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Putting Aquino Down

Leandro DD Coronel
By Leandro DD Coronel

MANILA

There’s a concerted effort here by President Benigno Aquino’s critics to make him look like a slouch and a leader who starts work late and knocks off early. It’s an attempt to take the aura off the guy’s phenomenal rise to the presidency and the halo over his head for being the son of a beloved martyred father and an almost sainted mother to dim.

Mr. Aquino came to office on a wondrous wave of popular clamor in the May 2010 elections. A sitting senator, he ran reluctantly for the presidency as the nation searched for someone who could bring a breath of fresh air into the presidency and clean up the country’s dirty and exclusionary politics. The need for change was especially dire in the wake of the scandal-ridden administration of Gloria Arroyo.

Aquino won by overwhelming numbers.

But with the heady air of victory came the high, almost impossible, expectations among the people that Noynoy, the son of the martyred Benigno Aquino Jr and the adored President Corazon Aquino, would liberate them from extreme poverty and the stifling repressiveness of feudalistic politics.

The people in effect told Noynoy (now called “P-Noy”), “Here are the reins of power, now  perform some miracles!” Literally so, the people wanted P-Noy to excavate them out of the imprisoning rut of poverty, put food on their tables, and give them jobs and homes of their own.

It was a tough order.

And P-Noy encouraged them by telling them in the vernacular at his inaugural: “You [the people] are my bosses!” Since then, the people have been expecting Mr. Aquino to follow their every order.

It’s a tough job.

But Aquino, working under the self-mandate of cleansing government of crooks and wrongdoing, rolled up his sleeves and began to do what he had told the nation during the election campaign, to send the nation’s plunderers and opportunists to jail.

He wanted a Truth Commission to identify the crooks and their crimes. He wanted the Ombudsman, tasked with taking crooks in government to court, to do her job. He wanted all major government contracts reviewed for anomalies. He wanted holdover government officials to resign. He had a brief quarrel with the Chief Justice when the latter was appointed by Arroyo at the last minute instead of allowing the new President (Aquino) to make the appointment.

The Supreme Court nixed the idea of a Truth Commission as being unconstitutional because it was to focus only on Mrs. Arroyo and her government. The Ombudsman, who seemed to abet official crime rather than stop it, obstinately clung to her post (but later resigned under intense pressure from practically all sectors of society). “Midnight” (meaning last-minute) appointees of Mrs. Arroyo didn’t want to resign their posts, presumably because they were installed precisely to obstruct Aquino’s efforts to clean up government.

So, it’s a mixed record so far for Mr. Aquino. He’s won a few and lost more than a few.

But his government has done things that would never have been done during Arroyo’s presidency. Whistleblowers have come forward and revealed scandalous wrongdoing in various government departments, including the military. Several senior officials who allegedly stole government funds have been identified and prosecuted, something which would not have happened under Arroyo’s watch.

Major government projects have been put on hold and their contracts reviewed for irregularities. This wouldn’t have happened under Arroyo, either (although a side effect of this hold on projects is that it meant no projects, no work for a lot of people thus, exacerbating the country’s unemployment problem).

Government people and agencies previously notorious for shenanigans have been put under the microscope to check for illegalities which had been tolerated, even encouraged, by the previous government.

All of these actions by the new President are consonant with his mission to rid government of graft and corruption.

And yet - surprise! – Mr. Aquino’s popularity has taken a dip recently.

Why, because the people’s direct expectations haven’t been met by the new president that they hopefully and expectantly elevated to the highest office. The people’s economic situations haven’t improved, their lives have remained wretched and hopeless.

Mr. Aquino’s timing couldn’t have been worse. Global oil prices have surged sky-high, leading to higher prices of practically every consumer item in the market. The “Arab Spring” has sent great numbers of Filipinos working abroad  home because their foreign employers had themselves become either unemployed or their companies closed by the turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa (and North America!).

Higher prices of oil and basic commodities have hit the Filipinos in the gut and in their pockets. In a patriarchal/matriarchal society like the Philippines, people always seek and expect succor from the head of the family, whether that’s the father or the mother. Thus, people look up to President Aquino for immediate relief from all of these current economic problems, many of which cannot be blamed entirely on Aquino.

He himself being hopeless against these odds, Aquino has been suffering in popularity surveys.

And this is the kind of situation that Aquino’s critics have been exploiting to their advantage. They have been portraying him as an ineffective manager, a guy who takes things easy on the job, and as indecisive.

The presidential palace, to be expected, denies these allegations. But the slings and arrows keep coming.

There’s an explanation for the gossip and allegations. Those who’ve been throwing the brickbats at Aquino are Gloria Arroyo’s partisans.

Arroyo, even while in office, had become very much disliked and distrusted by the people. She had allowed too many scandals to rock her government.

Aquino, on the other hand, came into office smelling like roses and with his personal integrity unquestioned. His popularity numbers came initially in the 80-percentage range, numbers that nobody had garnered before. The people saw signs of hope for a brighter future as Aquino took over the presidency.

In contrast, Arroyo smelled like rotten fish. And the specter of being prosecuted for her alleged crimes loomed menacingly over her head. She could go to jail.

Thus, the current campaign by her remaining allies to make Aquino look bad in the eyes of the people so that the contrast between good and evil, between Aquino and Arroyo, isn’t too stark. If Arroyo’s propagandists succeed in painting Aquino as a slouch and just an average leader as compared to the hard-working and hands-on Arroyo, then Aquino’s luster would fade and his popularity would suffer.

This is the context of the all-out offensive by Arroyo boosters to portray Aquino as an incompetent, inadequate and ultimately, ineffective, leader.

Thus, Aquino’s critics have been hard at work. Their criticism plus the unavoidable economic straits the country is currently in are pushing the President’s approval rating down. He has his work cut out for him.

 

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