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Ninoy’s yardstick


THE LATE Senator Ninoy Aquino had a simple yardstick of a true leader. He must not only be brilliant, he said, but he must also have a heart. Cabeza y corazon, his close ally in Zamboanga City, the late Mayor Cezar Climaco, would have put it in his native tongue.

That was his parting and final message to members of his Senate staff who saw him at his modest house in Times St. in Quezon City. It came shortly before he departed for the United States on self-exile.

He was allowed to leave the country at the behest of no less than then First Lady Imelda Marcos. She visited him at the Philippine Heart Center where he was confined due to a heart problem sometime in 1980. And he was nonplussed, charmed and openly grateful.

Undoubtedly, he had Ferdinand Marcos in mind when he said that. That Marcos was an exceptionally brilliant mind was not lost on his principal political nemesis at the time. He was, after all, a bar topnotcher who conducted his review of the law while incarcerated for a crime he was later acquitted of. The timely intervention of a Laurel patriarch saved the day, out of compassion that it would have been sheer waste to put behind bars such an intelligent young man.

Apparently, Ninoy felt, as did other Philippine leaders at the time, that something was missing in the brilliant president that yoked the nation under martial law. Under martial rule, the Philippines suffered widespread human rights violations, slid into economic chaos and ignited social unrests never seen before. Rapacity and plunder were common pejoratives that characterized the dictatorial regime.

For Ninoy, it was a heartless regime. Former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew remarked once that Marcos may have started as a hero but ended up exactly the opposite when he left power or when power deserted him.

The historical wrongs committed by Marcos are what’s driving the frantic moves at historical revisionism by pro-Marcos and pro-Duterte cabals, which could also be one and the same thing. The agenda is clear as day: to resurrect Marcos as a hero that he was not. Apparently, the former dictator’s burial at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani is consistent with this effort but not enough.

So, the next step toward the goal is to declare a local holiday for Marcos in his native province of Ilocos Norte. If, or when, this is achieved, a national day for him, on his birthday or on the anniversary of martial law should be part of the unfortunate logic. Who knows all this could happen under Duterte’s watch.

Now comes former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez who has scored the Duterte Administration for its failure in addressing the COVID 19 crisis in the country. Alvarez is a Duterte ally who has fallen out of the president’s grace.

Pantaleon was politely oblique and less straightforward in pointing at the cause of the failure. The next president, he said, must have brains. You get the drift.

Between Marcos and Duterte, the choice is no brainer as who has more gray matter between the ears. One was a bar topnotcher, the other, well, was probably number 11 as all of those who didn’t make it to the top 10 were.

But Marcos would not have slapped the virus even if that were possible, peed on Taal volcano or ate its ashfall, recommended the use of kerosene to disinfect face mask, suggested spraying the whole country or Metro Manila with pesticides to rid of the deadly bug, or bristled ridiculously at Leni Robredo’s criticisms.

He would have been guilty of all other crimes, except the above. All this would have been beneath him. That was the brilliant part Ninoy, in all probability, had in mind. Alvares deductively referenced the alleged failure on the COVID crisis on the need for a brilliant mind in Malacañang, a reverse Descartes, in way.

If Marcos had brilliance except a heart, what’s missing in Duterte apart from brilliance, as Alvarez had glossed over?

Both probably have a heart in the literal sense, but as the Scriptures has a caveat: it is the most deceitful of all things. The problem is not physiology but psychology.

Let’s count one way. Juan Ponce Enrile, then Marcos’ defense chief, assured Ninoy that he would not be arrested. He was, the day or night martial law was declared. Alan Peter Cayetano, Duterte’s Speaker of the House, assured that ABS-CBN would not be shut down. The network is close, for all intents and purposes, forever and ever if his patron’s wish is granted.

As of this writing, Duterte is set to speak before the General Assembly of the United Nations on a number of issues besetting the country, first, and the world, second. Expect hubris to influence content.

Much of the nation waits (perhaps not, on second thought) with bated breath what Duterte will say or not say. Or whether his speech will show a man of intelligence or without it, a man with a heart or someone who needs one badly.

If he were alive today, Ninoy would probably say a mouthful of nays. Certainly, not the “pambihira” comment he was wont to utter out of frustration.


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