Archive for the Politics Category

On Reason and Gut Instincts

Posted in Composition, Culture, Essay, Politics, Reflection on February 13, 2012 by theburningpulpit

It’s a cardinal rule–from the courtroom down to the Scooby-Doo detective shows–that evidence be presented to determine and penalize the culprit. This comes not only from the Roman idea that the prosecuted should be considered innocent until proven guilty, but from the fact that, as beings given reason, we demand to see the links between cause and effect: we need to see the cause so that we can understand the effect. No effect is manifest without a cause, and a different cause might not produce the same effect. There can be no water without oxygen and hydrogen, and sodium cannot produce water. It follows, then, especially in our contemporary institutions, that for something to be acknowledged as being there, as real, as the truth, then there must be some concrete thing that can attest to it, and nothing more. However, more often than not, such a simple cause-and-effect relationship cannot be found lying upon the ground. Evidence may always be misplaced, concealed, or destroyed. And this is the problem with many cases, from legal to fictional. The prosecuted cannot be convicted; a suspect cannot be arrested. And yet at the same time, the prosecutor or the detective (and sometimes, even the audience) is very much sure that the one facing trial, or the one sitting quietly by the scene of the crime, is the guilty party. And yet, where does this surety come from? A mere guess, perhaps. Or some vague psychological clue. The suspect’s face, or his aura. Intuition, gut instinct–all the sort of things that institutions cannot accept because beyond the realm of reason. Sherlock Holmes says that guessing is a shocking habit, abhorrent to the rational mind. That much is true. But does that make the gut, per se, inferior to rational inference? The judge and the chief of police might say so. But how about in real life, that is, life as we live it every day, chaotic as it is, full of surprises, full of uncertainties, full of lies and deceit and people whose money can change even the shape of evidence, of criminals whose intelligence can daunt or misdirect the detective? And not everyone can be a detective, not everyone can be a lawyer. But in many cases, gut instinct (or whatever we might want to call that which is outside of reason) can set everyone else better upon the right path. Take the masses, for instance. Yes, the uneducated, uncultured masses. They do not hold a J.D. or a Ph.D. or a F.A.W.T.H.A.L.D. but sometimes, they’re just right when it comes to certain issues. Collective unconscious? Maybe. Or take the novice chess player. In a chess book I once read, the author, a GM, was astounded by a rookie player discovering an easier way to win a certain case-game, much easier than what the chess authorities taught. Now, it may be too radical to clamor that our governments and our sleuths abandon reason altogether, throw the idea of obtaining evidence aside, and trust their gut instincts. For one, intuition is double-edged, and two, a thin line separates unadulterated gut feeling from whim. However, assuming the mantle of reason, making economic advantage corrupt it, and using the slowness of the process of obtaining evidence to their advantage, are all too often tools employed by the culprits, those who are powerful and wise. And those who are weak and meek have nothing but the sense that they are correct. So things must always be, perhaps. The good wise men, those like Holmes who advocate pure reason for the greater good, are either powerless, or still in school, or too few, or nonexistent save in novels that people cherish precisely because they have achieved impossible feats–good, but impossible nonetheless. And until the light of pure reason illuminates humanity’s way, or until humanity has fully grasped Divine Revelation, gut instinct must, we suppose, suffice.


On the Philippines: Order and Progress?

Posted in Culture, Politics, Reflection on April 1, 2011 by theburningpulpit

An indirect response to a scintillating read.

It has always been said, and by very perceptive minds too, that the Filipino people need be disciplined so that Philippine society can progress. Rizal in returning from Hongkong encountered some friendly Italian friars, who said that the Philippines could be a paradise if only it were governed properly. Some of our old-timers reminisce about the “good old” martial law days, saying that back then, people have discipline. And on one hand, I must nod and agree on our terrible lack of discipline. I hurt whenever I say this, but we Filipinos do need a little more lesson in not going beneath and/or beyond the rules. We have yet to develop a good system of national ethics, like Japan with its honor code and America with its ideal hardworking self-made man. And yes, we must already go beyond the blaming phase. The colonial Castillan, the bad friar, the oppressive dictators… in the end, they are not the ones who constitute and drive the Philippine nation–we are. And so, there is a grain of truth in the homies’ lingo: suck it up and push forward.

