Aquino legacy: Democracy and stability–warts and all | Inquirer News

Aquino legacy: Democracy and stability–warts and all

By: - Lifestyle Editor / @ThelmaSSanJuan
/ 12:45 AM June 30, 2016

LAST WORKING DAY From his private office in Malacañang, President Aquino takes a look at the Pasig River the day before his six-year term ends. MALACAÑANG PHOTO BUREAU

LAST WORKING DAY From his private office in Malacañang, President Aquino takes a look at the Pasig River the day before his six-year term ends. MALACAÑANG PHOTO BUREAU

Tennis trainer Elpidio Fat, a minimum wage earner, gave his one and only input in the kwentong kutsero in between game sets: “My LPG went down from P800 plus to P400 plus. That’s big deal. And that’s P-Noy.”

Another trainer, Nestor, butted in: “The same goes for me. I spend only P100 plus for my motorcycle gas. I spent a lot more before P-Noy.”


That brief off-court exchange affirmed, to us, how people, rich and poor, treat the presidency—it’s primarily how it impacts on the tangibles in their daily lives, whether it’s the LPG or the crush of humanity on the MRT. The traffic!


The President takes the credit and blame for just about everything, even one’s lack of personal discipline. While the   majority of the populace, particularly the millennials, has no experience of martial law, it must already be part of the Filipino’s psyche to entrust his fate with a strongman—and President Aquino was no dictator—like a victim suffering from the Stockholm syndrome.

Today’s Filipino seems hardly aware that the executive, legislative and judiciary are coequal branches of the government.

To his mind, the President he elects is the messiah. Any man or woman who assumes the presidency takes on this almost preternatural role, not just a simple political mandate.

Economic gains

The series of stories and columns the past weeks has been nearly unanimous in pegging Mr. Aquino’s legacy on the economic gains—how his administration has seen the transformation of the Philippines from being Asia’s “sick man” to its “rising tiger,” the most notable economic growth in the region, its GNP growing at an average of 6.2 percent a year, second only to China.

The Inquirer Business section has identified Mr. Aquino’s legacy to be the sound fiscal and monetary policies that resulted in the country’s credit upgrade, and the increase not only in gross international reserves and the country’s global competitiveness but also in foreign and domestic investments.


In agriculture, said to be not this administration’s strong suit, the Business section has noted the government’s “historic best in farm production, producing 97 percent of the country’s rice requirement.”

Bigger budget for education

The Business section has also lauded the increases in the budgets for education, health and social welfare, and the modernization of the military (surpassing the upgrade of the past three administrations combined).

The Lifestyle section has noted how Filipinos have been traveling here and abroad like never before (55 million domestic travelers in a year).

Indeed, Mr. Aquino is leaving the government with strong economic fundamentals even as it gets bashed in social media for the traffic, the MRT, tanim bala (which just might go down in social media history as the era’s most successful “spin job”) and other social services.

To ordinary daily wage earners, like Fat, however, Mr. Aquino’s administration would be remembered not for these fundamentals—“nakaka-nosebleed these statistics,” as one call center millennial told us—but for the personal tangibles in their lives.

Our kasambahay Jessica Patrocinio owes the education of her three children in Ipil, Zamboanga province, to the conditional cash-transfer program, for instance.

Intangible legacy

They are understandably oblivious to what, to us, is the intangible legacy of the Aquino administration: the country’s stability achieved even in a most fractious democratic environment.

Mr. Aquino was a steady, professional hand. His adherence to liberal democracy—the wildest brand in this part of the world—remained unstinting, even as it upset his own governance occasionally.

The past six years showed us what our brand of democracy could be like—a free-for-all, made messier by the noise in social media, the clutter of words and images, and the endemic corruption.

Stable democracy

He is leaving behind a stable, vibrant democracy that strengthened the country’s institutions and empowered its people—enough even to bash its President habitually. He empowered even his political enemies.

He allowed, if not nurtured, a democratic environment that spawned the likes of his successor. There is a firebrand victor that is President-elect Rodrigo Duterte because the democratic society and its traditional politics bred him.

