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A Mambo and this Sordid Fiesta Called Philippine Politics

I am forever playing the music of Rosita de la Vega, the Queen of Novelty Songs in the 40s and the 50s. In that rare collection made accessible by a group of enthusiasts who are able to resurrect all the torch singers and balladeers of the gilded age of Peacetime and Wartime and Post wartime is the song "Mambo Magsaysay." The jingle is considered the most popular political jingle of all time. It was composed by Raul Manglapus and forms a most unlikely dyad with this other popular piece - not a song this time - the speech, "Land of Bondage,Land of the Free."

The mambo song was composed for Magsaysay who trumped Elpidio Quirino in the presidential election of 1953. By the time Magsaysay faced Quirino, there were many things going already against the latter. There were the usual corruption issues but what made the tirades against Quirino colorful were the rumors that his "orinola" or bedpan was made of gold. And that he had a truly expensive bed. The idea of a bedpan is odd - if not gross - already by the standards of the young people now. But those born after the war and even during the 50s and the 60s would remember their parents or grandparents with "orinola" near the bed or where the mat was laid out, usually outside the mosquito net (another contraption that has vanished altogether).

Magsaysay was the first Philippine president who allowed ordinary people inside Malacañang. It is said that when people started trooping into the palace, everyone was on to lookout to catch the golden "orinola" or the bed. Strangely, the mambo was revived during the 1986 snap election mainly because song warns how "democracy will die/kung wala si Magsaysay." By the 1980, people knew democracy has already died under the Marcos dictatorship. There was nostalgia for democracy, a pining for those years when people could talk against the government and candidates could lambast each other.

Marcos, like his fellow Ilocano Quirino, had everything going against him, too, when the election was called. There were rumors that he was very sick and that the man people saw being hauled from one campaign to another was not the real Marcos anymore. There were talks also that a part of Malacañang had been transformed into a dialysis center. The more magical gossip involved the other half of the so-called conjugal dictatorship - Imelda: that she had a divining table and she consulted oracles etc.

Cory, like Magsaysay, also opened the Malacañang to people. Again, as in the Magsaysay era, people were looking for the hospital and sorceress's table. This, time people had a fill of other things: rack and rack of clothes and shoes and perfumes and portraits and garish pieces of furniture.