But questions popped into my head as I read this very interesting article. First, do we really want this discipline, this progress? And what do we mean by “progress?” By “discipline?” Are we capable of discipline? Is it desirable? How do we propose to instill this discipline into our people? Once we have this discipline, will progress ultimately follow? And once we attain progress–and is it, too, desirable?–then what?

Let me first reflect on the word, “discipline,” which I believe is the easier concept to grasp. To be disciplined is, at its root, to be a disciple–to be a follower. That which the disciplined person follows is the “rule of law,” a common standard set by a leader or by consensus. I hesitate to say “a leader” alone because, if this is the case, then discipline only works as a ruler-ruled dynamic, and is only a step away from encouraging an enlightened despot from seizing totalitarian power in the name of discipline and progress. This is, perhaps, what many among us Filipinos fear. Having been ruled (or, perhaps, having perceived ourselves as ruled) for 400 years by such tyrants and strongmen, we are naturally averse to having some new dictator impose his own will upon us. We would rather have a country run like hell by ourselves, than a country run like heaven by someone else (and us surrendering our independence), as President Manuel Quezon said. We value our freedom, our independence–but, again, what do we mean by these terms? During the Philippine Revolution, the upper classes sought independence from retrogressive Spanish colonial policies, while the masses and the peasants sought kalayawan, license after three hundred years of submission. And so things stand today: we cringe whenever our rights of speech are trampled upon; we want to spit and litter. And the common denominator is that we do not want other people, the authorities especially, from getting into the way of our fun.

But as I have earlier said, the “rule of law” is not only the product of an enlightened despot. As Immanuel Kant says, in man is the innate ability to legislate for himself through the exercise of reason. In man is the ability to engage in dialogue with his self-interests and the interests of society at large, with himself as well as his fellows, and so arrive at a “rule of law” drawing its enforcing power not from one ruler, but from institutions built up by the society for the greater good. And yet, we Filipinos seem even more reluctant to build and uphold institutions than to hail strongmen and leaders. We Filipinos gravitate toward personalities (Magsaysay, Noynoy, Nora Aunor) more than groups (Tagalogs, Kapampangans, Azkals, Barangay Ginebra) more than institutions (the AFP, the PNP, government as a whole, the Philippine nation). Why is this so? Why do we shy away from long-standing institutions and policies set in stone and place our trust in the tribal units, in the people whose terms last only six years? This is probably the “heritage of smallness” Nick Joaquin speaks of. We Filipinos, since our precolonial days, have always settled on the small things: bamboo over wood over stone, raid over pitched campaigns over conquests of unification, clan over confederation over nation. We are afraid of big things because we are a small people used with small things. It took the Spanish 300 years of rule and influence to build stone cities out of the villages of nipa huts, to forge a Philippine identity out of the scattered tribes. And even then we Filipinos have not yet truly learned the lesson: our stone and cement cities still do not reach for the stars, and our national unity is pro forma only: Tondo still quarrels with Cavite, Cebuanos still hate the Tagalogs, Moros still claim to be a different nation. ‘Rule of law’ through national consensus still seems to have a long way to go.

How, then, do we inculcate discipline to ourselves and our people while at the same time avoiding the terrible despot and the intimidating institutions? We must, inevitably, choose one route or the other. The best possible action for us, if we profess ourselves democratic, would be to get over our fear of big things and create standing institutions and policies, those which will enforce the common good and last for ten thousand years. If we believe in totalitarianism, we must find the strongest iron fist in this country and submit all our wills to him. We have had the chance with a dictatorship in, say, President Marcos. In the end, however, we revolted and threw him out. We have had the chance with democracy in the People Power Revolution and the constitution–and even as we speak we go over and/or under these institutions.  We may speak of a third route, and that is the home, the supposed building blocks of society. Yes, it is true that discipline can be learned in the home, in the school. A “rule of law” exists in these things. But what happens outside, where our parents and principals (the strongmen) and the school rules and regulations (the institutions) do not and cannot enforce authority? It is apparent that before discipline can be taught at home and in the school, the youth–and we Filipinos in general–need first to find the ability to respect the strongmen and/or the institutions that create this “rule of law.”

