Government misdeed, Human Rights

Rainy Days for First Spouses

Imelda Marcos, to my mind, has a peculiar place in our history, and it’s not just because of her shoes, her weird habits or the fact that her hair has been that way since the 70s. No, Imelda, I’m sure many will agree, has some charm. She is naive, unintentionally funny, and eternally interesting. The fact that she may have been involved in crimes against humanity (human rights violations, unparalleled corruption) does not lessen the people’s fascination with her. Imelda has been the topic of films, books, even musicals. She is, as far as I can tell, the only First Lady (or Gentleman) that people, for better or worse, genuinely liked as much as reviled.

Every September 21st, protesters invoke the images of Martial Law and Imelda. This time, though, the image of Imelda has been juxtaposed to her current, though much less grandoise and good-looking, equivalent — that of the First Gentleman, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo.

Unlike Imelda, though, there is nothing charming about Mike. For one thing, he looks suspiciously like Jabba the Hut. I am reminded of a Collegian fellow who, upon seeing one candidate for the UP student council who looks suspiciously like Doña Buding (“mayaman akoooo!”), scornfully explains that chubby people have no discipline (“Walang disiplina!”). A rather tasteless comment, I’m sure you’ll agree; the fact that it may be true of Mike Arroyo, as his doctors confirmed when he was sick with aneurysm, does not mean we should generalize all chubby people.

So no, it is not his size that bothers me. It’s just that Mike, unfortunately for him, looks exactly like a doddering slob that everyone assumes him to be. With the ZTE deal investigations in the Senate heating up, the image of gangsters running that palace by the Pasig River becomes more and more clear, and right in the middle of it all, the image of a godfather — an uglier, meaner Don Vito Corleone.

Activists, of course, are absolutely correct when they compare the Marcos and Arroyo regimes in terms of the ferocity with which both deal(t) with dissent. The only difference — and between Imelda and Mike, there is indeed a huge difference, and I’m not even talking about waistlines  — is how psychotic spouses shape both dictatorships (if indeed we can categorize Arroyo’s as one already) . Imelda provided for Marcos that umph, that elan, however fake it was, and for a while people were enamoured with it. Mike, in contrast, was never liked by the people at the onset.

I’m sure he must be good for something for Gloria. For one, he supposedly orchestrated Gloria’s miraculous triumph in ’04. He was rumored to be running the finances of Team Unity until aneurysm caught up with him. For a brief moment, people actually felt sorry for him, losing 10 pounds (arguably, though, people were more envious of the sudden weight loss than they were sorry). I don’t think anybody believed him when he said he was turning on a new leaf, and began by dropping the libel charges against journalists, but what the heck, it was good for a laugh.

True to his image, Mike has been depicted as a bully in Joey de Venecia’s testimony last week. And although Gloria’s cabinet members refuse to confirm the bullying in Wack Wack sometime in March, Mike did exactly what people expected him to do. That is, escape investigation and proceed to Hong Kong, then Venice, then Zurich, that place where dictators go to during the rainy day.

Thus the uncanny comparison: Imelda, too, was there quite a lot during her heyday.


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