SEVERAL columns ago, I wistfully wrote about former President Ramon Magsaysay, recalling the days when the President of the Philippines dared to walk unescorted into the Bacolod Public Plaza with his wife to talk freely with his delighted constituents.
Ramon Magsaysay was fondly called "The Guy" for good reason: he was one of us. He was approachable, friendly and open to anyone interested to talk family, politics and practically anything else under the sun. He did not have a coterie of presidential guards who would slap the hand of anyone who dared come within handshaking distance of him. He had security men, of course, but their job was not to cordon him off from us.
The succession of presidents that followed "The Guy" after his tragic plane crash unfortunately became more and more distant. Except maybe when he was campaigning and wooing our votes, how many of us have ever shaken hands with a president? Have we ever seen an incumbent Chief Executive eat quietly at a restaurant with his family, or go watch a movie with them? Do we remember a time when a president drove to the office without a phalanx of scowling police escorts who would rudely shout and waive us out of the way so that their "very important principal" could escape the traffic that we mortals had to endure everyday?
Well, in his first 100 days President P-Noy seems to want to hark back to the Magsaysay era, and I hope he continues to do so until 2016. It was a delight to see him endure Manila traffic just like the rest of us; to read about how he made an unexpected stop at a bookstore to browse at something worth reading; to see him treat cabinet members with just softdrinks and peanuts during a meeting -- just like the rest of us. It pleased us to read that he disappeared from view one weekend so that he could have a little private time for himself, time when he would not be President but simply a man with personal needs to satisfy. P-Noy is going the way of The Guy, and I hope to see the day when he would pop out at the plaza with girlfriend Shalani in tow, to talk to us about the time of day. It's been a long time since we've had a leader like that.
Of course there are risks, serious ones, when the highest official in the land will lay himself open to harm by mingling freely with citizens. But these are occupational hazards that come with being the president. The tightest of presidential security in the world did not prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating John F. Kennedy. The safety of the President should come secondary to his trusting his constituents enough to rub elbows with the commonest of them.
P-Noy was earlier quoted as saying he did not want to live in Malacañang Palace because there was something negative about the place that warped the minds of presidents. It is not the Palace, Sir; it's the seclusion that results from being cordoned off from the ordinary man in the street, while you are exposed to the power of your office that makes you heady with that power and makes you forget your humanity. President Magsaysay was loved because he never forgot he was just like any other Filipino. President Corazon Aquino was revered even in death because like The Guy, she was close enough to mingle with and feel for the Filipino.
President Noy appears headed in the same direction so far. I hope he gives the generation after ours a dose of what a real, honest-to-goodness approachable President really is. To repeat, it has been a long time since we've had one like that.