So much for discipline per se. But here another question emerges: do we really want, do we really need, this discipline? Yes, we are at once tempted to say. But why? For progress, we blurt out immediately. But what sort of progress do we want?

We can cite many examples of progress in the so-called progressive countries in the world today: the European countries, the United States, Japan, and China. Each of these countries have large economies matched only by their tall buildings. Their people may live more comfortably than most of us do. They have highly technologically-advanced tools. And they also have problems of their own. And perhaps, their problems stem from their common denominator: unchecked–and that is to say unlimited and uncritical–progress.

In Europe, the center of the Industrial Revolution (and culture and fashion and all “nice” things), we see a people with a growing sense of ennui, a sense of postmodern directionlessness. Europeans are party people with lots of beer and spirits and healthcare and social services, but why do they experience a high suicide rate? (Interestingly, European nations also have high levels of atheism, though here I speak as a Catholic who wants to have a religion than as a social analyst who makes correlations between high suicide rates and religion–I have yet to assume a relationship between the two in this article.)

In the United States we find a solipsistic nation, one that views its own interests and its own culture as the primary, if not only, one in the world. In Hollywood as well as in its international economic policies, the United States centers more on itself, and it injures racial-cultural sensibilities (see Aladdin, The Mask of Zorro, and The Last Airbender for criticisms) and other countries’ interests (see the Imperiyalistang Kano).the United States, after all, is the country that discriminates African Americans and Mexicans (and Filipinos) and still thinks immigrants are out to get their jobs, and that the Chinese are Japanese.

Which brings us to the Chinese. China is the economic wonder of the late 20th-early 21st century: from the backwater and war-ravaged country of Chairman Mao, China has become the second largest economy in the world. But at what cost? China also has one of the highest pollution levels. China’s prosperity is, for the most part, limited to its big cities on the Eastern side–the countryside, I’ve heard, still has those legendarily terrible toilets. And who wants to live in a country that keeps its Nobel Prize winner in prison, erects the Great Firewall, and basically does not regret Tienanmen Square?

And the Japanese–the one country the linked article praised–is a nation that has yet to learn from its history. Dr. Shinzo Hayase in his book, A Walk Through Memories in Southeast Asia, implies that the Japanese still has to recognize the terrible atrocities its military government committed in the Second World War. In Japan, they do not remember the comfort women and the forced labor; what they remember is the glorious honorable patriotism of their soldiers and the Bombs destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki. (And to think that people–and authors!–like Yukio Mishima want to renew the old bushido, the same system that plunged Asia into the war!) And so the Japanese, in their non-knowledge, come across as insensitive whenever they enter into economic relationships with the Southeast Asian nations. Many Southeast Asian nations, up to this day, still hurt whenever the Japanese Prime Minister still visits the Japanese war dead shrine. Japan’s progress, then, ultimately sits on the shaky foundation of callous forgetfulness.

And so we see that progress, when unchecked and unreviewed, can be quite disordered. Progress can bring about as much trouble as benefits. In the name of progress, kings and even populations have been killed: from France to Russia to Germany to China to Japan, and to many more. I am not saying that progress per se is bad: I suspect Nick Joaquin, my idol, to be quite the progresista with large-scale enterprises in mind. After all, he comes from the tradition of the Ilustrados like Rizal and Luna, whom he admired as Promethean geniuses. And yet, we must bear in mind that we cannot and should not pursue progress so blindly. People from the same Ilustrado class, in their desire to wrest power from retrogressive Spain and bring enlightenment in the Philippines, also committed and condoned atrocities in the Philippine Revolution. The innocent friars were abused along with the guilty. And it was the masses had to fight and die in their wars. And when the Revolution faltered, they were the first ones to abandon it. Progress, if it is to be true, has to be well-rounded: everyone has to be a part in it, and everyone has to benefit from it. The country, in the end, should not suffer further because of it, but rather, be all the more enlightened and benign.

In the end, we must agree with the article: we want, we definitely want, order and progress for the Philippines. That much has been clear to us since the dawn rose over the Spanish galleons in 1521. But we must ask ourselves: what kind of order and progress do we want? And, just as importantly, how are we going to get there?

