By Udan Fernando –
Manila is largely a Catholic city but the nights there are hardly pious! Bars and pubs in Manila offer different things – some are discos, some are karaoke joints (aka Videokes – a new term I picked up!), some are go‐go bars, some are comedy clubs, and others are wholesome, family‐style restaurants that stay open late at night to serve alcohol and ‘pulutan’ ‐ finger food.
The Bar I visited a couple of months back is called ‘The Conspiracy’, a hip place where political activists, scholar‐activists and artsy Filipinos hang out. An old haunt of Imelda, the wife the late dictator Marcos, it has been turned into a cooperative‐owned bar. The Conspiracy is really a good place to chill, listen to music and chat.
Preparing me for the Bar visit, a friend of mine said: “make sure you wear clothing that has a Maoist red star or Che’s face, or any communist‐related clothing so that you will be instantly accepted”. She further advised me to “refer to friends as ‘comrades’ and show a disdain for everything relating to capitalism will also increase my appeal”. Unfortunately I haven’t brought my Maoist stuff, so I put on a red t’shirt but realized that it’s a Tommy Hilfiger one! And the Tommy flag was quite visible next to my chest!! So I picked up a khaki‐coloured shirt. At the Conspiracy Bar I met Jesus! No, not the one you are thinking of, but Jesus Santiago aka Jess Santiago who is known for his progressive poetry and moving songs that reflect the social‐political realities in Philippine society. He was a constant figure in rallies and other protest actions during the rule of Marcos, and even after. His latest album carries songs about extra‐judicial killings and the desaparecidos (the disappeared).
The chat with Jess was as refreshing as the many buckets of San‐Miguel beers we drank. Meeting Jess and listening to his stories about Marcos – and his fall as a result of the EDSA Revolution – lifted up the spirits and hope I told Jess that anybody who’s not toeing the line of the regime in Sri Lanka is called a traitor or a conspirator. Pat came the reply from Jess: “Comrade, you have come to the most legitimate place – The Conspiracy!” and we ordered another bucket of San Miguel…