The stories surrounding the presidential candidates in the 2010 elections are as important as their political agenda and campaign platforms. Filipinos love to tell, hear and make stories, whether these are factual, or are in the form of gossip or image-building fabrications; even journalism is about the telling and retelling of stories--not just about putting together facts--and knowing how to frame these stories to create impact on the readers. Also, in a society that has penchant for drama, as seen in the popularity of formulaic movies and in recent years the telenovelas, the narratives that came out about the candidates, notwithstanding the veracity of some, can have as much impact on voters as the candidates' stands on issues.
As this is coming out at the end of the campaign trail, the article focuses on the narratives about the candidates who are now the main contenders in the presidential race as far as the recent surveys are concerned. These three were also the most written about in terms of their colorful, even checkered, personal stories.
The Anti-heroHe is the son of his parents; the one who will ensure that their legacies continue to live on. Noynoy Aquino's candidacy rode on the memory of the martyrdom of Benigno Aquino, Jr. and the presidency of Cory Aquino as well as her image as the icon of democracy, especially after she stepped down as president. It would become apparent however that this legacy narrative is not always desirable because not everyone has the same memory of what Cory Aquino's presidency bequeathed to the nation. Cory, in fact, became a more popular icon as citizen Cory when she joined rallies against perceived enemies of democracy, particularly those who wanted to change the Constitution for their self-serving political interests.
He is not to be trusted because of his elitist background; like his mother, he cannot escape the shadow cast by his class origin. Cory, a product of her hacendero class, failed as president to implement fundamental reforms that could have had life-changing impact for the Filipino masses. She exempted family-owned Hacienda Luisita from being subjected to agrarian reform, and chose as well to prioritize debt payment and deregulation at the expense of an economic policy that could have greatly improved the lot of impoverished Filipinos. The Hacienda Luisita fiasco would time and again haunt Cory, the Cojuangco-Aquino family and now Noynoy because of the farmers' continuing clamor for their right to own and till the land and to live a better life--a struggle that is marked by what is now called the Hacienda Luisita massacre. Blood is in Noynoy's hands, would be the cry of peasant organizations and critics of Noynoy even as Liberal Party's campaign leaders would defend that Hacienda Luisita is not Noynoy Aquino; that he owns a negligible share in it and his aunts and uncles have more influential voice in its Board.
What is in Noynoy's story then that has captured the imagination of voters? Again it is not Noynoy's narrative alone but the lifestory of his family. It is the image of a privileged family who also made sacrifices and was not immune to suffering like the rest of the populace that somehow balances the contradictions created by Noynoy's class origin and the legacy of unfulfilled promises of his mother's presidency. In the words of Noynoy during a recent rally in Manila: "My parents were my role models. They could have chosen to live a life of luxury, shut their eyes, played deaf, sealed their lips and forget that multitudes of Filipinos have been neglected. But no, they chose this path and made painful sacrifices."
In the tradition of our formulaic and archaic movie plot, can Noynoy resurrect the familiar hero who will turn his back from his family wealth, do backbreaking work in the farm, eat with his bare hands and live in a shanty on the edge of the rice fields to prove his commitment to the lowly rural maiden he fell in love with? Or maybe he doesn't fit the bill of this traditional hero; in a social novel, he is not even the politically correct hero and may yet be ascribed the role of antagonist because of his class background. He would probably be more like the anti-hero, the main protagonist in postmodern literature who is conflicted because of his imperfections and lack of traditional virtues that make a hero; he is allowed to be weak and is not expected to resolve alone the conflicts at the end of the story, because there is no end-of-the-story.
The rags-to-riches story written about Manny Villar belongs to the inspirational section of a publication. Villar's father was a government employee while his mother was an entrepreneur. Villar became a working student at the University of the Philippines while helping his mother in her shrimp dealing enterprise. He would successfully graduate and would even undertake higher studies; he would begin a career in the private sector where he would be employed by different companies in various capacities. Villar would become the country's housing industry leader, and the biggest homebuilder in Southeast Asia; he wouldn't just be a businessman but would help provide houses to low-middle class Filipinos through his mass housing projects. The story about his political career would be more substantial than that of Noynoy's, and his campaign would greatly hinge on his performance as lawmaker.
Villar's story however is marred by allegations of corruption; that his accumulation of wealth was not entirely based on "sipag at tiyaga" or devoid of political machinations, thereby casting doubts on the credibility of the rags-to-riches story. One may argue though that the narrative on Noynoy as the embodiment of hope and change has more serious flaws. Inspite of these significant flaws, in the minds of many (if the surveys are the main indicator), he is still seen as the one who can bring forth change, the trigger for breaking away from everything Gloria Macapagal Arroyo did and stood for, even if this is at the moment only in the realm of the symbolic. In dramas and other literary genres, symbols by virtue of their vagueness and susceptibility to a wide range of interpretations sometimes resonate more meaning to the audiences/readers coming from varying backgrounds than what are plain and apparent because therein lies the possibility for further creating meanings.
The Ruined Hero?
Joseph Estrada's drama had
long been written and played out before he became president in 1998. He was
already hero before he joined national politics. His political supporters were
already his movie followers. The presidency was the extension of the
silver screen where he could play out his role as the action hero, the defender
of the poor and the saviour of the weak. His most quotable statements as
president were in the tradition of his dialogues in movies. The most popular
ones that were often cited in news articles were "Huwag ninyo akong
subukan!" and "Walang kai-kaibigan!"; his famous campaign slogan
then was "Erap para sa mahirap" and now it is "Kung may Erap,
may ginhawa." He could not exactly claim to be poor or to come from a poor
family because they are well-off. The appeal of his story was that he can
be for the poor, he can act and speak like the poor, he can defend the poor and
share their aspirations. But this story was eclipsed by the bigger story
of his ouster from the presidency through a popular uprising--triggered by
corruption charges and his association with Marcos cronies--and his conviction