Forget Paris

Sex and politics have been front and center in recent days.

Three controversial events have brought sex and politics to the forefront of the news recently. First, the installation of artist Mideo Cruz of a crucifix and a penis drew the ire of the Catholic faithful, art patron Imelda Marcos and the president himself. Congressmen and Senators have opportunistically gotten on the bandwagon breathing fire into the debating embers of our society.

Second, the inclusion of the RH now RP Bill on reproductive health and responsible parenthood by the president along with a dozen other bills in his proposed legislative agenda for Congress to consider. His willingness to work in a bi-partisan way with the sponsors of the bill and with the clergy is a mark of true statesmanship.

Third, the faux pas committed by a reputable news agency in sewing confusion over whether Hollywood celebrity and hotel heiress Paris Hilton would meet with PNoy during her visit to the Philippines gained much oxygen when Presidential Deputy Spokesperson Abigail Valte deemed it necessary to deny such reports via Twitter.

As the title of this piece suggests, this is all about the third event.

After all the serious debates and theological arguments surrounding art and religion or sex and religion, the light-hearted controversy of such “girly goss” is probably a very welcome distraction. The timing of it could not have been better planned in my opinion. I am not suggesting that it was (planned), but I sense a certain tendency among palace officials to boost the president’s “macho image” every chance they get at times.

Fanning speculation

Remember the photo released of him and a lady having a lively night on the town with some of his communications people in the background? This came after the president had been linked to an image consultant within his own team. The porsche incident also portrayed the president as an avid motoring enthusiast.

This of course back-fired, but initially the president did not mind telling the press that the sportscar brought a large smile to his face. Similarly, the president’s fondness with guns caught some attention, and then back-fired on him (no pun intended) when his shooting gallery buddies whom he had appointed to sensitive posts got caught up in some unflattering situations.

I also recall reading an article a while back (but can’t find the link right now) in which Budget Sec Butch Abad admitted to feeding the press stories about PNoy’s supposed links to certain female celebrities during the election season. This was a bid on his part to boost the president’s own status among voters. Abad was then a ranking member of the president’s campaign team.

In a country where tobacco chomping generals, philandering husbands and strict authoritarians are considered top dog, it wouldn’t hurt to project the image of a swinging bachelor this time around…or would it? I think it sometimes runs counter to the other messages that the palace wants to send. What made PNoy so appealing to the electorate was that his persona gave a strong contrast to the often flambuoyant or charismatic character of other prominent leaders.

He was in effect, in a world full of Pepsis and Cokes, the “uncola”. His simple, mild manner contrasted with the extravagant wining and dining of his predecessor. He was patterned after his mum, a president who rode the same car when she first strode into the palace and when she stepped down from it. His geeky, balding and awkward demeanor were just the sort of antidote the country needed at the time when the field was full of bombastic individuals with sexy dancers and starlets in tow.

It is quite understandable though that given our country’s fascination with Hollywood that the media advisers surrounding him would want to engage with that side of our culture. After all, most people tune out when conversations turn to politics, religion or the economy. It is also quite understandable for the president to want to have a social life despite the heavy demands of his job (or even because of it).

Alpha males and eunuchs

This could all be considered a natural consequence of taking the reins. A study found that certain candidates (and their supporters) seem to experience a sudden boost of testosterone after winning a contest. Behavioral and evolutionary scientists link this to the pattern among animals where males fight over the right to spread their seed among the females in the pack. The rise in testosterone is perhaps a biological response in anticipation of the reproductive demands that come with being alpha male.

So perhaps, the country with its adherence to macho, feudal and primeval culture has not evolved all that much from this primitive state? Perhaps.

But there is one reason why I believe we need to celebrate the “single-blessedness” of the president and some of his men. In his most recent book, The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution, Francis Fukuyama describes how the Catholic Church’s insistence on priestly celibacy gave European societies an edge in developing the rule of law and how it was vital in the battle against corruption and rent-seeking within the church.

In societies at the lower wrung of political development, kinship is the primary criterion for conferring wealth, status and power. Fukuyama points out the role of celibacy in shielding the state from the patrimonialism and nepotism of tribal clans. From the imperial eunuchs under the Qin dynasty in China to the Mamluk warriors in the Sultanate of Egypt and the Janissaries, elite slaves of the Ottoman Empire, celibate public servants and warriors were used for this purpose.

It is perhaps not coincidental that the political movement that seeks to remove the artefacts of wang-wang culture and replace it with the rule of law should be so influenced by a small band of single brethren, the president himself being chief among them (either they are single or they are married to such wealthy women of substance, freeing them from the need for material accumulation allowing them to focus instead on the interests of the people).

Perhaps it is a mark of our political development as a nation that such a class of individuals has risen to the top. I hope it is an antecedent to our turning a corner on the rule of law. It goes against our political, cultural and biological programming, but I for one am glad that the president is able to refuse to go Hollywood on us by saying to the press corps, “hey, why don’t we just focus on affairs of the state and simply ‘forget Paris’.”