Thursday morning woke up crying. Guilt perhaps. Or regret at opportunities lost to appreciate and thank an honest and decent president, one of few that the country ever had. It was only at mid-day that it was formally announced on national television that immediate-past President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy/PNoy” C. Aquino III passed away June 24, 2021 at 6:30 a.m., of renal failure from complications of diabetes.
It has been five years since PNoy turned over the reins of government to long-time Davao Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte, who won over runner-up Mar Roxas of Team PNoy in the 2016 presidential elections. And PNoy had been in quiet retirement until he died, except when the rabid fangs of the new power turned on his shins to try to bring him down to grovel in lost prestige and respect of the Filipino people. PNoy was perhaps the most accused and maligned post-term by the successor government.
Why was this? Some say that perhaps it was because he was not corrupt, as in the common qualifier for the traditional politician (derogatively called “trapo” in the local lingo, meaning “a stinking wet old rag that sops up the people’s money”). He was also painted as stupid and weak by his detractors — as if stupid and weak were opposite to wise, strong, and corrupt. Even in the campaign for the 2010 elections when he was convinced to run for president, opponents circulated alleged documents by known psychiatrists (later denied) stating that PNoy was mentally and emotionally unstable. It seemed that many did not like his political style and slow pacing, which was very similar to that of his mother, Corazon “Cory” Aquino, the first president in the restoration of democracy by the 1986 EDSA I People Power Revolution.
It has been the embarrassment of the EDSA Revolution that between 1986 and 1991 some 11 coup d’états were attempted to topple Cory Aquino’s government. President Cory Aquino’s only son (of five offspring), Noynoy was 27 years old when he was wounded in the siege of Malacañang Palace in 1987. As much as the physical and political trauma affected Cory, so must those early betrayals of the principles of EDSA I have seared into the heart and soul of that young man Noynoy, who saw his father Ninoy’s “Impossible Dream” of Filipino Freedom come true with a People Power Revolution, then immediately dissipate with the brutal, shamefaced attempts to grab power by trusted former supporters. Back to dictatorship?
The attempts to establish military rule or a military-backed dictatorship were thwarted, thanks be to God. But the coups were a tragic loss of idealistic innocence for Cory, for Noynoy, and for the Filipino people. A comment on a website painfully described the collective consciousness: “the situation appeared desperate, for not only were military commanders around the country waiting to see which side would triumph in Manila, but the people of Manila, who had poured into the streets to protect Aquino in February 1986, stayed home this time” (http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/classic_resolve.htm, cited in Wikipedia). Without granting absolute credence and adherence to the independent opinion expressed therefrom, it stands to reason, why indeed was Cory Aquino left to fend for herself and her government in the crises? Where was people power?
The cascade to the subconscious of the “desertion” could have given license to more falling away of those unified by EDSA I. Political breakaways from Cory’s party formed new alliances among their preferred “friends” and even new friends from reconsidered enmities. So many new political parties were formed. Some political analysts and common observers thought that those who had worked hard for EDSA I might have expected to be rewarded with positions in the government of Cory. When expectations were not met, then they bailed out of Cory’s influence and dependence, and worked out their own political objectives and goals.
But Cory heroically pieced together the broken pieces of the democracy, laying the ground for the take-off of the country to social, political, and economic prominence in the ASEAN region and the world. Strict adherence to constitutional laws and principles of the country and those of the world, with her deep spirituality and morality, guided her governance. And the freedoms of the Filipinos, won at EDSA I, prevailed and strengthened. Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, and Gloria Arroyo were presidents after her.
When Cory died on Aug. 1, 2009, the Filipino people came out en masse in a funeral procession from the five-day wake at the Manila Cathedral to the family mausoleum in Parañaque. It was like the emotional, demonstrative funeral procession of her late husband, Benigno Aquino, Jr., who was assassinated on Aug. 21, 1983 — the “cause” for the subsequent revolution against the dictator Marcos. Cory died at a most critical time, when deeply entrenched corruption was the shame of government and society. And so, her son Noynoy was convinced to run for president at the 2010 presidential elections.
It was the unrelenting positivity of the Filipino people that elected Benigno Simeon Aquino III as the 15th president of the Republic of the Philippines. It was trust that the pernicious graft and corruption would be stopped by a truly honest and decent president, in the mold of the president elected by the people in February 1986 and installed by the people by the EDSA People Power Revolution. It was the refurbishing of a symbol of integrity and loyalty to the people. “Kayo ang Boss” (you, the people, are my Boss), Noynoy declared upon taking his oath. He was nicknamed “PNoy” (for President Noynoy). His motto was “Walang mahirap kung walang corrupt” (there will be no poverty if there is no corruption). His mission-vision statement was embodied in the “Matuwid na Daan” (Straight Road) anti-corruption drive that was, unfortunately, weakly supported by legislators and jurists.
Good governance made for good economics, PNoy (an Economics graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University) espoused. At the end of his six-year term, the Philippines was crowned the fastest growing country in Asia as it hit 6.9% growth, even as the world was just recovering from the recession. “High growth numbers have become the norm under the watch of President Benigno Aquino III… the kind of growth the Philippines has sustained over the past six years has been significant and the world has taken notice. As he ends his presidency, Aquino will leave an economy now universally seen as a global star,” Rappler reported on June 17, 2016.
Like his mother, Cory, PNoy was strict against graft and corruption. He was “close to the ground,” not haughty or elitist, despite his advantage in social status and education. As an example, he outlawed the use of car sirens (the wang-wang) by government VIP vehicles that would give officials preferred passage though street traffic. But he was most criticized for often delayed action and reaction. But people might have forgotten how the traumas of being deserted, and betrayed by so-called “allies” or friends, as experienced in the early days post EDSA I, might have taught him to be careful and pause to analyze before acting.
Now that PNoy is gone is when he reaps accolades for integrity and honesty. He is forgiven his faults for having no malice or self-interest, only a deep concern for the Filipino people. Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr., former speechwriter to Cory Aquino, twitted gushingly: “I’m out of Twitter from grief over the death of a sea-green incorruptible, brave under armed attack, wounded in crossfire, indifferent to power and its trappings, and ruled our country with a puzzling coldness but only because he hid his feelings so well it was thought he had none; it was the way he and his siblings were raised by a great woman — their mother and of our restored democracy (without her none in power yesterday and today would be). She created the democratic space that made it possible. She believed that one must never let oneself go.”
Cory and PNoy. The fruit does not fall far from the tree.
Farewell President PNoy.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.