Romancing politics

BENIGNO SIMEON ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III has become the third member of his immediate family to be thrust into the vortex of what a sociologist calls periodic episodes of “romanticism” in Philippine politics and history.

But the real burden of the senator and now presidential aspirant is not just proving his sincerity and integrity. He also has to declare what he stands for, and on his own merits and in his words, convince a public awash in goodwill for the Aquinos that he is a worthy son to his parents, and a worthy candidate to the highest post in the country.

And then after he has accomplished that, Aquino will have to sustain the interest of a public that is notorious for being fickle-minded and having a short memory.

It’s a formidable task for someone who political strategist and Aquino family friend Reli German says has been seen by most people as “a political lightweight, (with) his transformation not yet sufficiently remarkable.”

But since Noynoy Aquino has heeded the public clamor for him to run for president, observers like sociologist Randy David say the surprise 2010 presidential candidate now needs to ask himself, “Am I the one?  If I take on that mandate, what will I do? What do I stand for?”

“He’s been a politician for more than a decade, unlike his mom who had hardly any preparations,” says David, with a hint of impatience.“ He is almost 50 years old, he has been in that realm vicariously, he should have certain ideas. Tell us what these are.”

According to David, “the spontaneity, the idealism, the romanticism in politics, the romanticism of hope” is the power that seems to be firing up the Noynoy Aquino for president movement.

“It’s a very powerful movement that is responsible for all sudden historical surges,” he says, but the downside is “it also does not have very long shelf life.”

DAVID POINTS out that Aquino must now sustain this “romanticism” in the next nine months to go before election day, unlike his mother, Corazon ‘Cory’ Aquino, who had to do that only for just over three months in late 1985, when then President Ferdinand Marcos called for snap presidential elections and scheduled the balloting in early February 1986.

“What has he got going?” asks David. “The only point is the memory of his father, and the recent memory and legacy of his mother but whether that would be enough energy to carry you over the next nine months is another question.”

Still, he concedes that there is an emerging network of people’s movements and groups backing up Aquino’s bid for the presidency.

“The crowds that attended Cory’s burial provided some exciting intimations of a movement-propelled magic that was so evident in 1986, beginning with the snap elections, culminating in the EDSA days in February, and then making another appearance in 2001,”says David.

But he also warns that most people who have been caught up in the “romanticism of hope…tend to minimize the importance of organizing, real organizing on the ground.”

That danger is especially present for a candidate who German himself says “just came out of nowhere, riding on the funeral hearse of his mom, with the honor guards.”

German recalls that Aquino literally did that in 1983, riding on the flatbed truck carrying the hearse of his father Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr. to the cemetery.

According to German, the paradox is that the memory of Ninoy and Cory makes Noynoy both strong and weak. “Ninoy was a tough act to follow, not anyone could measure up,” he says. “Ninoy was a truly seasoned politician, very charismatic, far better-looking.”

But then there was Cory, a housewife who became president despite a nearly absolute lack of direct political experience, a weakness that also somehow leveled off people’s expectations of what she can deliver as president.

German says that although the public does not know much about Noynoy Aquino beyond his famous family,“12 years as a legislator means he is no political novice, and this may raise people’s expectations of him.”

FOR SURE, says German, Noynoy Aquino “has brought excitement” and fired up what many, until last week, had thought would be just a ho-hum political exercise next May.  This excitement, German says, derives from a story almost gothic, truly Catholic.

As it is, some political analysts have already likened Aquino’s run for the highest office of the land as a redux of his mother’s epic bid to topple a strongman.Others have stretched the analogy further and say that May 2010 would be a déjà vu of sorts of the Cory vs Marcos, good versus evil, equation 23 years ago.

In 1986, a woman and mother was thrust as the champion of good, and a man, the sitting president, of evil. This time, Noynoy Aquino, a man and son of Cory, is hailed as the champion of good, and a woman, the sitting president, of evil.

And yet the political situation then and now bear similar and dissimilar elements.

For one, the May 2010 elections may not turn into a one-on-one slugfest between a candidate from the administration and another from the opposition.  Manuel Villar, who is not quite administration but not quite opposition, seems hell-bent on running, too, given his significant headstart in public opinion polls.

For another, the sitting president, Gloria  Macapagal Arroyo, is not likely to be a candidate. She seems resigned to say goodbye to Malacanang and just pick her surrogate to run for president under the administration slate.

In 1986, Marcos sparked rage from a long-suppressed people because he was perceived to be responsible for the death of Cory’s husband Ninoy. This time, no one has been murdered, even as the public outcry against the perceived misgovernance of the Arroyo administration seems to grow stronger by the day.

There is danger to couching Noynoy Aquino’s presidential bid in moralistic language, observes David.

In 1986, he says, the contest was between “an incumbent discredited dictator and the heroic widow of a slain martyr.” But “today,” says David, “Mrs. Arroyo is incumbent, but she is not running for reelection, she could have a surrogate but whoever is going to be anointed would do well to avoid as being projected as the anointed as people say that would be a kiss of death.”

David says that while Noynoy Aquino seems to be gearing up for an “unorthodox unconventional campaign,” this is no reason not to do so methodically.

The sociologist believes that for Aquino to carry himself through a long campaign and into Malacanang, he “has to come out and articulate very strong positions.”

That is the only thing to do, not something impossible but it is something apparently being minimized by his handlers, people who egged him into running,” he says.

In David’s book, Aquino is even “more articulate than Mar Roxas, magaling sumagot, may natural articulateness.  He can communicate, there is nothing contrived about him, except when you force him to read from a prepared speech.”

“I do not discount possibility,” says David, “ (that) he may come to his own and be able to pursue the legacy of his parents for his own.”