Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Godfather's Party
It was like a Mario Puzo Novel, except not on the day of his daughter's wedding.

18 December 2006

Written in: Calgary, Alberta, CANADA
Composition: Recalling an event which happened in the Philippines from 7 years ago. 
                           I had earlier omitted this, but now that I'm getting a hold of how to tell a story without naming names, 
                           I am now comfortable doing this. I would be shortchanging you, the reader, of a good story if I were to 
                           completely exclude this. 
Previous Post: Not Seeing Eye to Eye: Navigating the Socioeconomic Divide in the Philippines (is hard to do)

"Good evening Kapitan!" the caucasian man greeted my Uncle, as he thrust his long, lean but muscular arm inside the driver's side window of the Kia Besta Van my Uncle and I drove to a neighbouring Barangay, just minutes away from Barangay Tumana.  "Would you like to see my chicken fight?" he asked as he vigorously shook Uncle Tito's hand.

"Hopefully! Someday" Uncle replied with a grin.

That man, my Uncle later told me as we looked for parking in a dark farmer's field, was nicknamed Kano. But even before he said the friendly man's popular title - a contraction of Amerikano, or American - I already was able to place his accent as from the U.S.  I might even wager Southwestern, though I would be first to admit that, that was more of a guess than anything. To be fair, his wasn't really all that thick. He was big into cockfighting, so that's another big clue - what with the shared border with Mexico and all. Married to a slender and beautiful Filipina, he now lives most of the time in the Philippines and enjoys the culture very much.

Both Kano and my Uncle, the Kapitan, were invited as guests to a very important man's party. Now, I have honestly forgotten what exactly the party was all about - whether it was the important man's birthday or a mere Christmas party. Whatever the case, it was a place to be seen as important and see other important people - the who's who of the town of Santa Maria. You see, the important man throwing the party already held public office, and he had designs to run for even higher public office for the upcoming 2007 Philippine General elections. You could say that this was effectively a party for the announcement of his candidacy.


As we walked from the makeshift parking lot towards the important man's gigantic house, I took note of all the high end SUVs - the other guest's cars - windows heavily tinted, paintjobs gleaming even in the sparse lighting of the makeshift field. My Uncle's Kia Besta looked beat up by comparison. Even before we were anywhere near the heavy gates and high walls which isolate the mansion from prying eyes, I could already hear the earthshaking bass of the rented sound system, the commotion of the guests, and the clang of the dinnerware.

Once inside, I was surprised to see a huge crowd. I mean, I knew it was going to be "everyone important in town is here" big, I just didn't anticipate exactly "how" big. I made a mental note to never underestimate the wealthy in this country, ever again.

What would be the whole front yard of the mansion was now party central in this typical Philippine Barangay, just around 30 kilometers from the National Capital of Manila. Someone greeted us and seated us in the corner of the yard near what seemed to me like an animal cage, except very ornate and decorative. Turns out, it was indeed a cage for the important man's exotic pets - kept elsewhere for this special occasion so as not to scare the guests. How exotic? I wasn't sure, but the table I was seated in speculated on something definitely big, likely a predator, probably a cat. Someone said "Python". My vote was for a bird of prey, aside from the fighting cocks that the important man also raised - which is how I believe him and Kano came to know each other. My Uncle, the Kapitan, in turn met Kano through the important man.

The buffet food was catered, and the wait staff, highly professional. I did not note anything out of the ordinary with the dishes, except that they were typical Filipino, but presented in a way which screamed "catered" to me. This is a praise for their efforts, by the way, because even renowned Filipino chefs and food connoisseurs would say that Pinoy home cooking need a bit of arrangement and presentation before it could compete globally. Taste wise, it's good to go.

