Column: One on one with Noynoy

The third profile, after those on Manny Villar and Gibo Teodoro. Published on April 27, 2010.

In Hong Kong, where I am writing these notes, the East West Center of Honolulu is conducting its second International Media Conference. (The first was held in January 2008 in pre-Red Shirt Bangkok.) I am certain I will be asked about Cory Aquino’s son, and his prospects of succeeding to the presidency. But (to keep things in perspective) the discussion on elections in Asia is only one session out of about four dozen, with another session on “Asia’s emerging democracies.” Many of the key plenary or breakout sessions, however, involve the United States, or China, or both.

“The United States-China relationship,” said professor Jin Canrong of China’s Renmin University in the opening session, “is not a pre-determined relationship.” Perhaps, but its impact on the “new realities” in Asia and the Pacific that the conference seeks to understand is almost preordained.

* * *

For businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan, Lent began during Holy Week. That was when the news about the plagiarized portions of his commencement addresses at the Ateneo de Manila went mainstream. He has, since, handled the crisis admirably—accepting full responsibility for the mortal academic sin, resigning from the Ateneo de Manila’s board of trustees and then insisting, after the board sought to place the matter in a strictly limited perspective, on the irrevocability of his resignation. But unfortunately, within the Ateneo de Manila community the issue continues to rankle.

I thought the statement circulated by many members of the university faculty, taking the board to task for the narrowness of its perspective, was both candid and nuanced, and recognized the correctness of MVP’s response. But certain officials of the alumni association have found the teachers’ statement offensive; I get the sense that these alumni think the statement was what forced MVP to declare his resignation irrevocable. Perhaps they should reconsider this position; among all responses to this matter that I’m familiar with, it is the only one that assumes MVP did not have the courage of his recovered conviction.

* * *

With only two more weeks to go before election day, I have time for only one more profile-from-the-candidate’s-perspective. The objective of the exercise was, and remains, “to consider the candidates as they saw themselves; to see them and their electoral prospects on their own terms.” How does Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III understand his campaign?

I haven’t had too many encounters with Aquino, going all the way back to when as a new teacher at my alma mater I served as one of the many volunteers who secured the Quirino Grandstand for Cory Aquino’s first appearance as president at the Luneta. But he has always been available in the given moment, in Gabriel Marcel’s sense of “disponibilité.” Indeed, he is the only candidate, and in fact the only one among the politicians in my address book, who scrupulously answers every text message. The answer might come several hours after, or even the following morning, but there is always an answer.

This doesn’t sound like much, but in fact, given the demands of a campaign, it tells me something about the care with which Noynoy invests in his professional relationships.

It was therefore no surprise when some of the candidates on the Liberal Party slate, visiting the Inquirer, described him as “maalaga,” always looking out for others. I don’t mean to be facetious (okay, maybe just a little), but he seems to me to be the John Lloyd Cruz of the 2010 silly season, the one who always says, “Ingat”. He thinks of himself, in other words, as a kuya, everyone’s elder brother.

Aquino believes in fate. Or history, another word for the same inexorable force that seems to have staked a claim to his family. I think it was characteristic of him to reflect on the meaning of the outpouring of affection and grief—what my colleague Manolo Quezon calls “The Great Remembering”— that followed his mother’s slow death and glorious funeral. The recourse to a spiritual retreat (in a Zamboanga convent) was an authentic response to the sound of fate knocking, yet again, on his family’s door. I realize his decision to consider a presidential run in the wake of the funeral could be understood as a politician’s cynical attempt to make electoral hay while the political sun shines; but given what he had chosen not to do when his mother was president (unlike the Arroyo brothers, he did not run for elective office when he could have), I think, or choose to believe, that his response to the events that followed his mother’s death was motivated not by personal ambition but by what amounts to a family tradition of openness, or sensitivity, to history.

Lastly, I think he sees himself as tougher, more open to realpolitik, than his mother. We get a clue, for instance, from his funeral eulogy, when he spoke by way of background of a difference of opinion with her (resolved, serenely, in Cory’s favor). It is instructive to consider that in 1984 he was originally for a boycott of the Batasan elections, like the Grand Old Man of the Opposition, Lorenzo Tañada. I do not know if he has since come to realize that Filipinos take their elections seriously indeed (no boycott will ever work), but I think we might see more hardball politics than we would have been led to expect, from someone known to many as Cory’s only, and dutiful, son.

* * *

Many thanks to those who e-mailed suggestions on how I can get my hands on Anthony Reid’s “Imperial Alchemy” expeditiously. I have combined a couple of suggestions; I hope they will help turn lead into gold.

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Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Politics

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