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Macabre political chip?

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CEBU CITY — Is this a joke? We’ll wait for the next president, Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee Marcos said.

President Benigno Aquino scuppered bids to inter Ferdinand Marcos remains at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

Will the strongman’s cadaver be refrigerated for five more Halloweens — until 2016? No one is saying. We can’t even pay for the Batac masoleum’s electricity, Imelda Marcos wailed earlier. “We’re so poor.” No kidding?

Gags can whiplash dictatorships. “My hobby is to collect jokes people crack about me,” a visiting Prime Minister told Marcos. “What is your hobby?” FM replies: “I collect people who spin jokes about me.”

Consider Syrian upheaval jokes. When will the U.S. beat economic doldrums?, President Obama asks God. “In 50 years,” God replied. Obama wept. So did Prime Minister Georges Papanderou when God said Greece would need 100 years. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad lobbed the same question. This time, God cried.

Wisecracks allow Syrians to “overcome their own internalized censors,” Lisa Weeden observes in Ambiguities of Domination. Syrians spoof Assad “even if only in the ‘qualified public’ of one’s trusted friends within the privacy of a home”.

Egyptians poked fun at oppressive rulers since the pharaohs, Issandr El Amrani writes. A joke, scribbled on a 4,600-year-old papyrus says: Want to get the king to fish? “Wrap naked girls in fishing nets”. At Tahrir Square, Hosni Mubarak got a 21st century drubbing.

“Moammar Gadhaffi vowed he’ll fight protestors until the end and die as a martyr,”one joke goes. “Deal”, responded protestors who bulldozed Gadhaffi’s Tripoli compound Monday.

“Now, it’s more difficult to make Libyans laugh about politics because they’re joking themselves,” says comedian Milood Amroni. “Political jokes were a weapon to fight with, and now we don’t need it. Maybe later.”

Wherever dictatorships flourish, there the “most piquant jokes sprout,” University of California-Berkeley Prof. Alan Dundes notes. Political japes, however, wither with free speech.

In Poland, gags dried up after the Solidarnosc movement ushered in freedom. Democratic countries “can’t compete with jokes” about Stalin or Ferdinand Marcos.

No one claims an ASEAN Spring is unfolding in xenophobic Burma. “Don’t be stingy,” comedian and dissident Zargana told the Burmese generals who’ve donned civvies. “Free them all”.

Now 47 and ailing, this human rights awardee was among 207, out of an estimated 2,000 political prisoners released under an amnesty for 6,539 detainees. He’d been locked up at Myitkyina prison. His “crimes” were to jab Yangon’s inept response to a devastating cyclone, and unleash jokes at the regime.

In Burma, “there were two types of lawyers,” he spoofed. “Those who know the judge. And those who know the generals.” Zargana would spin similar jokes for his jailors. Off duty, they’d retell the wisecracks among relatives and trusted friends.

Burmese comedians’ wisecracks reveal how people think and, more significantly, how rulers fret.

Heard about three ASEAN officials in a train to Mandalay? “Why did you toss those giant lobsters into the trash bin?”, the hungry Burmese asked the Thai. “In Bangkok, we have a surplus of food,” was the reply. After making a call, the Singaporean tossed his cell phone out of the window. “At Raffles Square, cellphones are for the asking,” he explained. After a long silence, the Burmese grabbed his aide by the neck, and shoved him out the train. “We can get a substitute from Insein Prison in Yangon,” he explained to his stunned companions. “Insein can accommodate 6,000 prisoners . We had 10,000 at last headcount.”

Spoofs like these got Zargana a 59-year sentence. “Telling jokes against ‘Big Brother’ are tiny revolutions,” wrote George Orwell, author of the anti-dictatorship novel 1984.

Recall the man taken ill infront of Imelda Marcos’ Film Center? As he pukes, a passerby furtively whispers: “Pare, I share your opinion.”

Thursday’s releases in Burma were signs that President Thein Sein and the junta are “distancing themselves from the failed policies of the past,” US Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry cautiously noted. But over a thousand dissidents are still shackled.

Following Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, gagged newspapers now mention dissidents, albeit guardedly. New labor laws were filed Beijing protested suspension of an intensely opposed river dam project.

Opposition candidates did get into government, in the first — and admittedly rigged — elections in 2010. “It’s the most open setup since the 1962 coup” which ushered in half a century of brutal military rule, notes David Steinberg, professor of Asian studies at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. “We are seeing something important happening.”

These shifts occur barely two years after military tatmadaw violently suppressed the peaceful “Saffron Revolt” by Buddhist monks. Are these Yangon changes for real? Or cosmetic? The jury is out on this question so far. But all agree the alterations are unlike any seen in decades.

The likelihood here is that the Marcos corpse may remain unburied, foresees Sun Star’s Bong Wenceslao. “That’d serve the machinery propping up the politics of Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. for 2016.”

Whoever is president then would authorize, as Imee hopes, horse-drawn caisson and graveyard volleys. Using a cadaver, as a political chip, would be a macabre joke.

(Back to MetroPost HOME PAGE)

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