[Dash of SAS] PNoy, Ke$ha, and finding hope again

I am sitting in a cafe with Ke$ha on repeat, singing about waking up feeling like P. Diddy. 

I have been playing Ke$ha’s "TiK ToK" and Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s "The Next Episode" on repeat ever since I read the article written by President Noynoy Aquino’s speechwriter Gian Lao. According to Lao, PNoy was a stickler for words, reading and editing every line of his speeches, insisting that the final piece be oratorical masterpieces with audio panache woven in.

PNoy quoted Ke$ha for the reference that he was looking for. “Once, he told us: The intro of the speech needs to be catchy, like: 'Wake up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy.' I had to ask myself: did the President just quote Ke$ha?” wrote Lao.

On the morning of PNoy’s audience with Pope Francis, Lao recalled that he listened to an entire Bukas Palad album before switching to “The Next Episode,” replete with Snoop Dogg's “It’s the motherfucking D-O double G” introduction.

Listening to hip-hop is not exactly how I imagined I would be mourning the passing of my former President. Actually, I didn’t think I would be grieving over PNoy’s passing for a long time. Like many of our former presidents – Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo – I thought PNoy would be around for a long while. 

So it was a shock to wake up to the message one of my friends had posted in our group chat: Namatay na daw si President Noynoy Aquino (President Noynoy Aquino has supposedly passed away).

Noy? As in PNoy? I asked myself, shaking off the cobwebs of sleep to make sure I had read it right. My first instinct was quick. Check the news outlets to make sure it was true. The emotions that followed were more complicated to process.

When his mother, former president Corazon Aquino was battling cancer, there were regular bulletins about her condition. The nation came together for prayers, vigils, and well wishes. There was time to prepare for her demise. The collective upswell of nostalgia and gratitude for what Cory had done for our country cushioned our grief.

For PNoy, it was sudden – and it made it harder to understand or rationalize the sense of profound loss that I felt from half a world away.

The tributes that flowed in from former government officials and journalists who had worked with him and had known him confirmed his passing but also honored his life. I found comfort in the intimate and funny stories shared by Lao, Rappler journalist Camille Elemia, and Vice President Leni Robredo. From their stories, I learned about PNoy’s love for music and how the gravitas and dignity that he gave to his position translated to everything from his speeches to his policies. 

I first became a full-on journalist during the Aquino administration. I did not get to meet PNoy and have no personal anecdotes to share but when I became a journalist, I did get into conversations with government officials who left corporate positions in the private sector and spoke about serving in government with a sense of pride and gratitude.

Darlene Berberabe turned down an expatriate position in Singapore to head Pag-Ibig. Under her leadership, Pag-Ibig’s membership doubled from 8 million to 16 million and interest rates were reduced from 11.5% to 5.5%. 

On many occasions, other government officials spoke, without any prompting on my part, about Rogelio Singson who headed Maynilad before assuming the post of Secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). His stewardship streamlined procurement, and together with competitive and transparent bidding, resulted in P15 billion in savings, which was funneled into additional infrastructure projects and relocation sites for calamity victims. 

And who could forget the brilliance of the Department of Tourism’s promise to the world that it is more fun in the Philippines? Ramon Jimenez took a leave from the advertising agency he founded with his wife, Abby, to stand at the helm of the DOT. In 2012, visitors to the Philippines increased by 16% and hit almost 1.15 million. 

The Presidential staff was filled with young professionals inspired and fired to serve in government.

Most meaningful to the women’s rights movement, PNoy quietly passed the Reproductive Health Law. In interviews, he said that he supported the law because meeting a 16-year-old mother from Baseco who already had two children made him question where society and government had failed this young woman. 

The best and the brightest were leading the nation, propelled by a leader’s vision of hope and belief that every Filipino deserved better. 

Many tributes are prefaced with “PNoy wasn’t perfect.” A disclaimer and an apology. Was perfection what we were looking for when, really, the true measure of leadership is giving others the collective courage to imagine, believe in, and work for the better future we so aspire for?

Maybe that’s what I was also grieving. The loss of hope that I did not fully realize I felt back then. The loss of the optimism to dare and dream of a better country and brighter future. The loss of dignity, decency, and simple professionalism in government. 

Half a world away, I could not pay my last respects, but tonight and many nights after this, I will find solace in listening to Ke$ha, who after her intro about waking up like P. Diddy, towards the end of the song sings, “Tonight I’mma fight. ‘Till we see the sunlight. Tick-tock on the clock…”

Tick-tick to wiser choices in 2022, so we can hope again. – Rappler.com

Ana P. Santos is an award-winning journalist reporting on sexuality, sexual health, and female migrant labor. She is currently pursuing a postgraduate degree in Gender (Sexuality) at the London School of Economics and Political Science as a Chevening scholar. She has always liked hip-hop and considers 90s R&B the soundtrack of her life.