A road yet untaken

Trite though the image may be, to say that the promise of change has been gathering strength and is blowing more mightily about us with each passing day would not be inaccurate. The void that ripped open within the heart of the nation upon the death of former President Corazon C. Aquino was also a window on the past, and the initial breeze that wafted in brought with it reminders of a time when the people of the Philippines toppled a dictatorship and regained their freedom: a time more hopeful and more exultant, a time full of possibility and a sense of community—a time, it must be emphasized, that will not repeat itself (one would be foolish, nay, downright insane, to think otherwise, as the incumbent head of state continues to prove EDSA II a debacle rather than a triumph), but whose spirit can nevertheless be revived, intensified, and deployed in the decidedly appalling present.

At this point, it seems widely believed that the avatar of this spirit is Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, who is, after all, a descendant of two heroes—his mother, Cory, the reluctant president, and his father, Ninoy, the fiery senator—and a presumed legatee of the principles that they held dearly, the values that they lived and died for. Few accidents of birth have ever been or will ever be as onerous, particularly in view—or perhaps I should say within earshot—of the growing clamor for Noynoy to run for the highest office in the land in the 2010 national elections. How popular this clamor really is cannot be determined until the next round of surveys—that in any case may not be entirely reliable—is completed, but the idea of Noynoy entering the race has certainly soared from the moment William M. Esposo of The Philippine Star and Conrado de Quiros of Philippine Daily Inquirer gave it wings and flung it into the air of public consciousness, over which it currently dominates, in their respective columns—Esposo last August 9, and De Quiros last August 10.

True to Filipino cultural form, the notion has begun to acquire a mystical dimension: the presidency is not a competition among flesh-and-blood candidates standing firm upon specific platforms and pursuing concrete agendas, but an all-out war between the cosmic, contentious, capital-letter forces of Good and Evil. If Cory, the queen of the people and the saint of democracy, has followed her husband to a higher plane of existence, then it falls to her son to take up rosary and yellow ribbon in order to do battle with the ignoble, ignominious, inglorious Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her maleficent minions—as well as with some of her opponents, who are as odious as she is.

Consider, for instance, what happened at Club Filipino yesterday, on the 31st of August, a day dedicated to the memory of all our national heroes. Sonia Roco, widow of former Senator Raul Roco and chair of the Aksyon Demokratiko party, had this to say to Noynoy: “You are this Chosen One, the Anointed to run for president of this ailing country. It is very clear. See the hand of God in the events that have transpired recently.” Nostalgia for EDSA, grief for Cory, and the concept of filial duty—these elements have converged and delineated an economy of enchantment that will remain robust at least until the end of this month, although Noynoy is likely to announce what he has decided about his political future very shortly after the 9th of September, the 40th day following the death of his mother.

Should Senator Noynoy declare himself Presidential Candidate Noynoy, the game, as so many have already pointed out, will change significantly. Even now the landscape is in a state of flux, unsettling and resettling and unsettling again, for no one could have foreseen that these weeks leading up to the start of the campaign period in November would be anything other than predictable. Coalitions are being re-cobbled, slates are being reshuffled, and press statements are being re-worded, all because of a heretofore unassuming man. An oddity among the avaricious, grandstanding, scandal-ridden specimens of officialdom, Noynoy, armed with integrity, an indisposition to grab for power, and illustrious parents whose cause he must not betray, could well be the president that the country needs to redeem itself. As for the deficiencies identified by his critics—inexperience, say, or lack of charisma—he can overcome them with a sufficiently united, organized, and massive base of backers.

And yet, and yet—if the winds of change are indeed upon us in our yellow neck of the woods, more than one road diverges here, and at least one other is just as fair as the road that may lead Noynoy to what will doubtless be the most difficult job in the Philippines. It must be acknowledged, however grudgingly, that the entry of Noynoy into the game has the potential to set in motion one more truly horrific sequel to the People Power Revolution, rather like a film franchise that refuses to put itself out of its own misery simply because the original performed well at the box office. The temptation is to cast Noynoy as Cory, Macapagal-Arroyo as Marcos, Mar Roxas as Doy Laurel, and so on, but that would be lazy and dangerous, not to mention ominous, for then Noynoy should expect to face a coup d’état or two—or seven.

Much has been made, and will continue to be made, of the prospect of Noynoy as king. What about the prospect of Noynoy as king-maker of the Liberal Party? In some respects, this is the more difficult choice for Noynoy, especially given the calls that have been made for him to run, and his familial past offers no good portents: Cory’s anointed successor, Fidel Ramos, did not win by a majority vote. But joining the presidential race buoyed by a tide of public support is not the only move that can bring about change. If Noynoy situates himself at a remove from the political arena—for which his personality may be better suited anyway—he gains the capacity to critique buttressed by (relatively) untarnished moral authority, with which he can keep the new administration in check, particularly if his chosen candidate is victorious. This is no small thing: with the Catholic Church brought to heel by the Arroyo administration, and with the opposition perpetually divided by internecine struggles even as its members claim to be united, there is much that Noynoy can accomplish outside Malacañang—it is not only in the palace of power that power can be found and used to make a difference.

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