The Philippine Obama
“The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh. Let us not then speak ill of our generation, it is not any unhappier than its predecessors. Let us not speak well of it either. Let us not speak of it at all.”
– Samuel Beckett, “Waiting for Godot”
I left the apartment to hear the neighbor boy call out, “Barack! Obama!”
I glanced out to the side-street, wondering if this boy had seen Barack Obama, or saw a Barack Obama look-alike. The thought of this boy having a message of hope and change was something I set aside for now.
Out from the corner, I saw a dog. The dog barked, the boy called out “Barack!” The dog then entered the house’s gate with the boy, and the gate was bolted shut. The name of the dog was Barack Obama.
For someone who has been President of the United States of America for the better part of two days, many politicians seem to be keen on riding the Barack Obama bandwagon. You have folks like Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, who has been alluded to as “JoBama.” You have Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who yet again committed an act of hubris by saying that it is Gloria Arroyo who can teach a lot to a neophyte world leader like Obama. Now you have Margaux Salcedo, spokeswoman of former President Joseph Estrada, who says that if we’ll put charisma into the equation, it is Erap who should rightfully be called the Philippine Obama.
I can’t help but think of the whole hullaballoo in terms of dog’s names; when I was a kid, the most feared dogs were named “Bush,” and its rival was called “Saddam.” I kind of wonder how many Filipinos have named the loyal house pet “Barack,” but I hope you get my point. If a dog in this country can be named after the seated President of the United States of America, then what is the bone of contention? What is the squabbling all about?
What is so important about President Barack Obama that many of us look – or proclaim ourselves to be – the “Pinoy version” of Obama?
Barack Obama is seen by many Americans as a restoration of their faith in their country, that he can be a dependable leader, that he is the President that they are waiting for. True, the platitudes may be exaggerated, that what is apparently the most mature and developed democracy in the world is not immune from personality politics. Yet it is also true that Obama represents hope and change for a better America, saddled by war and recession, where he becomes the very symbol of faith and renewal. He takes the helm, captains the ship that is his nation, and leads them by judgment and knowledge, and most of all, hope and change.
An ocean away, in a maturing and developing democracy that is defined by personality politics, the picture and possibility of being the “Philippine Obama” is silly, but at the same time poignant. We yearn for an Obama to call our own, perhaps even drip with jealousy and resentment; while we are essentially carbon copies of an American political system, we have never achieved the same prosperity and maturity that our former colonizers have. Yet much of our culture is drawn to believe that if we do things the American way, we will have the American dream. We draw inspiration from our former colonizers, root for their President, and say, “Why can’t we have an Obama?”
No, we can’t. After all, Obama has been the US President for the better part of two days, and we’re raising praises to him already. That doesn’t change the fact that Obama can very well be the next Bush. Or that Obama will not live up to the expectations we so hold dear, whether we’re American or not. That a man who’s still tinkering with the right temperature of the air conditioning in the Oval Office is the savior of the world.
Obama is a fundamentally American leader who fundamentally represents American interests, answering American problems in the American way. The American people feel well-represented by Obama; the question is, do our leaders represent us well? Well enough to have fundamentally Filipino leaders who fundamentally represent Filipino interests, answering Filipino problems in the Filipino way? Do we need Barack Obama, or a version of him, to answer those needs?
To invoke a song, whatever consequences they have on us are scraps that fall upon his table to the ground. It’s better to understate it that way than to say that we are Uncle Sam’s Best Friend Forever, and that our destiny as a nation is rooted in Obama one way or another. Maybe it’s the penchant of calling that scrap the dinner that will change our nation’s destiny.
Perhaps the search for a Philippine Obama is rooted on the disillusionment, the disenfranchisement, and the betrayal of the Filipino people by years of bad Government. If a taxi driver is disillusioned and pissed off enough to contemplate regicide, that is not a problem of who’s the leader; that is a problem of what that leader represents. Obama represents – at least for now – hope, change, and faith for a better America. In this country, those three things are practiced not as ideals, but slogans.
Our leaders – potential and actual, candidate and incumbent – represent graft, corruption, scandals, scams, incompetence, hotheadedness, novelty songs, vegetables, whitening products, and the ability to scale and gut fish. Not exactly Obama.
What now for us? Do we need someone with dark skin? Do we need someone with leadership experience? Do we need someone with the intelligence and the vision to lead our country? Do we need someone with charisma? No, we need an idea. And someone to anchor it to. And for that someone to lead us to where we should be. And yet we wait. We keep waiting.
For this wild chase and competition in looking for a “Philippine Obama,” one dog out there has been named after the 44th President of the United States of America. That boy had every right and entitlement in the world to name his dog after Obama, just as that dog now has that name. The boy called out, waited, and got “Barack Obama.”
It is with a hint of bitterness that I remind myself that the neighbor’s dog, at this point of this nation’s history, is the Philippine Obama.