Monday, November 20, 2006

A Week of Cheers

It was an incredible week to be a Filipino.

It began on November 14 when 22-year old Filipino American dancer Cheryl Bautista Burke danced a spirited samba with the NFL's all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith, to score a perfect 30 with the judges and a certified hit with the 20 million viewers of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars". After millions of viewers emailed, telephoned and texted their votes, Cheryl made dance history the following day by winning the megahit TV show's mirror trophy, for the second year in a row.

While most newspapers attributed the win to Emmitt's popularity as a sports superstar and as an icon in the African American community, the real margin of victory came from the Filipino vote.

Cheryl and Emmitt won because Charlie Buenaventura from La Habra, California emailed his votes (10 each from 10 separate registered email names) and made repeated phone calls for Cheryl. Charlie was just one of tens of thousands of Filipinos in the US and Canada (and in the Philippines) who voted or a kababayan online, by phone or by text just as they did years ago for Jasmine Trias in "American Idol".

The dimpled Mario Lopez and dance partner Karina Smirnoff entered the finals as the prohibitive favorites and would have otherwise won the contest but for the votes of the Filipino American community, which spelled the difference in the close contest.

If the mainstream media had picked up this story, then it may cast Filipinos as a community that is proud of, and vigorously, supports one of its own. [There is a "Filipino vote" after all. If this could only cross over to politics...]

Certainly that pride in one of our own was on full display on Saturday night, November 18, in Las Vegas when thousands of Filipinos, many proudly waving the Philippine flag, lustily cheered Manny "Pac man" Pacquiao in his concluding third match with Erik "El Terrible" Morales, the pride of Tijuana, Mexico and three-time world boxing champion.

My son, Carlo, drove all the way from the University of California in Santa Cruz to Las Vegas to watch the fight with two friends, one of whom, he said, was "the only Mexican cheering for Manny". Carlo had never felt more pride in being Filipino than he did that night in Las Vegas when Pacquiao decisively defeated Morales in the third round. Carlo reported that Filipinos were euphoric in hugging each other and slapping each other's hands (high fives) all over the arena and all over Las Vegas after the fight.

That scene in the arena was duplicated in millions of Filipino homes throughout the US, the Philippines and the rest of the world. The Pay Per View audience alone allowed each fighter to pocket $4-M for the fight, aside from the $3-M each was already guaranteed to earn.

In Manila, more than 3,000 Filipinos stood outside the Quiapo Church in Plaza Miranda to watch the fight in a. jumbo screen. Another 3,000 packed the Aquino stadium to watch the fight with the city's mayor. Even the prisoners at the national penitentiary in Muntinglupa were able to watch the fight along with the warden and his guards. Parishioners at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Quezon City watched the fight inside their church as 800 of them paid 150 pesos each with the money raised paying for church projects.

Politicians from all parties and political persuasions were topping each other to issue press statements about Manny Pacquiao and the significance of his victory. Among them was Sen. Francis Pangilinan who said that Manny "proved to the world that Filipinos are capable of achieving greatness when we set our hearts and minds to it."

While it was arguably the single most unifying event in Philippine history, it was not the most significant event of the week. At least, not in my book. That distinction belongs to the capture on November 14 of Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan.

With a bounty of 5-M pesos for information that would lead to his capture, it was only a matter of time before the military would find their man. And, most embarrassing for Gringo, he was found in the home of his mistress, Ingrid Ramos. Gringo reportedly begged his captors not to disclose where he was found as he feared more from his wife than for his life.

Gringo Honasan is charged with being the mastermind of the failed mutiny last February and as the brains behind the Oakwood mutiny three years ago. This unrepentant coup plotter has been involved in every coup attempt since Marcos was overthrown in 1996.

In August 1987, after large-scale fighting in the streets broke out during a demonstration, Gringo ordered his men to attack government installations, an attack which resulted in the deaths of dozens of people.

Government forces successfully repulsed the attack causing Gringo to flee. After his capture, Gringo was held in a prison ship until he escaped, only to resume plotting more coups against then President Cory Aquino.

In November 1989, Gringo launched his deadliest coup attempt yet, succeeding in occupying key points in Metro Manila and seizing major airbases, where he was able to use captured aircraft to bomb the presidential palace. The coup attempt resulted in the deaths of nearly 100 people and in the destabilization of the Philippine economy.

When Fidel Ramos was elected President in 1992, he granted amnesty to Gringo, who parlayed his rebel fame into election to the Senate. After nine undistinguished years as a senator, Gringo lost re-election in 2002.

But unfortunately, Gringo did not fade into obscurity. In July 2003, he caused 300 junior officers to launch a mutiny against President Gloria Arroyo by occupying the Oakwood Hotel, a mutiny that was quashed in a day.

Gringo's capture will provide more stability to a nation that can, at least for now, safely enjoy the victories of Cheryl and Manny.

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