MANILA, December 15, 2003  (STAR) PALINDRONE By Paula C. Nocon (Star Youth Writer) My fellow shepherds and I were sitting on a grassy knoll, hanging out, having a beer, looking after our herd, talking about our Christmas plans, when suddenly, Chismis, our faithful sheepdog, came running in, a rolled up copy of the Philippine Star clamped between his jaws.

The glaring headline: FPJ TO RUN FOR KING. (You heard it first from The Philippine STAR).

We all stared at the Star, dumbfounded, and even our sheep could sense our alarm. One shepherd lit a cigarette. Another sprayed out his beer. While I held my favorite pet lamb, Pashmina, and stroked the soft fleece on her throat.

"This cannot be!" one said. "FPJ cannot be king! It must be a lie!"

"No, it cannot be a lie," said another. "The STAR never lies! Read the tagline Ė The Truth Shall Prevail!ā"

"But thatís not the point," another shepherd retorted. "I am loyal to the present Queen. I believe that she should remain queen. God save the Queen, and may the Queen save us! May she save us from FPJ!"

I decided to speak up. "Itís hard to believe that FPJ is running for king. To think, Erap the Best Friend, who was once king and was deposed, is now languishing in prison, waiting for the Queenís decision as to whether he shall be beheaded. Perhaps FPJ wants to become king so that he may free Erap and Erap can be king again!"

"Donít be stupid," said Shepherd Number One. "That is not the issue. We are all surprised that FPJ is running for king because of the bitter, painful truth. We donít think he can be king simply because he is an artista. An artista, artista, artista. And people think that an artista is not a worthy opponent against our Queen, who is an economist with a Ph.D. Letís not be hypocrites, OK?"

There was silence. But Shepherd Number Two retorted. "So what? The Queen herself loves artistas Ė Jolina, Jerry Yan, Mandy Moore. Why, even her son Mikey is an artista!!!"

We all nodded in agreement. But my lamb Pashmina continued to shake her head in disbelief.

Suddenly, we heard the bleating of camels from nearby, mingled with the sound of wang-wang sirens.

"Oh look!" I said. "Government officials are coming our way!"

The camels approached. We recognized the riders immediately. They were the Three Senators.

We all stood up to show our respect.

"Where are you off to, most honorable ones?" we asked.

The First Senator replied: "We are here to pay our respects to the new king. We read the Star and would like to pledge allegiance to him. Hail, FPJ!"

Then, the Second Senator: "We bring these precious gifts from our pork barrel to the Savior of our country. He alone can deliver us from all this poverty and strife!"

The Third Senator, also a former artista, had a speaking line too: "Why donít you shepherds join us? The time has come for us all to unite!"

"But dear Senators," I dared ask. "Are you certain about this? Can FPJ truly stand a chance? What will the Great Emperor Dubya say about all this? He is the Queenís staunchest ally!"

I watched the First Senatorís eyes burn like coal. "Emperor Dubya has nothing to do with this. We are here because we no longer believe in the Empire, or the present Queen. If you shepherds would just stop staring at sheep and sitting on the grass all day, perhaps one day youíll understand what we are talking about and just get off your asses and join us!!!"

There was a noticeable tension in the air. Shepherd Number One was first to get up. "Yes, dear Senators! I believe you! FPJ is our true Savior!"

Another shepherd stood up. "Yes, me too! FPJ, Da King!"

Two more shepherds followed. And then five. Before I knew it, all the shepherds in our pasture had walked up to the Three Senators and pledged their support.

Naturally, the entire flock followed too. Every sheep, every ewe, every lamb. Even Chismis, our faithful sheepdog. I watched the exodus in astonishment.

But Pashmina stayed by my side.

The Second Senator looked at me. "And you, spaced-out Shepherdess? Are you not joining us too?"

"Iím afraid not, dear Senator," I replied. "My duty is to my pasture, I must not leave. And my sweet lamb Pashmina needs to be near me too."

Third Senator was first to kick his camel. "All right, then, but donít take too long. And donít you ever forget me, either Ė I might be king one day too."

As the Three Senators departed, my heart began to beat like a drum. It was the unmistakable throb of sudden loneliness.

Across the hills, I could hear the hooves of a thousand sheep, trotting to Da King. I had heard it before Ė once, twice, thrice, in fact, in stampede, in anger, in indignation. The sheep, though they are usually meek, can anoint a king, can unseat a king. Just like that.

Pashmina lay her head on my lap, and I wondered what a shepherdess like me could do, when there are no longer any sheep to herd. The silence was deafening, and in the silence, I realized that the wind was chillier and the stars seemed to shine brighter and there was a feeling of wishfulness in the air.

It was Christmas. A time for waiting, a time for hoping, a time for wishing.

Then I knew in my heart that I wished the same thing all sheep wished for too:

Not just a king, not just a savior, but the only thing that could really save us from our own selves: Peace on earth, and goodwill to all men.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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