Can Peace be Achieved? (A Polsci 100 Reflection Paper)

Posted in Politics, Reflection on December 22, 2010 by theburningpulpit

Before one can reflect on whether peace can be achieved within President Aquino’s term, a proper definition of “peace” and its prerequisites must first be determined. This paper, then, shall briefly begin with a reflection on peace in general, then with an analysis (not the definitive analysis) of the Philippine situation, before going on to the main question, that is, whether this peace can be realized in the current administration, or if at all.

What we commonly understand as peace is an absence of violent events, usually accompanied by prosperity and overall happiness. And, despite the statement, “peace is not merely the absence of war,” this common understanding nonetheless is an indicator of peace. The above situation implies that conflicts are either non-existent, or, more realistically, resolved within excellent institutions that can reach satisfactory pronouncements for both opposing parties. And if all parties in such a society are able to settle conflicts and negate the causes for new ones, it is because they have reached a co-understanding, a mutual respect of their rights and persons without overstepping boundaries and exploiting the other’s interests—in a word, the society is just. Hence, “Only justice can bring peace.”

Philippine society, it has been said, has been anything but a just one. And if this is so, it is because injustices, unwittingly or maliciously, have been perpetuated throughout its history. And these injustices perhaps may be summed in two ideas, namely, “land” and “tribe.”

The first stems from the early Spanish era in the Philippines, when the colonizer, adhering to the feudal system then existing (though it was beginning to decline) in Europe, gave the land—the primary means of production—to the local chief, the datu. This marked the end of the communal ownership system in the archipelago, creating the first sharp divide between the landed and the landless, the rich and the poor. And the rich have sought, naturally, to maintain their land, and then their capital. Having been, from the first, among the local leaders, with ties to the colonial government, they have used their political power to keep their wealth. The landless they have viewed as mere labor, if not a threat, and so have been contemptuous and distrustful of them, building high walls over their lands and hiring private armies for their protection. On the other hand, the landless have grown resentful and hungry, and in their weakness before the structures of society, they have the landed for all of their misfortunes, rightly or not. And so they raise their pitchforks and torches and plunge the countryside into rebellion.

But the second problem, “tribe,” has been existent even in pre-colonial society. The Philippine nation, one may say, is a Spanish creation: prior to Legazpi’s governorship of the entire archipelago there was no unified sate, but rather, hundreds of small scattered villages, the barangays—and neighboring settlements were frequently at war with each other. And even after the conquista, and perhaps also aggravated by the divide et impera policy, the clannish tendencies have also extended to regionalism: the Tagalog is at odds with the Cebuano, the Tondo residents distrust the Caviteño, the peoples in Basilan and Sulu (who only happen to be Muslim-dominated, and have historically resisted Spain rule) feel that they are being usurped by the northerners (who only happen to be Christians), and so on. And even today we see the micro-level counterpart, clannishness, occurring in our society. Families compete for power especially in the political arena. One is expected to put the clan’s interest even before duty to the State. In short, we Filipinos have remained an intolerant people, unable to reconcile our differences, indeed unable to see each other, as well as foreigners, eye to eye, with non-judgmental eyes.

Throughout this paper it has been implied that the obstacles to peace in our country are rooted in a history, a tradition—and that which is so deeply rooted cannot be so quickly uprooted. Our government, our society, and our very individuals have been so sunk in the mire of “land” and “tribe” that a single and isolated thrust, however strong, may not be enough to get us out. And the Aquino administration, despite its promises to walk the straight path of honesty and justice, have so far made, at best, baby steps. If anything, the long and winding conclusion of the Vizconde massacre (and even now the true culprit, whoever he may be, is not behind bars), the lack of adequate resolution to the Maguindanao massacre and the hostage incident, and the unanswered Hacienda Luisita question are indicators of our government’s frailty. On the other side, our people’s exaggerated expectations, our inability to get past our differences and engage in a concerted action, and even our inability to obey traffic rules and throw our waste properly show just how perverted we have become as a society and as individuals.

