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Pomp, Extravagance Linger : Trappings of Marcos Era Still in Style in Manila

July 14, 1986|MARK FINEMAN | Times Staff Writer

MANILA — Cardinal Jaime Sin, a key figure in the February coup that sent President Ferdinand E. Marcos into exile, stood atop a 40-foot scaffold recently and, with disco music blaring, blessed a Boeing 747 jetliner.

The ceremony took place in a hangar at Manila International Airport, where 1,000 of the creme de la creme of Manila society, all in the finest Hong Kong silk, sipped French wine, nibbled canapes and cheered as the most powerful religious leader in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country intoned: "O Lord, please bless these planes. . . . Let them be the engine that drives us into a future of prosperity."

A 40-piece band then struck up the theme from the movie "Star Wars." Hundreds of pulsating multicolored lights transformed the hangar into a giant discotheque, and four dozen professional dancers engaged in a choreographed celebration beneath the wings of the latest addition to the Philippine Airlines' international fleet.

The occasion was the official dedication of a new logotype for the government's international airline--a symbol that, in the words of the airline publicity director, commemorates a new era in the country's history after the overthrow of Marcos.

But the scene was vintage Old Manila, complete with the disco pomp and extravagance that accompanied most of Marcos' two decades in power. Even by conservative estimates, the ceremony cost tens of thousands of dollars. And it was sponsored by the cash-strapped government of President Corazon Aquino.

"My God," a Filipino newspaper columnist lamented as Cardinal Sin waved his six-foot gold scepter over the plane's nose. "The more things change here in the Philippines, the more they stay the same."

An army officer who was part of the occupation force that seized the Manila Hotel on July 6 in an attempt to wrest the government from Aquino put it even more strongly.

'Is 4 Days Enough?'

"They call themselves reformists," Col. Dictador Alqueza said of the military and political leaders who carried out the the four-day coup that overthrew Marcos last February. "Is four days enough to transform all this foolishness of the last 20 years? No way. A four-day revolt is not my idea of a revolution."

Indeed, nearly six months after the Feb. 22 coup that ousted a regime now infamous for its excesses, life in Manila has returned to its own version of normal.

Every evening in Manila these days, thousands of middle-class Filipinos flock to sophisticated fashion shows in hotel ballrooms. They attend the latest laser-light shows and rock to top-40 tunes at more than a dozen rooftop discotheques. They jam fancy restaurants featuring everything from pasta carbonara to cordon bleu cooking .

And they continue to frequent the massage parlors and go-go joints that Cardinal Sin once said made Manila's tourist district "the Sodom and Gomorrah of the Pacific."

Dining in Elegance

Not even the 38-hour siege at the Manila Hotel last week interrupted the routine. At the height of the incident, Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile spent three hours dining in elegance with the Manila Rotary Club, and President Aquino had tea with a group of West Germans in her richly appointed office at the presidential palace.

These are customs and institutions that have endured despite Aquino's pledge that hers will be a government of austerity, of morality and of charity.

And they are customs and institutions that stand as reminders that despite the rhetoric of the new government, many Filipinos believe that there has not been a true revolution in the Philip1885957733but in the words of a human rights activist, "no fundamental change in our society."

"In many ways, it is true that only the faces have changed," said Ricky Avancena, an activist member of Aquino's Presidential Commission on Human Rights. "The problem is, the mold has remained the same. If the mold is Mickey Mouse, it doesn't matter what you put into that mold. It's still going to come out Mickey Mouse. What we have to do is start from scratch and remold our whole society."


On some levels, President Aquino has been trying to do just that. In a program a member of the Cabinet describes as "demarcosification," the government has been looking for ways to purge Marcos and his associates--in name, image and substance--from every aspect of Philippine society.

Already the minister of local governments has dismissed hundreds of pro-Marcos governors, mayors, councilmen and village chiefs. The Commission on Good Government has seized control of more than 200 corporations owned by Marcos and his associates. And Manila city employees have scoured the city for Marcos posters and photographs, scraped them off utility poles, walls and billboards and tossed them into the rubbish.

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