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[Y-SPACE] A Decent and Incorruptible Leader: The Legacy of the late Noynoy-PNoy Aquino

By Philip Joshua D.C. Santiago and Ryanne Jancell A. Relos

June 24, 2021. Dawn breaks over the Philippine nation, and amidst the surging pandemic, media outlets such as social media networks, and radio and television programs broke news over the passing of the predecessor of the current Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Despite the information, no confirmation was given to which they handed the responsibility over to the family members. As breaking news of the death of the former president flashed all over news websites and programs, relatives, close friends, and former cabinet members of his administration were seen rushing towards Capitol Medical Center in Diliman, Quezon City. Unfortunately, on the afternoon of that day, the four sisters of the 15th Philippine President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III gave a statement confirming his death, who died due to renal disease secondary to diabetes (Perez, 2021). As the pronouncement of his death was confirmed by his family members, many national and foreign leaders gave their sympathy and condolences towards the Aquino family, the nation then mourned over the passing of the beloved president.

Several leaders and Filipinos would describe him as a decent and ‘incorruptible’ leader, who brought respectability towards his administration and has even tried purging the Philippine political system of corruption. Newsfeeds and news channels throughout social media and traditional media tackled ‘The Legacy of his Administration’ as he was revered as the son of democracy, following the chronicle that his parents have built over the political history of the Philippines. From his youth up to his presidential years, let us remember the life of the late Noynoy-PNoy Aquino.

The 15th President of the Philippines was known by many for his nickname of “Noynoy” or “PNoy” during his presidential years. He was the only son of the five children of the late democratic icons of our Philippine political history - former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” S. Aquino, Jr, the political figure of the opposition during the Marcos Regime and former Philippine President Corazon “Cory” C. Aquino. At a young age, his father was detained as he was the chief activist of martial law (1972-1981) during the dictatorship of the Marcoses. In 1983, his father was assassinated in broad daylight on the airport tarmac, to which his mother rose into becoming the political forefront of the opposition and eventually was elected through SNAP elections in 1986 as the 1st female Philippine President. Considered as the Asian Mother of Democracy, she eradicated the twenty-one lavish and brutal years of the Marcoses by becoming the symbol of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution that restored the democracy of the country.

As meaningful and colorful as the life of his parents, he adopted the “Laban” or fighting spirit that his parents have showcased and the Filipino people have symbolized through the letter “L” as it denoted the struggle and need for social transformation during the era. He was educated at the Ateneo de Manila University from elementary level up to his bachelor’s degree in economics, wherein one of his professors during his college years was the 14th Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. During his young adult years, Noynoy started working for companies such as Philippine Business for Social Progress and Nike Philippines. As 1986 came by, his mother was proclaimed president to which he became the Vice President of his family’s Best Security Agency (Albert, 2021). Being the son of both the prominent Aquino and Cojuangco clans, he was considered an elitist as his family has a long history in politics and business. Throughout his mother’s presidency and his administration, elitism was present as they toiled the masses and favored the business class. Meanwhile, some defended their elitism and agree that their administrations favored the people as they promoted policies that wished to innovate and modernize the country as their family-owned businesses industrialized several sectors in the nation. Noynoy left his previous work in 1993 to manage their family-owned sugar plantation and refinery.

In 1998, Noynoy started his political career to take the place of his family’s clan as he ran for the position of 2nd district representative in Tarlac, serving a maximum of three consecutive terms until 2007 (Albert, 2021). Eloquently written in the articles of the Senate of the Philippines (n.d.), throughout his three consecutive terms in the lower house, Noynoy focused on the fiscal role of a legislator as he felt there were many laws that lacked proper implementation. In 2007, he won a seat as a Senator in the 2007 elections to which he ranked 6th in the overall Senatorial elections. During his years as a Senator, he chaired the Local Government Committee in the Senate and was the vice-chairperson of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights. To summarize his work in the Senate, he was an eager man who ensured that his key legislative initiatives would bear the fruit of his hard work even until the end of his term as a senator.

Fate for him was not only for the lower and upper houses of the Bicameral Legislature in the country. Upon the sudden death of his mother in 2009, he and the people were moved that it pushed him to run for the 2010 presidential elections where he eventually won the hearts and minds of the Filipino people. The nation undeniably saw him as the successor of his parents, who were iconic figures in the country's democracy.

In his campaign as president, he vowed for developments and policies to be made in the economic, political, and social aspects of Philippine society. He promised that throughout his presidency, his campaign for “Daang Matuwid” and “Kung walang Korap, walang mahirap” would be the forefront of his reforms in the Philippine Public Administration. After winning the presidential elections, he immediately passed his first act as president, which was the “No Wang-Wang Policy”, prohibiting the use of sirens for public administrators except for emergency services.

