What a year. We have a presidential candidate set to win by a landslide who is much-loved for his celebrity, is widely renowned for his lack of substance and has so far exhibited mediocre if not substandard statesmanship. I wasn’t talking about 2010, by the way. I was talking about 1998 — the year Joseph Estrada was elected President of the Philippines. Well, ok, we may as well talk about 2010 then. This is what makes punditry on Pinoy politics so easy. Its quaint sameness allows for much efficiency. There is really not much difference between (a) the two Filipino politicians that mark those two years and (b) the nature of the popular sentiment that determined the outcomes of the elections in those years.
As I’ve shown above it takes only three points to describe Noynoy and Erap in one go:
– lack of substance
– substandard statesmanship
A recent development adds a fourth item to the list of fundamental characteristics that describe Erap and Noynoy — both refuse to participate in political debates. Well, you gotta admire men who choose their battles. They at least exhibit the foresight to reckon which ones they are likely to make fools of themselves in. In Noynoy’s case, his refusal to engage in debate and face his detractors squarely is politically astute. He doesn’t need to subject himself to the risk of doing so. The hollow-headed zealotry of his followers has pretty much secured his victory this coming May.
Indeed, while it takes three or four points to describe the men of 1998 and 2010, it takes only one point to describe their constituencies:
– starstruck ignoramuses
As the turn-of-the-century Filipino philosopher Anastacius say in his bestselling Treatise on Pinoy Starstruck Ignoramity:
You are a nation of star-struck ignoramuses. You are easily awed by your movie stars who are usually nothing but uneducated, aquiline-nosed and light-skinned ******** picked up from some gutter somewhere. I have seen what these artistas illusionadas can get away with. They just flash their capped-tooth smiles and policemen let them get away with traffic violations; they bat their false eyelashes and customs officers impose no duty on their suspicious balikbayan boxes.
Worst of all, with the Filipino movie industry taking a nosedive, hordes of actors and show personalities went into politics. It is, as they say, the next best “racket”-there is more money to be made in the politicking business than in show business! (And what is this I hear that in the coming elections, more are jumping into the arena? Mag-hara-kiri na kayo!) How can you expect these comedians and actors, who only know how to take directions from their directors, to direct your nation? For them,politics will just be an “act”. No big surprise here, for they are mere actors with no original scripts to speak, no original visions to share. So what can you expect but a government that is a comedy of errors. Serves you and your star- struck nation right!
One difference between 1998 and 2010 that I concede is that 1998 was the year of the triumph of the Jolog-masa, while 2010 will be the triumph of the Starbucks-masa. Yet in both cases, it is still the same starstruckness that underpins things — the same philosophy of misguided popular sentiment. Noted Inquirer columnist Conrado de Quiros pretty much captures the vacuous vision of popular sentiment that characterises 2010’s masa:
At the very most, without GMA there, the sun will come out in the sky, the birds will sing in the trees, and the people will dance in the streets. Without GMA there, people, particularly poets and musicians, will stop dying of cancer, the lame will walk, the deaf will hear, the blind will see, and only those who can carry a tune will be allowed to sing in a karaoke. Without GMA there, the earth and sea and air will flourish and flow and murmur words of love, milk and honey will inundate the land in lieu of floods, and hope and generosity will spring from people’s hearts like oil spitting out from the sockets of the earth.
Indeed, it is a peachy vision of the future built upon the choice scapegoat of a people gripped by a debilitating victim mentality. To be fair to Erap, he did not run on an oust-the-incumbent pitch but actually built his value proposition of a presidency that the marginalised majority of Filipinos could identify with. What does Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III offer to his latte-sipping constituency in the way of a vision for the 2010 to 2016 Philippine National Government? I don’t really know. But this much I observed:
Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III is a presidential candidate that enjoys cult status. His supporters are drawn to him on the basis of a largely (if not entirely) emotional appeal. As such, like most cult figures Noynoy commands a following of exceptional virulence. His followers act in an emotionally charged manner and are quick to judge those who are seen to be not “one of them”. One of them. Sounds a bit ominous, doesn’t it?
What then does it mean to be “one of them”?
Ironically, this is the question that most infuriates Aquino’s supporters. Because when one attempts to answer this question, one finds that there is nothing to work with.
Erap pitched his bid for the presidency in 1998 on his cult status. This year, 2010, Noynoy Aquino makes his bid on his parents’ cult status. In a perverse sort of way, both men individually encapsulate the sad story that is the history of Philippine society.