Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 590
Twice Blessed is a comic parable. It shares with Ninotchka Rosca’s more dramatic State of War (1988) a lasting concern for “a nation struggling to be born.” Its method is less confrontational than Rosca’s earlier work, but it goes beyond mockery of President Ferdinand Marcos and First Lady Imelda Marcos who, on the novel’s publication date, were already in exile in Hawaii. The basic satire exposes a phenomenon in Filipino culture larger than the behavior of a single ruling couple: instincts of the wealthy to preserve their power through arranged marriages. This hoarding of power, Rosca has long argued as a journalist, is the source not only of vast class differences but also of elitist willingness to collaborate with foreign enemies in order to survive. Through comic irony and despite the novel’s farcical features, Rosca suggests that the greed responsible for putting dynastic wealth before the welfare of the people eventually can be self-destructive.
The sibling rule of Katerina and Hector Basbas in a tropical Pacific country is reminiscent of what several commentators have called the “conjugal dictatorship” of the Marcoses. Katerina’s attempts to forget her humble beginnings resemble Imelda’s well-publicized delusions of grandeur, and the collapse of a heavy crane on the roof of the inaugural structure seems inspired by the fatal collapse of the Manila International Film Festival building in 1983 because of haste in its construction. In addition, Imelda not only was actually considered Ferdinand’s replacement if his health failed but also ran (unsuccessfully) as a presidential candidate in 1992. These are just a few of the historical parallels borrowed by Rosca to provide realistic dimensions to a tale that otherwise might seem farfetched. Reality can be much more outlandish than fiction.
Rosca’s fictional account portrays what might have resulted had Hector crashed in his airplane, been lost, and been considered dead. His twin sister Katerina seems less to grieve his possible loss than suddenly to imagine herself as his replacement. Trying to forget her lowly origins, Katerina’s ambition has only been whetted by her marriage to aristocratic Armand Gloriosa. Once dreams of individual glory have been placed before the nation’s needs, corruption spreads even to such opponents to oppressive government as Teresa Tikloptihod. She is the headstrong daughter of a provincial governor who at first resisted strenuously collaboration with the tyranny of Basbas. Her independent thinking washes away like sand when she allies herself with Katerina. The military, in the person of Captain de Naval, also decides to grasp this unforeseen opportunity for its own advancement. Those events recall Marcos’ secretary of defense, Ponce Enrile, who, having fallen out with Marcos, tried to ensure Marcos’ defeat in the 1986 election. Enrile backed Corazon Aquino, although with the intent of establishing a government run by a military junta. Even with Hector’s return, coups, countercoups (such as those suffered by Aquino during her rule), and the fortification of the presidential palace follow.
If this farce were to be taken at face value, the prospects for the Philippines would be grim. Rosca’s witty, colorful style, however, makes the novel seem closer to light opera. Its “music” is very different from the gongs and drums of her novel about the attempted assassination of Marcos, State of War. The source of Rosca’s implied hope in Twice Blessed seems to be that when greed becomes so deeply embedded in a small class of people, alliances among even the most powerful can turn to bitter rivalry, and the system of social oppression can self-destruct.
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