Requiem for the symbol
Five years ago, there was an impassioned outburst of national emotions. Cory Aquino had just died on Aug. 1. Requiem Masses were held throughout the country. Flags were flown at half-staff. Erstwhile foes praised her as the “mother of the nation,” a “national treasure.”
Leaders abroad paid tribute to her. Then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev extolled her as the name “associated with the democratic transformation of Filipino society.” Then Timor Leste President Jose Ramos Horta saluted as her coffin was placed in her tomb. From Buckingham Palace came the message of “sincere condolences to the people of the Philippines,” signed Elizabeth R.
But it was the voice of the ordinary people that resonated the most. A million Filipinos brought her to her grave. The imagery of tribute played on the emotions more so at the sight of the honor guards, one each from the four branches of the armed services, surrounding her bier on that now-familiar flatbed truck, standing at attention. Eight hours later, they were still ramrod straight when the procession finally reached Manila Memorial Park. It was a moment of pomp the people desired for their national icon on that day of mourning.
Facebook and Twitter accounts posted yellow ribbons in tribute. Some quarters in the Philippine Catholic world started calls to have her declared a saint. The momentum did not stop when days after her funeral, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas announced it will put Cory Aquino’s image on the new 500-peso banknotes.
It was a tremendous font of national symbolism. Cory, in death, became a rallying point not just for reform but also for unity. Even Bongbong and Imee Marcos condoled. Nene Pimentel described the nation as “forever indebted to Cory for rallying the nation in restoring democracy.” The discourses were rife with rich symbolisms.
In 2009, her son Noynoy Aquino did not have any eye for the presidency. He was not even near anyone’s radar as a possible candidate. But by September, when the filing of candidacies drew near, the Cory symbol had not declined. And the popular imagination was pushing in intensity toward the 2010 presidential election. Noynoy read the people correctly. On Sept. 9, he announced his candidacy. It was unprecedented. The son had no outstanding track record to show as congressman or senator. But in moments of intense national emotions, the power of a symbol to construct public meanings cannot be underestimated.
When the son was inaugurated as president at the Luneta, two catch phrases reverberated across the nation. “Kayo ang boss ko” and “Daang matuwid.” More than transference, the Cory symbol was being enfleshed. Not a few believed Noynoy would be a sincerely honest president. The popularity ratings were a continuum of the symbol Cory was. Here at last was an honest president giving hope that the unhappy environment the people had become accustomed to with his two immediate predecessors had finally reached a happy closure.
And then came the Disbursement Acceleration Program.
How in the world can Cory’s son take lightly the Constitution that she herself had instituted in rallying for democratic transformation? The disconnect was too hard to comprehend. And now that the bosses are talking, the servant refuses to hear any from them. To say it is a letdown for the people is an understatement. It is simply incredible, albeit a highly legal issue supposedly too obscure for the ordinary person in the street to comprehend, but comprehend it alright they do. Because it is about their money and it is about the man they installed in Malacañang, who spoke their language of reform.
For it is not difficult to understand that the people want a president who does not lie and does not cause scandals in office.
Symbolism is more than public perception. Symbols rally a people. As P-Noy was right to read the meaning of that symbol when he decided to run for president, he now fails to read its power just two years before he departs from office. By being disingenuous with the symbolic power his icon mother transferred to him, P-Noy killed what had in fact propelled his presidency. By misreading the meaning of that symbol, he has squandered his place in history.
In the 14th Congress, Sen. Noynoy Aquino was the principal author of Senate Bill No. 3121, “The Budget Impoundment Control Act” which sought to limit the discretionary powers of the president to realign and defer releases of funds. Borrowing from the words of that bill, it sought to prohibit the president from “usurping Congress’ power of the purse.” P-Noy lies through his teeth when he says he implemented the DAP in good faith.
He would have been the first Philippine president to disavow transactional politics. He would have been the first Philippine president to punish wrongdoing in his Cabinet. He would have been the first Philippine president to rise from the idiocy of constantly lying to the people.
Instead, he has joined the gang of perceived thieves.
The symbol, a collective property of the Filipino people, is dead.
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