Guest editorial by
It is hard to believe that it was only a year ago that former President Corazon C. Aquino passed away and set in motion the series of events that would lead to her only son’s ascension to the same position she held from 1986 to 1992. Her death was mourned by millions of Filipinos who looked upon her presidency with nostalgia and saw not the problems that plagued that period but her steadfastness and sheer will to do what she felt was right even in the face of the most violent of reactions. Having been brought to Malacañang by the power of the people, it was expected of her to be completely different from her predecessor Marcos, whose 20-year reign was marked by abuse and plunder of the highest order. Mrs. Aquino’s rule may have been pockmarked by severe problems, but the one thing that cannot be said was that she compromised her stand against corruption and abuse in any way.
Which is why expectations are so high for her son, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, who rose to power on a similar wave of popular support – this time shown by the nationwide outpouring of grief when Mrs. Aquino died on August 1, last year. In that singular event, with tens of thousands of people lining the streets of Metro Manila and countless more watching all over the country, it became obvious that the people were looking for a return to the days when leadership was all about integrity and uprightness, and nothing about power and money. The President then, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, had shown herself to be disconcertingly similar to Marcos, and while she did not do it explicitly, her leadership had the same net effect. Abuses were rampant from the military and the police. Extra-judicial murders of those who opposed her were practically a government policy and corruption was a way of life from the top to the bottom of bureaucracy. Mrs. Arroyo was herself accused many times of corruption and the fact that the charges never stuck was evidence not of her innocence but of the effectiveness of her hold over everyone and everything in government.
It was under these conditions that Noynoy ran for the presidency, which he won handily on the promise that, like his mother, he would see to the return of good government to the country. His slogan was simple but rang true for the voters: “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap [If no one is corrupt, no one will be poor],” a direct accusation on Mrs. Arroyo, whose leadership drove the country further into poverty. Every Filipino knows that more than anything, it is corruption that has kept the country from progressing and leaving its reputation as the “sick man of Asia.” It is plainly visible in almost every facet of Pinoy life – from the kotong cop at the corner to the bribe-seeking clerk at City Hall to the scheming project heads and all the way up to the highest executives of government who pocket millions of pesos in taxpayers’ money. The country is poor because of corruption, and therefore it will progress only if corruption is licked.
That is easier said than done, of course. As the first President Aquino’s experience has shown, it is not enough just to be morally upright to save the country, especially if there are a large number of people waiting for you to fail so they can return to their old ways. Traditional politics still holds sway in many parts of the country, and removing it is not just a matter of mouthing slogans or even of showing a good example. Cleaning up government entails hard work and follow-through, sustaining the campaign through thick and thin and making sure the next six years – the length of one President’s term – are devoted to the task. By Noynoy’s own reckoning it will probably take that long and more to do the job, and if it is the only thing he does, he will still have fulfilled his contract with the people.
In the end, however, it is the people who will determine if Noynoy succeeds or fails in his task. The biggest mistake we made as a people during his mother’s term was that we largely left governance to government, forgetting that real democracy is one in which the people participate. That, in turn, led to abuses in subsequent administrations and we still suffer the consequences. Let us hope we have learned our lesson: solving the nation’s problems is not Noynoy’s task alone but of all of us.
Jon Joaquin is the managing editor of the largest circulation newspaper in Mindanao, the Mindanao Daily Mirror in Davao City.