As we now know, Filipinos gave a rousing farewell to a fallen bureaucrat, the late Secretary Jesse Robredo. Robredo was remarkable because he represented the ideal Filipino government official — one who does his work properly. In the Philippine setting, that makes Robredo a “hero”, because he supposedly walked the straight path long before his boss made the phrase a political tagline. Perhaps then that is the kernel around which the song-and-dance over Robredo’s death is being orchestrated by MalacaÃ±ang — because Robredo was living — now dead — proof that the Philippines did not need Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III to swoop in and invent “good governance” for us. It was right under our noses all along.
[Photo courtesy Trust.org.]
The tragedy with being a quiet achiever, however, is that quiet achievers aren’t good showbiz. There are no blockbuster Tagalog movies about wise town planners who inisted that new developments be built on highr ground. Instead, Philippine cinema is dominated by cocky maong-jacket-clad, agimat-toting gunslingers out to rescue ordinary folk from their wretchedness.
That is where the brand equity of President BS Aquino and his clan lies — in their being perceived as the “heroes” who will save the Philippines from bad governance. Unfortunately for them, Robredo’s death and the massive public expression of grief from ordinary people have, for the first time, outshone BS Aquino’s cherished Yellow political brand. While the Yellow shine even back in the time of former President Cory Aquino’s death had been backed and preceded by the media mileage provided by ABS-CBN et al, the rallying around Robredo’s memory came out of nowhere — from a deeper place outside of the radars of many political observers.
Indeed, Robredo’s death and the massive broad-based mourning that followed is preceded by only two other genuinely spontaneous shows of mass sentiment — the assassination of BS Aquino’s father Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr and the 1986 EDSA “Revolution”. It is in both of these crucibles that the Yellow brand was forged. And with the infrastructure of mass hypnosis implemented by the oligarchy since then, the Yellow brand has become the de facto default umbrella symbol for any Filipino “fight”.
Robredo’s death challenges that almost three-decade-old idea which began in 1983 — that Filipinos can have any kind of laban for “reform” as long as it comes in the preferred shade of Yellow. You can see today the efforts of the MalacaÃ±ang spin machine desperately trying to envelop the occasion in its preferred yellow shade. Trouble is, this time the colour simply wouldn’t stick. It just keeps washing off.
Perhaps it is because the grief amongst people that Robredo personally and directly touched (which are not necessarily the ones who hardly knew him yet sing praises to him with the loudest voices) comes from a more meaningful place and not from the politically-coloured or publicity-fueled motivators that characterise Philippine society’s traditional “opinion-shapers”. True Robredo fans don’t care who Robredo worked for or what he “symbolises”. To their colour-blind eyes, he is just a man who governed with grace.
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