The United States and indeed, the world, mark this November the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Also, this November, the Philippines marks the 80th birth anniversary of opposition Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr. Both JFK and Ninoy were hero and cult figures, idolized more for the myth and legend that surrounded them than their actual achievements. Both were victims of an assassination.
JFK was the nearest to a crown prince Americans had. Ninoy was the nearest to a crown prince Filipinos had. Both were young, brash, ambitious, intellectually hefty, and yes, tragic figures.
JFK and Ninoy both symbolized a people’s unfulfilled dreams and aspirations, their burning yearning for a better world marked by justice, freedom and democracy.
JFK’s only son, JFK Jr., died in a crash of a small plane he himself was piloting on July 21, 1999. Who knows JFK Jr would have been president too. He had tremendous charisma and possessed the most famous name in US politics, after Lincoln and Washington.
Ninoy’s only son, Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino 3rd, is the Philippines’ president. He had famous parents—Ninoy and the late President Corazon Cojuangco Aquino who died on August 1, 2009. A nation’s grief over her death catapulted BS Aquino to the presidency.
BS Aquino is the nearest thing to a crown prince of Philippine politics during this century. He won with more votes than any other elected president of the Philippines—15 million versus the nearly ten million of the second placer, the comebacking former President Joseph Estrada.
Filipinos embraced BS Aquino like their savior. After the disappointing abbreviated 30-month rule of Estrada and the controversial nine years of Gloria Arroyo, perhaps the most maligned president in Philippine history, BS Aquino was like an oasis in the desert that somehow met the people’s hunger for a good leader. BS Aquino promised good governance and deliverance from corruption, massive unemployment and poverty and one of the worst income inequality ratios in the world. No more than 80 families ruled the economy and politics of the country, including the hacendero clan of BS Aquino.
By the end of this year, BS Aquino would have been in power for three and half years. In the pre-martial law presidency of four years plus one reelection, he would have been seeking reelection. And he would have been a doubtful starter at the gate.
For two reasons. One, little has been achieved on three fronts—poverty reduction (the ratio has remained stagnant at about 30 percent of total families though in number, the poor actually increased by at least one million during BS Aquino’s presidency; employment generation (not only is a supposedly robust economy not producing jobs, it is even destroying jobs so that people who are already employed are losing their jobs); and unemployment reduction (unemployment hit a high of 7.5 percent in 2012 after hitting a low of 6.3 percent in 2008). Aquino’s men think poverty can still be halved to 15 percent by the end of his term in 2016. The world halved poverty last year. The Philippines did not. I would like to give BS Aquino the benefit of doubt but the odds are against him.
The other reason for the people’s distaste with the President is that BS Aquino’s matuwid na daan program has been an utter failure. He has been found to have bribed the senators who voted to impeach and remove Chief Justice Renato Corona in December 2011, using money commandeered from the savings of Cabinet departments and various government agencies. A man accused of corruption and betrayal of public trust was convicted by people who were even more corrupt and had no reason to be trusted by the public simply because they have been corrupted by the president of the republic.
BS Aquino’s Bureau of Customs is the worst BOC in Philippine history according to senior government officials. His Department of Transportation and Communications is one of the most incompetent and slow-moving Cabinet ministries.
BS Aquino has lost a great deal of public approval and popularity. Pulse Asia insists he remains hugely popular. But the social media and the Internet think otherwise.
My hope is that BS Aquino would still succeed as president. If he fails, with all his popularity and good intentions, no future president will succeed.