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Noynoy and the future

Like so much that has been happening during this pandemic, the emotions around the death of former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III have been muted and private, shared through the social media networks of friends.

In contrast there’s also been palpable noise on the internet, the most base and vile of attacks from the usual trolls blaming the nation’s ills on Noynoy’s (and the Liberal Party) administration.

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Almost in comic relief, Kris Aquino reaped praises for the way she handled one of the trolls who attacked her and her brother. “Sweetheart,” Kris began her gentle admonition, “… it really bothers me to be attacked with bad grammar.”

We need to laugh, but we need as well to be on guard. What we are seeing is a continuation—no respectful breaks for the dead—of a color-coded war against “yellows” and “reds” to erode people’s faith in democratic institutions. This will worsen in the months ahead as we move into another national election.

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The trolls have lots of work to do deodorizing Marcos and martial law while demonizing the Aquinos and the Liberal Party. While Marcos is praised for nonexistent achievements, we are seeing the Aquinos’ erased. We forget how Noynoy’s administration turned around the economy and made some headway, albeit in a limited way, on domestic corruption. Then there was the international arbitral ruling on the West Philippine Sea, a short-lived victory as Duterte ditched the ruling.

It was encouraging as well to hear stories about Noynoy and the Aquinos. It was my first time to read about how, in 1987 during an attempted military coup against his mother, President Cory Aquino, the vehicle he was riding in took a volley of bullets. Three of his bodyguards were killed and a bullet lodged in his neck remained there for the rest of his life.

We need to remind people, too, of other stories, beginning with Noynoy’s inaugural address during which, in flawless Filipino, he told the nation: “Kayo ang boss ko.” He also declared an end to the detested “wang-wang” practice: politicians and VIP wannabes being escorted by the police, sirens wailing away and causing traffic gridlock just so the VIP, the joke would go, could get to the toilet, or to merienda.

Little things count, here a challenge to feudal privilege. Alas, while we continue to be spared wang-wang, we now have President Duterte’s proposal to loosen the already lax rules on ownership of firearms. No need for wang-wang for the trigger-happy and impatient VIPs.

A column is not the best place to review a presidency, but I did want to say that we need to read the signs of the times. Noynoy’s death needs to be mourned but also to serve as a reminder that we are entering a new period of heightened danger.

What have we learned from six years of populism? Are we willing to defend what’s left of liberal democratic institutions, which despite its flaws have kept us from even greater harm and destruction? Can we sit back and allow our national psyche to be anesthetized by fake news and disinformation?

Can we hope for politicians who can learn as well from the limitations of Noynoy, a good man—a great man, even—but hobbled by class, no, let’s say caste. Now more than ever we will need astute leaders who understand that even the push for economic development needs to be tempered, the virus descending on the nation blessed by a growing economy but cursed by a moribund public health system, and almost nonexistent social safety nets.

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We need someone who will not duplicate the deceptive populism of our times — “ayuda” crumbs thrown to hungry people. We need someone who doesn’t just know but feels the pulse of the nation. Oh but how it would have helped if Noynoy had actually visited the long lines and crowds who did daily battle with the LRT and MRT during his administration’s last two years. I thought, “The Liberal Party will pay for this,” imagining people limping home late at night, cursing, exhausted, angry and, quite simply, feeling no one cared… ripe for the picking for Mr. Duterte when elections came.

History will rectify the facts, but only if we survive long enough to defend the truth, to keep the stories alive about strong leadership, flaws and all, tried and tested in a thriving democracy as Noynoy’s was.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, Michael L. Tan, Noynoy Aquino, Pinoy Kasi, populism, Rodrigo Duterte
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