Even as reactions to the State of the Nation Address (SONA) are streaming in, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd may still get his wish in the end – for history to be his final arbiter as a leader. But he might want to recall the saying to be careful about what one wishes for. If we were to look at how history judges leaders of the past, this President may be in for a disappointing review. He should examine a few of the qualities that people generally admire about leaders.
A quick scan of history shows that leaders with vision stand out. We admire leaders with forward thinking that gave direction to a nation and even inspired present and future generations to do great things or overcome insurmountable obstacles. What we saw at the SONA earlier this week was the opposite, a leader fixated on the past.
As he had repeatedly done since taking office in 2010, President Aquino blamed past presidents – mainly his predecessor, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – for the problems besetting this country today and for his failure to do something about them. The President seems to forget that he has been holding the highest office of the land for nearly six years now.
Future generations might ask of this leader, what did he actually accomplish? They may even revisit how his so-called accomplishments were funded by the DAP or Disbursement Acceleration Program, which the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional.
Once again, he harped about jailing some big political names as evidence of his gains in the campaign against corruption. But history just might remember that as an act of selective justice, sparing those who were political allies or friends of President Aquino. Certainly, it was no act of courage that people admire of great leaders.
Hardly a unifying force
Another leadership quality that people generally admire is the ability to unite a people. Great but terrible leaders unite by force. Other greats use charisma and strength of character to bring factions together. Regrettably, President Aquino has done neither.
His attempt to bring the MILF back into the fold has hit a wall. The fact that stakeholders in Mindanao, including the MNLF and the sultanates, as well as influential Christian mayors and governors, were bypassed in the peace process shows that the proposed BBL is not a unifying force even among Filipino muslims. And even as lawmakers fix the draft law, the MILF leaders are making threats and warning of war unless the Palace’s version is passed in toto. Instead of expecting peace in Mindanao, dark clouds seem to be hovering ahead.
Even abroad, President Aquino has antagonized or picked fights with our closest neighbors. He angered Hong Kong for not apologizing for the killing of tourists from that territory. The Palace’s approach to the disputed territories has only hardened China’s position and escalated tensions in the West Philippine Sea. Even relations with Taiwan is being tested as the goverment tarries on the passage of a fisheries agreement that was spawned after the shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman in 2013.
To be fair, not all of the last SONA was bad. As expected, the President highlighted many accomplishments, but he did so in contrast with how supposedly bad it was in past administrations. And so the best thing about the SONA was that it was the last from President Aquino.