A Quartet of disparities: Imelda, Cory, Miriam and Gloria

by Marciano A. Paroy Jr.

In my list, there are only four women in Philippine politics who, upon their dramatic entry, were able to collectively fascinate us and held our attention wrapped by the newsworthiness of all their actions – for so long, that we almost feel like we have known them forever: Imelda Romualdez-Marcos, Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, Mirriam Defensor-Santiago and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Just saying their names aloud conjures images of refinement, bearing, elegance, wisdom, panache, style, and all those grand adjectives (and they are among the few whose maiden names we always like to put right there in the middle).

The four women had all been media darlings during their peak – with the exception of PGMA who, much to the consternation of a sizeable percentage in the society, still clings to that peak, in a manner of speaking.

Among the four, former First Lady Imelda wins hands down for having mastered the skill in sweetly controlling the media to her advantage during her days. She succeeded in getting the media to paint the image she had always wanted to project. If Princess Diana’s hold over the press could be attributed to her perceived coyness and reserved demeanor, Imelda took the opposite direction and beaconed for each camera bulb to flash before her face. If Princess Diana would look away or simply look down and stare at her oversized toes as cameras heat up the atmosphere around her, Mrs. Marcos would confront the situation and stare straight into the camera lens.

And smile, with confidence, knowing that she would look great in photographs taken from whatever angle, and under whatever lighting.
She was a great beauty. I give her that. In fact, she remains to be the most glamorous and most enthralling female occupant that ever slept at the Malacañang Palace.

*****
But if Imelda was the stunning cover of the magazine or the look-at-me oversized front page photo on a tabloid, then former President Cory Aquino would be its editorial – the core, the meat, all mind, heart and soul.
Breezing-in with no experience in politics and public administration, Tita Cory endeared herself to media practitioners, both here and abroad. She landed the Time Cover of its January 5, 1987 issue when it named her as the Woman of the Year (for1986) – her fourth cover actually; she landed the cover thrice the previous year. You could not get any higher than that in proving that you have bagged the approval of the news and public affairs industry – in its print medium, that is. She made quite an impression on the American press that Katherine Graham, publisher of the venerable Washington Post – upon listening to President Aquino eloquently address her American audience at the White House – wondered whether an American could have written her speech.

The perennial media sin of Cory, however, was her being honest, ready to bare how she felt, holding nothing back – traits that seasoned media-savvy politicians have perfected through the years. She would say one thing, and mean it – and the press would rush to their keyboards with not the slightest shade of doubt.
And so when President Aquino announced, during her last SONA in 1991, that she would soon be Citizen Cory the following year – everyone believed her.

*****
Try this: Say the name Miriam and think of one-word descriptions that accurately befit her. One, two, three – go!
“Miriam.”

A lull follows. There is a long pause. The sheet becomes blank. For what are you supposed to say? Come up with the wrong choice of words and you may find yourself at the receiving end of her heavily worded (and accented) invectives. But that is the Miriam trademark which we have all bowed down to at first, then became an irreverent source of amusement, and later embraced as an innate part of the whole package that is overweighed with pure wisdom, nothing else.
That is how she has always been presented by the Philippine media. But certainly, she must have a soft spot somewhere that she fails to guard at times, too – and when tragic moments in fact occurred in her life, the press did not go to great lengths to portray a woman in grief. It is simply just not her at all. To even hint at weakness is incongruent to the long-held impression that we have of the lady senator.

*****
Earlier, I have said that all four women had been media darlings during their peak. PGMA is in power now but she is not exactly a media darling these days. But there was a time when she was somehow well-loved by the news industry. Coming from affluent backgrounds, with a former Philippine President for a father, her rise in the world of politics was a given. But even so, she did prove her worth as a valuable addition to the male-dominated Senate.

Not really a great beauty, but what she lacked in physique, she more than made up in the brains department – and coupled it with a media-friendly stance. This was all in the early days of her career. Eventually, she outsmarted and prevailed over many people who easily overshadowed her physically.

There is division in the Philippine media with regards to the simple PGMA question: is she good or is she bad? But while we cannot deny that she has pronouncements and decisions that isolate and earn the ire of media practitioners, she does have, conversely, many winning points too.

*****
As a run-through, Imelda is the woman who was tagged as “the other President” in the shadows; Cory was the woman who did become President; Miriam is the woman who almost became President; and PGMA is the woman who – err, in the words of Susan Roces – “stole the Presidency.”

Former First Lady Imelda had a falling-out with the media when she was labeled as a thief; President Cory – aside from that trivial “hiding under” issue – was only badly appraised for her bad hairdo and weak interest in fashion (she did improve later); Senator Miriam has not yet done anything major that would totally antagonize media practitioners, but she does make press people scratch their heads – like when she said “I lied. Hahahaha!” (in fact, it pushed press people to get her talking all the more, wishing she might lapse into one such moment again); as for PGMA, she has yet to be judged after her stint at the Palace.

There goes the Great Four – and, indeed, they are great women. At the very moment when Imelda became First Lady to President Ferdinand Marcos, the Philippine government has since been imprinted with the touch of a woman.

This active role in governance won’t end with Pangulong Gloria, that’s for sure. Without doubt, they are all qualified – academic preparations, leadership and management experience, a ready reserve of support, etc. Name a criterion, a lady politician will most likely meet it.

Just listing down the names of these women on-the-rise would, again, conjure images of refinement, bearing, elegance, wisdom, panache, style, and all those grand adjectives.

Ugh! Give me Aling Dionisia anytime.