The Imagined Presidentdesktop
Rappler's presidential profile series maps the narratives presented by both candidates and critics in the campaign for 2016
Illustrations by Geloy Concepcion Design by ANALETTE ABESAMIS and DOMINIC TUAZON
The narrative so far
The king’s daughter returns with her father’s sword. The heir to the yellow kingdom walks through a trail of confetti. The judge on the bench slams her gavel on the corrupt. The big man with the big gun hunts rogues in the night. The dark man at the center of the mob is a man of the people, or is a messiah, or is a thief, quietly filling his pockets with gold.
Rappler’s series of presidential profiles maps the narratives that arc through the 2016 elections. Here, in The Candidate, the final installment of The Imagined President series, we take stock of the celebratory and critical narratives of presidential aspirant through the lens of both journalism and sociology. By doing this, we hope to understand the complexity of each candidate and the kind of society that gives rise to their stories.
The series began with The Idealized, where we presented candidates at their best, as imagined by themselves and their supporters. Our goal was to bring to light the values that persuade and inspire voters enough to stake the future of the nation.
Last month, we published The Demonized—the worst versions of candidates running for the presidency as imagined by their critics. By laying down the critical narratives, we hope to make sense of what frightens, what offends, and what angers a nation in search of a new leader.
Ultimately, the stories told in this election are a reflection of our society. They are a measure of how we make sense of our democracy, how we value the electoral process, and how we see the future of our nation. Governments have fallen, presidents elected, cities burned, all on the strength of a story. The measure of the validity of our narratives, therefore, is the extent by which they resonate with the reader’s experience.
We invite conversation and discussion, and promise, if nothing else, to tell you a story.
His name is a benediction, Jesus and Joseph and Mary rolling off the tongue. He is Jojo to his friends. He is Binay to the press. He is the defender of the downtrodden and the persecuted hero of the common man. See the man with the stoop to his shoulders and bags under his eyes, pressing palms, kissing babies, stretching out to embrace old women, grinning as he walks down a line of bright-faced school children. Jojo Binay is family, and family looks out for family.
His name is a sacrilege, Jesus and Joseph and Mary stumbling off the tongue. He is Jojo to his friends. He is Binay to the press. He is whatever name he can borrow for the bottom of contracts he tries very much to hide. He is Jejomar Binay, lord of the city, thief in the night, the bare-faced bandit who will take what he can get and pawn what he can’t. Watch your back, check your pockets – and wash your hands after he leaves.
His name is a betrayal, Jesus and Joseph and Mary blistering the tongue. He is Jojo to his friends. He is Binay to the press. He is Jejomar Binay, champion of the underdog, scourge of the powerful, the loyal disciple who made a deal with the devil and kissed integrity goodbye. Watch your back, check your pockets – and mourn the man who could have been.
MIRIAM DEFENSOR SANTIAGO
In a country where any idiot can run for political office and every presidential candidate has violated the constitution, the people need moral courage to choose the best qualified, the best educated, the most highly praised, the candidate who is willing to fight corruption, make enemies, willing, if necessary, to face death. She is the woman the country needs – an intellectual juggernaut who eats death threats for breakfast and refuses “to die at the hands of intellectual pygmies.”
The woman who claims to be “one of the most intellectually brilliant leaders that our country has ever seen” believes all other candidates are stupid. She believes the high court is stupid. She believes uneducated Filipinos are stupid, and only a small percentage of the educated are intelligent enough to deserve her attention. Miriam Defensor Santiago also believes she will win – and proves that sometimes, stupid is forever.
She is correct when she refers to herself as a “renowned celebrity” who “like a rock star, attracts crowds everywhere” – if everywhere is located inside of a college campus. Her last crusade is not a fight for the presidency. It is a battle for relevance – one that she lost long before the first vote was cast.
DAVAO CITY MAYOR
This is the Republic of the Philippines in the bleak first months of 2016. This is the country Rodrigo Duterte promises to save. The law may be optional, the thugs may be at the helm, but Duterte is a man who says what he means and means what he says, who will give you a warning and then count to three. See him, watch him, bursting into the night in a roar of chrome and steel. Tell the crooks to run. Tell the pimps to hide. Blow out the smoke, get out, steer clear, and fuck all the fuckers who get in the way.
This is the Republic of the Philippines, on its knees before the barrel of Rodrigo Duterte’s gun. Keep your head down, step carefully inside the line, tell your momma never fight back. This is the man who says what he means and means what he says, but will blame his dick when he cheats and criminals when they die. See him, watch him, howling through the night in a roar of chrome and steel. Tell your boys run. Tell your women hide. Get out, steer clear, and God help the fuckers who get in the way.
If Rodrigo Duterte fulfills his promise, the streets will run red with the blood of citizens of the republic, whatever he may call them, wherever they are now. Take him at his word – and know you could be next.
The story begins, as most epics do, with the birth of a foundling. Her parents were unknown. Her name was borrowed. She was taken in by a king and queen, the kindest and bravest in the land. Amazing Grace, they call her, the unknown hero born from unknown roots, drafted into reluctant service by fate and circumstance, her heart pure, her courage vast. The king's daughter returns, and she is armed with his sword.
In the grand epic that has become the public narrative of Grace Poe’s life, she is a special creature, the unknown hero chosen from unknown roots, her heart pure, her courage vast. Hers is a candidacy reduced to plot lines that do little to justify the lightness of her experience. There she sits, the brave messiah in pearls, delicately weeping into a white square, making a plea for the throne. The king’s daughter returns, and she carries a tin sword.
Once upon a time, there was a foundling. Pure of heart, vast of purpose, wielding a sword once carried by a martyr-king. It is a story of epic proportions, but it is, in the end, only a story.
FORMER INTERIOR SECRETARY
MANUEL ROXAS II
He is the hardworking bureaucrat, without airs and without ego – the private man forced into a public life and doing the necessary work of governance. He will not stoop to dramatic narratives or easy answers. Charm is not a factor here, only results. This is Mar Roxas, version 2016, stolid and square, armed with briefcase and calculator, marching down the straight path, fast, forward, to the future.
He makes for the perfect whipping boy, a safe target for every bully with a spitball and a baseball bat. Listen to him on television, complaining about unfairness, droning on about rules, rambling about his alleged successes, unable to stand up to candidates whose attacks on his incompetence remind the public just how royally he fails in a crisis.
His name is Manuel Araneta Roxas III. Son of a senator, grandson to a president, anointed heir of two dynasties, and the last living hope of a dream that was born in the sugar plantations of Negros. He may not have been the first choice of his party or his family, but we are told second is better than none at all.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Patricia Evangelista is Rappler’s multimedia manager. She is an international fellow of the Dart Center Ochberg Fellowship for Trauma Reporting and was awarded the Kate Webb Prize for exceptional journalism in dangerous conditions. In 2016, she received The Outstanding Young Men award for the field of journalism. Tweet her @patevangelista.
Nicole Curato is a sociologist from the University of the Philippines. She is currently a Discovery Early Career Research Award Fellow at the Center for Deliberative Democracy & Global Governance based in Canberra. In 2013, she received The Outstanding Young Men award for the field of sociology. Tweet her @NicoleCurato.