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News Commentary

'Necropolitics': Death and politics as usual?

Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — In the Philippines, it has been shown repeatedly that the death of a politician can breathe new life into the political careers of their relatives.

This was perhaps most prominently seen following the death of former Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. His assassination in 1983 eventually drove his widow Corazon "Cory" Aquino to run for president and led to the People Power revolution that chased the dictator Ferdinand Marcos from the Palace and from the Philippines.

Decades after this unprecedented event, it was former President Aquino’s death that thrust her son, then Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, into the political spotlight and paved the way for him to clinch the presidency in 2010.

This phenomenon of death fuelling the political capital of personalities — dubbed by some observers and columnists as “necropolitics” — is not confined to the Aquinos and happens even in local politics. 

The passing of Filipino actor Fernando Poe Jr. has been cited as among the reasons behind Sen. Grace Poe’s rise in the political arena, while some have pointed out that the death of former Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo benefitted the political career of his widow Leni Robredo, who became Naga City representative and is now vice president.

What is 'necropolitics'?

Necropolitics, according to political scientist Cleve Arguelles, is how dead bodies, particularly of public figures, have “political lives” which affect the people’s political decisions.

He said that this can be seen when the head of a political family dies and their successor gets “extra points” for their political projects while there is an outpouring of public sympathy for them.

Sociologist Ash Presto traced this phenomenon back to the hagiographic way that Filipinos remember the lives of the dead, where their positive traits are often highlighted more than their shortcomings.

“Wala namang namamatay na masama, ang lahat ng namamatay ay mabuting tao sa Pilipinas,” she said.

(Translation: No one dies a bad person in the Philippines, everyone who dies here is a good person.)

Presto said the perfect blend of this view and the similarly hagiographic reportage on a politician’s death can often result in more votes for a particular candidate in the elections.

The politics of Noynoy’s death

While no Aquino has been floated as among the potential bets for the 2022 elections, Arguelles said former President Aquino's death may provide an opening for the opposition.

“Hindi pala na meron talagang hindi matibag-tibag na Duterte consensus sa bansang ito. Maaari palang mag-offer ng bagong plataporma, mag-offer ng bagong klaseng pulitika,” he told Philstar.com.

(Apparently it’s not true that there is an indestructible Duterte consensus in this country. It is possible to offer a new platform, to offer a new kind of politics.)

But he said it is still up to candidates how they would carry the grief of the people to potential political victory in 2022. — Anne Beatrice V. Lagman with reports from Xave Gregorio and James Relativo

NOYNOY AQUINO
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