We like to say it, and we like to say it often: the fruit does not fall far from the tree.
It is a phrase we throw around to intervene in the narrative of political dynasties that reigns in this country. It is to point out how corrupt parents make for children who are exactly the same. We throw it against the Marcos children without thinking, like an answer to every question about their achievements, like a default conclusion for every discussion that might be had about them.
If we have those discussions at all, of course. Because it seems that if we are not thinking badly of Bongbong, Imee and Irene, then we do not speak at all. That is scary not just because we agree to the silencing. It is scary because meanwhile we also give other politicos’ kids so much credit, for doing nothing other than be their parents’ children, even as we would be hard put to talk positively about their contributions to nation and culture.
Case in point: Noynoy and Kris Aquino.
But I digress. Or do I?
Ilocos Norte loving
That Ilocos Norte trip brought me from Laoag to Paoay to Badoc, Pasuquin to Burgos to Bangui to Pagudupud, then back to Laoag and a quick trip to Batac (for empanada and Marcos nostalgia). What I saw was a province that put a premium on caring first for its people and its heritage, a province where development need not mean big business encroaching upon the landscapes of city and beaches, and more importantly should not mean the death of the small shops and markets that are the lifeblood of any city.
On my last night in Laoag, as I walked the city streets, I realized that this city was truly functional and used by its people. The park that stands in front of the provincial capitol building and which functions as a major rotunda of sorts, was well-lit and clean, its seating areas filled with a weekend crowd one would see in malls in Manila. Earlier in the day, groups walked through the new exhibit on a Marian image in the Museo Ilocos Norte. A day or so earlier we had gone to see the windmills of Bangui alongside buses filled with Ilocos students on field trips; there were groups ahead of us in Pasuquin too, to watch how salt is made.
The manner in which provincial identity is so intricately intertwined with a clear sense of cultural uniqueness is stuff for mythmaking—if not a whole lot of press releases. Instead we barely hear about how well Ilocos Norte is run, and how wonderful its people are. I imagine the governor Imee herself. For sure the local governments would -like to write this narrative themselves, but too the question is: why can’t we write it ourselves, give credit where it is due?
Because we are taught not to.
Silencing the Marcos children
I understand the silencing of the Imelda contributions to culture, where institutions like the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the National Artist Awards, if not the beginnings of independent cinema in experimental film, and the wonder of the terno! will always be tied to her extravagance, one that we have an aversion to.
But the Marcosian mythmaking is over, and one only needs to see Ilocos Norte to realize that. Yes, there is the Malacañang of the North In Paoay, and yes the exhibits set-up there speak of the heyday of Macoy and Imelda (which also make you realize how young their children were, in fact, during those years); there is also the Marcos mausoleum of course. But there is nothing else here that indicates we are stuck in Marcos era Malakas and Maganda; neither is one required at all to go to these places and engage with this mythmaking.
In fact, even in Batac for example, the monument of Marcos stands almost face to face with that of Artemio Ricarte, standing in the middle of the park at the city center. Ilocos Norte tourism has as central figure Antonio Luna, son of Badoc. The latter comes complete with fake moustaches.
The truth is that one can go to Ilocos Norte and completely forget Imelda and Macoy. That the faces of their children are not all over the place should remind that the fruit need not be about the tree. It can just be about the fruit growing differently from that tree.
The silence that surrounds the contributions of Macoy’s and Imelda’s children to culture and nation—or just how well they are doing in politics and beyond—since they have gone back to the Philippines and regained their place in the political elite is one that is deafening because it is in the context of governments that have since not cared at all about culture. And I’m not even talking about funding for the arts, as it is just a clear vision for it, and a sense that our arts and culture institutions are being supported by government, even as these are being left independent, its fundamental right to free speech protected.
But none of that has happened since Cory, and it is difficult to imagine it happening with Noynoy, now president. He, who has yet to sign his name on that National Artist Award declaration that has been with him since last year.
I cannot imagine any of the Marcos children feeling like they have the right to question the National Artist Awards Committee’s final recommended list of artists. I cannot imagine them judging artists on some morality issue or other which—according to the grapevine—is why the declaration of Nora Aunor as National Artist has yet to be signed by the President.
Meanwhile, one can only remember the image of Irene and Imee standing with the artistic community when GMA declared Carlo Caparas and Cecile Guidote-Alvarez as National Artists. I remember seeing Irene in the Ateneo Art Awards of last year, and in various art and theater events, too.
And when I think of Irene and Imee, I cannot but remember Kris, selling everything from her lovelife to her children, endorsing pampaputi and pampaganda like no one else does.
And I grieve really for a nation that knows not who the monster-children are, stuck as we are in the superficiality of names.