Death of an Icon, Birth of Another

Aug 22, 2010
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Fifty days into the government of Benigno S. Aquino III, a question still unanswered: could Noynoy have become Philippines’ President if not for the memory of his mother?

The most vocal critics of Aquino have said it themselves on countless occasions on many blogs and articles: that the Noynoy victory isn’t one of democracy or ideals or even hope, but marketing and the Filipino penchant for nostalgia and drama. It was the last hurrah, the final ace up in the sleeve of those who profess by “Cory Magic”. For his most ardent supporters, May 10, 2010, was “destiny”. For his most unforgiving detractors, Noynoy’s victory was the most concerted act of historical coattail-riding in recent memory.

Of course, even the dead wouldn’t rest in peace in the new industry of Aquino-bashing. Cory wasn’t a hero, and you have endless stories from the gates of Hacienda Luisita – and a mounting national debt – to back that up. It evokes different kinds of nostalgia: of Marcos “instilling discipline” upon the people, or looking back at Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s regime as the “glory days” of a nation that’s now facing up to the gaffes – and perhaps the glibness – of the new Administration.


A year into Cory’s death, and 50 days into the Presidency of Benigno S. Aquino III, there’s that yellow elephant in the room again.

Photo: vladstudio


A year into Cory’s death, and 50 days into the Presidency of Benigno S. Aquino III, there’s that yellow elephant in the room again.

The motive behind the “nostalgia” is not what we had, but what we want. It’s not a matter of having, it’s a matter of striving for: that all discussions of “democracy,” and all subsequent definitions of it, are in the future tense. If there’s any cue that needs to be taken from the Left at this point, it’s that the Philippines has never had a genuine, functioning democracy other than the icon that represents that ideal. Those icons – yellow ribbons, photo mosaics, and everything else – when taken in the present tense are representations of an oligarchic, elitist imitation of a democratic system that haven’t done a lot for us. So much so that we look at our past, oppressive, less-than-ideal conditions as something to strive for.

The Philippines has never had a genuine, functioning democracy other than the icon that  represents  that  ideal.

Cory’s death represented grief, marked as the “death of an icon” not solely and completely out of respect, but another justification and re-affirmation of the politics of personality here in the Philippines. Cory was a vessel into restoring democracy moved and pushed by the tide of public clamor, yet it is the vessel that is being praised. Dwelling and dwelling in the past is our way of remembering, forgetting that we need to forge ahead into the future, and that the current Administration have done enough mistakes and gaffes for us to take what they say with a grain of salt.

I’m not one to look at the political crystal ball, but indeed, Noynoy could have never been President without the memory of Cory. May 10, 2010 was about being at the right place at the right time, and President Aquino was there. The messages that brought him such good fortune were not messages to forge ahead, but to remember and perhaps even dwell, to channel the spirits of Cory and Ninoy into his bid. For the machine fuelled by the ideas and the sentiment of the so-called “Yellow Army”, it came across as a simple message: that the dream of Ninoy, and the fight of Cory, was to be visited upon their son.

Destiny is the yellow elephant in the room: somehow, we’re all inclined to believe – if only because of the circumstances, the history, and the messages – that Noynoy became President because Fate moved his victory. Indeed, in part, it did; we were moved. For the avid supporters, it was a redemption of the mandate of democracy represented by his parents. For the vocal critics, it was the people duping themselves into thinking that he’s the second coming of the “democratic way of life”.

Yet fate never puts leaders in place: the will of the people do. Destiny isn’t mandate: it is the will of the people. A year into Cory’s death, surely we as a nation should remember, perhaps even mourn as it is our way. Yet we, the people, make this dream of democracy more than the icons we remember. With her death democracy wasn’t “lost,” but found. Hoped for, and in this incidence that dream and demand is projected upon her son. It’s that vicious cycle of what makes democracy a wee bit perverted in the Philippine context: that it is an expectation for and a project from particular persons, and not for and from the people of the Philippines.

If our benchmark for democracy will be in the form of coups, brownouts, high prices, and disasters experienced in the Cory administration then yes, at this point Noynoy could only have been President because of his mother. Only when we overcome, and move out of the artificially large shadow we created to remember and honour our first woman President, when we cooperate with this Government to the most of our citizenship and dissent if it impinges upon our ideals, could we truly realize that democracy isn’t Noynoy’s to own, but for we – the people – to make for ourselves.


This post was originally published on The Marocharim Experiment in August 2010.


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