No matter what his apologists and he himself believes, like every other Philippine President Benigno Aquino III will be leaving Malacanang in 2016 with a trail of citizen disappointment behind him. But unlike in that of his predecessors, the disappointment will be worse in his case because of the high expectations that attended his taking office.
Not only did Aquino campaign for the highest post in this country armed with the attributes he inherited from his parents; he was also saying the right things. In keeping with Corazon and Benigno Aquino Jr.’s presumed allegiance to democratization as exemplified by their struggle against the Marcos dictatorship, Aquino III declared the protection of human rights and his commitment to transparency among his core programs.
In recognition of the universal awareness that corruption is destroying the country and impoverishing its people, Aquino also declared a war on corruption as a crucial plank in his supposedly reformist platform of governance.
Like the statue in King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, in 2010 Aquino seemed to tower above every other Philippine President when he took office: his head was of gold, his chest of iron and his legs of brass. But like the same statue his feet have turned out to be of clay.
The supposed commitment to transparency has proven to be as empty as the promises of practically every politician who’s ever come to power in this country. It’s evident not only in the secrecy that attended and continues to attend the pork barrel system that has been abolished only in words but continues in practice through the allocation of vast amounts of discretionary funds in the control of the Presidency. It is equally evident in both Malacanang’s preferred version of the Freedom of Information bill—and even worse, in its opposition to the passage of its own approved version.
Already the result of massive compromises, the FOI bill has been declared dead by the coalition of NGOs and media advocacy groups that have been campaigning for it. Even if it were passed, however, among its most problematic provisions are that which exempts from public access inputs in the formation of government policies, and another which bans the release of information on “legitimate military operations”—a convenient catch phrase that in practice would have made any incident with military involvement including violations of human rights exempt from public scrutiny.
Aquino’s claim to the protection of human rights has itself proven to be as illusory. Aquino is accumulating a human rights record as putrid as his predecessor’s. Human rights defenders, political activists and the leaders of indigenous people have been slain, as have journalists and media workers. A hundred and forty journalists have been killed for their work since 1986, with 29 killed during the five years of Aquino’s watch—an average so far of six per year. Twenty-one others have been killed for other reasons during the same period. The total (50) says volumes about the disgraceful state of law and order during the Aquino watch.
Impunity in fact reigns unchecked: the murderers not only of journalists but also of anyone with the audacity to fight for his or her rights or those of other people, reform- minded individuals, environmentalists and others, freely roam city and countryside, with many of them in the paramilitaries that Aquino has refused to dismantle.
These are happening in the context of grandiose claims of economic development characterized by non-inclusiveness, and which has hardly made a dent on poverty despite government dole-out programs. As for the job opportunities that “development” has supposedly made available, the number of Filipinos—6,000 and rising—who leave the country for employment in other countries daily, with all that it implies in terms of employer abuse and the damage it inflicts on thousands of families, exposes this claim as another lie.
The gross inefficiencies and corruption in such government agencies as the Departments of Transportation and Communications and Public Works and Highways, the Bureau of Customs as manifest in the traffic crisis in Metro Manila, the ghost flood control projects, and the rampant smuggling of anything from garlic and rice to Maseratis and Ferraris are egregious indicators of the failure to curb corruption and to instill even a mustard seed of dedication to duty in a bureaucracy run by Aquino’s friends.
At the heart of all these is Aquino’s unabashed loyalty to his cronies—which among others indicates even greater fidelity to feudal values than those demonstrated by his predecessors.
But like those others before him, Aquino’s basic weakness—his feet of clay—is the incoherence of his policies, founded as they are on the same tired assumptions that since 1946 have informed governance at the hands of the Filipino elite: the absence of a comprehensive analysis of the Philippine economic, political and social crisis. It is a failing based on the self-serving orientation of the political elite, which is unable and unwilling to provide a workable program of governance based on a lucid evaluation of the Philippine situation because any such analysis would undermine their interests.
Among Aquino III’s possible successors Grace Poe shares the same illusions that the electorate harbored during his transformation from a mediocre member of Congress to the country’s Great Hope. (We need not concern ourselves with Jejomar Binay, who by his actions and statements—and his even considering Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for his vice presidential running mate—has practically marginalized himself. As for Mar Roxas…) Poe has formally declared her Presidential ambitions, months after everyone already knew that she would run in 2016. She has also announced that Francis Escudero will be her vice presidential running mate—while relying on that wily traditional politician as her chief adviser.
Her supporters have hailed Poe for supposedly representing a new approach to politics, but her support for the Iglesia Ni Cristo demonstrations last month revealed her to be as focused on the supposed command votes of the INC as any trapo. Her coy months-long refusal to declare her candidacy was in the same category—and so was her report on the Mamasapano incident that was calculated to pander to public sentiment rather than to ferret out the truth.
Most of all, conspicuously absent when she outlined her program of government last September 16 was the coherent analysis of the Philippine condition that Aquino III and every other President have never had any sense of. The Golden Girl has feet of clay too.
But the electorate will continue to grab at straws in its desperate search for the one candidate who would realize its aspirations for the honest and efficient governance that would bring the country into the 21st century of progress and prosperity. Unfortunately, no such creature exists—not in the same dynastic zoo that for decades has kept this country in penury, and not even among the political newcomers who, to win an election, are as prepared to make the worst compromises as their trapo mentors.