This is not to say that peace cannot be achieved. Even the deepest of roots can be shaken: our history tells us that even during the early Spanish era the missionaries have converted much of the entire archipelago to the Christian religion, and one may say that, given hundreds of years of paganism, this is nothing short of a miracle. True, even now paganic influences still abound. But, just as Christianity has taken the heart of the greater part of the Filipino people, so one can hope that other things so steeped in our history can also pass away. It is very much possible for justice to take root, if the government and the individual both work together. This is a very vague notion, and yet we have seen one or two thrusts in that direction. Gawad Kalinga, Bayan Mo Ipatrol Mo, the government’s willingness to pursue peace talks with the NPA and the MILF… these by themselves do not seem to achieve much, but perhaps even these baby steps are going in the right direction. We must let the process happen in its own time: maybe all this will come to fruition in President Aquino’s term; maybe not. But it only remains for us to hope (and “to hope” means much more than “to wish passively”) in our good people, and perhaps also in one bigger than ourselves—and then it might just happen.

Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus

Posted in Politics, Reflection on October 1, 2010 by theburningpulpit

In light of the events in our country today concerning the Holy Church, I have decided to write.

I am not saying that I am perched atop a high mountain, in a perfect position to judge matters clearly and impartially. In fact I cannot say that I am impartial: I have my presuppositions, my biases. I am what many might term conservative: that is, one who does not wish to press relentlessly forward, hacking the weeds in the name of liberalism and progress. I am a Roman Catholic: possibly not a devout one, and possibly a withered branch clinging to the ecclesiastic tree, but one at least who identifies himself within it. And although I personally think, that is, in a conceptual level, that the use of contraceptives should be an option freely given to those who would have it, I believe that the attacks against the Church these days is, for the greater part, below the belt. Hence, I shall speak as I may in her behalf.

The Church is currently drawing fire due to her stand regarding the Reproductive Health bill. As to the bill itself, I shall in this essay not tackle in detail, not because of any attempt from my part to gloss over the chinks in the Church’s armor, but because this is an issue that others more informed and intelligent than I have discussed and debated upon. I shall concern myself with the reception the Church has received. I have in mind, of course, two reactions, namely, 1) that the Church is attempting to extend her arm into the State, and 2) that the Church is retrogressive, an obstacle against progress.

Only a day ago we have seen a Mr. Carlos Celdran, a tour guide in Intramuros, interrupt Mass in the Manila Cathedral by holding up a placard with the name “Damaso” on it. The name, of course, is a reference to the notorious friar in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. Fray Damaso Verdolagas, has, among other atrocities, abused his power in the Church to influence politics. Whether Mr. Celdran’s action is rude and uncalled for is not the point here; it is the accusation that the Church is overstepping her boundary to exercise control over the State that is brought to light. But before one makes conclusions, it is important to ask: but what is the meaning of “Separation of Church and State”? In the 1987 Philippine constitution, the matter is presented as follows:

The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.

(Article II, Section 6)


No law shall be made respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed. No religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights.

(Article III, Section 5)

Legally speaking, then, the idea of “Separation of Church and State” does necessarily mean that the Church is not to have any opinion or say regarding the affairs of the State, or, for that matter, even vice versa. What the constitution provides for is the independence, and not the isolation, of one from the other. And the Church, insofar as it is not an exclusive club or a political party, but rather, a “sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (Lumen Gentium, par. 1) — that is to say, a community of humans, with humans, and for humans — must at one point or another find itself in dialogue with the State (jJust as the State, as the custodian and guardian of the law and of her people’s rights, also finds itself responsible for the Church). The Church, then, can and indeed must have a say in issues wherein the common good is at stake.

But what of a bishop’s saying that President Aquino can be excommunicated? Is this not an attempt to force the State’s hand to her will? Perhaps. It may also be an all-too-human clergyman’s over-the-top attempt to quell what he perceives to be an immorality. Whatever the circumstances, one cannot properly say that excommunication is a power the Church cannot use. It is not a temporal exercise reserved for the State; it is an ecclesiastic authority based on Jesus’s words to Peter: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mat 16:19) Whether the State shall pay heed to the threat of excommunication or not is up to her own judgment. In the Noli Me Tangere, excommunication certainly does not deter Señor Crisostomo Ibarra from his purpose.

But why does the said bishop threaten President Aquino with excommunication? On what grounds? From here we can proceed to the second reaction: the Church, as she had done ever since the Medieval age, is blocking the way into progress. Can we say that this is true?