Additionally, he investigated the corruption within the political scenery of the Philippines during his presidency wherein he notably ordered the arrest and detainment of three sitting senators namely Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada who were found guilty of plunder and multiple counts of graft under the P10-billion pork barrel scam (De Villa, 2021). Moreover, former Chief Justice Renato Corona, dubbed as the ‘midnight appointee’ of his predecessor, was also investigated, and eventually, was found guilty through an impeachment court for falsifying his Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Net worth or ‘SALN’ (De Villa, 2021).

Notably, he will be remembered as the president who confronted and brought China into an international court. Arising from maritime disputes that challenged the security of the Philippines, the blistering tension for the fluvial and/or the maritime domains of the West Philippine Sea became a serious hotspot in the international scenery at the dawn of the 21st century (Baviera, 2000). Being the chief planner of the country’s foreign policy, he filed an arbitration case against China over the West Philippine Sea dated on January 22, 2013, wherein in 2016, days after he stepped down as Chief Executive, the International Tribunal Court comprehensively concluded that there was “no legal basis for China to claim the historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the nine-dash line” (Santos, 2016). Hence, the 2016 Arbitral decision awarded the claimant state – the Philippines as the one who has sovereign rights in the maritime domain. This international award was one of the historic legacies that his administration accomplished since he championed protecting the sovereign rights of the country.

Additionally, Noynoy’s Administration became a peaceful instrument in the Bangsamoro Peace Process, as they led to the efforts and peace talks between the government and the largest Muslim rebel group–the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) (Calunsod, 2021). His administration negotiated a framework agreement in 2012 that culminated in signing the Comprehensive Agreement two years later. This paved the way for the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which was a reconstitution of the ARMM. His actions signaled a political solution for the four decades of insurgency of the Muslim community in Mindanao, which has been regarded as one of Noynoy’s legacy during his presidency from 2010 to 2016 (Calunsod, 2021).

Moving to the economic sector, his administration highly focused on the improvement of the country’s economy by pursuing the tax evaders, narrowing the budget deficit from a level record, and enabling the country to clinch its first investment-grade score from a major credit rating company (Go & Seruela, 2021). Comprehensively, during PNoy’s Administration, the GDP of the Philippines grew an average of 6.2% with inflation as low as 1.4% and with employment figures at an improvement throughout his six-year term (Rivas, 2021). The Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) also highlighted his administration’s accomplishment in the economy where they marked the impressive economic growth within the country, with four credit rating upgrades and a significant increase in foreign direct investments, aided by his focus on transparency and good governance (Rivas, 2021).

Hence, in his midyear as a president, the Philippines was dubbed as the ‘Rising Economic Tiger of Asia’ for being the second-fastest growing economy in Asia. Bringing the country into a ‘bright spot’ from being the ‘Sick Man of Asia’, numerous foreign investors turned their eyes towards the nation as our GDP grew higher than the average. That same year of 2013, his name was included in the 100 most influential people in the world by the Time Magazine to which, some mentioned that his parents’ legacy was one factor that boosted his image and credentials for him to be included in the famed magazine. Historically, his mother, former Philippine President Corazon ‘Cory’ C. Aquino was named Time’s Magazine’s Woman of the Year in 1986, that same year the Marcoses were ousted, and the dictatorship ended in the Philippines.

Thus, social development grew in his administration, as policies and mechanisms were made to uplift the lives of the masses such as continuing and reforming the ‘Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program’ or commonly known as ‘4P’s’. This national poverty program was described as providing cash grants to poor households to help them with their welfare (Ranada, 2019). Originally introduced by the Arroyo administration, Noynoy continued this program and even alleviated it into becoming the flagship of the anti-poverty program of his administration. However, this became a vital issue for the program that you must meet and apply under certain conditions to prove and be included in the cash aid the program heeds. Hence, some were not included as they were not “deemed” part of the people the program wishes to aid.

Let us also not forget the controversial Republic Act (R.A) No. 10533 or the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, more commonly known as K to 12 Curriculum law, which inserts another two years to the basic education system (Go & Seruela, 2021). Said to be one of the most accomplished projects of his administration, the law provides a preparatory stage for the students’ competency and education to be included in the world stage. The administration mentions that this law wishes to provide opportunities to the education sector in social development to better facilitate and improve the education system since the country is the only remaining Asian nation still implementing the 10-year cycle in its basic education curriculum (ChildUp, 2011). Despite the optimism that his administration wishes to claim, many debated that the K to 12 Curriculum has weakened the education quality in the country to which only promoted labor export to the inspiring youth. Filipino academicians argued that this adoption intends to produce semi-skilled workers that provide cheap labor to the global market, which should not be the main purpose and goal of education.

