YEAR AGO this week, on 30 June 2010, Benigno Simeon Aquino III, known as “Noynoy,” was sworn in as president of the Philippines. He came to power with a sense of destiny derived, above all, from his parents. His father, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, was gunned down on the tarmac of the Manila airport when he returned to the Philippines in August 1983 to lead the opposition against dictator Ferdinand Marcos. His mother, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, became the iconic leader of a Yellow Revolution that captivated the world. Thrust into the presidency upon the downfall of Marcos in the People Power uprising of February 1986, she remained a widely respected figure in Philippine politics until her death from cancer in August 2009. This sense of destiny figured prominently in Noynoy’s inaugural speech last June. “I will not be able to face my parents and you who have brought me here,” he proclaimed, “if I do not fulfil the promises I made. My parents sought nothing less, died for nothing less, than democracy and peace. I am blessed by this legacy. I shall carry the torch forward.” As everyone in the crowd was aware, the torch of leadership wouldn’t have been in Noynoy’s hands if not for the legacy of his parents. No one seriously considered him a presidential prospect until his mother’s death less than twelve months before the inauguration, when an outpouring of grief and nostalgia propelled him into the race – and eventually into the presidential palace, with the most decisive electoral margin of the post-Marcos years. When the father was assassinated at age fifty, many speculated regretfully as to what more he might have accomplished had he lived on. When the son assumed the presidency at age fifty, after a notably lacklustre record as a legislator, many speculated hopefully that there were many important accomplishments to come. One year on, opinion polls still register strong public approval and trust ratings for the president. He continues to enjoy a strong mandate for change, generated partly by the record-breaking unpopularity of his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. While Arroyo came to be viewed as a cynical manipulator intent on empowering and enriching herself at any cost, Noynoy is generally seen as a man with good intentions trying to do right by the country as a whole. But are good intentions enough? The record of Aquino’s first year is decidedly mixed. A new style of leadership has begun to engender new hopes in the capacity of the country to begin to resolve its deeply entrenched problems. But there is also a strong sense that the achievements to date are insufficient for the magnitude of the country’s multiple challenges. Marites Vitug, a leading investigative journalist, has perhaps captured it best in a recent column addressed directly to Aquino: “Overall, Mr President, you’ve changed the tone of leadership. But that should only be the beginning.” Campaign promises, campaign divisions
The campaign slogan that led to Noynoy’s decisive victory last year was simple and powerful: Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap (If no one is corrupt, no one will be poor). Powerful slogans engender high hopes, and it wouldn’t have been surprising if the president had sought to temper expectations after his election victory. Quite the contrary, he proceeded to set an even higher bar for himself on Inauguration Day by proclaiming a new era in Philippine politics: “No more turning back on pledges made during the campaign… No more influence-peddling, no more patronage politics, no more stealing… no more bribes. It is time for us to work together once more.” Most of all, the speech is remembered for its denunciation of wangwang, “the siren-blaring escorts of those who love to display their position and power over you.” Symbolic though it may have been, this promise to abandon disruptive presidential motorcades resonated deeply with a population that was clearly ready for change. As the mother in 1986 had declared the end of the nightmare...
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