P-Noy and an explosion of yearning
An explosion of yearning triggered by the death of Benigno Aquino III is searing many Filipinos. Ten days later the flood of memory remains intense, almost like the susurrus of emotion that descended when his mother departed this vale of tears in August 2009, or the wave of rage that drenched those who initially got wind of his father’s murder in August 1983 — the blood spurting and soaking the white homecoming outfit that the bereaved family decided to keep on the corpse until it dried, to display the unspeakable crime that had been committed—and who were eventually driven to break their chains.
A public yearning for lost and suddenly remembered virtues is abetting the sorrow of kith and kin over his death, an ending so seemingly abrupt (yet long foretold by various afflictions) that it startled even his close friends.
The avalanche of reminiscences is keeping trolls busy making hay while the sun of P-Noy’s extinction shines. The yearning for all that are now so absent is manifested by a constituency that experienced respect, and, it being so available (for example, no blaring sirens to escort a supposed very important passage) and fundamental (no fierce bloodletting in the streets, no police-military raiders to come in the dead of night for those who speak out), took it for granted until it was lost.
Lost: In the current tenor of your life, you’d think you were Britney Spears trapped in her father’s conservatorship.
There’s no quibbling that there’s much to remember about this president. The family history is more dramatic than most and is, by virtue of the parents and son, now inextricably linked to the annals of leadership. But the son was not without his distinct qualities despite the differences often pointed out between his father and himself: the charisma of the father, say, or the marvelous gift of gab that, one memorable night in the dictatorship, flummoxed Marcos man Ronnie Nathanielsz in a rare television one-on-one. (Never did such an aired encounter between Benigno Aquino Jr., who endured solitary confinement among other forms of mental torture, and any other member of Marcos martial rule happen again.)
P-Noy held his own in public appearances, showing up in proper attire befitting his lofty post and thereby communicating respect for those seeing and hearing him. In his formal addresses he spoke in clear and eloquent Filipino, in language that had no need for crudity or expletive to shock and awe. In less formal settings he spoke in English, again unadorned by, say, a potty-mouth discourse said to be President Duterte’s “style” and apparently intended to provoke fear and trembling.
Symbols are appreciated still, even in this age of the quick and the dead. P-Noy filled that need despite the lapses that marked his presidency: Lean and moving in an easy lope, he presented himself at the nation’s service, the people’s go-to guy, as it were, projecting onto the national sphere the family role thrust to him when he was 13 (as though the father knew even then what lay ahead): guardian and defender of his mother and four sisters. Did the burden—for burden it was, approximating what Hercule Poirot called “that shouting voice in the head,” despite the love that endowed the task and the acceptance of it—mark him for always, making him at once present and solitary?
For all that, and even with a bullet lodged in his neck from when putschists tried to dislodge his mother from Malacañang — a number were killed in that attempt; whether restitution has been made is uncertain—he applied himself to the job. He was an attentive paterfamilias in the private and public spheres. His “Aquinomics” and peace efforts were laurel-worthy. His legacy is sufficiently sturdy for others to build on, perhaps even poach.
Former senator Sonny Trillanes was succinct in his estimation of the man’s integrity: “Hindi nagnakaw ang presidenteng ito.”
But P-Noy was imprisoned by his class, a man who liked driving Porsches and who couldn’t bring himself to, say, pay respects to someone he didn’t know but he as national symbol should show up for. At the Inquirer Multimedia meet in September 2015, he was asked: Would you have run for president if you knew then what you know now? Or did you think the presidency was your destiny?
His reply was quick though indirect and included his “feeling like Don Quixote tilting at windmills.” But he made his point, recalling his mother saying: If I could have done something and I passed up the chance, then I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself.
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