“I am but the face of what we believe is the overwhelming demand of our people to repudiate everything wrong in this administration”
— Benigno Aquino, 2010
The bespectacled, unassuming man addressed the crowd, “I will not only not steal, but I’ll have the corrupt arrested.” As loud cheering erupted, Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino, the new President of the Philippines, smiled. Clad in yellow, the trademark color of the Aquino family, Noynoy personifies everything untainted and fair, the democratic face of a new beginning in the Philippines. Soon to take his oath, Aquino has already won the hearts of the majority with his clean background and determined pledges to create a better future for the country.
Prior to running for the presidential elections, Aquino was a senator known for introducing small but significant changes. His reform bills stressed accountability, whether it involved enforcing minimum wage policies or pressing for the valuation of property according to international standards. A bill named House Resolution No.788 is one of Aquino’s most noteworthy, creating a Congressional Oversight Committee to ensure that government agencies use intelligence funds in the right manner. The Preservation of Public Infrastructures, another bill, disciplined contractors who were involved with faulty and low quality construction.
Yet, Aquino’s past accomplishments seem overshadowed by the mere aura of his name. The economics graduate comes from the much revered Aquino family, with a deep-seated reputation for championing democracy and fighting corruption. For a country mired in bureaucratic red tape, that speaks volumes. Aquino’s father, Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr., was assassinated in 1983, the victim in a fight for democracy, when the country was gripped by the iron fist of dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Taking up the mantle, his mother Corazon ‘Cory’ Aquino, transformed herself from a quiet housewife into the fiery leader of the now legendary People Power Revolution that ousted Marcos in 1986.
Aquino was initially a part of the corporate world, working in various family businesses but his heart was always in politics, leading him to become a Senator.
Aquino has himself been the target in one of the many assassination attempts on his family. He survived a five-bullet wound, with one bullet purportedly still lodged in his neck as a reminder of a bloody past. But this has not shaken him. Aquino decided to run for the election after witnessing the overwhelming public outpouring of grief when his mother passed away last year from cancer. Referring to his parents in an interview with TIME, Aquino explained, “They made automatic in me the preference to take up the cudgels for those who have less in life, for the powerless. Why should I veer away from their footprints?”
Now that Aquino is beginning to emerge from the powerful shadow of his parents, he faces many daunting tasks. In the 1950s, the Philippines was the second richest country in Asia, a status crushed under the foot of Marcos, whose regime was known for corruption, monopolies and tacit collusions. While much ground has been recovered over the years, especially under outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, rough corners still remain to be polished.
Today, the Philippines is one of the poorest countries in Asia and is currently straining under the burden of a $6.6 billion dollar budget deficit. The country is faced with frequent political insurgencies, widespread poverty, and rampant corruption. To rejuvenate the economy, jobs must be created, the gap must be narrowed between the rich and the poor, and education must be improved. These issues were the drivers behind Aquino’s political campaign. His chief slogan, “With No Corruption, There’s No Poverty,” captured the hopes and votes of the people.
However, doubts abound as to whether the mild-mannered 50-year-old Aquino will survive in the highly treacherous waters of Philippine politics. The skeptics point out that Aquino’s runaway success in the election may have been the result of the lingering emotion after his mother’s death. Others observe that Filipinos were lured by the honesty and democratic ideals that burnish the Aquino name.
It cannot be denied that to some extent these sentiments did assure Aquino a crowd of support. Still, Noynoy will be closely watched to see if he will live up to the promise of brand Aquino. Remaining unfazed, he told CNN calmly, “I’m accepting the challenge to lead this fight.”
And fight he will. Indeed, all along the campaign trail he recurrently flashed the ‘L’ sign for ‘laban,’ which means fight, first used by his mother. Now, it is the junior Aquino’s turn to carve out his own legacy, in a country long waiting for some much needed changes.
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© Thomas White International, Ltd. 2019