By Marian Pastor Roces
It is too late for PNoy: the accolades and the flare-up of yellow fever. None of it will reverse the tragedy.
President Benigno Simeon Aquino III was assassinated, as his father was in 1983. Character assassination is protracted torment. It is meant to kill.
Hyperbole? Nowhere near. The battering PNoy endured cannot be overstated.
For PNoy, who already carried in his neck a fragment of a bullet discharged during a crossfire as the Gringo Honasan’s 1987 coup played out (members of Noynoy’s security detailed were killed, one falling atop of him), death was always close. But cyber-attacks as a form of murderousness were to begin in earnest for him in his early days as President. In hindsight, the sniping at his Daang Matuwid (e.g. Daang Matuwad) already showed-up serious black ops.
The country’s autocratic claques would not abide the electoral win of another Aquino president. It was too much of an affront to their overlarge self-entitlement and too threatening to their thievery. And they were right to be alarmed. The son was single-minded about pursuing Benigno Jr.’s and Corazon’s ideal of a democracy run by incorruptible leaders.
Satirized facial features, gait, and expressions— and heavy buzz-production around “Abnoy”, shorthand for retard —portended what amounted to a contract killing. And as PNoy proceeded to jail his predecessor president and 3 members of Congress, remove a Supreme Court Chief Justice, and dismantle institutionalized pork barrel theft, the campaigns gunned up to make him out to be inept and lazy.
The Mamasapano debacle was a boon to the malefactors. It was PNoy’s second and most ruinous self-inflicted damage to his presidency. The same error of judgement—his unwillingness to let go of a damaged-goods friend at the outset of an armed mission—in turn damaged him politically with a heavier impact than in the aftermath of the Luneta hostage episode of his early presidency.
PNoy wrongly kept his friend, a commander on disciplinary leave, at the center of an operation to extract a globally-hunted terrorist living a relatively relaxed life in Central Mindanao. Forty-four dead Special Action Forces men a day later, and PNoy’s seeming indifference to the public need for overlarge expressions of grief, set off a feeding frenzy on his wounded figure. The vermin tasted blood and spoiled for more.
In due course, it will doubtless be self-evident that the bigness of the furore was manufactured. Successfully manufactured, to be sure, but nevertheless an artificial reality fabricated to knee-cap, not just PNoy—whose inappropriate judgement call will hopefully be seen in the future as far less mission-sensitive than the outright tactical mistakes of the field commander that day.
The theatrically-inflated public outrage was meant to knee-cap the Philippine democratic project itself.
Promotion of this nasty piece of augmented reality has not let up since, tearing at otherwise solid evidence of a successful presidency; which was successful in sum because it remained committed to the anti-tyranny and social reform spirit of the 1987 Constitution . The PNoy presidency had a true moral north.
His maturation in reform politics was familial and generational. PNoy belonged to the Filipino political, business, and civil society communities that architectured innovation in government decentralization; the social justice agenda; the good faith but sharply-informed peace building in Mindanao; a new culture of budgeting from the bottom up; the K2-12 shift in primary education; the community-driven development which coincided with its adoption by the World Bank; the nearly insurmountable passage of the Reproductive Health Bill which languished for decades because of Roman Catholic Church intransigence; and taking the case against China for its usurpation of the West Philippine Sea before the international tribunal, and winning the case on behalf of a nation that should have paid more attention.
The second Aquino presidency produced quantifiable outcomes in all these fields of politico-economic action. All the numbers are high by any measure of success. The statistics are impressive as abstractions. But the statistics are also new, better realities. Filipinos living now within the reality of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, understand the depth of difference the sustained peace negotiations made. The immensely experienced urban poor association, the Samahan ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino ng Pantawid is, now its own effective pandemic response.
The Human Rights Violations Victims Memorialization Commission successfully managed the delivery of financial compensation to more than 11,000 victims and victim families who suffered of death and torture during the Marcos Martial Law. The money came from the Marcos estate following the successful class suit in Hawaii. And while the present president has made a gift of the West Philippine Sea to the Chinese emperor like a craven vassal, the international community regards the gift an aberrant moment in Philippine self-becoming.
These are not mere achievements, therefore, that can be disappeared by what-aboutism. Tit-for-tat propaganda can manipulate public opinion, and for instance leave PNoy alone with his thoughts about what more there is to mwhen all has been given. But the tit-for-tat playbook cannot alter the gut realities of hunger, the dramatic economic fall, and the longest pandemic lockdown in the world: all the result of the anti-democratic spirit of an Administration whose ideas of governance are Medieval.
With the replacement of an actual philosophy of governance with spin-doctoring, as the citizenry takes up the challenges that government is unable to meet, PNoy’s death forces reckoning about what the nation is replacing democracy with. And at what cost.
Hence, even today, with PNoy having gone on to his rest, the disinformation campaigns again pick up speed and viciousness with mechanical tediousness.
For these campaign managers, the imperative to demolish the man is suddenly more urgent than ever. In death, PNoy is more than a symbol of incorruptibility and a loving nationalism. He is, rather, the 21st century image of the Filipino leader as exceptionally woke to unjust systems. And who for most part understood how to dismantle these systems by crafting alternatives.
During a political period in which injustice is necessary for perpetration in power, as Filipinos are forcibly plunged in a true vicious cycle where sticking like leeches to government office is necessary to escape accountability, PNoy’s memory will cause hundreds of millions of pesos to be spent on the fake news machinery. But to succeed in erasing him, it will take more than the presently available war chest of staggering size.
Today’s kelptomaniacal tyrants will need to erase many other stubborn marathon runners of the project to refine Philippine democracy; running so that it hews progressively closer to the demands of PNoy’s Boss for a true share of of the power of self-determination.
The term “Hindi ka nag-iisa” can now be understood in a new light. PNoy is the Filipino democratic citizen. He is a community and a history and a culture made up multitudes who are unfazed by any tactical successes of tyrants. In fact,the present tyrant does not know this Filipino well, not having met too many of these sorts in his provincial career.
Still. The second Aquino assassination is on-going. The same acrid odor can be detected in all yadiyadiyah scripts to reduce Benigno S. Aquino III into just another has-been partisan. Or to bludgeon his hard-headed community that believes that decentralized power, the art of consensus building, and development that includes social justice will be seen as the right side of history.
PNoy kept to himself as he saw the reforms he institutionalized—including the modernization of the Armed Forces in materiel and in a reformed, pro-people concept of security—tarred and diminished by the trapocrasy that saw itself slipping into the dustbin of history and likely divested of their privilege and plundered wealth. The Filipino people PNoy loved allowed this unhappy denouement to his presidency.
He kept his peace because he apparently understood and respected the citizenry’s right to choose. Even the choice to dally once more with authoritarianism and violent methods of governance; even if some measure of that choice was due to mass mesmerization of the public.
His greatness therefore emerged in his tragic fate, of having to witness a hugely-capitalized war against democracy with equanimity and grace, however lacerating it must have been—and what seems, now, to have been trust in democracy eventually righting itself.
In the dignity of his silence as he slid into his end is precisely the poise that will subdue his assassins.
Marian Pastor Roces works internationally as an independent curator, critic of institutions, and analyst of culture and politics. Through her corporation, TAOINC, she curates the establishment of museums. She is also a founding Partner of the think tank, Brain Trust, Inc.
She has long argued that governance, civil society action, and policy making in the Philippines are weakened by the absence of cultural analysis. Such analysis, in turn, needs to work with updated data. Hence Pulitikultura, Roces' platform for probing the intersection of culture and politics.