The bald truth
Manila has three rich sources of information - coffee shops, taxi drivers and beauty salons. And so, during quarterly perms, I make it a point to chat up my favourite hair stylist, whose identity I will hide under the alias 'Danny', for reasons you will soon learn.
Danny is unusual in the trade. He is not gay and is a college graduate who nearly became a military officer but opted to deviate from his family's traditional career path. His skill with the scissors has brought him within a whisker of the country's mightiest and powerful.
'Danny, why do even our old politicians have black hair?' I asked recently. Offhand, I could think of only one exception - Senator Rodolfo Biazon, whose grizzled crew cut revealed his age. Despite this, the lean, ex-general looked virile.
'Why won't they allow themselves to grow old publicly?' I wondered aloud and pointed to retired lawmaker Jovito Salonga, who must have breached the 80-year mark with hair as black as my nine-year-old son's.
I named all the politicians I thought should have white hair - even a sprinkling - but do not. Afterwards, Danny laughed and said: 'You forgot [ex-president] Joseph Estrada.' I scanned my mind as to how a 66-year-old grandfather should look and nodded. Danny confided Estrada's well-kept secret: 'That's not his hair, you see.' He said a receding hairline ran in Estrada's family and pointed to Estrada's son, Jinggoy, and his actor-brother Jessie. Estrada owned more than a dozen toupees of the expensive 'New Man' label, which uses only human hair, he said. His toupees show various lengths of his Elvis Presley mane 'so the public thinks his hair is growing and then he has a haircut', he explained.
Many politicians, he said, wear New Man. 'They need to look young for voters', who probably equate old age not with wisdom, but senility. Danny was spot on. The latest population profile, taken three years ago, showed that only about 4 per cent of 82 million Filipinos were aged 65 and over; 37 per cent were 14 and younger; while 59 per cent belonged to the 'economically active' category of 15 to 64-year-olds. Half the country's population was below 21.
No wonder black hair is a survival mechanism for ageing politicians, like thick skin.