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Nation Takes Holiday to Heart : Filipinos in Love With Valentine’s Day

Times Staff Writer

Twelve years ago Imelda Marcos, then the First Lady of the Philippines, had her heart set on the ultimate St. Valentine’s Day.

She rushed completion of Manila’s new Heart Center in time for an inauguration ceremony on Feb. 14. She invited prominent South African heart surgeon Christiaan Barnard to preside at the affair. And she persuaded every corporation doing business in the Philippines to have its aircraft join in a heart-shaped formation that showered the facility with pink confetti.

She even persuaded them to paint every plane pink for the occasion, and, thereafter, she saw to it that February was known as “the month of love” in the Philippines.

Imelda Marcos is gone now, her dictator husband, Ferdinand E. Marcos, having been ousted in a coup two years ago. But Filipinos continue to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day with undiminished ardor.

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Celebrate Amid Troubles

In spite of this nation’s poverty, its Communist insurgency, a new code of ethics adopted by the government of President Corazon Aquino (whose first name means heart), and the political feuds that continue after last month’s local election violence, St. Valentine’s Day has touched off the customary flurry of activity.

The holiday is Sunday, but by Friday most motel rooms had been booked through the weekend. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos had spent as much as $60 apiece to attend Friday night “pre-Valentine” dinner shows. Restaurants were overbooked, florists had run out of red roses and the champagne shelves were empty in most liquor shops. Chocolate factories had been working overtime for weeks.

“Filipinos are just suckers for Valentine’s Day,” said Jose Javier Reyes, who wrote and directed three of the top shows that will be staged this weekend. “We Filipinos have this really terrible fiesta mentality. We celebrate at the slightest occasion. But with Valentine’s Day, it’s all the more important.”

‘A Woman’s Holiday’

Philippine society is a matriarchal society, Reyes said, and added: “Valentine’s Day is really a woman’s holiday. The women demand that the men celebrate it and that they flatter the women by splurging on them.”

Splurge they do. In the three days of the weekend, businessmen reckon, Filipinos will spend 100 million pesos ($5 million) on gifts, shows, dinners and motel rooms--despite high unemployment and the devastated national economy left behind by the Marcoses.

“And it’s really a splurge on all levels,” Reyes said. “You manifest your love for your woman by spending as much as you possibly can on her.”

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He said that first-class tickets for his most expensive show, which cost 1,000 pesos ($50) each, were sold out within hours, but that very few are interested in second-class tickets at 800 pesos.

‘Escapism . . . a Necessity’

“Even though there is this tremendous poverty, given the chance, Filipinos will spend to entertain themselves,” he said. “Even before they get a refrigerator, they’ll buy a TV set. Escapism is not a luxury item here. It’s a necessity.”

Reyes, who is considered to be a brilliant social commentator through his stage and television productions, said there is an element to St. Valentine’s Day here that is more basic than escapism.

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“Basically,” he said, “it all has to do with libido--a highly active libido.”

Even members of the austere, largely devout new government are joining in the celebration.

Ramos Attends Party

Defense Secretary Fidel V. Ramos, who helped lead the rebellion against Marcos, spent Friday evening at a St. Valentine’s Day party that he helped organize at a military camp that was the focus of the rebellion. The guests were senior officers and the wives and widows of Philippine Armed Forces veterans who have been fighting the Communist rebels.

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According to a rebel leader, the guerrillas observe the day, too, putting down their rifles and spending a quiet day in their jungle camps.

“I think basically it’s just the whole romantic thing that governs so much that happens in this country,” Reyes said. “That’s why we believe that the Communists will never really take over here. Take a look around here on Valentine’s Day and you’ll realize that this culture simply does not lend itself to communism.”


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