the president's speech
At exactly three in the morning, his alarm clock started shrieking. He quickly bolted out of the bed thinking it was something else but when he realized it was just the damn clock, he let himself fall into the sheets again. But the clock continued screaming, as if it has just realized it was alive and was petrified of its own existence. He tried to roll towards it but he found that he couldn’t. His bulging mid-section, not to mention his increasingly brittle bones, was preventing him to do so. He had no choice but to sit up and walk to the other side of his empty king size bed. He wanted to put the clock out of its misery.
Even as a kid, he hated waking early in the morning. He remembered once going full-throttle on his Kapampangan nanny after she yanked him off the bed. He was always a brat, and still is, and he knew that. He always had it his way until, well, until his sister came along. That made things interesting in their household. His sister, though a few years younger, is a world-class bully. And now, he regretted being bullied for this three o' clock appointment that he thought he didn't need at all.
Before he could even get out of his bed, his private phone began ringing. He didn't even have to take a peek at the caller ID to know who it was. With great trepidation, he pushed the speaker on.
"Noynoy! Ayan ha, I made an effort na! I woke you up at three am!" his sister screamed at the receiver. For some reason, she is always screaming.
"O sige na sige na. Gising na ako."
"Noynoy, aren't you going to thank me? It's your big day and I’m making big tulong kaya."
"Oo na... oo na. Kagigising ko lang! Nasaan ka ba?"
"Shooting, ano ka ba? Hindi mo alam? I'm doing Sukob part 4 na for the MMFF! Hay naku Noy, how can you be an effective president if you are not up to date with the current events?"
"O sige na, sige na..."
"Ay wait, your morning schedule are okay na ha! I cleared it na sa secretary mo. O di ba Noy, parang personal secretary mo lang ako? Bongga! Suwerte ka Noy, ako ang naging sister mo!"
"Oo na, oo na. Sige na. Magkita na lang tayo sa breakfast."
"Kris, ang aga-aga sumisigaw ka! Masakit sa tenga!"
"I haven’t heard it pa! Mag-thank you ka muna! At tsaka kay Bimby kasi nag-text siya sa’yo. Talagang love na love ka niya."
His hands immediately curled into a fist. He wanted to hurl the phone through the window. He wanted to put the pillow into the receiver until the voice has been muffled like an extinguished breath due to strangulation.
"Noy! Hoy Noy, ano ba naka-tulog ka na naman ba? Noy!"
He took a deep breath and stared at the phone.
"Thank you Kris at pakisabi kay Bimby, thank you na rin. O sige na, marami pa akong gagawin."
"You don't sound so happy Noy."
"Thank you na nga eh."
"Hay naku Noy, you are such a brat talaga. Anyway, gotta go! I'm doing a death scene this morning. Hay, showbiz talaga, its killing me."
"But it's so much fun!"
"Kris! Bye na nga eh!"
"Ano ba I’m still making kuwen----"
In an instant nothing could be heard but the dial tone.
Okay, he thought, I'm going to pay for that at breakfast. He proceeds to the bathroom and before he could even lift his toothbrush he looked at himself in the mirror. He is 54 years old and he already looks like a grandfather. His hair has been receding since he has stepped into office and his jowls are already drooping but, he concludes, his eyes still have mischief in them. They still rove for pretty young things. And if only, he thought, if only he finds the one he is looking for in the soonest possible time. For now though, he sighs, he has this speech to think about and the whole extravaganza that his sister has bullied him into.
When he got out of his room, his secretary and his assistant were already waiting for him, up and about.
“Good morning Mr. President!” said both his secretary and his assistant in unison. Chirpily, if he may say so.
“Good morning,” he grumbled.
“Have you read the speech sir?” asked his assistant.
“Iha, ano sa tingin mo?”
“Oh, but have you seen the revisions sir?”
He stopped in his steps.
“The one about Yolanda.”
He frowned. He didn't like last minute revisions. As per his instructions, he wanted everything prepared days in advance. He snatched the paper from his assistant's hands.
“Hindi ba sinabi ko sa inyo...”
Cowering, the assistant trailed behind while his boss pored over the revised material. This enabled his secretary to pipe in.
“Sir, Madam Kris has scheduled a facial, a haircut and a fitting for you this morning. At saka massage raw po, para ma-relax kayo.”
“Paano ako mare-relax eh tingnan mo ito? Punyeta!”
While the barber was putting shampoo in what was left of his hair, he thought about his life. Is this what he really wants? Was he ever as ambitious as his father? No, he concluded, he wasn't. He was very much his mother's son. Only son, dotted to bits. And what he really wanted to do ---instead of this! ---- was to be a race car driver, be one of those formula one superstars. He imagined himself wearing onesies tattooed with various high profile corporations, stepping on the gas and letting the buzz of the speed get to him while, of course, in the bleachers, his blonde girlfriend awaits in fear. But he will get to the finish line all in one piece and he will get there before anyone else and he will be a hero. A big celebrated hero. Just like his father. It would be ----
“Excuse me Mr. President.”
He opened his eyes and before him loomed his secretary’s pimpled face.
“What,” he said snapping out of his reverie.
“Sec. Roxas is on the phone.”
What does that bastard want?
“Hello Mr. President. How’s the pampering?”
“So you know about this?”
“It’s all over the news! Chinika na ni Kris sa buong bansa!”
God, that woman should be gagged!
“Ah eh... eto inaantok.”
