Wednesday, March 10, 2004

A touch of star quality
What if Evita Peron were to be reborn as the wife of a Philippine presidential candidate?

I was reading a story on Raul Roco’s daring the spouses of the presidential candidates to a debate when the above question hit me. I mulled over the appropriateness of the question for some time and I thought why not? We are coming close to electing an actor president for the second time and some sectors are worried that we may be heading toward a crisis similar to Argentina's. A little imagination, you see, can lead to the question. After all, Evita's battle cry was Spartacus's: " I will come back and I will be millions. . . !"

There have been germs of populism in our history, I think, but we never had someone like Evita to bring us populism in extremis.

Estrada, the closest to a populist president that we got, gorged on Petrus wine and popped Xenical to counter his gluttony. He had populist rhetoric, but he dropped it fast because he himself probably could not stomach his phoniness. Now, some supporters of FPJ are vaguely hinting on a class conflict when they refer to the elites and the middle classes' bias toward FPJ.

The success of Estrada, despite the virulent opposition of the Catholic Church and most of the upper classes, shows that we have a viable populist thread in our political culture that can be tapped to acquire power. FPJ hopes that the same populism buoy up his candidacy. Estrada and FPJ may like to sound and act populist, but they do not have the energy to sustain the charade.

Estrada, for example, dramatically opened Malacanang to people with requests and needs--for hospitalization,burial, tuition fees, etc. His staff entertained a long queu of people asking the president for help. But a stampede ensued and one died, and Estrada scrapped the whole idea altogether. Evita had the same long queus and, unlike Estrada, she personally was at the end of those queus granting the diverse requests of her descamisados. She entertained those queus as long as she was physically able to. Estrada's staff had one day of inconvenience and it decided to wrap up.

Exactly what is the of the point of this incoherent rant? I think our political culture has a germ of Peron-style populism. Our political history therefore has a great vacuum that is aching to be filled. Some people think the Philippines is long ripe for a class war. We just need someone with a sharp tongue and an ax to grind against the country's privileged. Evita was very good in instilling hate, resentment and indignation. She said that "just as some persons have a special tendency to feel beauty differently and more intensely, than do people in general, and therefore become poets or painters or musicians, I have a special inherent tendency to feel injustice with unusual and painful intensity."

So what if Eva Peron were to be reborn as the wife of a Philippine presidential candidate? Was it Lenin or Trotsky who said something about power just lying on the streets waiting to be picked up?

On second thought, Malacanang doesn't seem to have a good balcony. Well, a populist worth his or her salt can always improvise.

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