New icons of courage in Ukraine and the Philippines
When Volodymyr Zelenskyy triumphed in Ukraine’s “Dancing with the Stars” in 2006, few would have thought that he would continue to waltz himself to the pinnacle of political power.
Though he had graduated from law school at a university in Kyiv, his pivot to a different career path made him a household name, much to the consternation of his parents.
As part of Kvartal 95, an independent film company he had helped form, Zelenskyy produced, directed, and acted in the teleseries, “Servant of the People,” where he played the part of an absent-minded history professor catapulted to fame and the presidency, because his harangue against the government in the classroom became a viral video. Real life then imitates art as “Servant of the People” transforms into a political party.
Embodying the frustrations of his people after disastrous stints by elected leaders of his country, Zelenskyy becomes an “accidental candidate” who gains nearly three of every four votes in the presidential elections of April 21, 2019—an event that both Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump in his day failed to grasp fully.
Few perhaps know that Zelenskyy’s rise to the leadership of his country was anchored on his “character traits”: he is an avowed “workaholic” (yes, Lenlen, some people work 18 hours); he was always a team player, not a one-man stand-up comedian, he had imagination, and is an effective communicator. When the Russians attacked, among his first words were: “If you attack, you will see our faces, not our backs!” When missiles struck Kyiv, his response was to stand his ground and fight, believing that actions speak louder than words. When allies offered to evacuate him, his response was firm and terse: “We need ammunitions, not a ride!”
Zelenskyy has become an icon of courage.
In some small measure, it is perhaps a sign of our times that we have in our midst another “accidental” candidate who works all hours of day and night; someone who works with people from all sectors of society and is as tough as they come. “Babae ka, hindi babae lang!” perhaps sums up her mantra in this month traditionally dedicated to women. Previously, she had summed up her candidacy for vice president in 2016 amidst a nearly-all male cast with a memorable line: “The last man standing is a woman.”
In her rallies, she has made it a habit to read the homemade placards done by her inventive supporters: “Sa gobyernong tapat, may jowa lahat,” read to rousing laughter. In a recent Sampaloc rally in the university area, an FEU student put up a witty sign: “Tama-raw si Leni!” in reference to the FEU mascot and nearly endangered animal, the tamaraw. In Mindoro, the sign read: “Lugaw, hindi magnanakaw!” the rice porridge a reference to the supposed jibe from supporters of her rival, Marcos Jr., that her camp has adopted as a badge of honor.
In an amazing display of citizens’ chemistry, endorsements for her candidacy have come from different sectors: educators, university presidents, economists and former Neda workers, priests and laity, UST teachers, Christian Brothers, individual Jesuits and former Jesuits, framers of the 1987 Constitution, athletes, artists and poets, student leaders, former Cabinet members and retired military officials, among others.
What we are witnessing in our midst is the combined chemistry of hard work, team effort, and imagination spiced with a lot of wit.
It is courage combined with joy, something that our country needs as we awaken from a nightmare of a pandemic that never seems to end.
Asked the lessons of a life well-lived, the Kiwi peacemaker Kevin Clements quoted his father on his deathbed: courage, love, and hope!
As we reach the homestretch of this presidential campaign season, may each of us gain a bit more courage, more love even for those with opposite views, and hope that heals—even beyond these all-important elections.
Framer, 1987 Constitution
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