Sunday, August 16, 2009

Abandon ship

A number of us were invited to board the super aircraft carrier USS George Washington last Thursday, which docked at the Manila Bay for a four-day goodwill visit. The carrier had to be docked far since it is seven storeys deep, and from the Mall of Asia it took us 40 minutes to reach it via water ferry. The last time I boarded an aircraft carrier was in the early ’80s in Subic with the USS Kitty Hawk, which was eventually deployed at the Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan. In December 2005, the US Navy announced its replacement as the forward-deployed carrier in Japan with the USS George Washington taking its place in 2008. The Kitty Hawk was informally retired in January 2009 and finally decommissioned last May.

The USS George Washington - or GW to the US Navy, is a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier symbolic of America’s superpower status. It was “christened” by former First Lady Barbara Bush in 1990, two years before it was commissioned. On that day, then-president George H.W. Bush said, “Let the George Washington proclaim America’s commitment to remain free forever,” making its proud crew associate GW with the “spirit of freedom.”

An aircraft carrier like George Washington costs about $5 to 6 billion, and it’s a pipe dream for any country to own one. It is a massive ship, as high as a 24-storey building and can accommodate about 80 aircraft. Its flight deck measures 18,000 square meters and it has four, 360 square-meter giant elevators to move the planes between the flight deck and the hangar bay.

Of the more than 5,000 crew, 300 are Filipino-Americans who are just happy to be back in their native land. Since the visiting American sailors have been reminded to “behave” properly and told to avoid visiting places where they could get in “trouble,” they could easily pass the time on board the ship considering that it has its own TV station, gyms, a barber shop and even a karaoke, since everyone seems to have been “infected” with that favorite Filipino activity.

Interestingly, just before its deployment to Japan in May 2008, the George Washington suffered from a serious fire caused by a crew member who was smoking near flammable materials. Oftentimes, when a ship gets into trouble and looks like it’s about to sink, procedures are started to abandon ship, and by tradition, the captain is usually the last to leave. And though the GW’s captain did not abandon ship, he and his executive officer were nevertheless fired for “failure to meet mission requirements and readiness standards,” with the damage amounting to $70 million.

In another incident in 1991, the world was shocked to hear that the captain of the cruise ship Oceanos abandoned 200 panicking passengers which included women and children. The captain, Yiannis Avranas, later claimed he left the ship to arrange for rescue efforts, arrogantly saying that “When I give the order ‘abandon ship,’ it doesn’t matter what time I leave. Abandon is for everybody. If some people want to stay, they can stay.”

In the Philippines, it looks like the call to “abandon ship” — meaning abandon the administration and its captain in MalacaƱang — has already started. Ralph Recto is the first to abandon ship, already shopping around for a party that would give him a better than even chance to win as senator in 2010. After all, the last time he ran under the administration in 2007 resulted in a disappointing loss for him. He will most likely join Manny Villar’s Nacionalista Party since they are good friends and they both belong to the Wednesday Club.

The events over the past couple of weeks, in particular the overwhelming show of sympathy for the late president Cory Aquino, was interpreted by political analysts as having the corollary effect of showing the people’s disappointment with GMA. This is turn has convinced some politicians closely identified with MalacaƱang that the time has come to abandon ship.

But then again, party hopping and shopping has been happening for decades, the most prominent of which was when an old-time LP stalwart like Ferdinand Marcos abandoned the Liberal Party when it became clear that then-president Diosdado Macapagal was not going to keep his word to make Marcos the LP standard bearer for the 1965 elections.

There were a few politicians however who remained steadfast with their parties, like Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez (who was called “Mr. Nacionalista” and whose dictum was “Politics is addition, not subtraction”) together with former Speaker Danieling Romualdez. Both of them remained loyal to the Nacionalista Party through thick and thin.

Filipinos have gotten used to the rigodon accompanying the politics of convenience in this country, which became more pronounced after the Constitution allowed the multiparty system. Behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing are common. If one can recall, some members of the “Hyatt 10” secretly met with Vice President Noli de Castro in Hong Kong, anticipating that GMA would be forced to step down from power in 2005. But they underestimated the survival instincts of GMA, who soon turned the tables against them.

In the next couple of months, you can see a lot of these changes coming into play especially when each party announces its list of senatoriables - with the “unlisted” ones hopping and shopping for another party that would accommodate them. The main preference of course is a well-funded organization with a winnable presidential candidate.

As the tight surveys continue, with former president Joseph Estrada currently at the top, you can be sure that the political season will get hotter with politicians abandoning one ship for another, with the first round climaxing on November 30th, the last day of filing for certificates of candidacy.

By Babe Romualdez - Philippine Star

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