A Presidential Daughter Tells All… and All…
MANILA, the Philippines, May 3, 2003 : She’s a fool for sweet-and-sour pork. Her son has big feet. She collects Swatch Bijoux bracelets. She likes to walk around the house naked.
The best colors for her skin tone are aqua blue, minty green, bubble-gum pink and melon orange. ”Red also never fails, especially on Mondays” — to start her week off happy.
These are just a few of the things we know about Kris Aquino, 32, bubbly talk-show hostess and youngest daughter of Corazon Aquino, the former Philippine president.
How do we know these things? We know because she tells us — on her morning celebrity talk show, on her evening game show, on her weekend gossip hour and anywhere else we might be listening.
She tells us everything. To know Ms. Aquino is to really know her. She is a compulsive gossip, and her subject is herself — her terrible choices in men, the stresses of single parenthood, her dramas with her long-suffering mother.
”If you say anything about me, you can say — the word is tactless,” she said. ”When I open my mouth, people know that whatever comes out is true.”
The strange thing is that it’s weirdly interesting. This is not, after all, just another bright plastic bauble in the world of entertainment. This is the bearer of the Aquino name, the most revered and unsullied in the nation.
First was her father, Benigno, the assassinated challenger to former President Ferdinand Marcos, and now a national martyr — the man who told his self-doubting countrymen that, yes, ”the Filipino is worth dying for.”
Then came his widow, Joan of Arc in a yellow dress, leading her people from the darkness of the Marcos dictatorship on the wings of prayer and people power.
It has fallen to their youngest daughter to transform the family narrative from a passion play into a soap opera.
If the previous Aquino generation shimmered in the glow of a halo, this one is irradiated by limelight.
Where the mother’s charisma blossomed from real diffidence, the daughter’s is that of the family cutup, charmed by her own charm.
Where the mother is demure, the daughter is the type to ask a male model on her talk show: ”Are you sure you don’t use steroids? You can tell by looking at the nipples, you know.”
She is promiscuously friendly — not a family trait — inviting onto her show the sons of two former presidents driven from power in disgrace by her mother, Mr. Marcos and Joseph Estrada.
Unlike her mother, who has remained loyal to her late husband, Ms. Aquino has been unable to resist a series of actors and basketball players, usually married and a good deal older than she is. Her 8-year-old son, Josh, is the product of one of these liaisons.
NOBODY, inside or outside her family, seems to approve. The tut-tutting can be deafening.
”She makes me look like a nun,” said Imee Marcos, the eldest daughter of the former president, who is now a member of Congress. It was she who caused the biggest social scandal of her father’s presidency when she ran off with a professional golfer, Tommy Manotoc, from whom she is now separated.
Ms. Aquino’s sourest critic seems to be her own brother, Benigno S. Aquino III, who is also a congressman.
”The whole family is distressed,” he said when yet another tiresome scandal made the rounds last year. ”We hope that she gets enlightened.” He said his mother and sister were shunning each other and that his mother ”is leaving it all to God.”
Ms. Aquino was driven to penitence, telling a television audience, ”I have shamed my family.”
Clearly, she craves her mother’s approval, and she presents her with expensive gifts like jewelry and paintings. ”I know my mom still loves me,” she said last year. ”She’ll always be my mom, come what may.”
Her mother forgives and forgives, waiting for her youngest child to grow up.
”I’m not as bad as everybody’s portraying me to be,” Ms. Aquino pleaded then. ”If only they would give me love, understanding, good advice.”
But soon the sun was shining brightly again. Nothing keeps Ms. Aquino down for long. Of all the family, she is the most like her father, voluble, energetic, extroverted, optimistic — a natural politician.
She started as a child, climbing onstage to sing at her father’s campaign rallies. ”She was adorable when she was 8, and she’s still at it,” said Girlie Rodis, who was her first manager. ”You never know what’s going to pop out of her mouth next.”
When her father was killed in 1983, she rose to address a huge crowd of mourners, a 12-year-old girl with big glasses.
When her mother took office in 1986, her sisters, Pinky, Ballsy and Viel, pitched in as presidential assistants. Her brother, known as Noynoy, was dutiful and serious.
But young Kris had plans of her own. She started shopping for a theatrical agent, and she began a lifelong habit of falling in love with the wrong men, starting off with an actor.
Her professional career got under way a decade ago when her mother left office — a succession of high-energy talk shows and regular appearances in movies.
As her mother faded into the background in the role of national conscience, Ms. Aquino became more prominent. Her shopping sprees, her soul-searching about liposuction and her trips to the beach with Josh are part of the national discourse now.
”Personally, I’m not interested,” said a gossip columnist who did not want his name used when actually gossiping. ”She does all these private things in public. I wish she’d keep it to herself.”
A STRANGE, subversive thought arises. We have seen this before in Philippine public life.
The vividness and impulsiveness and hunger for attention, the unabashed self-absorption, the ambition and the calculating mind hidden somewhere behind the fluff — there is no one she resembles so much as Imelda Marcos, the former first lady.
Mrs. Marcos, with her shoes and her jewels and her grandiosity, is of course in a class by herself, one of the stupendously strange egos on the world stage.
But Ms. Aquino is still young, still searching, still inventing herself. She will not be a talk-show hostess forever. Something bigger is waiting for her.
”My dad would always ask me, ‘Do you want to be president some day?’ ” she said. ”I’d say, ‘I want to be a movie star.’ I think that’s why my brother resents me. Because I’m the one.”
Her mother has secret thoughts about this too, she said. ”She sees that there’s something in my blood that comes from my dad,” Ms. Aquino said. ”She really believes in destiny. She believes it’s my destiny to be in politics.”
Ms. Aquino will settle for nothing less than the Senate, and she has done the math.
”Not 2004,” she said. ”I’ll still be too young. Not 2007. Josh will be only 12. Maybe 2010. In 2010 I’d be — how old would I be? — I’ll be 39.”
It is true that some might recoil at the prospect of a Senator Gidget. But oddly enough, Ms. Aquino said, her flightiness is apparently an asset.
Advertising surveys have shown that her credibility as a chatterbox is high. If she says she uses a product, she probably does.
When the time is right and she decides to run, she said, ”I know I’d win.”
In the meantime, her sunny face and fast-paced chatter and her wardrobe of aqua blue, minty green and bubble-gum pink light up television screens every day.
She starts off with her chat show, ”Morning Girls.” She gossips on Sundays on ”The Buzz.” In the evenings she gives away money on a light-hearted quiz show, her signature production.
Its title is, ”Are You Game?” and its recurrent refrain, which she shouts out together with the audience, could be a motto for Ms. Aquino’s adventurous life: ”I’m game!”
Copyright The New York Times