The Aquino Dynasty is about to enter its final phase. Will Noynoy Aquino earn his place in history or squander his parents’ legacy?
Something interesting is happening around Noynoy Aquino. The upswell of support for him and his family in the wake of Cory’s demise is combining with the long-boiling dissatisfaction towards traditional politicians epitomized by Arroyo to form a political perfect storm that can quite literally catapult him from relative obscurity to the highest office in the land.
People seem to be willing to put aside their cynicism in the face of something — someone — more hopeful. After all, since Erap we have vowed to steer away from the politics of personality. And despite the shortcomings of Arroyo, we assert that we still need a leader of competence to lead our country into the 21st century. Yet, with an election year in the horizon, we seem too ready to forget new commitments and cling onto warm and familiar categories. In our want to move away from an era of political dynasties, we find refuge in the most popular one of all.
Columnists and pundits are describing next year’s vote as one between good and evil. Comparisons to the twilight era of Martial Law are rife. And the rise of the reluctant Aquino son is said to draw parallels with that of his mother’s. However, isn’t it that by equating our situation this 2009 to 1986, there is a real danger of throwing the development of our politics twenty three years back? There is some mischievous irony here: that in wanting to move ahead, we resort to how we used to do it. Could a vote for Noynoy Aquino be a vote for the past?
Our people demand a lot from our politicians. Nonetheless I find it odd that when pushed to a corner, we easily settle for the next best thing. For too long we have been lulled into a false choice: Either we have a candidate of virtue and principle, or one of political talent and technical ability. Why not both? Is that too much to ask?
Let’s take a look at those currently leading the presidential surveys.
Manny Villar is shaping up to be truly formidable. With a clear track record in the House and Senate, and a compelling personal history as an entrepreneur, he seems to have it made. His electoral war chest runs deep and he has been aggressively campaigning for the past two years. His image among the masses is excellent and if the elections were to be held now, he will win. However, he falls apart under closer scrutiny. He hasn’t been as forthcoming about his businesses. Despite his mass appeal, he elicits a lot of cynicism and caution from the more educated classes. A lot foresee a Thaksin Shinawatra in the making — with all he spends now, he will undoubtedly seek a return on his investment. There is still the possibility that deep within Villar is an altruist, yet everything he has done and shown so far suggests nothing but the oligarch of old, the traditional politician we so desparately want to move away from.
Francis Escudero is a deft, young politico with so much to prove. He is intelligent, incisive, but despite his oratorical ability and everything he has said so far, we still do not know him. I liken him to that honor student in class who works his way to the top by dutifully performing everything expected of him, but without any effort to be original and unique. In his many ‘brilliant’ tirades against the Arroyo government, he doesn’t come from a position of principle but of pandering. He plays into the crowd, winning you over despite his thin track record, disguising his pretentiousness as competence. This is unfortunate, for there really is potential in him. He needs to engage himself more in policy debates — his disdain for high school mathematics is really pure ignorance — and prove that behind his smooth stinging oratory is actual accomplishment. He needs to deserve the words he says.
And finally, Joseph Estrada. Most historical analyses would brand EDSA Dos as a mistake. It didn’t have the same grassroots ground swell that really defined People Power 1986, and was largely an elitist uprising. It left the Presidency open to the highest bidder, forcing Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to compromise with the dregs of the political right if only to hold on to power and build a working majority in the House. Erap Estrada deserves his vindication — but at what cost? During his short term our institutions were not corrupt, but they were ineffectual. He practiced a highly personalized form of leadership that has been the norm since pre-colonial times. I feel that his style is anti-thetical to the more nuanced and balanced posture the Presidency requires. But then again my opinion may not matter due to his sheer mass appeal.
If elections were to be held today, these three would receive majority of the votes with Villar claiming the top spot. Yet, unease remains. For despite their overwhelming popularity, they are all still deemend unworthy, particularly by the upper and middle classes who have long sought for a higher standard of leadership.
Hence we run to Noynoy Aquino. He is a man who has neither the resources nor track record of Villar. In yesterday’s press conference, we saw him a world apart from Escudero. And will the Aquino name be enough to shift the masses away from Estrada? What does he really have going for him?
Noynoy Aquino is a virtual unknown in the national stage. To many he is the anti-thesis of the traditional Filipino politician, primarily because of his reluctance and seeming refusal to grab on to power. He is a blank slate upon which people can easily project whatever it is they want to see. All he has to his name is his name. The legacies of Ninoy and Cory Aquino are too powerful for him to simply squander and put to waste, or so many would like to believe. But if indeed, as his sisters attest, Noy maintains clean and incorruptible, will he be able to rally the people to his cause? Will he be able to inspire us to sacrifice for the country because it is the least we can do? That power to summon is part of the Aquino legacy too.
After all, the success of Noynoy Aquino will not rely on him alone. At this point, he cannot win through a traditional campaign. Moreover, he knows that he cannot usher in change and reform by governing alone. In last night’s press conference, he expressed reluctance that his victory may only lull us into falling back into old ways — we implore the President to work miracles, and usher them out when they fail to do so. Thus, a vote for him should not be a return to the past. It must be our opportunity as a people to set things right the second time around.
In declaring a weekend retreat to discern his final choice, he is actually inviting us to discern too — are we ready to help usher in the change we seek?
In guarding against corruption and fighting against those who break the law, are we ready to be honest in all our affairs and follow the rules?
In wanting to lift our country out of poverty, will we find the time to volunteer, reach out, and engage in a profession that may not pay well but is sorely needed?
In protecting our freedom of speech, will we be responsible for the things we say? In guaranteeing our right to assemble, will we work together for the right things?
In believing that our country will see a better day, will we stand by it, work in it, and give more of ourselves not because we must but because it is the right thing to do?
For this is where democracy is headed. It doesn’t end with the ballot. It merely starts there. In May 2010, we will be twenty four years away from People Power 1986. It might be the year where we show the world how little we’ve changed, or it might be the year that we show the world how it is done once again.
It is only if we work together to make our country a better place will Aquino’s intergrity really amount to something. He knows this. When he stepped behind the podium last night, mulling over the words he had to say, he already knew it. There is a reason why the Aquino Dynasty endures. Because their lives — and this election — is not about them.
It’s about us.