(President Noynoy Aquino and Valenzuela Councilor Shalani Soledad. Photo from Inquirer.net)
IT all started with my friend Casper’s Facebook status one morning last week.
He said: “P-Noy should exercise presidential prerogative and break protocol to let his girlfriend sit at the front row with his sisters at his inaugural. Pinoys love a good love story, and this is a good one for this nation of telenovela lovers.”
Casper, of course, was referring to the lovely Shalani Soledad, who recently won another term as councilor of Valenzuela. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like the fresh-faced Shalani...except maybe for presidential sister Kris? Hehehe.
The girl seems to be shy and soft-spoken—remember how she absolutely avoided talking to the press about her relationship to then just plain Sen. Noynoy Aquino after he had just filed his certificate of candidacy? This was one of the endearing things about Shalani, I suppose, and the romantics among the media who covered the then-senator just couldn’t stop needling him when he would marry the young lady.
After Casper’s declaration, his friends followed suit, commenting that they agreed with him. I was the spoilsport who didn’t support his proposed seating arrangement.
First of all, Shalani and her disarming smile, is still just a girlfriend, I said. The relationship between her and now President Noynoy could prosper—or it may not. There is no commitment between these two lovebirds to get married to each other, at least, that's what they've said so themselves. They are not engaged, so strictly speaking, Shalani isn’t family (unlike, of course, Girl Abunda, who has declared himself to be the fifth Aquino sister).
Also I told Casper, the electoral campaign was over, P-Noy had already won and “[he] should have enough sense not to use the relationship as a gimmick just to entertain the masses. There are more than enough telenovelas to deliver on that.”
But on the day Casper made his statement of support on behalf of Shalani’s place at her boyfriend’s inauguration, the gossip mill started churning out the bit that the President and his girlfriend were no longer an item. There was even one news report quoting Shalani denying the rumor which apparently had been swirling since P-Noy’s proclamation in Congress.
The rumor pointed to the fact that Shalani was seated four rows behind P-Noy’s sisters during his proclamation in Congress, and just beside singer/composer Ogie Alcasid. Also, she was absent at the small dinner celebration the Aquinos held with P-Noy’s buddies and schoolmates at Luk Foo, that Cantonese restaurant beside Puregold Supermarket along Commonwealth Avenue. (Good restaurant choice by P-Noy, by the way. Just simple and straightforward Chinese dishes, and inexpensive.)
Apparently, Casper also heard the rumor and by late afternoon of that day, he told me that the breakup was all true. He added that his respect for P-Noy even rose higher because of the latter’s reason for the breakup. “Para sa bayan?” I asked. Casper confirmed that, yes, supposedly P-Noy did it because he wanted to focus first on the task at hand, i.e., leading the nation.
Well, P-Noy’s inauguration on Wednesday went swimmingly without much incident at the Quirino Grandstand, and thank God it didn’t rain. But, of course, quite a number of people watching the ceremonies on TV noticed that Shalani was seated behind the Aquino sisters, specifically behind the President's sister, Viel Aquino-Dy. I don’t know if the seating plan is a clue to whether Shalani and P-Noy are still together or not. But why would you invite an ex-girlfriend to your inaugural ceremony, right? That’s kinda weird. And according to a GMA news report, it was P-Noy himself who chose Shalani’s designer for the event.
I think it’s already significant that Shalani was there. I don’t think people should make mountains about the molehill-fact that she was seated behind P-Noy's sisters. To me, it just means protocol was strictly followed by the inauguration team. We’re under a new administration after all, so it’s to be expected that proper decorum and rules on conduct are followed.
But gads, I would really hate to be in Shalani’s shoes these days. It can’t be easy when one’s relationships are put under the microscope, or in P-Noy and Shalani’s case, under close media scrutiny. Every move each partner in the relationship is constantly dissected, assessed, deconstructed and analyzed to no end. God help Shalani if on her way to work, she leaves her house with her hair all wet and unkempt. People will probably immediately dismiss her as unfit to be P-Noy’s wife!
Of course, the same kind of scrutiny goes for P-Noy’s siblings.
For instance, Miggy noticed that when Kris arrived at the Quirino Grandstand, she kissed a number of the guests, but didn’t even bother to greet Shalani. No beso-beso, no nothing. When Miggy put this out on her Facebook status, the comments poured in from her friends who also noticed the same. I missed that bit on the screen myself, so I couldn’t comment. (At the inauguration street party at the Quezon Memorial Circle later that night though, many noted that Shalani was seated beside Kris. So all's well, perhaps between this two?)
As a woman, I feel for Shalani. There is just too much pressure put on her, being the presidential girlfriend. As she said so in a lengthy newspaper interview back in April, she really has to mind what she wears these days. When before she could just dress up casually (“I go to the supermarket na naka-slippers, naka-shorts”), she now checks herself constantly, making sure her shorts or her skirts are of the proper length. (Well, Shalani was so gorgeous in her yellow terno by Rajo Laurel—a surprise—during the inauguration. She really stood out in her simplicity, and looked so much better than, sorry, P-Noy’s sisters, Kris included. Whoever made that 'Big Bird' terno for Kris and those updated Maria Claras for the other sisters should be shot.)
Of course, many people wonder if the relationship will last, now that Shalani's boyfriend is the new President of the Philippines. Sure, it’s a feat any girlfriend should be awfully proud of, but as Shalani said so herself, she expects there would be less time for them to be together. Even if she is mature enough to comprehend the realities of the situation, I’m sure she can’t help but wonder when she and P-Noy are even going out on a date again. At the same time, she will feel guilty for thinking just that. How can she put that kind of pressure on someone who has more problems to think about than setting the next date with his girlfriend?
Fortunately for Shalani, she will be busy with her own job as councilor, filing ordinances, and trying to get them passed by their city hall. She will have her family or close set of friends to hang out with after her work is done for the day.
Whatever happens, I wish Shalani the strength to take whatever difficulties may come in maintaining such a high-profile relationship with P-Noy. Between her and P-Noy, she will have to be the more understanding one. She will have to be the patient one, and the forgiving one, especially when dates have to be broken for reasons of the state, or when, yes, he bitches a little because he’s too busy to listen to her making lambing on the phone.
(President Noynoy and Shalani are certainly no Michael Douglas and Annette Benning in The American President.)
The romantics among us continue to imagine P-Noy and Shalani’s relationship as the same as Michael Douglas and Annette Benning’s which managed to beat the odds in the film The American President, but, really, it isn’t. In real life, a 30-year-old woman who could have anyone as her beau, and with marriage and children perhaps on her mind, is bound to ask herself if her boyfriend, the President, is worth the six-year wait.
(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror.)