When Mr. Aquino, at the onset of his administration, announced its “no wangwang” policy, people didn’t grasp fully what it signified, other than the ban on a most irritating sound on the street—the ultimate trapping of power.

As it turned out, it also symbolized the Chief Executive’s philosophy toward power—that one is not divinely entitled to it, that an elected leader’s power is subsumed to the country’s institutions, traditions, rules, beliefs and values.

Even as he aspired for transformative reforms, he did so within the system and the country’s institutions, decrepit and flawed they may be. And his daang matuwid (straight path) governance showed us just how far—or how limited—we could go with that. He tried to go the distance nevertheless.

Legacy articulated

Opinion makers, from a cross-section of society, articulated Mr. Aquino’s legacy well.

Bart Guingona, acclaimed theater artist: “The economy, the economy, the economy. His work ethic and personal incorruptibility made the progress possible. Artists are the first to be affected by the vicissitudes of any economic misfortune, but happily the past six years saw a flowering of independent theater even in the absence of government support.”

Chester Cabalza, security analyst, professor, National Defense College of the Philippines, UP Diliman (political anthropology): “He revived the Philippine economy from a  ‘sick man of Asia’ to Asia’s  ‘rising star,’ making our market bullish and confident. It placed the Philippine economy at par with economic giants in Asia.

“P-Noy also tickled the minds of Filipinos that there is hope in working in the government sector to push the country on the road to progress and development. He became a game-changer in addressing the South China Sea conumdrum, using a rules-based norm to resolve the external challenge in a peaceful way that made us relevant among maritime nations in Asia-Pacific. Lastly, he led an army of Filipino dreamers to restore confidence and competence in our country in a fast globalizing world.”

BPO sector

Didi Dee, art gallery owner: “He left behind a peaceful democracy wherein each individual was free to navigate without fear of recrimination. While the poor remained poorer and the rich richer, a new class of young people from the BPO sector experienced a sense of material well-being and financial independence.”

Vergel Santos, veteran journalist: “His legacy: good economic numbers, breakthrough against corruption, big fish in jail, open inquiries and the elimination of the most conspicuous emblem of power—wangwang.”


Whatever else you think of the man, it’s hard to contest Mr. Aquino’s decency as a leader and as a man, which in the process, reminded us of what is decent in the Filipino.

He didn’t indulge himself in the frills of “trapo” politics—this was one President whose face we didn’t see in every tarpaulin along the road. No epal.  He didn’t even milk, for political gains, his rumored association with the country’s first Miss Universe in a long time.

Even business leaders concede that Mr. Aquino worked to level the playing field in commerce and industry, but it was ironic how his critics begrudged him for his so-called “cronies”: a Land Transportation Office chief who has died since, a police head, a former local government official early on in his term and the transportation secretary.

He stuck to or got stuck with his appointees, they said.  But then speaking of appointees, one would concede that that pales in comparison with the records of the very distant past (a manicurist, for instance) and the immediate present of presidential appointments.

Cabalza has a point. “There is hope in working in the government sector,”  he said. By respecting the country’s institutions, Mr. Aquino’s governance also showed a respect for the existing bureaucracy and the rule of succession, whether it’s in the military or foreign affairs.

His was one administration, for instance, that left alone the culture institutions and their bureaucracy, which saw no invasion of dilettantes affiliated with the powers-that-be.

And not commonly known is that the staffs under the President were relatively young, usually in their 30s and 40s—idealistic, driven. Mr. Aquino tapped a young bureaucracy.

What is unfortunate is that the ideal didn’t happen in Mr. Aquino’s term: There was no closure to the Marcos legacy that has challenged time and again Philippine democracy.

But it does not diminish the courage, the honesty and assiduousness with which Mr. Aquino has embraced his destiny, and in the process, restored a people’s forbearance for their country’s institutions and faith in their democracy, warts and all.

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Nobody said it would be easy. Thank you, Mr. Aquino.

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