One must wonder why the Church bothers to speak against the Reproductive Health bill in the first place. What does the Church have to gain for herself by banning contraceptives? Or is this opposition merely her way of showing off her power and influence in the affairs of the State? But, alas, the age of the Church’s having real temporal power has long been over. In Europe it ended with the formation of the Kingdom of Italy; in the Philippines it ended with the Spanish government. Whatever power the Church has left is nothing but a moral one.

This is not to say that the Church is composed of fully and totally moral individuals. As a community of human beings, the Church is naturally as flawed as her members. But does a father who smokes and drinks too much wine become any less credible, less respectable, less deserving to be heard by his children? Does a State filled with corrupt and inefficient officials become any less a guardian and custodian of the law? The Church, then, as long as she professes to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, cannot be any less than a re-interpreter, a living reminder of His ethical and moral teachings. And, of course, part of Christian morality is the struggle against evil, and, specifically, against sin.

But contraceptives, one might argue, do not lead to the death of a baby. And from what I know, this is true with methods such as the condom and IUD. But these things notwithstanding, three possible moral points concerning the bill can be raised. First, is the death of a baby the only possible sin? Are not methods like vasectomy, by taking away something of the human body’s natural processes, damaging the integrity of the human body? By putting one’s own body at risk, is it not a tampering, not only of God’s design, but also of one’s health? Second, is the bill the proper response to problems such as poverty? Is curtailing overpopulation the sole, the only, and the most crucial means of promoting economic progress? Is suppressing the birth of human life the best answer? And third, is it not possible that, by acceding today to the call for contraceptives, we might, tomorrow, call for abortion — for the betterment of mankind? By ratifying this bill, are we possibly one step away from allowing a scapegoat to bear the brunt of our moving forward?

There are, admittedly, no fast answers to these points. Who knows? Perhaps the Reproductive Health bill might well be the necessary means of saving of country. But as a moral force, the Church, for her part, cannot take any chances. She has taken it upon herself to speak for the voiceless, the unborn child who cannot speak for himself.

This is because the violence committed against the voiceless must not happen again.

Ever since the Enlightenment era and the development of industry and liberalism, the civilized world, or, to be specific, the West, has recklessly pushed ever forward. Seeing himself as the center of his universe, the enlightened man has pursued his manifest destiny to “subdue and fill the earth,” to will himself to power, to advance his nation, to gain greater knowledge and understanding. Growth and progress — these things have spurred him on, and nothing else mattered. Not the groaning earth. Not the alien Other.

And we have paid a heavy price for progress. Until today, we, and the Jewish people in particular, are still coming to terms with the Holocaust. We are experiencing the brunt of climate change. The ghosts of those whom we have silenced have come to haunt us.

So, is the Church, this moral force, this persistent gadfly, retrogressive? Is it an obstacle to progress? The final answer, then, may just as well be “yes.” But if progress means subduing all those who do not have voices, letting others be the scapegoats of our advance, then I personally would renounce this noble aim. I would rather stay on this shore, this passing world, the Kingdom outside of which there is only darkness, the darkness of blind progress. Perhaps there is wisdom in listening to a crazed man howling his hoarse warnings in the wilderness. Now that we are at the edge of passing this controversial bill, in the edge of putting the history of the retrogressive Church behind, taking a step backward might be preferable to stumbling down the steep cliff of moral degeneration.

President Aquino: A Symbol of Hope

Posted in Politics, Reflection on July 12, 2010 by theburningpulpit

President Benigno Simeon ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III, fifteenth of the independent Filipino nation, might seem at first glance rather incongruous. As the highest official of the Republic he is expected to focus on big national affairs: the national economy, the national security, the national government bureaucracy — and yet since his inaugural address he and his government have devoted much of their energies against the politician’s abusive use of the siren, the ‘wang-wang,’ amid the congested Manila traffic. He even went so far as to discard the presidential car’s legally provided siren, risking late appointments and possible attempts against his personal safety. The president also made much ado about his residing not in the Malacañang Palace, with all its pomp and prestige, but rather in his private home at Times Street. He, moreover, promised to keep government spending to minimum levels and to avoid traveling abroad. But what good would such promises be, per se, when the government could only save a few millions from necessarily costly events like President Aquino’s inaugural ceremony, and when his administration, sooner or later, would have to settle diplomatic relations abroad?

