MANILA, Philippines—For a couple of strange days, she was the girl everybody wanted to know. But all the Filipino people had was a photo and a short video. All they knew was that she was the date of the most powerful person in the land. They would later come to know that her name is Bunny Calica, a teacher. And she learned that dating the president of the Philippines is not easy, as it will never be easy for anyone.
All that President Benigno Aquino had wanted was a good night out with a friend—in a reunion concert of the band Hotdog—but he discovered that there was no eluding the all-encompassing attention of the Filipino media. When the image of the President sitting at a table with a pretty face got around the next day, the President’s men at Malacañang tried to evade the questions, which only further stoked interest in the mystery woman. The scrutiny was almost supernatural, and Ms Calica found herself on front pages, her name now included in the short list of single women who had been seen with Mr. Aquino.
As always, Mr. Aquino thornily faced down the inquiries, refusing to answer questions about his date. “That is my business, and if I can answer it this way, perhaps I can be treated as an ordinary man,” he said when asked about it a few days later. “That matter is private. I feel that many times my rights have been diminished. It is too much to explain.”
This was not the first time President Aquino had dealt with the bizarre balance of being the President of the Philippines and being a bachelor, in fact, the only single person to be elected so. He is history in motion. Media and the public have been enthralled by any kind of looming change in Mr. Aquino’s romantic status quo from day one—something that he seems to actively despise. He just doesn’t seem to get it.
Once and for all, he himself has to come to terms with the fact that his private life is really public property. Whether he likes it or not, his every outing with a female friend will be reported in print, on TV and on the Internet. Every one of his possible and, hopefully, actual girlfriends will be researched and written about. But it isn’t because the public begrudges him a private life. He has to understand that the scrutiny comes with the job, and that it is not all sharp-toothed gossip. A great many among those who follow his love life are concerned for him as well as genuinely excited by his prospects.
It’s not too far removed from the combination of adulation and nosiness that came attached to the British royal couple Prince William and Kate Middleton shortly before and certainly during their wedding at Westminster Abbey. Should Mr. Aquino choose to marry during his time in office, it would be the biggest wedding in recent Philippine history, and undoubtedly it will be met with incredible interest as well as media coverage down to the tiniest detail and most mundane element.
In the meantime, the President just has to run the country and eke out as well some measure of a social life, taking in the occasional movie and the rarest of dates. In the scant times that he has spoken about this, it is clear that he actually seems to understand part of the reason behind the scrutiny—he just rejects that reason outright.
At the most, it is willfully belligerent and at the very least, greatly disingenuous for him to expect that he could be elected by a landslide to chart the country’s future without constantly being under the microscope of an entire society. “As you know I am still single. If I ever get a chance to go out on a date, it seems that I have invited the entire Filipino people to join me on that date,” Mr. Aquino said. “And I wonder who gave them the right, and why I am apologizing to whoever had the misfortune of joining me in that circus.”
That circus came with the people’s vote. President Aquino must accept, it comes with the job—and take it to heart that, despite how it may initially seem, all the Filipinos are actually rooting for him to find lasting love.
He will never be an ordinary man again, and while there is a level of privacy accorded even to his romances, it is limited by the fact that he is president. The people have the right to know whom he is going out with and whoever goes out with him. They have the right to know who their next First Lady may be. Mr. Aquino will just have to accept the massive burden of a country wanting to know everything about him for all the remaining strange days of his presidency.
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