What a difference a tear makes
You knew that at the end of the day, few would remember much of what he said. They were only going to remember that he cried. And found redemption in it.
The people who texted to say they found P-Noy’s fifth State of the Nation Address boring—alongside a crowd that said they found it glorious—must have been watching a different movie. Or they were the kind to say football was boring compared to basketball, which offered a-thrill-a-minute of impossible shots. P-Noy’s last speech burst with drama, except that quite apart from the ending where he choked on emotion and his voice broke, it was of the subtle kind. And far the more heightened for it.
Quite ironically, one of those dramatic moments came not from what P-Noy said but from what he did not say. He did not say anything about the Disbursement Acceleration Program, or at least not much about it. Other than to refer to the fact that the Supreme Court having ruled out the DAP, government was going to seek a supplemental budget for much-needed programs and projects. It was a conciliatory gesture, a retreat of an acceptable kind.
The message it sent was that government would henceforth do things by agreement and not by unilateral decision, by cooperation and not by confrontation, by constitutional processes and not personal ones. Which of course made you wonder why they didn’t discover the tack in the first place and had to create the problem called the DAP. The argument that government needed to skirt, dance around, or openly flout budget rules to do good for the people begged the question of why it couldn’t get the same result by consultation, cooperation and consensus. A question I had been asking repeatedly.
The absence of presidential belligerence on something the President had been willing to go to war for only a week ago threw a monkey wrench into the plans of everyone who proposed to protest it. I myself was taken aback by it, I had just told a TV host an hour or so earlier I expected him to tackle the DAP, I just didn’t know with what tack and tone. I was vastly relieved that he did not tackle it at all. I had always said the DAP was an argument P-Noy could not win.
Which was what made for the drama: It gave me the sensation of P-Noy having just stepped back from the precipice. The larger problem with the DAP was that beyond its legal ramifications, it had become an issue of democracy versus autocracy, constitutionalism versus authoritarianism. The logic of government needing to violate the Constitution to do good for the people went beyond an argument for the DAP, it presented an argument for authoritarianism. It said that authoritarianism was the far more effective way of doing things. If you had someone you could trust, then you could trust him to do away with such niceties as the Constitution, bureaucratic legal process, and time-consuming checks and balances—particularly given that the Supreme Court itself harbored rogues in regal robes—and the country would be better for it.
It said that a benign despot was worlds better than a benighted libertarian. That is a most dangerous argument. That was the precipice P-Noy stepped back from.
Just as well, completely poetically, P-Noy unfurled the drama of rediscovering roots.
P-Noy’s strength has always lain with all the intimations, connotations and reverberations in that line, “Pag walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” In the beginning, that highlighted his moral ascendancy, his origins as the son of Cory and Ninoy, his reluctance to seek the presidency, his personal honesty (whatever you accused him of, you could not accuse him of corruption), his resolve to lead a government that would uplift the lot of the people.
Over time, that took on the aspect of being a good economic manager as well, with the country attaining record rates of growth, refuting his predecessor’s carp about morality not being something people could eat. It was the second part of the equation, to which P-Noy himself drew attention during the World Economic Forum for East Asia, asserting that it was his very moral policy of attempting to push back corruption that had led to the very economic result of sparking prosperity.
Those two points occupied last Monday’s Sona. The first part of it, indeed the bulk of it, was an enumeration of government’s accomplishments—to a microscopic fault (some of it could have been left out). But which did much to sell the pitch that here was a government that for all its setbacks, for all its stumbling, for all the mess it has gotten into, much of it of its own making, is one that has done, and is doing, things for the people. A government that has earned the trust of its people, P-Noy himself put it, reveals the stuff of reform. The arguable change from where the country was not too long ago certainly makes a case for it.
And then came the reaffirmation of P-Noy’s—if not his people’s, there will always be a distance between the two—moral core. The part where he did this was toward the end when he spoke of the people entrusting him with the work of transforming things, of making their lives a little bit better. Probably remembering that he had been loath to run at the start, he said that shirking that challenge, or demand, would have been like turning his back on his parents, scorning their dreams, betraying his legacy. It was an emotional moment, and P-Noy for the first time in public turned emotional.
He had just stepped back from the precipice, he had just rediscovered roots, he had gone back to the beginning, in a place that resembled home, in a place that felt like home, in a place that was home, and the one person people had accused of lacking empathy, of not feeling the way his people felt, found his voice cracking. Before he was through, he shed a tear.
And that made all the difference.
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