His ascent began with the passing of his mother, President Cory Aquino. Prior to that, he carried on the Aquino surname as a continuation of a political legacy inherited in succession, not simultaneously, from his martyred father, Sen. Ninoy Aquino, who stirred and woke the nation from political fear and indifference, to his widowed mother who bravely confronted a dictatorship, became our icon of democracy and the first woman president of our nation. His legislative career as congressman from Tarlac and Senator of the Republic, while conducted with dedication, hardly caught the imagination of the public eye.
But in the midst of widespread purported corruption in the Executive branch, the discovery of the Garci Tapes in the 2004 presidential elections, and in the sudden revered reawakening of the deeds of her mom upon her passing in 2009, so was revived the yearning for a new president free and clear from the taint of corruption and abuse of power.
It was in this political context that Benigno S. Aquino III became president in 2010.
In his six years of service as president of the Philippines, he ushered in an era of personal integrity and honesty. His political detractors criticized him in regard to style and policy, but never in regard to personal accumulation of wealth from the public coffers.
Rather than wait for the benefits of the economy to trickle down, he directly invested and intervened in the health and welfare of the 5th percentile of our people or the poorest of the poor through the Conditional Cash Transfer Program, ensuring the health of the mothers, the education of their children in the firm belief that taking care of their needs will break the intergenerational cycle of poverty.
Major infrastructure projects were launched, airports, floodwork projects, major highways were built
Major infrastructure projects were launched during his term, airports, floodwork projects, major highways were built, renovated or improved, some of them continued on and were claimed as projects of the Duterte administration.
The economy grew by leaps and bounds. We attained record-high GDPs for a number of quarters. Among others, we attained investment grade status where the direct result was, people were able to obtain loans, buy property or vehicles at lower interest rates. Our BPO industry grew exponentially, earning revenues close to the remittances of our OFWs. For a time, we became the BPO capital of the world outpacing India in terms of number of seats. There was even one year when the number of OFWs leaving for abroad was less than the previous year. The Philippines was trumpeted in the foreign press as the “New Tiger of Asia”.
In the South, President Aquino was able to forge a peace agreement with the MILF. It was not just a peace agreement, it came with a framework for the Bangsamoro government, and more importantly, the MILF agreed to a decommissioning of their firearms.
Underreported news was that our Yolanda response was described by agencies as being faster than the US response in Hurricane Katrina
We also had our share of mishaps, both natural and man-made. We were beset with Typhoon Yolanda, the strongest typhoon on record to date. It resulted in the loss of 10,000 lives. But while tragic in scope and breath, the underreported news was that our Yolanda disaster response was described by multilateral and international agencies as being faster than the US response in Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana. While this should in no way diminish the loss of lives, this fact is notable considering that unlike the US, the Philippines is an archipelago and the disaster covered a huge swath of area separated by the seas but despite that, the Aquino government managed the logistics of disaster response far more capable than the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Incidentally, for the benefit of those who inquired where the Yolanda Fund went, the Yolanda Fund was used by the Duterte administration for the rehabilitation of the bomb-ravaged Marawi City or the so-called Marawi Fund.
We also had the MRT issue which remains a concern six years after the Duterte Administration took over. As will be noted, the Aquino Economic Team had to fix the complicated MRT ownership before government can put in funds to repair them. Towards the end of administration, there were already new Korean trains running but under the Duterte administration, the Senate conducted a hearing to find fault with the Aquino DOTC. On its part, Secretary Tugade’s DOTr sued the Aquino officials before the Ombudsman. But with the exception of one official, the Ombudsman eventually cleared two DOTC Secretaries as well as the Undersecretaries of any wrongdoing. But the MRT continues to be a concern to this day.
He did not require perfection but he demanded a comprehensive doable program
All these achievements and failures can be quantified. The odd thing when apologists defend PNoy’s track record is the presence of a qualifier—“Of course, PNoy was not perfect” as though people had a precognition that he was perfect. To the best of my knowledge, no such qualifier is ever mentioned when describing the performance of PNoy’s predecessor or successor.
Yes, he was not perfect and in fact, the one quote that he always reminded Cabinet Officials if projects were taking so long to germinate was “Perfect is the enemy of good”. He did not require perfection but he demanded a comprehensive doable program that can benefit the people.
His government was truly a government of, by and for the people. His first and last concern was always the people. How will it benefit the people? What is the long-term effect on our people? Who and how many will benefit from a program?
In the wake of his first death anniversary, I know that his place is secure, borne by the fact that weighed vis-à-vis service and integrity, he has tipped the scales beyond reproach. If news is the first draft of history, I am confident that the long view of history will be more than kind to him.
Lastly, in my encounters with our Filipino diplomats abroad, the one word they felt when representing President abroad was pride. They are proud representing PNoy and the Aquino government, it was not difficult talking and selling the Philippines to foreigners because in the eyes of many and to the best of his ability, President Aquino embodied good governance.
Not perfect but good, clean and honest governance.
And that is what I missed most a year later.