And we’re completely used to that.

I pointed out that they were still airing those kitschy dance shows on noontime television. Now how could there be a coup (or media crackdown) when people were still practicing their dance routines?

Then my mom said that she had a "goody package" she wanted to send over to us, but with all the current "trouble," she wasn’t sure where to send it. "Is it still called the Philippines?" she asked. "Is it still the same address?" I could tell she was half serious. She said she wasn’t sure whether the Philippines had been taken over by Malaysia, or some other country. "No, that’s called a war, Mom," I explained. "This is a coup." I tried to clarify the difference between a "war" and a "coup." I think she finally got it.

(The kicker was, she had been promising to send this alleged "goody package" to us for half a year already. I guess the CNN footage provided another excuse for not driving down to the post office.)

Anyway, it was nice to hear from my parents. I think the last time they got worried enough to call was 2001, what with EDSA 2 and everything. Before that, it was the Abu Sayyaf and their American hostage shopping spree. For some reason, simple natural and man-made disasters – like the Leyte landslide, or ferry sinkings – don’t seem to prompt them to call. I guess it’s because I usually tell them those things are happening elsewhere, not in Manila.

But CNN packs a lot of clout. Global cable news may be a great idea, but it doesn’t always give a clear picture of what’s happening across the world. I’ve tried keeping my family in the loop with e-mail, but my parents regard e-mail with suspicion if not incomprehension, so I don’t contact them as much as I’d like.

Really, I guess it all comes down to seasons. Ecclesiastes, and all that. People here like to say there are only two seasons in the Philippines – hot season and rainy season. But I would have to add, just for the concerned or casual observer, one other period of local disturbance: coup season.

The only problem is, these days, coup season seems to be year-round.

Category: The Philippines

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