First in 9 years: No effigy burned after Philippines’ State of the Nation Address

JERRIE M. ABELLA, GMANews.TV,  July 26, 2010

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's effigy during her last SONA in 2009 was burned, in line with the tradition in protest actions of imagining the subjugation of the enemy. Ugat Lahi

One thing was missing during President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA), and that was the symbolic burning of the president’s effigy outside the Batasan Complex.

This was because militant groups do not consider Aquino as their adversary yet.

“It’s too early to ‘burn’ him (Aquino),” said visual artist Max Santiago of Ugat Lahi, which has been making effigies of the country’s top leaders in the last 12 years.

Effigy-burning had been a regular spectacle during the SONAs of Aquino’s predecessors.

For this year, militants made an Aquino effigy not to condemn his month-old administration, but to pose challenges and remind him of the promises he made when he wooed voters in this year’s presidential campaign.

Harry Potter or Lord Voldemort?

Like the effigies for the last three presidents, this year’s drew heavily on references to popular culture.

The 14 feet by 15 feet papier-mâché cast from a terra cotta mask featured Aquino as a magician complete with a cape, a magic wand and a magician’s hat.

Aquino's "The Magician" effigy, clad in yellow and complete with a wand, cape and hat, draws a crowd of curios protesters during Monday's SONA. The effigy was not burned, a first after nine years.

“He can either be a Harry Potter or a Lord Voldemort,” Santiago told GMANews.TV, referring to the hero and villain, respectively, of the popular “Harry Potter” book series that has been turned into movies.

Regarding the effigy’s “solo performance,” Santiago said the bubbles that came out of its hands signified Aquino’s earlier promises that may not be realized.

Performance artists likewise emerged from the effigy’s hat, portraying such issues as the presence of American troops in the country, extrajudicial killings, and the alleged crimes of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Aquino’s predecessor.

“There exists an illusion that Noynoy’s victory will signal the end of all of our problems. But the people must realize that at this point, everything is just PR job, just an illusion,” Santiago said.

He said the effigy’s theme, as well as the decision not to burn it, was the result of consultations with umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), with which Ugat Lahi is affiliated, and other allied organizations.

13th effigy

Ugat Lahi has been making effigies since 1998 during the time of Joseph Estrada, following inspiration from the politically radical Bread and Puppet Theater.

The first ever effigy that the group made for Estrada featured not only him but several other political figures, among them former First Lady and now Ilocos Norte Rep. Imelda Marcos. They were depicted as pigs in bamboo poles about to be roasted.

When Arroyo assumed the presidency, the effigy made for her showed her inside a jack-in-the-box, a children’s toy featuring a clown or jester popping out of the box at the end of a recorded melody.

Other notable effigies under the nine-year rule of Arroyo were the one in 2005 (“Gloriang Tuko”), showing her as a gecko in reference to the Filipino idiom kapit-tuko for politicians stubbornly clinging to power, and another in 2007 (“Gloriang Manananggal”), featuring the winged half-bodied monster in Philippine folklore.

As practice dictates, effigies are visually exaggerated, the subject’s face grotesquely portrayed as a manifestation of the people’s hatred toward a government leader.

“Their faces are intentionally made ugly to show their monstrosity,” Santiago said.

He added effigies are traditionally burned as a symbolic end to the subject perceived to be the people’s enemy. “There is relief when you see the enemy being eaten by flames.”

This is precisely the reason why effigies are normally made of papier-mâché, which can be consumed by flames easily, apart from the fact that burning paper results in a more fiery display.

In the case of Aquino, however, his effigy included a rattan frame for durability purposes.

Aquino’s “The Magician” effigy, clad in yellow and complete with a wand, cape and hat, draws a crowd of curios protesters during Monday’s SONA. The effigy was not burned, a first after nine years.

Future burning?

Throughout the duration of the day-long protests along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City, Aquino’s effigy stood just in front of the truck that served as a stage, occasionally drawing a curious crowd.

At a little past 5 p.m., a few minutes after Aquino delivered his SONA, an apparently eager rallyist asked when the effigy will be burned, unaware that this year will be an exception to the tradition.

Santiago admitted this might cause a little problem, as the regulars of SONA protest actions always look forward to the burning of the effigy right after a group leader delivers a response to the President’s speech.

SONA protest programs usually end right after the burning of the effigy, and it has become the staple for media reports on the activities. Aquino’s effigy, however, remained intact long after the speech has ended, with bubbles still billowing from its outstretched hands.

“We will keep the bust and perhaps display it in schools as an exhibit,” Santiago said when asked what they plan to do with the humongous figure.

Will the same effigy be burned a year or so after, when Aquino’s promises turn out to be empty rhetoric?

“That’s possible,” Santiago quipped. – KBK, GMANews.TV

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