The Cool Kids

(L-R) Former presidents Gloria Arroyo, Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada
Only the popular can associate with this clique.

We’re all used to those cliche teen-centric films where the plot usually revolves around two groups of people: the cool kids and everyone else.

The rules go like this: the cool kids will only hang with you if you’re popular, once that popularity goes away so too does your place in the in-crowd. While that may sound sophomoric and a cliche view of high school, you cannot deny that the ‘cool kids’ culture features throughout the rest of your life as well. Think about it, when you’re at your lowest it feels as though it’s you against the world but when you’re in your high times your ¬†acquaintances become more visible.

Whether you like it or not you have to face it: the ‘cool kids’ culture is real.

If you are not yet convinced, just think of what the Christmas visit of two former presidents and two religious leaders to former president Gloria Arroyo in hospital arrest meant. You have to be very naive if you can actually consider believing the visit was done in the ‘spirit of Christmas’ (whatever that means). In all seriousness, these guys are politicians (all four of them) who have their own agenda and interests – every decision they make has an aim of accomplishing something.

Manila mayor Joseph Estrada, former president Fidel Ramos, Jesus is Lord movement leader Eddie Villanueva and retired Catholic archbishop Oscar Cruz all visited President Aquino’s predecessor at the Veteran Memorial Medical Center, where she is confined to hospital arrest for charges of corruption. Only a few years ago, in the twilight years of Mrs. Arroyo’s administration, this would have been unthinkable. Three of these figures were critics of her, leaving Ramos as the only known Arroyo ally in the group.

It would be impertinent to think maliciously of their visit, but one cannot help but speculate why of all the years Arroyo has been ailing – what makes this year any different that a string of notable personalities all came to visit her at once?

Take the case of Estrada, it made headlines when the mayor of Manila visited his former political rival in the Veteran’s Memorial Hospital, the very same hospital he was confined to hospital arrest when Arroyo was in power. Now the roles have reversed, and it is Estrada in power visiting an incarcerated Arroyo in hospital arrest.

You can’t help but ask, what the visit was for? According to Estrada: “After all the disasters happening in the country I felt pity. I believe in justice but I also believe in compassion.” Such sweet words that would almost make you forget that this was the same man who only two years ago called Arroyo’s arrest “karma”. You cannot take his statements seriously, and apparently you cannot take Gloria Arroyo’s chief counsel seriously as well.

When asked what their conversation was about, Ferdinand Topacio said: “They reminisced old times, when Estrada was incarcerated here and [Gloria] visited him. Absent was politics and old enmities.” His statement was further backed by Estrada himself who also assured people that they “didn’t talk about politics.” Only for both their statements to be contradicted later by a separate interview given by Topacio to another newspaper; when asked by the Philippine Star, Arroyo’s counself said that the two former presidents briefly talked about the political scene in 2016.

You could forgive them if it was a casual chat about who their bets were for the next general elections, but the people in attendance in the same meeting would tell you a different story. Arroyo’s husband Mike, who himself has been at the center of several controversies was also present along with Estrada’s vice mayor Isko Moreno and a former governor of Pampanga province, Cielo Macapagal. It almost seemed like a political party convention was ongoing.

Contradicting statements like these would attract scrutiny, but in this case no one is hardly surprised. Only for ambitions do politicians give up their grudges for, especially if you’re someone who did not finish his term in office.

Another former president who visited Arroyo was Fidel Ramos, but what makes him less pathetic than Estrada is that he has always been an Arroyo supporter and has a more decent track record than the former. Ramos also claimed to have visited Arroyo without any hidden agenda, saying he was merely playing golf in the hospital’s golf course when he chanced upon Arroyo taking a walk. Sounds like an innocent chance, but Ramos was accompanied in his visit by former Armed Forces chief Hermogenes Esperon – who at his time was considered to be Arroyo’s puppet in the military.

Former presidents and generals were not the only political figures visiting Arroyo, as religious leaders also got in on the act. Retired archbishop Oscar Cruz, one of Arroyo’s fiercest critics, visited her during the holidays as well. This would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, where Cruz would often attract media attention with his rants against the administration. Only in 2007 did the archbishop brand Arroyo as the “most corrupt president” of the Philippines on his blog, and on the same account he also called for Arroyo to be held accountable for all wrongdoings she made while in office.

Oscar Cruz’s tone has changed since then however, the religious leader once rallied his flock against Arroyo is now turning his protests against the incumber Benigno Aquino Jr,. In an interview with a news channel, Cruz said that the Aquino administration was ‘persecuting’ Arroyo – even though that putting her under hospital arrest while on trial for corruption charges was something he was calling for when the former president was in power.

Another religious leader whose opinion of Arroyo has taken a dramatic changed is Brother Eddie Villanueva, founder of the charismatic church Jesus is Lord movement, who also visited the embattled former president in hospital arrest. Villanueva joined forces with the Catholic church in 2008 in calling for Arroyo’s resignation.

In any other situation, seeing old foes suddenly acting friendly makes you raise an eyebrow – but this is politics. Personal relationships take a backseat to political gains and agenda. I can still remember the run-up to the 2010 general elections when support for the campaign of Noynoy Aquino, the incumbent, was almost unanimous among the political elite; from religious leaders, former congressmen, senators, you name it. While on the other hand the entire nation was united in support of pressing charges against Gloria Arroyo. But now the tables have turned, it only took a few bad moves by President Aquino to make him lose his place among the ‘it’ crowd.

Just like that cliche teenage-drama plot, the cool kids exist too in the world of Philippine politics. It would be foolish to think otherwise. So what if he called for her resignation years ago? His son is going to run for president in the future. So what if he supported her persecutor in the past? she’s now the “it” girl who can help his congregation win support.

Let’s cut the act, do we really believe the visits were all done in the ‘spirit of Christmas’? No, of course not. It’s not because of Christmas, but rather it’s because it is 2014 – only two years away from the next general elections. Christmas happens every year but a change of heart only happens when the voting precincts are being prepared for elections.

While it was true that just four years ago Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino was the hottest thing in the scene, a few bad moves he has made has costed him his status as one of the in-crowd – and now the cool kids have to look for a new commodity to invest on. Pathetic? Perhaps, but a more accurate term is ‘politics’ – and yes, in this world the ‘cool kids’ are a thing.

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