There’s the Rub

‘About Time’

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Only Cory Aquino did better, not just appearing in Time Magazine but on the cover of Time Magazine. Indeed, not just appearing on the cover of Time Magazine but appearing there five times. The first in February 1986 after the Edsa Revolution, the second (along with Doy Laurel) in March 1986 in a cover story titled, “Now for the hard part,” third in January 1987 as Time’s “Woman of the Year,” fourth in November 2006 as one of “60 Asian Heroes,” and fifth in August 2009 after her death as “The woman who changed Asia.”

P-Noy did appear on Time’s cover too—once, in April 2010, but only as a matter of speculation, or expectation. The caption read, “Can Noynoy save the Philippines?” Time answered its own question this week by including him among the 100 most influential people in the world in the Leaders category. There were five categories, the other four being Titans, Artists, Pioneers and Icons. He was No. 2, behind Rand Paul, senator from Kentucky, and in front of Barack Obama.

Not a bad deal for mother and son whose common trait was a tremendous reluctance to run for president even as the world bid them to. Truly, there’s something profoundly mythical, or Biblical, or magic-realist about this country.

Arguably, P-Noy’s impact on the world is not quite on a par with his mother’s, but he has three more years to come near it. Particularly by nurturing the sickest man of Asia to full health, particularly by making this country great again, the latter being the one thing Ferdinand Marcos vowed to do but did the opposite of.  Can Noynoy save the Philippines? Well, as far as saving it from Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo goes, he has already done so. As far as not just saving it but transforming it goes, who knows? He may do it yet.

Arguably too, Time’s perspective is resolutely American. P-Noy’s accomplishments that Time singles out are his successful steering of the reproductive health bill through Congress and his defiance of China over the Spratlys.

The first is truly huge for a country whose religious, if not moral, life continues to be ruled with an iron fist by a Catholic Church straight from the Dark Ages. Or from its local counterpart, which is the time of the friars. It was Fidel Ramos’ misfortune that he wasn’t a Catholic and could therefore be depicted by that Church as going against mainstream beliefs. P-Noy is so, and has a mother to boot, whose Catholic piety was beyond question. Despite the Church’s excoriations of him, including veiled threats of excommunication, P-Noy held his ground and RH became law.

No one had dared challenge the Church before on issues like this, and won. Yes, the RH is quite an accomplishment in itself.

The second however is not without a self-serving aspect for the United States. While P-Noy’s refusal to grovel before China and efforts to rally the other Asean countries to his side are a forceful show of independence, it can also be interpreted, and has been interpreted in Asian circles, as a not very forceful show of the Philippines’ lack of independence from America. If not a forceful show of the country’s continuing perception of itself as America’s sidekick in Asia. Reinforced by the open calls of our Department of Foreign Affairs for America, in the form of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to intervene in the dispute.

Indeed, reinforced by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin’s recent batty proposal that we should allow US bases back into our soil in the event North Korea provokes war in the region. What on earth for? The better to shove us in the line of fire?

If Time had wanted to see a true accomplishment in statesmanship, it should have looked at P-Noy’s response to the Sabah crisis. That was real statesmanship. Despite the ranting of the usual suspects that he was being anti-Filipino by not throwing in his lot with the raiders of the lost mark, he condemned it for being the anti-Filipino thing it was, going as it did against the grain of Filipino interests, particularly the peace talks, and against the democratic principle of sovereignty lying not in a piece of yellowed paper but in the will of a people.

Just as well, if Time had wanted to see true accomplishment in leadership, it should have looked at either one of two things or both. The first is the spectacular rousing of the country from its economic stupor, a thing noted and heralded by the world. At a time when much of that world is reeling from all sorts of financial troubles, sending some countries crashing to the ground, the Philippines is soaring to unexpected heights. Refuting once and for all the notion that you can’t eat decency, you can’t eat clean government. In fact, those are about the only things you can eat.

The second is the pushing back of corruption, if not to the edge of the sea at least toward it. Corruption has by no means been eliminated, there is Customs, for one, to show it remains very much alive and kicking. But

P-Noy’s earnestness in waging his campaign against it has driven home in the minds of the public the possibility that it can be done, corruption can be curbed, corruption can be stopped. That in the end is P-Noy’s claim to being recognized as a world-class leader, that he has forged a new way of doing things in government, that he has created a new mood among the people, that he has, by being perfectly willing to follow the people, his “Boss,” succeeded in leading them.

All of which, of course, raises the all-important question of what happens after he goes, which is just three years from now. And with the horizon offering only the bleakest streaks of the gray. But I’ll leave that for another time. Right now, let’s just revel a bit in the honor the country’s, well, leader has just brought it.

And say: About Time.

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