Title: “El Presidente”
Summary: The leader of a country built on questionable morality questions his morality. The short story on which the novella “Bayani” was based. A thought experiment.
Genre: Superheroes, Filipino Elements, Politics
Written in 2013
“I think I might be in love.”
“Don’t be too hasty now.”
“I’m not joking. After thousands of years of monsoon rain you could set your watch to, finally, we’ve got a guy in the seat smart enough to keep people from drowning every year.”
“Aralyo’s very intelligent,” said Bernardo, nodding solemnly. “And all he seeks is the Metro’s best interests. Idealistic, but far from naïve. It’s been good to assist him and the MMDA in more of the… heavy lifting.”
Patrick smiled, more of a grimace, than anything. “My heroes,” he quipped.
Bernardo followed the deep set lines of Patrick’s eyes, and the shadows that bordered them, under both the jut of his brow and the dip of his lids.
“You live under a rock, Boy?”
Bernardo shook his head. “You shouldn’t let them get to you. These people don’t know what they’re talking about.”
“These people accused me of being a money-grubbing tycoon,” Patrick said stonily. “Like father, like son. Too busy kissing up to bigwigs, too corrupt to lead. Some of the ballsier guys accused me of political killings. Don’t you just love how ingenious the common man gets when he’s trying to oust his leader?”
“Don’t put too much stock in lies.”
Patrick snorted. “What lies? I told you about the Ampatuan raid, didn’t I?”
Bernardo frowned. “That was different. They made the first move, you retaliated. You saved people.”
“I had their throats cut in their sleep,” Patrick hissed. “I had their private police gunned down on the road. That’s not retaliation, Boy, that’s assassination.”
“They attempted the same on you,” Bernardo responded through gritted teeth.
“No proof,” Patrick said, waving a hand.
“Why else would I be here guarding you? If you’d just tell people—”
“I’m not flouting the murder of thirty-three people.”
“You ended a political dynasty!” Bernardo stood, toppling the soft chair. “Damn it, Patrick, since we were kids, we knew what they were doing! Everyone did! When someone tried to look into it, they were murdered in cold blood. What you did was justified.”
“I paid people,” Patrick whispered. He waited for Bernardo to pick up his seat before continuing. “I paid off rats so I could kill snakes. There was no heroism involved. There were mercenaries and scum who were looking for a good way to cut the head off of a regime, and I paid them to kill their leaders. In the end, money always talks.”
Bernardo folded his fingers together. “Why are you always so afraid to show people the good you’ve done?”
“What good, Boy?” Patrick looked up, his eyes stone cold, his expression livid. “Letting the rich off the hook because they fund my presidency?”
“Finding ways to pay off your predecessor’s national debts and funding schools, projects dedicated to the marginalized class,” Bernardo corrected. “Which you don’t take credit for.”
“Ending dynasties and killing terrorists,” Bernardo continued.
“Lying through my teeth?”
“Protecting people. Like you always have.”
Bernardo took a deep breath, and clasped Patrick’s hands. The slenderer man sighed.
“Corrupting the nation’s golden boy superhero?” Patrick said, with much less conviction.
“We’ve both given our lives to this country,” said Bernardo Carpio, strong man and superhero, the Philippines’ number one golden bayani for many years, since his first appearance as a teenaged hero in a team of three. “So why is one of us worshipped like some kind of false god, while the other one is condemned a demon and a tyrant?”
“You know,” Patrick said thoughtfully, covering Bernardo—Boy’s hand with his own. “The word tyrant was once used positively. It meant someone who was an excellent leader, who made things better for everyone, who brought prosperity to his capital and was loved by his people. For some reason, the definition was corrupted over time. Now people seem to think tyrants are evil. Why is that?”
“Because people started to value freedom over their own well-being,” Boy said. “Because they think freedom is the choice to throw yourself off a bridge, rather than keep yourself away the edge.”
“They call me the new Marcos,” Patrick said after a while.
“You’re better than him,” said Boy.
“I suppose it’s some kind of backhanded compliment, seeing as the country hasn’t seen better days than when it was being kept up by a dictator.”
Boy looked down at their linked hands thoughtfully. “I suppose it hasn’t.”
“Is that the price I’m supposed to pay to make the Philippines the richest country in South East Asia again? Stay in office for twenty-one years, become a monster, marry a woman who’ll spend all her money on shoes…”
“I don’t think even you would put yourself through that kind of torture.”
“Yeah, I mean, do you see me marrying a woman?”
They laughed easily, like they hadn’t done in many months. Two old friends, grown up too quick, at the cusp of their lives when the people around them were still in the middle.
“God. When did my life get so depressing?” Patrick sighed.
“I’d put it at the moment you realized you loved this country,” Boy said sincerely.
“I’ve made my bed,” Patrick said. “Now I have to lie in it.”
“You don’t have to lie in it alone.”
“That… was either the sweetest reassurance or the weirdest come-on I’ve ever heard in my life.”
“Come on, Mister President,” the superhero, Bernardo Carpio said, shaking his head in amusement and holding a hand out. “I think it’s time to show you what your sacrifices have brought to this country.”
If anyone had looked up that night, they might have seen their leader, framed against the evening sky, carried on the back of their hero, their national icon. Their president—hated, loved, and ignored by his people, looking down, feeling smaller than he’d ever felt.
Few look up at the sky and see the stars, too blinded by light, dust and smoke to see the truth of their failings and the triumphs of those around them.
“El Presidente” (c) Motzie Dapul 2013-Present