(A Dimasalang Imagination Production)
“Is this an interview”, he asked. “No, sir”, I replied. “It is more of me trying to understand you and what you say”. “So, you are trying to be me”, he said with that knowing wink. “Fire away then”, he egged.
“Your rape joke with the troops was uncalled for, a disaster, a nightmare for your supporters and allies. It was a welcomed gift to your enemies, those who would like to bring you down. How do you explain such?”
“My supporters and allies need not be burdened by that joke and in retrospect, I admit it is a bad joke. I expect nobody to defend a joke about rapes. As a prosecutor, I ran after the rapists and sexual predators. So, what was I thinking when that joke came out my mouth? I was looking at the troops, their faces. They were there listening to me in all seriousness. I am sending them to battle and some will not be coming back. I want to boost their morale, to assure them that their President is behind them all the way. I want to lighten the atmosphere of a bleak undertaking. It was a joke meant between friends, close friends with no media and “you tube” listening. It’s like when you tell your best buddies all the sexual and racist jokes you can imagine without malice nor repercussions because your friends know that all of those foul things coming out of your mouth are for them only, not for anybody else.”
“But the media were there and they heard you and now the rest of the world know and are questioning your behaviour as president. Are you really that crass and uncouth?”
” You see, I am 72 years old. I am me a long long long time ago. Yes, there are times that my words take the better of me. I have no excuse for such. Because that means I will have to ask forgiveness for being born. I don’t worry what my supporters will do. They have come this far, they know who they are supporting. As for my countrymen, they care about their livelihood, their security, their children’s future. A good joke will not put food on their table neither will a bad joke take food away. As for my opponents, my detractors, those who will triumph in my downfall, nothing I will do or say will suffice.”
“But you’re giving them more ammunition and now you’re the butt of more vilification and trumped up hatred. Doesn’t this distract you from what you must do?”
“I know what I must do. All the ridicule and hatred directed towards me are nothing new. Such started the day I declared myself a Presidential candidate. They just keep piling on no matter what. They have gotten old and the most they do is provide soundbites that induce my shitting in the morning. I will die someday and that is not too far off. I can hear the footsteps not only in my sleep but in my waking hours. If I am going to be judged, let me be judged by what I did, not because of the bad jokes I made. And I trust, history’s wisdom will bear witness to who I really am.”
“I have no more to ask unless you have something more to say”.
” Want to hear that joke about the priest and rosary?”
It was the ending of his day, around 2 in the morning. I barged into his consciousness without warning. Seeing the fatigue on his face, I was sorry to intrude. Still he motioned me to have a seat.
“Good evening, sir. Or should I say good morning?”
“Good evening, good morning, time is irrelevant so long as it is good. So what brings you here again? Is there another bad joke I said?”
“No, sir. I am here to hear your take on your first year as president. Your thoughts, your joys, your sadness, your frustrations, your misgivings. Anything you want to say.”
He sat down and placed his feet on his table showing his aversion to socks. He closed his eyes. The 72 years showed on his weathered face. He took a deep breath and silence bequeathed eloquence to the man. He started to talk.
“I did not ask to be president. Truth be told, I sought not the highest office of the land. It was when the people egged me to run, when I saw the desperation on their faces and heard the hopelessness on their voices, I had no choice. I was 71 years old. I should have retired. My beloved Davao is in good hands. Inday is a better mayor than me. But how can I turn my back to my people?
So I ran without much fanfare and money. My media machine was composed of bloggers who believed in me. Unknowns who influenced their friends, their families with what they posted in social media. OFWs, overseas Filipinos. They all helped out and made my victory possible against a well oiled and well funded opposition. My victory was the people’s victory.
I wish the opposition gave me a chance to prove what I could do. I wish they stopped politicking and let me proceed with the governance the people wanted and deserved. No, they wanted me out even before I took office. My victory was just a lull, a pause in their drive for power. They will not stop.
I wonder sometimes why there is so much hatred directed towards me. But then, I seek refuge in the people’s approval, in their continuing trust, in their prayers and the visible outpouring of support. It is them that makes me wake up in the morning and defy this 72 year old body. There are very few pleasures left in life for me. I am at the departure gate. But I will continue to work, to aspire, to fight because I love the Philippines. I love my people. And such I will do until I breathe my last.”
