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Kris Aquino and Philippine democracy


BOTH ARE facing crises of their own – one, about survival; the other, about relevance. In a word, they’re both sick. Seriously, for a celluloid icon, “the queen of all media. It’s a rare, life threatening illness, she and other medical experts were quoted as saying. May be as bad, if not more or less, in the case of an ideology that most Filipinos have taken for granted. In the last six years, the light of democracy has been systematically stifled by a small-town despot.

The foreseeable future, that is, the next six years, may hold out some reason for a little optimism, but don’t hold your breath. The only son of the late dictator, dethroned and kicked out of his realm 36 years ago, is back to the throne after his father’s unceremonious departure in 1986 in light of the EDSA People Power. He ostensibly is out to restore the family name and fortune. We can only guess the details. The incoming president once admitted in an interview in a friendly network that he is Machiavellian in way. That is friendly heads-up: the end justifies the means.

Not too long after her birth, Kris Aquino was given a new moniker by her late dad’s security aide: KRISIS. Because it was then that the late Sen. Ninoy Aquino, the most audacious and most talkative politician that ruffled the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr. feathers the most, began to suffer. Ninoy was arrested while in session at the Manila Hilton upon , probably even prior to, the public declaration of Martial Law in 1972. It’s a textbook method used anywhere where tyrants and despots emerge.

Kris and her family, particulary Cory, learned where the senator was brought for interrogation and incarceration: Fort Bonifacio, named after a Filipino hero who was killed for his own audacity and outspokenness abut political tyranny in his time. Then Ninoy became incommunicado and his family was at a loss about his whereabouts. It turned out he was secretively brought to another military camp in Laur, Nueva Ecija where even his eyeglasses, which rendered him virtually blind without them, were taken away from him.

When Ninoy reemerged before the public eye, he was in Fort Bonifacio facing the much-dreaded military commission which eventually came down with a death sentence on him. An old photograph showed him in black shirt and in a calm, stoic posture, looking as thin and very much like the sick Kris today through her eyeglasses. He went on hunger strike that nearly cost him his life, brought to the Philippine Heart Center where he was diagnosed with a heart disease. And then something unexpected happened.

His version of the event was poetic and dramatic. “Lo and behold”, he recalled in a speech later: a beautiful face came down from heaven” to visit him in his hospital bed and with a special, irresistible offer. The first lady, Imelda Marcos, asked him if he would like to seek treatment in the United States. He accepted what looked like an opportunity for self exile and subsequently live for a while in Boston until his fateful return to Manila on August 23,1983.

In a poignant scene before he flew to the US, Kris was seen repeatedly shouting at his dad to read the book she gave him. When she was seen again, she was mourning before her dad’s coffin at their old house in Times St. where a Jobian-like tragedy has befallen a family that has given the nation a martyr and two presidents. A daughter could have risen to some political heights too, even the presidency, were if not for choice or destiny, which could be one or the same thing. We are our choices, the French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre said.

Kris chose another world instead, entertainment and media, lured perhaps by its glossy and glamorous appeal, rather than politics and its unruly landscape, partly perhaps because it emotionally anesthetized her from the deep trauma of her father’s untimely death. She could easily made it as firebrand politician who showed she had his father’s legendary “sarsa”. The youngest of Ninoy’s five children, she was seen cuddled on his big arm when she was about a year old, when talks about martial law were mostly done in whispers although Ninoy warned it was going to happen any time.

Showbiz gave Kris the fame and fortune she probably never dreamed of. It also inevitably pulled her into a celebrity status that gave her a gilded life part of which pained and disappointed her mother and siblings, especially the late Noynoy, It’s no idle notion that the egregious controversies that marked her life as a celebrity must have impacted public affectation of her as a political symbol as an Aquino. It is not farfetched to think that somehow this also helped weaken many a Filipino’s faith in the “yellow symbol” as a moral, democratic emblem. Things don’t exist in a vacuum.

As Bongbong Marcos is set to begin his term as the new Philippine president, Kris must be mulling about the “might have beens”, while battling a life- threatening disease. What if she chose to be come a politician rather than a star? What if she pursued the truth about her father’s assignation at the airport while serving the country at the same time as congresswoman or senator of the land? She could have discovered more than what she always sure of that her mother’s cousin wasn’t involved his dad’s murder. She could have unraveled a political mystery.

Or she could have been instrumental in preventing the rise of another authoritarian in Rodrigo Duterte who allowed the burial of her father’s arch political enemy in the sacred ground for Filipino heroes which could have prevented the return of the Marcoses to power. Who knows what she could have done?

“For all sad words of tongue and pen,” John Whittier said, the saddest of these is this: it might have been.

When Ninoy’s aide called Kris by another name, he unknowingly foretold of the political turbulences and crises that would befall the Philippines in Ninoy’s time and beyond. Even Kris’ own.


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