On my way to Intramuros last Thursday, in a careening double-decker bus, the Motorco of one’s childhood, I whizzed by the Rizal monument which, to my horror was about to be submerged in a veritable lake of foam and bubbles formed by cascades that gurgled out of the windows of Torre de Manila. That odious photobomber had been transformed into a mammoth washing machine.
As I jumped off the bus, an enormous caracoa, the type you see in 17th century drawings, suddenly materialized, after a cold gust of wind blew in from Manila Bay. As it splashed its way on the bubbling, sudsy lake, it disemboweled tiny vintas from its cavernous hull, each with a sail extolling the virtues of a company selling all kinds of soaps, detergents, washing machines, high-pressure vacuum cleaners, and the like. How appalling, I thought, how dare they advertise their products here at the Rizal Park.
A mermaid with blonde hair seemed to be directing the operations from the mother caracoa. She wore a royal blue band, the type beauty queens wear, with “Miss Penelope” embroidered on it. She did not have a crown but was waving a rhinestone-studded scepter quite energetically, pointing to where the vintas should position themselves. Two with the largest sails boldly advertising the washing machine detergent were ordered to drop anchor at each side of Rizal’s statue. The rest with smaller drop-down sails were made to form a phalanx in front of the gigantic flagpole.
In no time, a foreign-looking bearded gentleman emerged from behind the National Historical Commission building — Ferdinand Blumentritt! After swimming a few laps, he managed to scramble up “Miss Penelope’s” caracoa. Visibly upset, he said, “Entferne die Pest!” Blumentritt pointed at the vessels beside Rizal’s statue, bobbing about, advertising the detergent. “Wie respektlos! Wie respektlos! “ He was infuriated. The mermaid looked flabbergasted at the unexpected appearance of Rizal’s best friend who did not seem impressed by her rank and beauty. She couldn’t understand German, but by the tone of Blumentritt’s voice, she must have had an idea of what he was saying.
Madre Filipinas and her children came to life; they were treading vigorously to keep their heads above water; they shouted at the mermaid, “Alisin mo daw ang mga iyan,” pointing at the vintas with advertisements on their sails. “Konting respeto naman, dito nakalibing ang kaibigan niya, si Rizal ang pambansang bayani. Ano ka ba? Di ka ba makaintindi?”
The blonde mermaid was annoyed at Madre Filipinas. “But, its for free, they’re cleaning Rizal’s monument for free, for free; we don’t have to pay, it’s for free! It is the company’s pay back time.” Apparently, there were more swimmers heading for her boat coming from the direction of the “Path of Glory” where the names of Katipuneros killed in Bagumbayan are etched for posterity. With clenched fists, they bellowed, “Travesty! Mockery!” in Tagalog and Castillian. Fathers Jose Burgos and Zamora, executed with the elderly Father Gomez behind what is now the Rizal monument, were sighted in that fluvial demonstration. Little did the blonde mermaid imagine that her mindlessness could provoke such stormy protest.
The spectacle began to attract crowds of selfie-takers, tourists, media practitioners. Street children gleefully swam in the soapy lagoon. Sidewalk dwellers were literally washing dirty linen in public. Ambulant vendors sold fish balls, ice-cold water, warm taho and balut, boiled bananas, peanuts, fresh buko, hairclips, second -hand cell phones, Christmas lights, lanterns, etc. Thanks to the bubbly cascades from Torre de Manila and to the mermaid who allowed it all, their ROI for the year was assured.
Then Mayor Alfredo Lim arrived at the scene, dressed in the de rigueur Knights of Rizal barong Tagalog. The terror of disobedient sidewalk vendors shook his head at the mess and ordered the dazed city administrator to organize a clean up immediately.
In his characteristic booming baritone, the mayor called out to Miss Penelope, “You are violating Republic Act 10066!” “But, but, but Sir, this is all for free, the company is paying back…” She protested weakly. “The law applies to all, or to none at all.” He did not care to listen to her explanation, instead he turned around and gave orders to take down all those drop-down advertising sails that were defacing the sacred Rizal Shrine. The cascades from Torre de Manila were suddenly shut off and the fire department trucks began sucking the soapy water hole. Then, Mayor Lim looked at me and said, “You better write about this…” Yes, Sir,” I answered.
I woke up talking in my sleep, what a nightmare!