ON May 10, I wonder how many of us will honor our mother.
I’m not confusing dates. I know that Sunday, May 9, is celebrated as Mother’s Day.
But on Monday, when we select the next women and men to lead the country, for better or worse, we may be subtly influenced in our choices by an institution since nursery days: mothers.
More than any election within recall, this one harnesses a lot of mother power to push candidates for public office.
Former President Corazon Aquino is hailed by many as the “Mother of Philippine Democracy.” Even those unable to swallow this moniker will agree that the devout Catholic and wife of the assassinated Ninoy Aquino left Malacañang Palace unblemished by any taint of corruption, a distinction few past and present occupants can lay claim to.
Cory’s son, Noynoy, is the standard bearer of the Liberal Party (LP). He has enjoyed being at the lead of election surveys, seemingly unfazed by accusations that he is only basking in the reflected affection Filipinos reserve for his parents, twin democracy icons.
Perhaps only speculations about his psychological incapacity have clung persistently to Noynoy throughout a hotly contested race. But even this has not reduced to a travesty the LP’s campaign slogan, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap (translated as: there will be no poverty if there is no corruption).”
Playing to the gallery but seemingly drawing a different reaction is Curita Villar. The 86-year-old mother made her first public appearance on TV to defend her son, Nacionalista Party standard bearer Manny Villar, the only billionaire running for the presidency and the only candidate hounded by charges of corruption and ill-gotten wealth.
Villar, who said he was born in Tondo and had to drop out from first grade to help his mother hawk seafood, also anchors his platform on the eradication of poverty and corruption through “Sipag at Tiyaga (hard work and perseverance).”
Yet, the most visible presidential candidate (courtesy of a well-funded campaign in mass media and the Internet) has been smeared by many controversies. He has tried to elude allegations of breach of ethics as a law-maker and businessman, particularly in the C5 scam.
The testimonial of Villar’s mother, Curita, may have done more harm than good to clear Villar from the mudslinging. Wheelchair-bound and squinting, “Nanay Curing” cried and petitioned the Virgin Mary to “bear witness” that her son “was not lying” about their early poverty and his desire to ease the nation’s poverty during a press conference held in late April.
Excerpts of the press conference with Nanay Curing were shown later as a TV ad.
Yet replays of a piteous Nanay Curing may have affected viewers in ways unanticipated by ad sponsors. For Filipinos, more odious than neglecting one’s parents is exploiting them.
To this accusation, one of Villar’s sisters reportedly retorted, “Who used their mother first?”
Indeed, in a political campaign, when is it acceptable to cite one’s roots? When is a candidate “passing the torch” and continuing an honorable tradition? And when is it “milking your mother for mileage” or something even less polite?
Another presidentiable, Sen. Richard Gordon, disparaged the use of mothers as a campaign strategy. He claimed that his own mother, who sold native cakes on the streets, was even poorer than Villar’s mother.
By deciding not to inject his mother’s struggles in his campaign, Gordon said he acts on this belief: “I stand on my own strengths.”
As a child, I often played with friends a game called “Mother, may I?” Players competed to be the first to advance across the room by asking a leader for permission to step forward. “Mother, may I take three giant steps forward?” one may call out.
The decision for the “mother” to allow her “children” to advance by giant steps or baby steps or not at all was entirely arbitrary. The player to advance the fastest won and acquired the right to be called “mother.” Steeped in the lovely illogic of childhood, my friends and I loved this game.
On May 10, may God spare this country from everything but a clear-eyed love for the Motherland.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 9, 2010 “Matamata”