When you think of Mr. Aquino’s belief in his own greatness, historical parallels come to mind. One was the hopeful, sunny day when then US President George W. Bush stepped out of the co-pilot seat of a fighter jet dressed in full combat pilot regalia, the props to his “Mission Accomplished” speech. In Mr. Bush’s view of the world expressed that day in triumphalist cadence, he “liberated” Iraq and heeded the clamor of the invaded nation for “democracy.”
In a biting commentary, journalist Franck Rich later described that moment as one of the great hoaxes ever sold in the history of US politics. Iraq later degenerated into a morass of bloodletting and chaos and remains an ungovernable, failed state up to today. That the Iraq invasion has roiled and upended the world in so many negative ways is an understatement.
Mr. Aquino’s version of “Mission Accomplished” has not been a solitary event, unfortunately for most of us and our exasperated eardrums. He does it at every public forum to remind the political gentiles of how he, his supposed competence, his supposed integrity, his supposed great leadership etc. have fundamentally changed the culture of politics and governance in the country. He constantly warns against backsliding into an imagined old culture, along with the dire prognostications on what would happen to the country were we to deviate from the “daang matuwid.”
Mr. Aquino’s life in a leadership bubble is being sustained by an important life-support system — the mainstream media. The major media outlets have been water carriers for the Aquino administration and no major scrutiny of the reality beneath the mirage of growth rates and credit upgrades has been undertaken in-depth. In a society where the true straight path is the direction of 60 percent of GDP – straight to the Top 1 per cent – is the only verifiable, vetted evidence of a straight path, the lack of scrutiny of Mr. Aquino’s almost six years of upward redistribution has fed the president’s imagination of greatness.
That there is a ready villain for all the evils and wrongs in this country – the politicians below Mr. Aquino who had gorged up on public money — has helped Mr. Aquino and the oligarchy escape scrutiny. Even the sainted cardinal, who reportedly shed tears after reading the pork barrel stories, has yet to make a rough calculation on the penny ante take of the thieving politicians and vampire squid resources-sucking of the oligarchy.
The sainted cardinal has yet to realize that while the Top 1 percent sucks up 60 percent of the nation’s produce and feasts upon the labor of millions of Filipinos, the total take of the thieving politicians, magnified a thousand times, is less than 1 percent of GDP.
That Mr. Aquino and his merry band of crusaders and integrity policemen have been over and above us, busy righting the many wrongs in the country and goading us into the “straight path” has been the phony and unexamined narrative over the past five years.
The feedback loop within the circles of power has also nourished the life in a bubble of greatness. Mr. Aquino’s decisions and policies are never contested and always praised by palace courtesans. Cabinet members and political allies may grumble privately over the bone-headed decisions of Mr. Aquino. But in front of Mr. Aquino, they would rather opt for the “ang galing mo boss” lie than straight-talk with the boss.
The problem with a life in a bubble is this: there is always a day of reckoning. Criticisms can always be dismissed as the work of sour-grapes. But facts and figures on the level of influence a “great” president can exert on the presidential succession issue, virtually pierce that bubble.
Like the recent polling that showed Mr. Aquino’s endorsement on the 2016 succession is a baggage – a heavy one at that – and not a positive one.
What was it again for Metro Manila voters? A negative 26 percent. An endorsement from Mr. Aquino–we can use the cliché on this one – is a virtual kiss of death.
Okay, how do we explain the claim of presidential greatness and the people’s disdain toward the candidate anointed by Mr. Aquino? Is that the normal practice in a democracy, the people’s non-reciprocity to the supposed greatness of a departing leader? Just read the story of Lula, a truly great president and how he made Dilma win, despite the public’s doubts about her competence to lead Brazil.
On the reciprocity, actually no. The people are not inclined to reciprocity because there is nothing to thank Mr. Aquino for. In reality, Mr. Aquino belonged to the 20th century and what he aspired for and accomplished – growth rates and credit upgrades – were the benchmarks of great leadership during the heyday of the Washington Consensus.
Today is the 21st century and inequality has been defined as the great challenge of this period. Growth rates can take place in a vastly unequal world, more so in the governing environment of Mr. Aquino. Mr. Aquino, the hard truth is, is an out-of-touch leader who was oblivious to the brutal Social Darwinism that resulted from his policies.
The legacy-seeking Mr. Aquino will soon find out his true place in history. Like George W. Bush, he will be rated as one of the most inconsequential presidents, ever. The bubble has been pierced and there is empirical evidence to prove that.