Feeling the pulse at Plaza Miranda
MANILA, Philippines - If the city of Manila were a living body, Quiapo would be its heart. People and vehicles flow in and out of its busy streets like blood cells racing to their destination. And at the nucleus of all the activity is Plaza Miranda – a rather small public space by today’s supersized standards, but significant nonetheless for its political and religious symbolism.
I joined the Rappler news team on Tuesday, February 12, to cover the proclamation rally of Team PNoy – that’s the name of the coalition that groups together the Liberal Party (LP), the Nacionalista Party (NP), Akbayan Party and several guest candidates.
Like everything in Quiapo, the proclamation rally was an assault on the senses. The heat bouncing off the pavement, the crush of bodies pushing their way toward the narrow entrance, the sound of horns and drums, and the colorful campaign posters all serve to remind you that you are, in fact, at the center of the political pulse.
It’s no surprise why the Liberal Party and Team PNoy chose Plaza Miranda. On Aug 21, 1971, unidentified men threw two grenades onto the stage of a Liberal Party proclamation rally. Nine died and many were seriously injured, including the LP’s top senatorial bets. In the aftermath, LP candidates swept the Senate polls that year while many Marcos candidates lost.
As I stepped into the plaza, I wondered whether the LP was trying to court a similar fate. It did strike me that security was visibly lacking in the public spaces. Despite the mass of police and VIP body guards, I felt no safer than if I were in Megamall. Thankfully, except for a minor accident, nothing untoward happened.
On stage, the country's top leaders assembled. Former rivals sat side by side. Visibly present was Sen Manny Villar who, just 4 years ago, had fought the campaign of his life against the Liberal Party. He now sat in the second row but did not look the least bothered by it.
From my viewpoint at the bottom of the stage, I could see every facial expression or body twitch of the candidates. It was like watching a theater production with every artist having their 8-minute solo performance.
Team PNoy's proclamation rally unfurled without much of the usual fanfare that makes up Philippine political campaign sorties. Except for rather subdued song numbers, there were only campaign speeches and short video advertisements. No back-up dancers, no fiery speeches, and (thankfully) no “Gangnam Style” jingles.
Even President Benigno Aquino III’s speech seemed rather tame compared to his earlier campaign speeches in 2010. The President gave his usual spiel about the ills of the past administration with scandals fueled by graft and corruption. He also extolled the dawn of a better tomorrow under his watch – 6.6% GDP growth, universal PhilHealth coverage, and a looming peace agreement.
He then endorsed each candidate with flattering words reminiscent of the team’s campaign ad. He ended by saying he was confident his team would still win in 2016.
To wrap up the evening, Noel Cabangon led the crowd in singing “Ako'y Isang Mabuting Pilipino.” Unlike 1971, the only bang that ended the night came from confetti guns.
While I am not one to romanticize the past, it seems we really live in a different time. Plaza Miranda on Tuesday night still had the same color and energy that comes with every campaign.
But it was clear from the speeches of the candidates, the bright lights, and the TV cameras that they were speaking to the audience beyond the plaza, at home or at work watching their TVs or tuned in to their social networks.
And when it was over, the supporters -- who had come out in droves -- quickly emptied the plaza, leaving plenty of trash around for Quiapo’s scavengers and street children to recover.
Next door, the bells tolled and churchgoers filed in for the regular 7:00 pm mass, seemingly oblivious to what just transpired moments ago.
Yes, some things haven’t changed at all. – Rappler.com
Zak Yuson is a producer and partnership manager at Rappler. He was formerly with the Presidential Management Staff as a foreign policy analyst. He likes noticing things few others see.