" This nation is too big and too great to be the plaything of just two or even five families."
Under Cory Aquino’s troubled presidency, basic freedoms were restored. Democracy became the norm. But her Cabinet was riven by discord between the left and the right. The communist insurgency grew in strength to its highest, at 35,000 armed regulars. The Muslim separatist movement was revived, thanks to Cory visiting Nur Misuari in his Camp Abubakar hideout.
Between 1986 and 1989, nine coup attempts erupted—the first against Ferdinand Marcos (successful) and eight against Cory (all failed although two were bloody, in 1987 and 1989).
Cory finished her presidency of six years and four months in June 1992. She was succeeded by her handpicked successor, Fidel V. Ramos, her West Point-trained chief of staff.
Formerly taciturn, FVR proved to be a genial president. He reached out to all the enemies of the state. He declared amnesty for the Reform the Armed Forces (RAM) rebels. He made Nur Misuari of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front governor of the Muslim autonomous region and poured on him unlimited funds. He sought a ceasefire with the communist rebels. The result was a relatively stable peace. Having restored peace, Ramos reached out to foreign investors. They came in droves. But then, Ramos was weakened by the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. The economy fell into a recession in the last quarter of his six-year term.
Ramos was succeeded by the populist Joseph “Erap” Estrada who garnered what then was the largest vote mandate for an elected president—10.72 million votes, 40 percent of the total cast for president and 6.4 million votes more than Ramos’s favored successor, Speaker Jose de Venecia. After 30 months in office, Erap was ousted by a US-backed coup amid allegations of corruption. Cory joined the movement for Erap’s ouster.
Estrada was succeeded by his vice president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who ruled for nine years. She was also hounded by charges of corruption. Again, Cory joined the push to remove Arroyo who fought back.
When then retired President Cory died on August 1, 2009, a surge in sympathy and pity swept the nation. Noynoy rode on that crest and sought the presidency in May 2010. The young Aquino won overwhelmingly, with 15.2 million votes or a commanding 42 percent.
The youngest to be elected president since Marcos who was 48 when he won in 1965, Aquino, then only 51, beat four well-known rivals, come-backing former President Joseph Estrada, 9.487 million votes or 26.25 percent; self-made Filipino billionaire and political leader Manuel V. Villar, 5.57 million votes or 15.42 percent; former Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro, 4.095 million votes or 11.35 percent; and preacher Eddie Villanueva, 1.125 million votes or 3.12 percent.
Noynoy was unappreciated as president although he managed quite well with the economy doing 6 percent tack per year.
On June 24, 2021, Noynoy died from depression, lonely, despondent, a recluse. Debilitating diseases frustrated Noynoy: lung, heart blockade, diabetes, and renal failure. The family has a history of heart problems. Ninoy would have died of a heart attack had he not been assassinated at age 50.
Six major failures or scandals undid Noynoy’s presidency:
1) The Luneta park hostage taking by a mentally disturbed policeman on Aug. 23, 2010 in which eight of 20 Hong Kong tourists were killed in bungled rescue by the police; Aquino visited the site and was photographed smiling;
2) The Zamboanga siege of Sept.9, 2013 in which the army burned down 10,000 homes and displaced 100,000 civilians in a 21-day standoff with a handful of Muslim rebels whose leaders were not captured;
3) The slow and incompetent government response during Typhoon Haiyan in Eastern Visayas on November 8, 2013 in which between 6,000 and 10,000 died (the highest on record but the government stopped counting dead bodies after reaching 6,000);
4) The Jan. 25, 2015 massacre of greatly outnumbered and outgunned 44 elite police commandos who were sent into an enemy lair to fetch a high value target in Mamasapano, Mindanao. Aquino monitored the siege but never sent reinforcements to rescue his own men. When the cadavers arrived in Manila, Aquino instead went to inaugurate a car plant 20 kms away at the same hour.
5) The December 2019 Dengvaxia scandal in which Aquino was accused of making 800,000 school children guinea pigs for as an unproven anti-dengue vaccine made by big pharma; and
6) The failure to turn over the 6,415-ha. Hacienda Luisita to its 6,296 farmers/workers despite a 14-0 Supreme Court decision ordering the distribution and for the Cojuango-Aquino family to pay the beneficiaries up to P10 billion in undistributed gains from profits and sale of portions of the estate, the largest contiguous private land north of Manila.
The ruthlessness and vindictiveness waged against Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and former Chief Justice Renato Corona (who led a 14-0 decision vs Luisita) had no match in modern politics.
Noynoy did well on the 4Ps for the poor, upscaling education, family planning policy, infra modernization, and letting business be itself (no new oligarchs though the Lopezes and Ayalas prospered). Then the colossal victory at The Hague which shamed China although we lost our claim to Kalayaan Island Group as national territory.
According to the New York Times, “one of Aquino’s most significant achievements was the enactment of a reproductive rights law that made contraception readily available to the poor. To do so he faced down decades of resistance by the powerful Roman Catholic Church in an overwhelmingly Catholic country.”
NYT said: “Under Mr. Aquino’s leadership, the Philippines was one of the few Southeast Asian nations willing to stand up to China. He effectively sued Beijing over the two countries’ competing claims in the South China Sea, taking his case to an international tribunal in The Hague. In a landmark ruling in 2016, the tribunal found that there was no legal basis to support China’s expansive claim to sovereignty over the waters.”
The fear of being arrested by Duterte haunted Aquino and gnawed at his nerves.
On balance, Noynoy was a good, kind and humble man. He was a good president and history will be kinder to him and his legacy. If the luster of the Aquino brand should shine on an heir, my bet is former Senator Bam Aquino.
Dying makes Filipinos more sympathetic and appreciative of once less loved, if disliked, figures. To Filipinos, the dead acquire an aura exponentially bigger than their real life persona.
We have 24 million families. Our presidents from 1962 to 2022 came from just five families. Only five families have ruled us for more than 60 years, out of 24 million families.
It’s time the nation stopped viewing its governance from the prism of a Marcos-Aquino family. This nation is too big and too great to be the plaything of just two or even five families. Wake up my countrymen.