“Don’t because I have a reminder for you. In the revised speech, obviously, I highlighted the progress we have made in Tacloban. Inalis ko na yung iba kasi parang makakasama lang sa imahe ng palasyo.”
Eh ikaw ang may kagagawan niyan eh, he thought to himself but decided to keep mum. Not at this hour. Not when there's a big speech coming along.
“You had a hand in editing my speech,” he asked Sec. Mar.
“Uh yes? And make sure you read the revised speech I sent just now.”
“Yes, just now. Oh sige, magpa-pamper ka na muna. Enjoy the gold-leaf facial. It's the best! Remember, a healthy-looking president is a good president.”
Gago! He thought as he handed the phone to his secretary. God, there's another alpha male with big father issues!
But yes, Mar was right! The facial was a relaxing one. And as the famed duktora to the stars dug through his face and applied gold appliqué on his skin, he started thinking of his failures as a president. Now, he couldn’t be blamed, could he? After all, it was Mar who wanted to be president. It was Mar who was dying to live in Malacanang. As for him, he always hated the gated mansion. He would've preferred to be in Tarlac or in his condo in Makati and still be working for Nike. He was happy being a yuppie, left alone with his bourgeoisie lifestyle. Kay Kris na lang ang spotlight. After all that brat wanted attention from the moment she came out of their mother's womb.
He was about to doze off when he heard once again the clack-clack-clack of his assistant's high heels. Those Manolos would to have go, he thought as he sat up to meet her.
“Ano na naman?”
“It's Mr. Abad, sir. Do you want to take it?
“Do I have a choice?”
He took the phone from his secretary and with rich annoyance dripping from his voice said:
“Yes, Butch. Ano na namang kalokohan ang gusto ninyong sabihin ko?”
“Mr. President, cranky ka talaga in the morning! Well, relax. This is just about the DAP of course. I know, I know it's something that we still have to micromanage ---“
“Micromanage?! Well some people are calling for my impeachment!”
“Mr. President, don't worry. We're already working on it. Basta focus on your speech later today. I've added my two cents worth and even edited a few things...”
“What? You had a hand in my speech?”
“Mr. President, I already sent you the revised speech just now.”
“Just now?!!!! Ano ba naman kayo?! Ala-singko na!”
“Now... Now... Mr. President, just enjoy your fitting. It's by one of the best tailors in Manila. Siguradong swabeng-swabe ka mamaya sa podium.”
“Alam mo rin ang tungkol dito?”
“It's all over the news Mr. President. Unang Hirit is even doing the same makeover on a jeepney driver as we speak! See you at lunch time!”
When he stepped into the bedroom, the stylist and his team were already there. And Boy, of course, was also present to coach him on the nuances of his speech.
“Good morning Mr. President!” screamed Boy. “Our wonderboy is looking good today! That's a good sign!”
“Thank you Boy! Now, anong gagawin natin?”
“Sandali lang ito, Mr. President. But first, have you received the latest copy of the speech? I've added a few lines to make it more relatable, more emotional... more...”
“Showbiz? Pati ikaw pinakikialaman ang speech ko! At ginawa ninyo pa akong makeover subject. O ano na namang revision 'yan?”
“Tinanggal ko na ‘yung mga metaphor-metaphor na sinulat ninyo Mr. President! What the public want are forceful words, words that they can understand at face value. Hindi na bangkang papel na literal na namang iisipin ng mga manonood. Remember Mr. President, this speech isn't for the senate or the congress. This speech...”
Boy turns the president towards the mirror where he could see himself entirely.
“This speech is for them... and more importantly for you... if you believe every word you say, if every pore in your body is screaming honesty and if your cute puppy eyes exude above anything else sincerity--- never mind intelligence ---- then they, the public, and you, yourself will believe them.”
“Bakit? Sa tingin mo mag-sisinungaling ako?”
“Ikaw naman Mr. President, mapag-biro ka talaga. Alam mo, dapat ikaw ang nag-showbiz dahil mas magaling kang umarte kesa kay Kris! Ooops, don't tell that to friendship!”
“Puwede bang pang-matinee idol?”
“Piolo and John Lloyd have nothing on you!”
He looked at himself in the mirror and even though he knew it was all lies he couldn’t help but smile at himself. He does look good.
“Pero teka, naka-incorporate na ba d'yan ang revisions nila Mar at Butch?”
“Ano po ‘yun, Mr. President?”
His smile quickly vanished.
As he tried on the designer Barong Tagalog, he once again thought about his life. This is one of his final State of the Nation Address speeches and if he had it his way, well, uh, he will never have it his way. The weight of his family’s legacy still rests on his delicate shoulders and he should be proud, really, proud that they have given him this opportunity. Soon the family will be discussing his sister's bid for political office and if and when she wins he knows that that is the time to leave the country. Maybe hide in Timbuktu perhaps? For now though there is the speech. He reached out for his lucky charm which he always keeps in his pocket, reserved for special occasions such as this one. It’s a moldy paper, almost tattered, a letter from his father. Carefully, he unfolded the paper and read the words.
"The only advice I can give you: Live with honor and follow your conscience," his father wrote. "There is no greater nation on earth than our Motherland. No greater people than our own. Serve them with all your heart, with all your might and with all your strength."
"Son," he read to himself, "the ball is now in your hands."
He folded the letter again and put it away. He looked at himself in the mirror and started practicing his speech with the help of an IPad and wondered if Boy was right. Maybe he should’ve been the movie star.