One might shake his head at what appears to be sheer gimmickry from P-Noy’s part, just as one might be overwhelmed with the number of vehicles sporting the yellow ribbon along EDSA. But perhaps there is something more behind all this ‘sheer gimmickry’?

May 10, 2010. We Filipinos forsook the everyday routine and braved the long queues and the searing noonday heat to elect a new set of officers to govern our country. For the presidential seat we had the choice between eight candidates, all talented in their own fashion, and all perhaps as ardent in their desire to transform the Philippines and govern the people well. Each candidate set forth their own different platforms and used different propaganda tactics to convince the people to vote for them.

And ‘Noynoy’ Aquino won.

But the question now is: did we vote President Aquino because he was more competent than all the other candidates? Was his presidential program much more comprehensive than the others’? Had his stand on key issues like agrarian reform and the reproductive health bill been so clear and decisive so as to impress the voters into his side? And yet the same Filipino people who catapulted Aquino into the Malacañang did not elect all the Liberal Party candidates — candidates who, according to Aquino’s TV advertisements during the election campaign, he needed seated in the government to support his programs and proposals for the country. That diverse personalities ranging from Ramon ‘Bong’ Revilla, Jr. (Lakas-Kampi-CMD) to Ferdinand ‘Bong Bong’ Marcos, Jr. (Nacionalista) were elected into office proves that the Filipino people did not vote for ‘Noynoy’ Aquino as a politician.

The Filipino people voted for ‘Noynoy’ Aquino, the symbol.

The Aquino name since the 1980s has stood for the political aspirations of the Philippine nation. The remembrance of Senator Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino, Jr. and President Corazon ‘Cory’ Cojuanco-Aquino are enough to remind the people of what our fathers had fought for in EDSA: People Power, freedom, democracy, the deliverance from tyranny, hope. This ‘Aquino Legacy’ has ingrained itself into the Filipino imagination just as much as the Arthurian return from Avalon has captured the English dream.  It is then no surprise to see, last May 10, 2010, an Aquino ascend into prominence once more in view of the perceived failure of the Arroyo administration to uphold its promise in the so-called second EDSA Revolution: to restore political accountability, to heal our broken land.

Critics of President Aquino have often pointed out that he won the election through this ‘Aquino Legacy,’ and that he still has a lot of work to do once he stops playing the role of the ‘Aquino son.’ But perhaps President Aquino has already been doing his work, even during the campaign period, when he dared to utter that bold (and, admittedly, rather ambitious) statement: Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap. In his inaugural address President Aquino dared to proclaim the beginning of a new government: a government that would consider the people as its boss. He dared the good government officials to stand forth and show their capability. He dared to break the long tradition of politicos using the ‘wang-wang’ to escape the city traffic. He dared to make promises the common people can understand. He dared to speak of change and justice where others would mumble of the national security and national economy — matters too vague, too ‘big,’ for the common people to truly grasp. President Aquino dares the Filipino people to hope once more. And he does through his role as a symbol.

The petty acts of President Aquino (the discarding of the ‘wang-wang,’ the refusal to live in the Malacañang) are by themselves needless, if not indeed impractical, measures. One less ‘wang-wang’ on the streets is not much tangible improvement to the Manila traffic. If anything, ‘gimmicks’ like these might well hinder the new president’s efficiency. But for the common person accustomed to the tra-po haughtily sounding his siren along the highway, accustomed to an unfeeling Power seated in an aloof throne in the Palace, the little gestures of Mr. ‘Noynoy’ point to something greater than their face value. They point to a change in the winds. Things can be otherwise. And for a country that has long sunk into pessimism, President Aquino’s ‘sheer gimmickry’ is a resounding call for us to hope once again.

Can President Aquino, or anyone else for that matter, be politically capable enough to truly reverse what four hundred years of mistakes (clannishness, landlordism, corruption) have wrought? Perhaps not. But President Aquino as a symbol points to one possibility: given a century, or a decade, or even a few years, all might turn out right. Our Filipino people might just, in the course of history, fulfill through hard work and unity the ‘Aquino Dream’ — People Power, freedom, democracy, the deliverance from tyranny, hope.


**This article was written before events such as the RH bill issue and the 23 Aug hostage-taking crisis; hence, pardon the outdated context.