MANILA, Philippines – Halang ang bituka, kapit-tuko, utak-alimango. The words Filipinos used to just hear on the streets have become part of presidential parlance. Benigno Aquino III, once reportedly described as a diffident and unassertive man, toughens up on the podium in year two of his term.
And why not? PNoy’s had a full plate this year: two impeachments, a nemesis’ near flight, 19 fallen soldiers, and to cap it all off, Sendong. For every controversy, he tried to respond with strong soundbites spoken in colloquial, folksy Filipino. PNoy develops his command of the language and builds his own brand of speech, Aquino-esque.
PNoy’s sounds and fury, though, reveal more than just his cadence and word choice. His statements this year tell us a whole lot more about his leadership, his personality, and this presidency under pressure.
Critics, stand back. Hear him roar:
1. On governance: “Tinutuldukan na po natin ang wang-wang: sa kalsada, sa gobyerno, sa kalakhang lipunan.” (We are ending the siren mentality: on the streets, in government and in society as a whole.)
In SONA 2011, PNoy harped on the metaphor he has been using ad nauseam since his inauguration: the wang-wang. He brings out the siren to refer to all that his government stands against: abusive and corrupt leadership marked by a sense of entitlement.
Yet in just a few months, it was this very same line used to attack him but with a twist.
Utak bang-bang (gun mentality) was the chorus of critics who disagreed with his defense of his political adviser whose AK-47 was discovered in a car that figured in an accident. Despite the explanation on his alter ego’s death threats, several lawmakers and pundits believed the incident smacked of double standards. The KKK (Kaibigan, Kaklase, Kabarilan) issue rears its ugly head again, somewhat silencing the wang-wang rhetoric.
2. On disasters: “Mahirap talagang maging manananggal na kalahating katawan ko dadalaw, kalahati hindi.” (It’s really hard to split myself into two, half of my body will visit and half will not.)
PNoy is well aware of the presidential dilemma that comes after every disaster. He ranted about being torn between doing photo-ops and letting concerned agencies do their jobs in the aftermath of typhoons Pedring and Quiel in October.
It’s a tough balancing act that came to a head in Sendong. The president’s silence and his presence in a Christmas party were a deadly combination. When he finally spoke and visited flood-hit areas, some observers felt it was too little, too late. Journalists and bloggers point out that when a president speaks in times of calamity, it’s not always grandstanding. The how, when, and why are a test of leadership.
3. On the Basilan clash: “We will not pursue all-out war; we will instead pursue all-out justice.”
The death of 19 soldiers in Basilan last October overshadowed PNoy’s historic Tokyo meet with leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The commander-in-chief rejected calls for an all-out war with the MILF, instead opting to run after the perpetrators.
The reaction was split. Many cried for blood and attacked what they perceived was his soft stance. Some journalists, analysts and peace advocates commended the president’s sober response, and called for probes into the military’s lapses.
4. On impeachments: “Malinaw po ang katotohanan: Si Ginoong Corona ay itinalaga sa Korte Supreme hindi bilang alagad ng katarungan, kundi bilang alagad ni Ginang Arroyo.” (The truth is clear: Mr. Corona was appointed to the Supreme Court not as an instrument of justice, but as a disciple of Mrs. Arroyo.)
While Aquino refuses a war with rebels, he goes all out in his crusade versus two officials his allies impeached: former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and Chief Justice Renato Corona.
The impeachment dramas yielded many lessons. First, what the president wants, the president can definitely get. Second, PNoy doesn’t hesitate to name, shame and try his enemies in public. Third, he is dead serious about his anti-corruption crusade. The verdict is still out on Corona and the means the president uses to win this war. What some call bullying and railroading others label political will.
5. On Arroyo: “Personal talaga sa akin ang paggawa ng tama” but also “Hindi ko ho pine-personal ito.” (“Doing the right thing is something I really take personally” but also “I am not taking this personally.”)
