Column: Hyphenating Noy and other dilemmas

Published on June 29, 2010. Howie Severino, editor in chief of gmanews.tv, gave my idea (calling the new President “P. Noy”) the benefit of a public workout (thanks, Howie!), but eventually decided on the more elegant, and more tech-friendly, “PNoy.”

I don’t know if my editors will agree with me, but I think the way to render President-elect Noynoy Aquino’s preferred short name is not ‘”P-Noy,” with a hyphen, but “P. Noy,” with a period. The hyphenated name is a made-up term, justified in part, if I’m not mistaken, by the Internet-era habit of “intercapping.” (Eg, CompuServe, MasterCard, YouTube.) Nothing wrong with that, but why choose something made up when you have something ready to hand?

“P. Noy” accurately captures what we think when we wish to say or write “President Noy.” In other words, the abbreviation of “President” into a solitary “P,” with its emphatic period, comes naturally to us. Read over almost any correspondence, even in today’s fleeting e-mails, and the abbreviations we use in daily life are reflected in it. I vote, thus, for “P. Noy.”

I realize that some have objected to P. Noy’s preferred short name; quite a few think it is blatantly populist, a shameless attempt to appropriate the Filipino identity (in the formulation made popular only in the last generation, “Pinoy”) in the person of the new President. They may have a point in the made-up term “P-Noy” (it’s the hyphen again, which is sometimes linguistic code for something-in-process). But perhaps they will not object to “P. Noy,” precisely because the term suggests itself naturally, conforms with usual practice. (And, by a kink of fate, Noynoy is really the new President’s nickname.)

Others think it is too informal, out of alignment in a bureaucratic culture that transformed Cory Aquino into PCCA and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo into PGMA. (This title-obsessed culture can be found in unlikely places; consider the Sandiganbayan’s landmark plunder decision against former President Joseph Estrada, which kept referring to him as, what else, “FPres.”) To this objection there may be no possible answer; “informality” in official documents is a matter of taste.

* * *

Another hyphen may be less innocuous. Several days ago, Joey Salgado, of Vice President-elect Binay’s staff, wrote a letter to the editor, taking issue with an Inquirer editorial criticizing Binay’s campaign to head the DILG. Waxing expansive, Salgado reassured the public about the sense of purpose that animates “the Aquino-Binay administration.” I am sure I wasn’t the only reader who choked on his breakfast on reading that. That hyphen is way out of line.

The only possible justification for an administration’s hyphenated name is that the winning candidates for president and vice president ran together; at the start of the first Clinton administration, for instance, there were a number of references to “Clinton-Gore,” because not only did Bill Clinton and Al Gore run as the Democratic candidates, they ran as essentially the same candidate: young policy wonks from the South. But even in Gore’s case the hyphen was dropped eventually, because in fact in a presidential system the president alone determines the cast of the administration.

In Binay’s case, who ran on an opposite ticket, and on an essentially different platform (Makati City performance, unlike Aquino’s anti-corruption drive), the use of “the Aquino-Binay administration” is therefore doubly illegitimate.

* * *

Conversely, Jojo Binay does not need to serve in the new administration for that administration to be legitimate, or complete, or public interest-led (insert your own modifier here). His come-from-behind victory will be studied for years, but it did not grant him the right to be part of the new dispensation. If he persists in declining Cabinet offers from President-elect Aquino (four, as of last count) until he receives one he likes, he may well find himself exploring the outer limits of political relevance.

I realize that many have already warned about the danger of a duly elected vice president without anything to do except campaign; I used to share that assumption, until I recognized that perhaps the lessons of 1957 do not in fact apply to 2016. In the first place, the political structure in Diosdado Macapagal’s time was radically different; the two-party system was dominant, and even an out-of-power party had its nationwide infrastructure in place. Secondly, and most crucially, today’s media culture did not exist in Cong Dadong’s time. Today, if one does not appear regularly on “The Show,” whether as staple for news or fodder for entertainment, one diminishes one’s chances at higher political office dramatically.

* * *

There is yet one more hyphen, implied in the names of both the first and the second President Aquino, which may prove pivotal. I mean, of course, “Cojuangco,” which is both blessing and burden.

It is an oversimplification to say that it is the Aquino family name, hallowed by Ninoy Aquino’s sacrifice and Cory Aquino’s integrity, that the people responded to, in electing Noynoy as the country’s 15th president. Surely P. Noy is as much Cojuangco as he is Aquino. And surely there is more to the Cojuangco family than just Hacienda Luisita and all it represents. But, to put it in raw terms, perhaps P. Noy’s real challenge may not be to “betray” his class, but his clan.

* * *

Among those who responded to my two-part critique of Renato Constantino’s now-canonical “Veneration without Understanding,” I wish in particular to thank Sonny Melencio, chair of Partido Lakas ng Masa, who took the trouble to write an extensive reply. But his letter is more than twice as long as the longest letters to the editor we allow, and about 50 percent longer than the usual length of a column. I’m still figuring out how to publish it. Perhaps I can hyphenate it.

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Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Media, Readings in Politics

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