Wednesday, November 13, 2013

This PNoy

President Noynoy Aquino, his username cleverly compressed into PNoy, can be considered a rarity in the steeply alpha Filipino culture -- truly a man only a mother can love. Many Filipinas will take umbrage at this statement and come to his defense (time and time again this has been so), but none will marry him, or consider becoming his mistress. So far.

Men with strong opinions without sufficient social skill to back them up tend to fall into deep trouble. They are such stuff of which tragedy are brewed. The first Benigno, his grandfather, was a senator even before this country was deemed sufficiently literate to be declared as a commonwealth by its American colonizers. After Filipinos helped drive out the Japanese in WWII, Benigno Sr. and others who had helped run the Japanese Administration's  puppet Congress (he served as Speaker from 1943 to 1944), were charged with treason and collaboration, but MacArthur easily prised them out of ignominy.

Benigno Jr. -- Ninoy -- carried on the senatorial trade for the clan. It is assumed that the old man had political charisma, and Ninoy inherited, and wielded, that great political tool with equally great skill. The volubility, it is also assumed by those who inferred from Dona Aurora's silent demeanor, came from the father's side of the family.

Ninoy talked at a fast clip, charming his way to political prestige and into Cory's heart. Their son, Benigno Simeon, must have been a talkative boy, competing in volume with Kris and three other sisters. Noynoy, people say, also got his father's charm, but not (this is tactfully left unvoiced) the good looks.

Irony is also a hallmark of tragedy. Ninoy -- favored with good looks, wit, and the Cojuangco wealth -- easily became the country's youngest mayor, then governor, then senator. So it was also assumed that he would, inherently and rightfully, replace the young Ferdinand Marcos as president in 1972. (It was a young Marcos who beat the old Diosdado Macapagal, who is to be blamed for siring Gloria, in the 1965 election.)  Martial Law denied the country of the turmoil of a Ninoy administration, but fate finally played her hand, and the twist is undeniably ironic and tragic.

Sent to exile in Boston, Ninoy availed of a grant and talked and talked until 1983, when he decided to return home to replace the ailing Marcos. Ninoy died with his impossible dream, the presidency, which Marcos toyed with for an extended 20 years after his term. It took people stopping tanks with flowers and prayers in EDSA to banish the Marcoses to Hawaii in 1986.

Never in his wildest nightmare did Ninoy even remotely see his wife, the quiet and unassuming Cory, rise to the presidency that he had failed to achieve. To view it in another way: Without Ninoy's dream, struggles, and death, Cory would have remained an unknown quantity in the political equation. Things are not simple as they seem.

Cory ruled. Her speech at the US Congress was boisterously applauded by the American senators and congressmen, who gave her a standing ovation. Back home, she survived several attempts by Enrile, aided by Honasan and the Ramboys, to oust her from office. Powerful men can also be big ignoramuses: Enrile should have known that what fate has decreed will  be done. So Cory stayed as president for her full six-year term, even greeting (in a Valentine's Day radio message) the ousted Enrile a happy birthday to share with her daughter Kris.

Noynoy had repeatedly asked for his mother's permission to run for office, but Cory said no member of her immediate family should aspire to public trust during her term, and Noynoy was a good and dutiful son. In 1992 Cory stepped down, and Noynoy became a member of the House of Representatives in 1998. After three full terms, he leveled up to become senator in 2007.

In November that year we saw Noynoy at the side of his frail mother, heeding the call of Capt. Danilo Lim, Trillanes, Faeldon and other Magdalo officials to kick the corrupt Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo out of office. Fate, it seems, does not make a distinction between good and evil, and so Gloria stayed while cancer slowly rounded off Cory's life. It was Cory's funeral in 2009 that highlighted the possibility of another Aquino presidency, through the third Benigno. And so it came to pass: Death sends another Aquino to the presidency.

Today, millions in the Visayas suffer as a result of a ferocious typhoon's onslaught. They suffer more, people say, because Benigno Aquino III or President Aquino II or this PNoy is inept. Also garrulous. He sure can talk, but he can't perform as well as expected. And why does he paste that inappropriate smile on his face in times of crisis? He had explained that when he is stressed the smile appears, as it appeared when he announced the death of seven Hong Kong tourists and the ex-cop who had hostaged them in Luneta. That was years ago, but China remembers.

A few days ago, this PNoy, his approval rating down by 19 points, made an appearance in Tacloban. He distributed bottled water to the typhoon victims; his smile seemed to indicate that he was handing refreshments to party guests. Can we trust a man who can't control a facial tick to handle the great affairs of a benighted country? Twenty-two countries have pledged millions of dollars to help the Philippines; China, with oriental nuance, pointedly donated $100,000, much less than the NBA's $250,000 aid. This, because Aquino refused to apologize to China over an individual Filipino's offense? Former President Estrada, now Manila mayor, had recently volunteered to apologize, even profusely if necessary, in behalf of the people.

Estrada, of another people-powered presidency, might have been a rogue, he will throw sincerity to the winds if it helps his people, but he is not the president any more. PNoy is. Will this, can this Aquino set aside his strong opinions and beliefs, if in exchange the Filipinos are alleviated of their misery? Or will he be set in his ways, still stubborn and smiling inappropriately, not even aware that there is a crisis at hand, that anger and outrage must be expressed over his bureaucracy's lack of urgency to deliver food and medicine to the starving and wounded victims?

It is the sad history of the Philippines that not one leader since 1521 has loved the Filipinos beyond his self-interest, his own dignity, his opinions and personal beliefs. Not Felipe II, after whom this country and its people were named, certainly not Magellan nor Lapu-Lapu, not Legazpi, not the sultans and datus, not Bonifacio and the uneducated Katipunans. The spouses Diego and Gabriella had the ardor but not the means. Rizal tried but failed. PNoy is president but not a leader. This he has made clear by his actions, or inactions.

If PNoy fails to get more than a mother's love, if no woman will bear a son of his, then the Benigno line of the Aquino tale comes to a close. Perhaps it is fitting it ends this way, to save PNoy's life. After his father Ninoy died, his mother became president; after Cory died he became president. We pray that this Benigno, this PNoy, single or eventually married, lives to a ripe, old age. After Cory's Kamag-anak Inc, after this PNoy's KKK, the Philippines may not be able to survive Kris' Showtime.

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