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Notes on the President’s generation

After he delivered his ho-hum State of the Nation Address (Sona), President Duterte had a musical interlude with the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, and croaked the lyrics of “Moon River.”

Something struck me about this: Here was a man who represented a particular subset of his Baby Boomer generation, the portion seemingly left untouched by the mid- to late-’60s trends of Rock n’ Roll, Flower Power, Free Love and (depending on who you ask, the verdict is mixed) Pot. Here was a man who knew not what it was like to have been a hippie.

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It reminded me further of a BBC documentary on easy listening music, the kind that included “Moon River” in its repertoire, which pointed out that much as the world remembers the ’60s as the era of the Elvis, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, album sales for easy listening actually swept aside sales for these acts back then. Here was the musical expression of the “silent majority” courted by Richard Nixon and Ferdinand Marcos in their war on John Lennon and the sexual revolution.

If the President’s inclined to belong to the Muzak cohort, he belongs to another cohort, too: the kind indicted by the Philippines Free Press in an editorial cartoon titled, “Teenage punks on the loose.” It shows a teenager, in a polo shirt, tight denims (what my generation would call “baston” cut) with the cuffs rolled up, and chukka boots, twirling a revolver in one hand, the other hand arrogantly in his pocket, breezily puffing on a cigarette as he emerges from the gates of a mansion, a chauffeur holding open the door to a big fancy American car. A portrait of the Baby Boomer taking to handguns and hooliganism, upper-class style. You find a preoccupation with this phenomenon in Nick Joaquin’s crime reportage from the era.

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Someone who belongs to this elite generation — and thus a cohort of the President who also belongs to this generation — once told me something that struck me: “In the late ’50s and ’60s, people forget we were getting quite violent. Every kid had a knife, and guns were popular. What saved us was Rock and Roll, Flower Power, Free Love and Pot. If we hadn’t become hippies, we would have become violent killers with a total sense of impunity.”

Nick Joaquin wrote a series of year-enders summarizing the societal trends and changes of those years. In one of them, (“The Nation: 1965”), he reflected: “The 1960s will go down in our history as the decade during which we finally got off the ground and saw everything with fresh eyes. The transition has been from earthbound to airborne, and is a transcending of the peasant.” By this he meant, “Ours has hitherto been an earthbound peasant-oriented society. Our values were peasant values; our attitudes, peasant attitudes. It’s not merely sentimentality that impels us (the politicians especially) to glorify the peasant and profess an obsession over his lot; we think thus to preserve the peasant society which is a static society, because we long for security. But the revolution we are now engaged in is against peasantness: against routine meekness, resignation, fatalism and provincialism. To change, we have to kill the peasant in us, because it is the peasant mentality that has kept us earthbound, mean and poor through the ages.”

The President, it seems, though getting into his own scrapes and with his fair share of truancy, didn’t go through the hippie stage. A photo exists of him glaring at the camera, with the same rolled-up denims and chukka boots as shown in the editorial cartoon. So today, he represents what his cohort would have been like, if they knew not John Lennon. The generational impulse toward knives, then guns and impunity went unchecked. It was thus logical for him to admire Marcos, whom Adrian Cristobal described as follows: “[H]e sees himself as the great tribal chief, the Datu of pre-Spanish times. He destroyed much of the old network of family and regional loyalties to become the one and only patron, the king of Maharlika…”

Where there are datus, or rajahs, there must be peasants, there must be a static order. For how can you glory in supremacy if you are subject to evolution, which sooner or later discards chiefdoms and serfdom? Nick Joaquin chronicled, in 1966, how the Beatles were run out of town: “How could they not flop in a land which only wants not to be disturbed, not to change, not to be shocked? Having made a career of outrageousness, they have taken for granted that any audience that asks for them is asking to be outraged. If they made a mistake in Manila, the mistake is flattering to us: they assumed we were in the same league. But they were Batman in Thebes.”

Which is why, for decades, Manila was solely Nostalgia Circuit for overaged acts.

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TAGS: Baby Boomer generation, Duterte's generation, Flower Power, hippies, Manuel L. Quezon III, Rodrigo Duterte, The Long View
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