The Face That Launched a Thousand Shirts

by Gene Paulo Abrajano

(Edited and titled by Chonx Tibajia
Published in the Philippine STAR, page J-2, Sat, 21 Aug 2010.)

The STAR's Features Editor called me and asked, “Pwede ka ba magsulat ng article para sa Ninoy Aquino Day?

I replied, “Ninoy Aquino Day? Mayro'n ba n'un?” It was only after she thought I was weird that I realized that she was referring to NINOY, the guy in the five hundred-peso bill. Fail on my part.

Anyway, I said yes, and asked her what angle she wanted me to take on the article. We had a couple of discussions before we finally settled for “How the youth remembers Ninoy Aquino.” Or something to that effect. She told me to interview ten people, preferably those born after 1990, or at least post-EDSA.

Eager to do the assignment (and since I had like less than twenty-four hours to write it), I went to work immediately. The first person I interviewed was my sister, born in 1990. I told her I needed to write an article about Ninoy, and asked her what she knew about him. Twice in the same day, Ninoy has been mistaken for Noynoy. Or vice versa. Either way, this is definitely not right, and in my opinion, is a bigger problem than kids not knowing who Ninoy is altogether.

This of course made me wonder why people mistake P-Noy for that guy in the five hundred-peso bill. Okay, they look a bit alike. They're father and son, after all. But it seems that people have made P-Noy his father's avatar. This is quite surprising, as father and son are more than a generation apart. But I'd like to think that they share more than their names (incidentally, there is only a one-letter difference in their nicknames).

As is typical of famous father-son relationships, one would think that the son would have some “living under the shadow” issues. There's John and Julian Lennon. Then there's Bob and Ziggy Marley. But aside from being artists, the fathers' shadow has become too big for the sons to escape from. The Aquinos, on the other hand, are a different matter. Aside from being politicians, both of them seem to be casting only one shadow, Ninoy's. P-Noy has simply stepped into his father's shoes, and thus does not have to worry about casting his own shadow, one greater than his father's.

So how big is Ninoy's shadow, really? Big enough, apparently. Cory Aquino has stepped into it from 1986-1992. And with P-Noy's election to the presidency, we can expect his shadow to remain for another six years.

And again, we go back to the avatar issue. If P-Noy is the avatar of Ninoy, then so was Cory. We've heard it countless times before: if Ninoy hadn't been shot in 1983, it would have been him in MalacaƱang, not his wife. It seems then that the Filipino populace does not vote for a person; the Filipino votes for an ideal, an ideal represented by a certain bespectacled former senator who died on the tarmac of the airport that now bears his name. This ideal, by association, was passed on to his wife, which got her elected to the presidency. And this ideal, by genetics, was passed on to his son, which also got him elected to the presidency.

Ninoy's ideals have outlived him, as they have outlived his wife. And they must also outlive his son. Ninoy's ideals must continue to exist, even after Ninoy Aquino himself has reached the status of “icon.”And Ninoy is close to reaching this status, as evidenced by the greatest creator of icons: pop culture.

Ninoy's induction into pop culture began even before he was immortalized on our currency (currently the second most expensive monetary bill of this country). It began with the use of the color yellow, way back since Cory Aquino's presidential campaign. This of course alludes to the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree,” Ninoy and Cory's favorite song. The color yellow also became the symbol for democracy and peaceful protests, gracing the cover of Time Magazine when they featured Asia's first female head of state. The yellow ribbon made a popular comeback in 2009, when Cory left this world to join her husband. This kind of gave P-Noy a campaign edge, since he also utilized yellow ribbons for his presidential campaign, way before the start of the official campaign period.

Artists have also gone as far as using metonymy with Ninoy's glasses. Some have also made shirts (yellow, of course) with Ninoy Aquino's face done in the style of Che Guevara. And this is where the danger lies, in my opinion. Che Guevara is more than an ideal now; he is an icon. And this is apparently the direction Ninoy Aquino is bound to take. Che Guevara used to represent an ideal, one that we may not all agree with, but an ideal nonetheless, pure and selfless. But once he became an icon, everything was lost. Now, people remember Che Guevara not for his socialist ideals that helped win the Cuban Revolution, but for the beauty of his face that looks damn good on t-shirts. And that same thing could happen to Ninoy, should the Filipino people forget the story behind the iconic mug found on countless campaigns and merchandise. Everything he fought for, everything he stood for, everything he died for is part of the story that we should keep on telling.

Many are still believers. That surge of patriotism running through the veins of today's youth? It seems very real and enduring. Let's hope that generations to come will see Ninoy not just as a face on a shirt, but a true face in the crowd─as someone real and could possibly be awakened from inside all of us.

Sting Lacson

A writer. By degree and by profession. Also strongly advocates ten-finger typing to all writers because that's what you do for a living, so be efficient at it.

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