During the SONA and after barring his predecessor from leaving, PNoy gives mixed messages on his drive (some say obsession) to prosecute Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Whether it’s personal or business, what’s clear is the president is willing to flex political muscles to get the deed done.
Under PNoy, Arroyo became the second Philippine president in recent history to get charged and arrested – all in a day. Much of his political capital is at stake in the legal battle to uphold the arrest warrant and to get a conviction.
6. On the Marcos burial: “It would really be the height of injustice to render any honors on the person who was the direct mastermind of all the suffering of the martial law victims. I am not sanctioning [state honors] — not under my watch.”
PNoy put an end to the Marcos burial debate in a forum with the foreign press but many asked what took him so long. He initially evaded deciding due to bias, passed on the task to Vice President Jejomar Binay, only to make a stand in the end.
Sen. Bongbong Marcos lashed out at PNoy and called the Binay survey a zarzuela. Anti-Marcos groups welcomed the president’s decisiveness but wish it came sooner rather than later.
7. On the RH bill: “Should I attempt to mimic an ostrich that buries the head in the sand when I’ll be asked by God at some point in time, ‘What did you do to the least of my brethren?'”
As in the Marcos burial, it took PNoy time to come around on the reproductive health bill. During the campaign, he was the most vocal on legislation, although he prefers the term “responsible parenthood.” This year, the bill was included in his priority measures.
The delay resulted from PNoy’s initial intention to appease the Catholic Church but talks failed without a compromise in sight. After his ostrich and excommunication statements, he finally stood his ground. Another campaign promise, the Freedom of Information bill, is still in limbo.
8. On Spratlys: “Ang sa Pilipinas ay sa Pilipinas; kapag tumapak ka sa Recto Bank, para ka na ring tumapak sa Recto Avenue.” (What is ours is ours; setting foot on Recto Bank is no different from setting foot on Recto Avenue.)
Here’s an issue where PNoy is consistent and unequivocal. Refusing to kowtow to China, he delivered this line in the SONA and called it a message to the world. In 2011, the Philippines began naming the South China Sea as “West Philippine Sea.” Manila also filed a series of diplomatic protests against Beijing before the United Nations.
Going up against an emerging global superpower, this president won’t be bullied.
9. On playing video games, “I’m also human. I feel kind of insulted when I’m asked to disprove a non-event.”
PNoy is a candid source and a good sport on most days. The day he is asked about reportedly playing video games during the Manila hostage crisis isn’t one of those. In previous interviews and statements, he also clarified that he has never played a PSP and even “burns the midnight oil.”
He may be piqued but questions on his work ethic persist. The best reply to allegations of laziness, however, isn’t an answer but performance.
10. On his love life, “It’s like Coca-Cola … before it was ‘regular’ then it became ‘light.’ Now, it’s ‘zero.'”
PNoy is a master of self-deprecation, especially when talking about his bachelorhood. His Coke joke is so memorable it’s on the list of media quotable quotes of the year. Not satisfied, he made a follow-up at a Christmas party and told a journalist asking about his love life, “Unlike poverty, it’s not being addressed.”
This president has a sense of humor, that’s good to know. The flipside is that he complains about media intrusion when he repeatedly brings up the topic anyway. He asked, “Who invited the public to our date?” Ummm… with the way you talk about romance, Mr. President, you did.
Consistency, discretion and cheap talk
So what makes Aquinospeak? A bit of charisma, some bold words, and a lot of candor. But since he’s into popular sayings, we might as well give him one: Talk is cheap.
When PNoy is consistent and clear not just with his phrases but also his policy, he effectively wields the power of the word. When he waffles and baffles, even the best Filipino idioms fail.
This is a president who speaks his mind and can do it well. More than sound and fury, he needs to figure out the timing and purpose of speeches. Should he immediately address the nation after a great flood? Must he speak while prosecutors build a case against his targets? Discretion is key.
No doubt about it, PNoy is his best spokesman. It’s about time he becomes his best chief executive. – Rappler.com