I was thrilled, however, to find out that they still had distinctly Pinoy touches to the party. Rows upon rows of agricultural/industrial-looking 200 liter drums served as makeshift coolers, where beer and other beverages were submerged, chilling in iced water. While extra ice came in huge blocks - in one meter by .5 by .5 meter chunks! - likely bought from an ice wholesaler who make their business just for these special events. Before use, these ice blocks were buried in rice husk/hull, or ipa, as is typical in these occasions. Attentive beverage servers dipped their arms into the drums' ice cold water to fish for drinks, opened it for you, and presented it to you with a napkin holder. I tried fishing for a drink by myself once when one of the attendants took a break and all the others were busy. It took the rest of the evening for the feeling in my arm to come back. In all, I must have had at least six cans of San Miguel Pale Pilsen.

In one of my trips to the beer drums, I ran into a compadre of my Father, a man whom he used to refer to as Pareng Lito - pare is a contraction of kumpare, which is a Pinoy way of saying compadre. Pareng Lito is a close friend of my Dad. He used to run a talyer or garage, but  later diversified into raising egglaying ducks as well as making balut and other products made from duck egg. I asked him how business was going. He said it was going very well indeed. His balut and duck egg products are now being sold all over the Philippines. My Dad, at some point during the mid 80's also tried his hand raising duck and selling duck eggs, but quit to work in Saudi Arabia, back when it was just starting to become popular for Filipinos to become OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) - though back then, they were called OCW (Overseas Contract Worker). Pareng Lito lamented how if only my Dad had stuck with the duck egg business, he could be as big as him by now. That or they could be big together, perhaps even business partners.

Perseverance: That was the lesson I took from Pareng Lito's story.

The important man finally made it into our table to talk to Uncle Tito. He had been moving from table to table, entertaining and conversing with his important guests, that I was amazed he was actually able to spare some personal, one-on-one discussion time for my Uncle.
As they talked, it did not take long for me to piece together why my Uncle, the Kapitan was invited to the party. The important man, in his bid to run for higher public office, had invited everyone who also held a kind of public office, or at least had some political clout. The important man was seeking to form political alliances! Knowing that Uncle Tito was a rising star in Santa Maria's Municipal politics, and almost definitely was going to be re-elected in the coming elections as Barangay Tumana's Punong Barangay, the important man specifically wanted Uncle Tito to be in his slate.

Turns out, unlike in The Godfather where the Don took in requests for favours in the day of his daughter's wedding, it was this important man's purpose to make requests for favours in the day of his huge mega party.

Uncle Tito however, played it coy. He did not commit and hinted that he would not commit to anyone anyway. No hard feelings. It's just that... He was a mere servant to the people, he said, thrust into office even though he never really desired it all that much in the beginning.

Now, I don't think his coyness was a power move, but it felt like it. It was indeed true that his first foray into being Barangay Captain was more a result of Tumana's then incumbent Captain being promoted into a Municipal position - Uncle Tito then inherited the position due to him being a Barangay Kagawad or Councilor. But I believe that this was why he was so sought after by everyone vying for public office in and around the region. He was the independent. He was the one guy just out of reach. Being famous to his constituents, everyone wanted his endorsement.

Yet, he remained elusive. 

Kano took the Mic, and sang and danced Otso otso. He did it in a way that Filipinos might say Kenkoy, or patawa lang, meaning jokingly or for comedic effect. Uncle Tito and I actually thought he was very good! I also think his slender and pretty Filipina wife also took the mic to sing, but she probably sang a song so contemporary it was largely forgettable for me. There were even famous guests and singers who also took to the stage, but having only been in-country for three weeks, I did not know who they were at the time, or how famous they really were for that matter. Apparently, "very".
The party was not even close to winding down when Uncle Tito decided to say his goodbyes and goodnight. He just needed to be seen honouring the important man's invitation so as not to offend.

As we stepped out of the Mansion's heavy gates, I took note of how with its walled-in lot and its multiple stories, it was almost like stepping out of an island of wealth, back into a typical Philippine Barangay in Santa Maria, Bulacan. It's not like this Barangay was a poor place or anything, far from it! It's just that this was not one of those exclusive villages synonymous with wealth, power, and a house that big.

"Maraming nanliligaw kay Kapitan" (Everyone is courting me, the Kapitan), Uncle Tito said, smiling and shaking his head at the same time.

Next Post: Where Meat Comes From

Related Post: My Uncle, The Kapitan
                          A Feeling of Community

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