Aside from the controversy that weighed in the education sector, Noynoy got its first baptism of fire during the Manila Hostage Crisis in August 2010. After the hijacking of the bus containing Hong Kong tourists and a bloody standoff between the police and the suspect, eight Hong Kong citizens died as the horrendous turn of events ended (BBC News, 2010). The incident challenged his early presidency due to the incompetence of handlers and the lack of coordination of the nation’s police force. The country’s finest force became a laughingstock to the world and from its very own people.

Years into the hostage crisis, Super Typhoon Yolanda devastated the Visayas region in November 2013, causing widespread damage and loss of life. The following drive and management of the government marked the negligence and corruption that ensued as the donated funds to almost all Yolanda survivors never went accounted for, causing people to question whether Noynoy’s administration pocketed the goods and aid.

Two years later in January 2015, the nation was shocked to learn of the death of 44 Special Action Forces (SAF) of the Philippine National Police wherein an encounter with Muslim rebels in Mamasapano massacred these courageous men following the accomplishment of their mission (Gonzales, Pobre, & Banzon, 2017). This demonstrated the bloodiest and darkest days in the country’s police department, as President Noynoy did not place experienced generals in leading the mission. Filipinos cried and protested for justice as they wished that these men would not die in vain, as Noynoy experienced crisis after crisis during this time in his presidency.

However, unfortunate enough, even before he stepped down as Chief Executive, in April 2016, the Kidapawan Massacre took 3 lives, injured 37 individuals, and 88 were detained or presumed missing by the Kidapawan City Police. An event that happened due to the people and farmers of Kidapawan City protesting and demanding 15,000 sacks of rice as the effect of El Niño that year ravaged the countryside. Security forces opened fire at these helpless farmers who wanted nothing but food on the table (Badal, 2016). This became the final straw for the Filipino people as they became tired of elitism, power tripping, incompetence, and corruption of Noynoy’s administration, this gave them the reason to look for their needed change through the strongman politics and populist ideals the following administration promises them to give.

Relevant to the issues and crises that his administration has faced, the people, nevertheless, were pushed into a breaking point that gave them a choice on whether to vote for someone he publicly announced as his successor or to someone who promised them words empty as a chalice. Despite being the son of the two of the most prominent political democracy icons in the country’s political history, the people were still, no less, made to anticipate something from him. This was even not entirely his fault, as we may have built a pedestal for him. For those who construct a person out from a Messiah complex may always expect more from something that they can only just give. However, we should not blame the people also for expecting so highly from their leaders, for people who hold the highest positions in the land should be held accountable for the mistakes and challenges that their country faces. It goes into balance as a nation and its leaders must work together to be able to create the society that they all so wished and promised.

As we go back during his campaigning years for president, we must remember that we expected more from the son of these prominent democratic icons. We cannot deny that we voted for him because we expect him to inherit his parents’ ideology of democracy. So far, in remembering his story and legacy, here we remind ourselves that this was a man, a decent and incorruptible leader who walked his life in improving on what he thinks is the best for the Filipino people. He branded himself under an elitist style of democracy that benefited those who he thinks would continue his legacy. As we the people expected from him, so did he also expect from those around him.

However, even though his enemies strike his faults and his supporters acknowledge his achievements, let us admit that our nation is here today if it were not for him. Noynoy was the catalyst of change in the Philippines as he grew our economy into becoming the leading developing country in the East Asia and the Pacific. It is definitely thanks to him, and exactly because of him, on why we can have an economy and system that is better than his predecessors. It is undeniably because of him, how the present administration can borrow from the international scene, and how foreign investors still flock to the nation. Because of his decency and incorruptibility on the national and international stage, leaders from around the world passionately extended their respects to him and his people, even upon death. He might not have entirely brought the ideals his parents have adopted, but he branded his own character on being a moral leader that led him into being a remembered figure after he stepped down from office, and even unto his death. He made the Filipino people remember him as Noynoy, and not some other Aquino of his clan who inherited the family’s name.

Philip Joshua D.C. Santiago aka ‘PJ’ is a 3rd year Political Science student in Colegio de San Juan de Letran. He is simple but a witty one, and at the same time, a consistent Dean’s lister at the Colegio. He describes himself as ‘Invictus’ which means ‘undefeated’ and his personality as ‘gold’ because it is ‘indestructible’ but with a love of knowledge and his mind full of wisdom.

Ryanne Jancell Relos is a student from Colegio de San Juan de Letran. He is passionate about reading and writing anything about the Social Sciences to which he specializes mostly on the topics of History, Philosophy, Political Science, and Sociology.

YSPACE is a platform open for young writers to contribute their worth-sharing thoughts and stories to the world. It is a space for young people and by the young people which aims to promote a strong sense of empowerment and inspiration to young Filipinos.

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