ON DISTANT SHORE
By Val G. Abelgas
Only a year after being thrust into the presidency by the EDSA People Power Revolt in 1986, President Corazon Aquino was beginning to lose popular support because of numerous policies that tended to show her rapid shift from being pro-people to one that was pro-Establishment.
With Cory still enjoying a plus 72 approval rating in October 1986, about eight months into her presidency, workers and students were soon back to the streets to stage protests over her labor, agrarian and economic policies that were deemed as mere continuation of those of the deposed President Ferdinand Marcos.
In February 1987, just a year into office, Cory completely lost the support of these sectors when troops guarding Malacanang opened fire on hundreds of farmers, many of them coming from the Cojuangco-Aquino family-owned Hacienda Luisita, who were protesting her failure to implement genuine land reform. The incident, infamously known as the “Mendiola Massacre,” resulted in the death of 12 farmers and injury to 19 other marchers.
To quell protests, Cory signed the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law that failed to solve the country’s agrarian problem because it gave a stock option that landowners used to avoid distributing their land up to this day.
Cory Aquino also refused to repudiate the country’s huge foreign debts despite popular clamor, and instead of reducing the country’s debts, borrowed $9 billion more during her term, thus increasing the debt burden by $5 billion at the end of her six years in office.
Cory Aquino mothballed the ready-to-operate Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, but failed to launch power-generation programs that would replace the expected energy yield from the BNPP. Her inaction in solving the country’s power needs resulted in 12-hour blackouts, especially in Mindanao, that stymied business. It also resulted in astronomical increases in the cost of power, discouraging foreign investors from putting up business in the country.
Cory Aquino also initiated the infamous “low intensity conflict” policy, which was dictated by the United States, that created thousands of militias throughout the country that were believed responsible for numerous deaths and torture of militants, and various other human rights abuses.
At the end of her term, inflation was up to an astronomical 17% and unemployment was more than 10%, far worse than those under the Marcos regime. Except for opening up democratic space for which Cory remains revered until this day, the removal of the dictatorial regime failed to uplift the people.
From a high net approval rating of plus 72 in October 1986, Cory’s net approval rating was down to just plus 7% by the end of her term.
Comes now her son, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, who, like her mother, was obviously not ready to become president when he was thrust into the presidential campaign following the latter’s death.
Everybody, including this writer, had hoped that honesty was enough to lead the country out of the rut it was in. I cheered Cory during her ascendancy, but later became one of her earliest critics while writing a regular column in the sequestered Philippine Daily Express, where I was also the managing editor during the first year of her presidency. I supported her son Noynoy during the campaign, but have again become one of his earliest critics because of the early realization that the younger Aquino, just like her mother, was not ready to lead an impoverished country.
While it is true that the Philippine economy has remained above water, so to speak, as boasted by Aquino in reaction to protests that he has not done anything to solve the country’s problems, many economists are wary that at the rate things are going, it won’t be long before the economy finally implodes.
For one, because of his obvious paranoia on corruption, he virtually put infrastructure development into a standstill in his first year in office by canceling all public works contracts entered into by the previous administration. This has resulted in economic stagnation, rising unemployment, and alarm to foreign investors who have become fearful of entering into business deals with the government.
Aquino has also been accused of inaction in the lingering power shortage problem. For two years now, the people of Mindanao have been suffering from intermittent brownouts that have now blown into regular 8-hour daily brownouts. He has obviously not learned from his mother’s own failure in this area.
Aquino’s inaction has also been noted in the agrarian problem in Hacienda Luisita and other big tracts of land, in solving the nagging population problem because of his indecisiveness in the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill, in the continued extrajudicial killings of journalists and activists, in his refusal to reduce or suspend the Value Added Tax (VAT) on oil, in the betrayal of his promise to not impose new taxes, and in his failure to push the Freedom of Information Act that would promote transparency in government, among others.
After two years, he has nothing to show for his much-ballyhooed fight against corruption and abuses. The trials of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, her husband Mike and other key officials of the previous administration for various corruption charges have not even started. The Ampatuans, while jailed, have not been convicted. Nobody seems to be looking for retired Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. who has been charged with various human rights abuses. He has not lifted a finger against perceived friends who have been accused of wrongdoings, whom he has even defended publicly.
Does it, therefore, surprise anyone that activists have resorted to “noynoying” in protest of his perceived inaction and inability to govern efficiently? The concept of “noynoying” – where activists simply sit around staring into space, much like what Aquino supposedly does instead of running the country – has become so popular that it has garnered more than 100,000 fans in Facebook.
While Aquino and his Malacanang advisers may remain unfazed because the latest Pulse Asian survey showed that Aquino continues to enjoy a 70% approval rating with a 9% disapproval rating (a net approval rating of plus 61), he must not lose sight of the fact that his approval rating has been continuously on the downslide since his first rating of 88% in July 2010, his first month in office. Aquino must also remember that her mother’s net approval rating was still plus 69 after one year, compared to his own plus 61 after 18 months, but plunged to just plus 7 by the end of her term.
But the younger Aquino has reacted differently than her mother to the rating drop. While Cory ignored them, Noynoy seems stung by them. He lambasted those responsible for the “noynoying” term and has, in fact, launched an obvious public relations campaign with Malacanang-released photos and press releases in an apparent attempt to picture him as a working president.
We all know, of course, that such PR drive is just a knee-jerk and skin-deep reaction to more serious problems that afflict the country. He has to do far more than being photographed carrying folders of documents and appearing at Cabinet meetings to solve the various problems affecting the country. He can pose for positive public perception for as long as he likes, but as long as blackouts, a stagnant economy, unemployment, rising prices of oil and basic commodities, high transport fares, media killings, human rights abuses, and corruption remain, he will continue to be perceived as merely “noynoying.”
Aquino must now get up and move. He must now realize that he has to get the guava himself. It will not fall into his mouth, as the presidency did or as the original “noynoyer” Juan Tamad thought many years ago.