Into the darkness of a Carmelite monastery in Zamboanga did Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III retreat to pray for the light of discernment, and what emerged from that protected and protective space, that veritable womb, was a presidential candidate.
Unlike many a birth, however, that of Candidate Noynoy was met with less than unmitigated joy, though some reactions were certainly hagiographical in character. The neonate candidate also aroused in Filipinos trepidation, cynicism, outright hostility, and, I suppose, no small amount of befuddlement, especially among those who came into the world or grew to awareness after the EDSA Revolution.
As Manuel Buencamino has pointed out, Noynoy has not done too shabbily for a lucky sperm. He is at least as qualified as any other person who has declared his or her intention to run for president—and I do not refer merely to the requirements provided for in the Constitution—and his very entry into the race seems to have generated greater public interest in the 2010 elections as a whole. Nevertheless, I do not think it baseless or unfair to remark that, at this point, the energy animating and driving his pre-campaign (the official campaign period begins in November, after all) is primarily—though not exclusively—a longing for what once was.
I am not saying this to put down his candidacy. I do bear in mind that the presidency was probably not an office that Noynoy aspired to before the clamor for him to do so began, and that his choice was an extremely difficult one, flying in the face of financial and logistical odds, starting with the fact that he is standard-bearer for a badly fragmented party. And while Candidate Noynoy was unavoidably—perhaps even necessarily—born under the aegis of nostalgia, that is no reason to dismiss him. In his speech announcing his candidacy at Club Filipino, Noynoy recounted a conversation with a customs employee who, upon learning that Noynoy was running, said, “Salamat naman at pwede na po muling mangarap.” Furthermore, a recent SWS survey showed that 50% of respondents in vote-rich areas of Luzon were on his side.
The value of nostalgia is not that Filipinos have been given cause to look back on the past. Rather, they have been given cause to realize what could have been, and what could still be. From within the halls of memory, Filipinos can draw the resources to re-member what more recent years, particularly those under the present administration, have torn and broken—themselves most of all.
That said, nostalgia is rough magic that Noynoy must abjure in favor of a solid, compelling platform for the changes that he would see effected. The battle for the presidency, for the hearts and minds of the citizenry, cannot be fixed along the lines of Good and Evil. Already the permeability of these lines has been underscored by representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, who have denounced Noynoy for his stand on the reproductive health (RH) bill, and whose self-proclaimed monopoly on Goodness is hardly unquestionable, as Ricky Carandang points out.
The shape and character of such an abjuration has to be defined very quickly. While, strictly speaking, Noynoy need not commit to anything specific until November, and it is reasonable to expect that he will not deviate significantly from his previously publicized personal and party positions, he is now under such intense scrutiny from all quarters that he needs to take the initiative in clarifying what he stands for and what he intends to do, and not merely speak out when criticized, attacked, or otherwise provoked. Although he cannot act preemptively at all times, allowing his opponents and naysayers to consistently set the parameters for what he can and cannot say is dangerous, and ultimately a losing proposition. “Be your own man” was doubtless a barbed exhortation, but it is also a challenge that Noynoy must answer with due force and speed.