THE President of our nation always leaves behind a most-remembered optic, upon which we base our lasting impression of his or her leadership. It can be an act of supreme greatness—or hubris. That optic stays vivid and fresh in the national memory—there is no need for a caption, or accompanying worlds. Think of Erap and his tugboat ride out of Malacañang to escape the lynching mob outside. In contrast, think of Mr. Ramos and the joyful cigar puffing and his “skyfalls,” reminders of a government marked by relative prosperity and peace. A government of very little tumult.
On Mr. Aquino, the one lasting, unforgettable optic of his six years in power—his permanent imprint on the national memory—took place on the sad day the bodies of the fallen SAF 44 were planed in by military aircraft to Manila, from the Mamasapano killing fields. Not a shadow of Mr. Aquino was at the welcoming group, an occasion that marked an outpouring of national grief and commiseration.
Where was he? What epic event made the President decide to skip a sad homecoming where his presence was not only badly needed, but a leadership must, and a calming one?
Believe it or not, he was at the recycling-cum-inauguration of a decades-old car manufacturing facility in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, which changed ownership, to save the facility from moving on into the next obvious destination—the junkyard. There, Mr. Aquino talked of the theme that animates him, investments, and the supposed nirvana that the nation derives from such lofty event—which on that day was the recycling of a mass of steel to save it from its junkyard-bound fate.
A mass of aging steel versus 44 returning cadavers that his government itself had sent into the slaughter? Mr. Aquino, our all-business President, opted to glorify the aging steel instead of sharing the grief with his stunned, mourning nation. Nowhere in that Sta. Rosa speech did the President waver from his unrelenting theme of growth and investments. It was totally out-of-sync with the preoccupation of his nation at that moment, commiseration with 44 SAF troopers waylaid due to operational and leadership bungles in the underwhelming cornfields of Mamasapano.
A look back at the six years of Mr. Aquino in power, and the photos that revealed what for him were the highlights of his presidency, validated the impression that Mr. Aquino’s obsession were inanimate pursuits: nice GDP charts, credit upgrades from the (discredited) rating agencies, inaugurations of roads, bridges and office towers and assembly plants. If you wanted the attendance of the President, or the attendance of an enthusiastic President, the invitations should be about gleaming office towers of glass and steel, new power plants, new airports and seaports, structures with intimations of a country on the go and on the move.
Never human lives, especially the lives of the downtrodden .
Of course Mr. Aquino interacted with humans. But they were taipans, young achievers, would-be-investors, movers and shakers. On the occasions with the movers and shakers, the photo collection of the Aquino presidency would show him a pleased man, grinning from ear to ear, devouring the usual blah blah on how these chosen ones’ investments would move the GDP growth.
Mr. Aquino’s sense of triumphalism peaked on the occasions he was with the Davos crowd or the Makati Business Club.
About two years into his presidency, I wrote a piece titled “Mr. Aquino should change his photo-ops” after many concerned citizens took note of the fact that his photos as President were exclusively about success and successful ventures and people—never about people on the margin, the class of people so strongly specified in The Sermon on the Mount. Where were the weak, the meek, the humble and the persecuted in Mr. Aquino’s presidential photos, that piece asked. Why were they rendered invisible by his presidency?
Was not the President the father to all the citizens regardless of status in life, religion and beliefs?
Typhoon Yolanda and the heart-rending misery and devastation it dealt on Eastern Visayas unraveled the almost brutal indifference of the Aquino government toward those who need the government most. Mr. Aquino and his co-president, Mr. Roxas, if you reread the Yolanda files, seemed to loathe the whole exercise of coming to the succor of the dead and the barely living. Mr. Aquino was a clueless Dead Leader Walking while presiding over the Yolanda relief and rehabilitation efforts.
The adrenalin that surged within the body system of the President during the inauguration of gleaming office towers was replaced by impatience and surliness in the Yolanda devastated areas. The work of coming to the succor of a wasteland seemed to be too tasteless, too cumbersome for the President.
Of course this was the same President who vetoed a meager increase in the SSS pension, claimed that the token Magna Carta for the Poor was a “budget-buster” and vigorously opposed a tax break for tax-burdened wage earners; and used the Napoles scam to cut off the token subsidies to the peasantry.
Of course, this was the same President who designed the P1.4 trillion PPP projects as bid-ready for the members of the 1 percent and the blue-chip corporations.
Mr. Aquino will be a private citizen a month from now and the new Palace occupant is the same man he vigorously campaigned against, the candidate he deemed unfit to be President. The voters, the ordinary citizens he failed to serve, rewarded Mr. Duterte with 16 million-plus votes, their silent but definitive verdict on Mr. Aquino’s presidency .
There are no fond farewells and long goodbyes for the President of the 1 percent. He and his GDP charts will go, not with a bang, but with a whimper.