He slowly stood up and looked out the window facing the river. I had the urge to leave and let him rest. Still he spoke.
“There are failures, missteps and of course the foul mouth, the bad taste jokes and my being unpresidential. I did not realize the enormity of the drug problem and how rampant corruption was. Even among those I thought I could trust, the temptation of money was just too much to ignore. But there is no backing down in our quest. I have staked my honor, my life and the presidency itself so I can deliver to the people what they deserve. Nothing less.
I seldom look back to the failures of the past other than learning from them. The task at hand is now. Peace must be secured, the sufferings must end. The war on drugs will continue. With a renewed resolve, new tactics will be employed. Poverty can be and must be minimized if not totally eradicated. Corruption stopped.
It is said that success has many fathers, failure is an orphan. All these goals will not be accomplished because of one man. The nation will rise up because each citizen will contribute and do their part. I need every Filipino’s help. I beg for each citizen’s help. We have but one nation. Without our country, we are nothing.
As I embark on my second year, I wish the opposition will join me in building the nation and improving the lot of our people. Soon they will have their chance to lead. Political fortunes swing as every politicians know. If only we can put aside politics even for a day.”
He sat down, put his feet up and looked at the ceiling. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep, his bed still made up, basically unused. I tiptoed out.
Somehow a song’s line was heard: “How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?” At 72 years old, “the answer is still blowin’ in the wind”.
III. Beyond the Anger
There was no more surprise when I ushered myself into his consciousness. It even seemed that he was waiting for me. Maybe it was the day’s import or the need to share thoughts before they were made obsolete by events. Perhaps it was the honesty of solitude. I asked the first question without any preamble.
“You were angry today. One year in office is taking its toll?”
“I was angry. I am still angry. What else do I have to do to show that all of these are for the people? That I ask for nothing else except that I leave the Philippines a better place. That in my demise, I bring nothing but will leave what I was born to do.”
“Your detractors, the criminals, the drug lords and pushers, the misguided rebels and the plain malevolent members of society will not be totally eliminated. You can not kill them all. Will there be an end to all these?”
“Killing them is but a metaphor. A threat if you will. Those physically killed are examples of what the government is capable of. Never in my dreams did I foresee a society devoid of evil because I have killed them all. I may live to be a hundred and be a president for life but there is no way I can eliminate those who will remain society’s burden. I don’t have such delusions.”
He paused and sought for the proper words to express his thoughts. There was pain written on his face as he rubbed his hands in a futile attempt to find comfort.
“I should not have been president. The power elite and the age-long control of the oligarchs can not be erased in one sweep. Neither will they ago away quietly. They have conspired and planned my downfall even before day one. They are failing. They will not succeed. The people are with me in this fight.”
He leafed through the pages of his life and dog-eared what were important. Slowly, in almost inaudible voice, the dying day recited the man’s uncompromising truth.
“It is my destiny to be president. I was the people’s choice. I ran for them. Destiny was not my doing and neither was my being born. Still, I will be damned to squander my life or throw away the presidency. I was given a chance to make a difference. I was trusted to help, to alleviate people’s lives. I can fail them. But I can not fail myself.
People didn’t expect much from me. Even my parents. But the Almighty has guided me all my life to the very height I find myself now. Took me 71 years and at the twilight of my existence to be president. And such is God’s genius. At this time of my life, there is nothing more I desire nor wish for. God has given me a chance for my swan song. With my limited days, who am I to thumb such down? This will never come again.
I pledged to my dead parents that I will do what is best and beseeched them for guidance. When I join them beyond this life, I must answer to them for what I did. For once, I don’t want their forgiveness. I want their approval.”
I looked at the man and considered the breaking dawn. I asked my final question.
“You quoted Ecclesiastes and time for everything. Which one is yours?”
“Planting. Nurturing the seedlings and making sure they survived the tempests and the vultures. That they take root to be strong, to grow upright and defiant. And long after I am gone, I hope the people will reap a country each will be proud of. One Republic. United. Prosperous. At peace.”
Anger has dissipated into the disappearing darkness. As the new day breaks, the tasks of the president begin again. Actually, they never end.