Noynoy Aquino: from hero to villain?
As the 15th president of the Philippines, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III was largely untarnished by any accusation of personal corruption during his six years in office. His administration is touted by businessmen as the period when the Philippines attained remarkable economic growth. He has also been spared the scathing vitriol of his widely popular successor, so far.
But just a year after his leaving Malacañang, there’s a perception that a large number of those who idolize President Duterte consider Aquino a virtual villain compared to their reigning hero. Even discounting the obvious trolls, zealous supporters of Mr. Duterte would readily launch a counterattack on his critics by accusing them of being followers of Aquino, who they blame for the worsened ills of our society.
The ridicule heaped on Aquino persists despite his silence, even in the face of the many controversial policies of the current administration that have undermined the trumpeted achievements of the previous one. The Aquino administration’s victory in the West Philippine Sea international arbitration against China is one issue that Mr. Duterte has virtually set aside.
Aquino presided over a period when: Former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was charged and imprisoned for five years on corruption charges (although she was acquitted last year); then Chief Justice Renato Corona was impeached and removed from office because of his undisclosed wealth; and then Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla were charged with plunder, with all three still undergoing trial, and with Estrada and Revilla languishing in prison to this day.
Under the second Aquino presidency, the “mother of all scams” involving the plunder of P10 billion in pork barrel funds was exposed, with Janet Lim Napoles as alleged mastermind, and five senators and 23 representatives as conspirators.
Under Aquino’s watch, the Philippines’ Gross Domestic Product grew at a yearly average of 6.2 percent, while other countries suffered economic slowdown. The Philippines also earned investment-grade rating from international credit rating agencies.
There were two major scandals that rocked the presidency of Noynoy Aquino. The first was the 2010 Luneta hostage crisis where eight Hong Kong tourists were killed. The second was the 2015 Mamasapano tragedy where 44 policemen belonging to the Special Action Force were killed by Moro rebels. Aquino was accused of grossly and recklessly mismanaging both incidents. He has recently been charged by the Ombudsman for usurpation of authority on the Mamasapano incident.
But compared to the multiple scandals and massive instances of corruption that tainted the two presidents who preceded him — Arroyo and Joseph Estrada — the cases of wrongdoing ascribed to Aquino were essentially omissions of diligence rather than commission of crimes.
All these notwithstanding, Mr. Duterte’s supporters heap far more scorn on Aquino compared to Arroyo and Estrada. Is it because the people still have fresh memories of Aquino’s blunders compared to a dimmed recollection of the offenses of Estrada and Arroyo? Or is it because Mr. Duterte’s noisy detractors are viewed as sour-grapes supporters of Aquino’s candidates in the past elections?
The disdain for Aquino despite his achievements may be because his accomplishments were not felt as perceptible benefits in matters where many people had desperately been longing for
change. Aquino was focused on the macro level, while people had been desperate for change at the micro level.
Hence, notwithstanding his anticorruption and economic-growth achievements, at the ground level people felt no improvement in their lives. They continue to be beset with “endo” contracts, with rampant drug abuse in their neighborhoods, with worsening traffic, and with a future bereft of brighter opportunities.
This should serve as a cautionary tale for the Duterte administration. After the people have sifted through the bluster and rhetoric, will they see a hero turned into another villain?
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