Manila, August 4, 2003 By Ana Marie Pamintuan (Star)  Is the moon full in Manila? That’s what a foreigner friend wanted to know shortly after the mutiny in Makati. He tried to be diplomatic about it, saying our "beautiful country" had to get a grip on reality. But the message was there, loud and clear: Are Filipinos going nuts?

We probably are, and it has nothing to do with the lunar cycle and the tides. We’re just born this way; self-flagellation is a national pastime.

All the craziness of the past weeks, starting with the escape of Indonesian terrorist Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi from the headquarters of the Philippine National Police, vindicates the "sleepless" ambassador of Japan, Kojiro Takano, who told foreign correspondents only last May 29 that he constantly feared for his safety in this country. Back then he was referring simply to the threats of kidnapping and bomb attack.

Fortunately Takano lives in Forbes Park, not in Oakwood Premier. But now he must have added to his long list of things and people to avoid in this country another item: armed men in uniform, particularly soldiers.

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As usual Pinoys are making the best of a bad situation by joking about it. You’ve all received the text messages about the new factions of coup plotters that are emerging: the Magdamo group in Malacañang, the Magkano in Congress and Magdalena at the Senate.

Expatriates, however, aren’t amused. Since the mutiny, I know foreigners working here who have been ready to leave the country on 24 hours’ notice if they get a whiff of danger to their lives or property.

I roll my eyes in disbelief when people swooning over the mutiny leaders ask, "But what did those cuties do to deserve punishment? They were so nice they even let all the Oakwood tenants go."

If those pests were so nice, they wouldn’t be taking over a private building in the first place. A man’s home – or rented apartelle – is his castle. People who can afford the ritzy Oakwood in particular don’t relish being evicted at gunpoint from their dwellings on an early Sunday morning.

Other countries are in a mad race to attract foreign visitors and investors. After the SARS scare, our neighbors are scrambling to erase the stigma of a deadly virus. Thailand is promising free hospitalization for any visitor who contracts SARS in the country. Singapore is reworking its squeaky-clean image into something more exciting – you can now chew gum in the city-state.

We, on the other hand, are doing our level best not just to keep out visitors and investors, but also to persuade more Filipinos to leave this country for good. And who can blame those Filipinos for wanting to preserve their sanity?

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We’re losing not just our sanity but also our purchasing power. In 1997, the peso was at par with the Thai baht. Then the financial flu struck, devastating Thailand and spreading quickly across Asia. When the worst was over, we basked in observations that the Philippines was one of the least affec-ted by the financial crisis, owing mostly to economic reforms implemented before the flu struck.

Just six years later, the baht is trading at 41.96 to the dollar (last Friday’s close) while the peso is slumping close to 55, at 54.87 to the greenback.

We already have enough problems trying to compete with Thailand and China for visitors and investments. Our tra-vel agents are complaining that hotel rates in the Philippines are way too high compared to those in neighboring deve-loping countries. Investors here complain of poor infrastructure and red tape.

Both Filipinos and expats used to gripe about traffic and worry about kidnapping and terrorist attacks. Now we also have to worry about soldiers staging a mutiny and taking over private apartments each time they get holes in their boots.

Will we ever get a grip on ourselves?

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The antics of people who have been trying to bring down the Arroyo administration from Day One never fail to remind us of how bad the situation was before EDSA Dos. If the peso lost so much traction after 1997, the Estrada administration bears much of the blame. There is one thing that can get people to rally once again behind President Arroyo. That is the prospect of Joseph Estrada staging a comeback, resuming the rudely interrupted greatest performance of his life.

It is a testament to how dysfunctional our society has become that even someone with the competence and work ethic of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is having a hard time leading the country out of its morass. This President has a good grasp of what ails the country and understands the challenges posed by globalization to our underperforming economy. When she addresses a gathering, she worries about her message, not her pronunciation. In the age of SARS and terrorism, she can be what the country needs — if we will just let her.

For once I’m hoping that Brig. Gen. Victor Corpus will do his job right and pin down Sen. Gregorio Honasan for troublemaking. Imagine what someone like Honasan will do if he became president. Will he encourage soldiers to stage a mutiny each time they are bawled out by superior officers? Will he give putschists a pat on the back? Will he defend the soldier’s right to stage failed coup after failed coup against his administration?

Honasan confessed that he never felt comfortable as a senator, that he has always been a soldier at heart. So why did he inflict himself on the electorate if he didn’t think he wasn’t up to the job? But that’s a question you don’t bother to ask in this loony country.

I wish we could all enjoy a good laugh from these events. Unfortunately, the joke is on us.

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COUP OVER? The coup threat must really be over, or else security officials are taking their minds off the threat through escapist entertainment. Spotted yesterday at the Meralco Theater, where the play "Honk! The Ugly Duckling" was staged, were Interior Secretary Joey Lina with an aide and former Presidential Security Group chief Maj. Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. with his daughter.

Life is also back to normal in Makati, although security is tighter. At around 6 p.m., whose convoy was spotted driving past the Oakwood Premier? President Arroyo’s, on its way to her family’s home in Forbes Park.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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