WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Prez Praning comes riding by. By Gail Ilagan

DAVAO CITY (MIndaNews/17 September) — In The Emperor’s New Clothes, the royal spin doctor wove His Royal Highness a delusion that everyone else bought and ever so often, the Emperor trooped the line clothed in nothing but his sheer pomp and glory. Nobody – but nobody – dared break omerta and the spinner got away with selling something everyone wanted to buy. Everyone agreed to lie.

Ah, you all know how that story goes.

Pomp and glory drew me to what was out there on the street. Fly on the wall time. I wanted to see Prince Charming riding by.

On school days, as was last Thursday, I haunt the hallowed halls of Finster Building overlooking Roxas Street, Aldevinco and the Freedom Park. Right down the street at an angle is a view of untouchable Marco Polo Hotel. At night, the posh hotel’s tinted windows turn transparent and classes up the last two floors of Finster Hall turn into voyeurs – curious at what goes on across the street beyond closed doors. Marco Polo is where royalty holds court when they come to my town. Unwed mothers-to-be on a donkey would find no room at this inn.

We may recall that among the very first edicts Prince Charming put out was to ban the wang wang. Well, he could very well do that when his lackeys could close down the street to traffic, such as what they did on Thursday afternoon.

Oh, so you have a class at 2:30? Go all the way round and take the other gate. Road closed for you, you bleep-bleep-bleep. My students complained as they straggled in late for class.

Okay, yes, whatever. I do go on — you’d think it’s personal.

It’s not really. It’s just that thing about the emperor in that story. That kid who yelled, “He ain’t got anything on!” taught me to be a psychologist and to recognize harmful behavior. We psychologists know that people need to be consistent in their words, thoughts, feelings and actions. So when I observe somebody who isn’t, I worry. Not for him, but for the rest of us.

I worry for the thirty-or-so who tamely rallied at Freedom Park. Two floors up gave this fly on the wall a vantage point to see how their ranks were effectively contained — what with the layer of riot policemen blocking off their front and more uniformed patrols plying both sides of the Freedom Park and two blocks of Claveria.

I played my game of spotting the plainclothes out there. Counting them off, the ratio came down to one protester against four state security personnel.

Gee. I would never have figured that my neighborhood was such a security risk until I saw it crawling with Davao’s Finest. The plains would most likely be Task Force Davao personnel. Davao’s finest – for all intents and purposes. It was almost enough to make me fear venturing outside the gates of my comfortable, contained world.

Three quarters of the protesters were women. Some were in college uniform. Just for a moment, I imagined how these riot policemen would react had the women protesters tried to cross the street heading for Marco Polo for an uninvited get-together with the President. But no – they’ll play their script as they have known so by heart. It’s just another way of buying into the delusion. Even as they protest, they agree on the way to do it.

So, like, do we remember when they used to call street protest as a show of people power? Yeah, right.

This was actually a very tired scenario I was seeing from my vantage point. Flag-waving, megaphone-wielding, shout-to-the-world protesters used to do this every time the Wicked Witch came a-calling. And every time, our protesters would tamely stay across the street fronting Marco Polo, right there on that open space where it’s convenient for the TV camera crew to mount their equipment and start doing interviews.

I was up there looking down because I wanted to see if the script would change this time. I am ever the optimist. Let’s not lose that child in us.

(Well, it was also because I used the event as an opportunity to have my students practice making crowd estimates, working out social physics and dynamics, and picking out elements of collective behavior and symbolic interaction such as could be seen from a distance. You see, I am not allowed to bring my students out there where there’s some measure of a security threat. I don’t argue with rules when the street is crawling with the police, even though that street couldn’t have been any safer with that many cops to serve and protect us. So, no, we did not get to validate our observations with immersion this time.)

Not so long ago, these protesters picketed the Wicked Witch, demanding her to give it up so the Prince Charming could take over. Until not so long ago, Prince Charming comfortably rubbed elbows with street parliamentarians. Heck- they marched for this man, dissing the Wicked Witch all the way so much so that the magic words they chanted rubbed off on him. He even got into the habit of dissing her. That’s all right, I guess. Kick the woman when she’s down.

He had been known to stand shoulder to shoulder with protesters. Back then they still called it people power, I think. Go tie a yellow bigti and all.

Not Thursday, though.

He’d gone over the other side and he won’t be joining them ever again. The divide between him and the disempowered people is greater than the distance that is barred by that platoon of riot policemen.

Kayo ang boss ko,” he had said not too long ago.

But now he’s obviously done listening to his bosses.

Don’t push it. I’ll set the dogs on you. My dogs are just raring to go.

That was not Prince Charming out there across the street last Thursday. I saw the street then and I knew Prez Praning had come to town. The ratio was one unarmed, untrained-for-violence protester (most likely female) squared off against one riot policeman plus two on foot patrol and another in plain clothes.

Pomp and glory and a garrison state in my neighborhood on Thursday as Prez Praning came riding up to the old inn door. Ay, mali.

Overkill pala. Like, who’s afraid of unarmed women protesting? The President? The Mayor? Davao’s Finest? TFD? Well, whoever it is, he must have good reason. But is this the way we play out or play down pomp and glory? Well, gee. Glory be. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to [email protected] “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says).

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