The Philippines Under President Aquino

The Philippines Under President Aquino

Incoming President-elect Benigno 'Noynoy' Aquino sings during the inauguration street party of Aquino as the fifteenth President of the Philippines at Quezon Memorial Circle on June 30, 2010, Quezon City Philippines. (Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images)

by Arnel Paciano Casanova

 

MANILA, PHILIPPINES, July 6, 2010 - Benigno Simeon Aquino III has just been sworn in as the President of the Philippines and is riding a wave of optimism. But can he resurrect the nation's democracy?

With a clear mandate from the electorate, he is in a strong position to institute long overdue reforms.  And, unlike his predecessors, he should be able to craft policies without worrying about instability or doubts about the legitimacy of his leadership. 

President ‘Noynoy' or ‘P-Noy' -- as he is now fondly called by Filipinos --  has followed a path his late parents took in service to the country.  He is the son of two of the most enduring icons of Philippine democracy - Ninoy Aquino, who was assassinated while fighting the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, and President Cory Aquino, the champion of ‘People Power'  that eventually toppled Marcos and sparked other freedom movements across the world.

For the first time in 12 years, the Philippines has a head of state whose electoral mandate is beyond  doubt.  He led his closest rival,  disgraced former President Joseph Estrada, by more than 5 million votes. 

At his June 30 inauguration, President Aquino spoke to a crowd of half a million Filipinos and millions more watching on TV. His speech was devoid of lofty political rhetoric speech and instead was brief and full of candor. His messages resonated loudly in the hearts and minds of Filipinos who endured 12 years of under two presidents - Estrada and Gloria Arroyo -- who were both accused of corruption, human rights abuses and dictatorial proclivities. 

President Aquino opened his speech by recognizing his servanthood to the people. He stated his strength came from the people and that his government exists "to serve and not lord over" the citizens. 

In a country governed for decades by elites and oligarchs,  he spoke of simplicity and modesty.  And while he himself comes from one of these elite families, he is divesting himself of the vestiges of entitlement.

Symbolically, he has banned politicians and other members of the elite from driving around with police escorts and blaring sirens. Ordinary Filipinos have long resented the massive traffic jams  from such blatant daily abuse of power. 

He won the election on an anti-corruption platform and in his speech identified his foremost duty as being able "to lift the nation from poverty through honest and effective governance". This brought positive response from all sectors, particularly local business, which has long complained of the cost of corruption to its bottom line.

Foreign businessmen are likewise beginning to have confidence in the Philippine economy.  In the past, foreign direct investment in the Philippines has been very minimal compared with other countries. The perception has been that investing in the Philippines is high-risk, financially and politically. Many cite past corruption-tainted projects such as Manila Airport's Ninoy Aquino Terminal 3 project where Fraport, a German company was involved, and the NBN-ZTE broadband deal, where a Chinese telecommunications company was implicated.  With renewed confidence from the international and local business community, the Philippine economy should be able to benefit from the surging overall vibrancy of the Asia's regional economy.

Then  there is the question of the Philippine military which has indulged in adventurism in past years, including multiple rebellions and coups during his mother's term.  The new President almost lost his life in a 1989 coup attempt and he still has a bullet lodged in his neck. Former Brigadier General Danilo Lim, a West Point educated and decorated elite officer, is being prosecuted for leading a number of alleged destabilization attempts against the previous Arroyo administration. Quite interestingly, he allied himself with Aquino -- his former nemesis -- and the now president's party, but the general failed to win a seat in the Senate at the election.

Many will be watching how President Aquino will move with peace talks with the communist and Muslim rebels. But the military now seems intent on following the people's sentiment, and this can only strengthen the new administration's hand.

President Aquino tempered the expectations of his people by admitting that the massive problems facing the Philippines can not be solved overnight and that real remedies could take years. He appealed to a sense of civic duty all Filipinos to do their share. By casting himself as a personal example provides the air of hope, optimism and renewed surge of patriotism among Filipinos, at home and abroad. 

The Aquino government is only days old and it is yet to be seen how the backbone of his presidency- his Cabinet line-up - will perform. Nonetheless, Filipinos feel reinvigorated. They have a feeling of euphoria and pride - one that comes from the national redemption that democracy is resurrected and their dignity has been restored. 

Arnel Paciano Casanova is an Asia 21 Young Leader from the Philippines.

July 6, 2010
by Jennifer Mattson