Friday, September 25, 2009

Aquino's challenge

Published last September 7, 2009 at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today. 

Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino remains coy and is still trying hard to convey the impression that he is still undecided about whether or not he should throw his hat into the presidential race.

The seeming indecision is fortifying the air of mystique around him. For now, it distinguishes him from the rest who are scrambling all over the place to get noticed.

However, it doesn’t take that much analysis to conclude that the decision to run has already been reached. Mar Roxas’ withdrawal from the race pretty much sealed the whole deal; it’s really inconceivable to imagine that Roxas would throw away all that hard work and all that investment—including, as some naughty minds have pointed out, giving up bachelorhood and turning his engagement and impending wedding into a public relations circus—for something that is still uncertain. As a friend mischievously surmised, Korina Sanchez would not have forsaken her dream of becoming first lady for something that wasn’t already definite.

So what’s with all the stalling and quibbling? Ah, but we’ve been there before, haven’t we? Aquino seems intent on revisiting the trail his mother, the late former President Cory Aquino, took before she plunged headlong to meet her destiny as the 11th President of the Republic. Like his mother, Noynoy went into a religious retreat. There’s now a signature campaign under way. There’s even a yellow brigade that projects itself as some kind of a moral movement being organized.

What is really being done is the solidification of forces, the marshaling of troops behind Aquino as the opposition candidate. Reliable sources say that frenzied informal negotiations are now under way among the various political camps allied with the opposition to achieve this. People are trying to recapture the Cory Aquino magic and harness this as a potent force that would catapult Noynoy Aquino to Malacañang.

Small wonder, really, that the one word that has been cited as justification for Aquino’s sudden emergence as the proverbial dark horse in the presidential race is “destiny.” I have written about this recently and I will repeat it here: It is of course a little sad that the one qualification, the main qualification actually, that is being put out there to prop up Noynoy Aquino’s claim on the Presidency is the fact he is his parents’ son—as if the circumstance of one’s birth were a guarantee of competence. There’s very little discussion about Noynoy Aquino’s skills, his overall preparedness for the job. There’s no platform to speak of, no program of government, no advocacies as yet. And quite frankly, there’s even this effort to varnish his inadequacies with the patina of good intentions—as if good intentions were good enough.

As someone who has written more often enough about how the presidency is more about stewardship than about anything else, I am willing to give Noynoy Aquino the benefit of the doubt. I am of the firm belief that getting this country back on its feet is something that is everyone’s job—not just the president’s— and installing someone everyone can rally around as a symbol of change and hope is not necessarily a bad thing.

Having said that, however, it is important to point out that conditions in the country today are not the same as in the early 1980s when the country was under the dictatorship. The Cory Magic may still be palpable today, barely a month since she passed away, but given our collective short memory, it would take more than a physical resemblance and a family name to sustain the emotional connection until May next year. Manny Villar and Noli de Castro are already way ahead in the surveys and both have well-entrenched political machineries in place. It might be a good idea to remind the people behind Aquino that elections in this country are also a function of political infrastructure at the grassroots level.

At the same time, voters today are so much more mature than they were in the past. There’s more direct access to information. Already, there’s a lot of information being passed around— surreptitiously at the moment out of respect perhaps for the late Cory Aquino— about Noynoy’s supposed weak work ethics and his supposed dislike of confrontation. People are still being kind right now and whatever misgivings people have about Noynoy Aquino are still cloaked as mere “reservations.” But let’s make no mistake about this, the question that is foremost in people’s minds is: Does Noynoy Aquino has what it takes to get tough when the punches start raining?

Given that the discussions about Noynoy Aquino remains so far at the level of personal empathy and emotional identification, an unspoken concern is his ability to rein in his irrepressible youngest sister. I know I am going to get it again from rabid Kris Aquino fans that mistake my fascination for the “queen of all media” as pure unadulterated loathing, but it really doesn’t help that the juiciest and most substantial scoop people are getting about Noynoy Aquino’s state of mind come from Kris Aquino’s gossip shows rather than from more traditional and mainstream sources.

My friends and I were quite appalled that Kris Aquino could chastise his elder brother in public—literally calling him her ampon (adopted ward) and portraying him as financially dependent on her. During her latest bout of verbal diarrhea, she went as far as to impose her wishes on her elder brother’s personal life, categorically telling him—on public television—that he should remain single.

Okay, in the interest of transparency, I am going to admit that part of my reaction has to do with the fact that I personally know Noynoy Aquino’s girlfriend although I haven’t really talked to Shalani Soledad for years now. Soledad was my student in college a few years back and I knew her to be a really decent and gracious person. Even back then, she was already inclined toward politics and was embarked on a political career while still a student. In short, to paraphrase Cecille Guidote Alvarez famous words—she was not an idiot or a non-entity before she became Noynoy Aquino’s girlfriend. The fact that she has opted to stay out of the limelight despite being the first councilor of Valenzuela and has chosen not to say anything in her defense despite what many consider a very public rejection of her says a lot about the kind of stuff she is made of.

To be fair, we have it on second hand sources that Noynoy Aquino privately chastised her youngest sister. If we are to go by Kris Aquino’s latest bulletin, she has apologized to her brother for intruding into his private life. So all’s well that ends well? For the moment, yes. But really, Noynoy Aquino, needs to become his own man now. He needs to define what he is about outside of his parent’s image.

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