President Aquino: A Symbol of Hope
President Benigno Simeon ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III, fifteenth of the independent Filipino nation, might seem at first glance rather incongruous. As the highest official of the Republic he is expected to focus on big national affairs: the national economy, the national security, the national government bureaucracy — and yet since his inaugural address he and his government have devoted much of their energies against the politician’s abusive use of the siren, the ‘wang-wang,’ amid the congested Manila traffic. He even went so far as to discard the presidential car’s legally provided siren, risking late appointments and possible attempts against his personal safety. The president also made much ado about his residing not in the Malacañang Palace, with all its pomp and prestige, but rather in his private home at Times Street. He, moreover, promised to keep government spending to minimum levels and to avoid traveling abroad. But what good would such promises be, per se, when the government could only save a few millions from necessarily costly events like President Aquino’s inaugural ceremony, and when his administration, sooner or later, would have to settle diplomatic relations abroad?
One might shake his head at what appears to be sheer gimmickry from P-Noy’s part, just as one might be overwhelmed with the number of vehicles sporting the yellow ribbon along EDSA. But perhaps there is something more behind all this ‘sheer gimmickry’?
May 10, 2010. We Filipinos forsook the everyday routine and braved the long queues and the searing noonday heat to elect a new set of officers to govern our country. For the presidential seat we had the choice between eight candidates, all talented in their own fashion, and all perhaps as ardent in their desire to transform the Philippines and govern the people well. Each candidate set forth their own different platforms and used different propaganda tactics to convince the people to vote for them.
And ‘Noynoy’ Aquino won.
But the question now is: did we vote President Aquino because he was more competent than all the other candidates? Was his presidential program much more comprehensive than the others’? Had his stand on key issues like agrarian reform and the reproductive health bill been so clear and decisive so as to impress the voters into his side? And yet the same Filipino people who catapulted Aquino into the Malacañang did not elect all the Liberal Party candidates — candidates who, according to Aquino’s TV advertisements during the election campaign, he needed seated in the government to support his programs and proposals for the country. That diverse personalities ranging from Ramon ‘Bong’ Revilla, Jr. (Lakas-Kampi-CMD) to Ferdinand ‘Bong Bong’ Marcos, Jr. (Nacionalista) were elected into office proves that the Filipino people did not vote for ‘Noynoy’ Aquino as a politician.
The Filipino people voted for ‘Noynoy’ Aquino, the symbol.
The Aquino name since the 1980s has stood for the political aspirations of the Philippine nation. The remembrance of Senator Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino, Jr. and President Corazon ‘Cory’ Cojuanco-Aquino are enough to remind the people of what our fathers had fought for in EDSA: People Power, freedom, democracy, the deliverance from tyranny, hope. This ‘Aquino Legacy’ has ingrained itself into the Filipino imagination just as much as the Arthurian return from Avalon has captured the English dream. It is then no surprise to see, last May 10, 2010, an Aquino ascend into prominence once more in view of the perceived failure of the Arroyo administration to uphold its promise in the so-called second EDSA Revolution: to restore political accountability, to heal our broken land.
Critics of President Aquino have often pointed out that he won the election through this ‘Aquino Legacy,’ and that he still has a lot of work to do once he stops playing the role of the ‘Aquino son.’ But perhaps President Aquino has already been doing his work, even during the campaign period, when he dared to utter that bold (and, admittedly, rather ambitious) statement: Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap. In his inaugural address President Aquino dared to proclaim the beginning of a new government: a government that would consider the people as its boss. He dared the good government officials to stand forth and show their capability. He dared to break the long tradition of politicos using the ‘wang-wang’ to escape the city traffic. He dared to make promises the common people can understand. He dared to speak of change and justice where others would mumble of the national security and national economy — matters too vague, too ‘big,’ for the common people to truly grasp. President Aquino dares the Filipino people to hope once more. And he does through his role as a symbol.
The petty acts of President Aquino (the discarding of the ‘wang-wang,’ the refusal to live in the Malacañang) are by themselves needless, if not indeed impractical, measures. One less ‘wang-wang’ on the streets is not much tangible improvement to the Manila traffic. If anything, ‘gimmicks’ like these might well hinder the new president’s efficiency. But for the common person accustomed to the tra-po haughtily sounding his siren along the highway, accustomed to an unfeeling Power seated in an aloof throne in the Palace, the little gestures of Mr. ‘Noynoy’ point to something greater than their face value. They point to a change in the winds. Things can be otherwise. And for a country that has long sunk into pessimism, President Aquino’s ‘sheer gimmickry’ is a resounding call for us to hope once again.
Can President Aquino, or anyone else for that matter, be politically capable enough to truly reverse what four hundred years of mistakes (clannishness, landlordism, corruption) have wrought? Perhaps not. But President Aquino as a symbol points to one possibility: given a century, or a decade, or even a few years, all might turn out right. Our Filipino people might just, in the course of history, fulfill through hard work and unity the ‘Aquino Dream’ — People Power, freedom, democracy, the deliverance from tyranny, hope.
**This article was written before events such as the RH bill issue and the 23 Aug hostage-taking crisis; hence, pardon the outdated context.