Saturday, January 22, 2022
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The pajama games

I think, if President Duterte’s attendance at international summits is to be guaranteed, whoever is hosting should consider holding sleepovers instead of boring old meetings.  Meetings are boring—only grown-ups go to them to do, ugh, Business. A pajama party, now, that’s a different proposition. The problem with statecraft is that it can become too predictable, too programmed, which is fine if the attendees are working stiffs, but if your guest is someone like President Duterte, the old way of doing things will simply not work. Such people have to be handled more imaginatively if one hopes to get something productive out of them.

President Duterte was in Singapore last week for the 33rd Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit but he may as well have not been there. While China’s Li Keqiang, Japan’s Shinzo Abe, the United States’ Mike Pence and other regional leaders were wheeling and dealing, politicking and conferencing, our President was asleep. He missed six events, including the ASEAN-Australia Informal Breakfast Summit, the 20th ASEAN-Korea Summit, the Working Lunch hosted by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Second Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Summit. He also skipped the gala dinner where everyone suits up and where table manners are on public display, so perhaps it was not such a bad thing that the President missed that one; his dinner conversation, after all, is unlikely to verge on the congenial. The reason, says presidential spokesperson and chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo, is that his boss was taking “power naps.”

What is a “power nap”? A power nap is a brief respite during one’s busy day when one takes 10 minutes from one’s busy schedule to close one’s eyes, lay back and snooze. How different a power nap is from a catnap is something I cannot really explain, except that “power nap” became popular during the ‘80s, at the same time when “power dressing” and “power walk” became reference terms for women’s pantsuits with shoulder pads and brisk walking, respectively. The ‘80s was emblematic of Wall Street culture and of greed and excess, when those in the financial sector were not mere white-collar employees but “corporate warriors.” One thing a power nap definitely is not is a siesta. A siesta is slacking off, several hours of afternoon self-indulgence, unlike a power nap which is supposed to recharge the embattled corporate soldier and empower him to perform even more work. Definitely not a siesta.

So why would President Duterte require a power nap early in the morning when he could have been informally chowing on muesli with the Australian Prime Minister? Why should he be power-napping when he could have been eating Hainanese chicken during Lee Hsien Loong’s working lunch? Senator Ping Lacson disbelieves Sal Panelo’s “power nap” explanation for President Duterte’s truancy, speculating instead that the no-shows were due to a presidential desire to avoid bumping into leaders of certain countries (Canada?  Australia?) for reasons unbeknownst. Not to worry, says Panelo, the President “is in top physical shape” despite his “constantly punishing work schedule.”

Indeed, Panelo finds all the rumors surrounding President Duterte’s state of health “amusing.” (All that’s lacking in his reaction is the royal “we” and we have the nosism attributed to Queen Victoria.)  Is age, not an undisclosed malady, the factor? Is our 73-year-old president feeling his oats?  It is not as if he is the oldest head of state in the ASEAN—that distinction belongs to Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad, who is rocking it at 93 and who definitely was not reported by his nation’s media as skipping summits for power naps. That President Duterte owned up to allegedly taking power naps only establishes that he has his spokesperson’s back, but it really is a non-admission explanation given the importance of the conference.

When the Philippines hosted the ASEAN last year, President Duterte attended all events on the calendar, as he should have because protocol demanded it. That aside, isn’t the presidential insomnia and resulting lethargy remediable by a cup of good, strong kapeng barako? During his presidency, John F. Kennedy was regularly visited at the White House by a private physician named Max Jacobson, a German émigré nicknamed “Dr. Feelgood” who injected his celebrity patients with “vitamin shots” which, later on, were found to consist of hormones and vitamins and laced with amphetamines. Jacobson’s injections relieved—but did not cure—Kennedy of the symptoms of Addison’s disease, which involves the adrenal glands, of which Kennedy was a congenital sufferer, and enabled him to endure contentious summits with combative world leaders like the Soviet Union’s Nikita Khrushchev. Jacobson’s medical interventions ceased only when the White House’s official physician threatened Kennedy, telling him that no man who keeps a finger on the nuclear button has any business taking amphetamines.

Now that I think about it, a power nap is harmless compared to hypodermic needles. Which brings us back to sleepovers:  ought not President Duterte invent “pajama diplomacy”? They could all wear onesies instead of business suits and maybe he could ask the Chinese premier regarding his country’s true intentions during a game of Truth or Dare.

I’m thinking just off the top of my head. G

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