COMMENT: A critic’s tribute to former President Noynoy Aquino

·Contributor
·3 min read

I am not a fan of the late President Benigno S. Aquino III. During his term, I was at the height of my idealism. I was an activist in one of the most progressive universities in the country. I was on the streets, in the sidelines of protests against his austerity measures and neoliberal policies.

FILE PHOTO: President Benigno
FILE PHOTO: President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino Jr. gestures during a news conference at the Malacanang Presidential Palace in Manila August 18, 2010. (Source: REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco)

I am not gonna attempt to sugarcoat things. I was against everything he stood for – the oligarch family he was born into and the privileged life that came with it, his parents’ liberal politics, and the equally rich cronies he put into seats of power.

This elitist brand of patronage politics left me yearning for drastic change. Six years later, and in comes this dark horse from the South. Rodrigo Duterte was a wild card and underdog promising that change we all wanted.

But as the curtains rose in Duterte’s house of horror, bodies began to pile up. The blood of drug suspects, activists, media workers, lawyers, and innocent citizens spilled onto streets across the country. Just a year into his presidency, people have already begun to question whether this is the change they so badly wanted.

FILE PHOTO: A woman cradles the body of her husband, who was killed on a street by a vigilante group, according to police, in a spate of drug-related killings in Pasay City on July 23, 2016. (Source: REUTERS/Czar Dancel)
FILE PHOTO: A woman cradles the body of her husband, who was killed on a street by a vigilante group, according to police, in a spate of drug-related killings in Pasay City on July 23, 2016. (Source: REUTERS/Czar Dancel)

Five years past Aquino’s term, age has mellowed me. And I am able to see things from a different perspective – less radical, but more pragmatic.

What seemed hypocritical to me back during Aquino’s term, I now see as diplomatic. Juxtaposed against Duterte’s shameless swearing and outright misogyny, I now see Aquino as a man of few but calculated words. In hindsight, I now see that Aquino ushered in great economic progress. He did not trumpet landmark victories like the West Philippine Sea arbitral ruling. Duterte, meanwhile, has never missed an opportunity to blow the horn on his Build, Build Build project. Unlike Duterte, who filled his Cabinet with military officials, Aquino’s Cabinet officials were professionals and experts in their fields.

Free press thrived under Aquino’s term, whereas Duterte cracked down on critical media. He threatened to shut down ABS-CBN. While his administration denied involvement, the network giant lost its bid for franchise renewal in Congress. After publishing reports critical of Duterte's policies, particularly his violent drug campaign, journalist Maria Ressa and her news outlet Rappler faced at least a dozen criminal accusations and investigations.

FILE PHOTO: A journalist lights a candle outside the ABS-CBN headquarters, following Philippine congress' vote against the broadcast network's franchise renewal, in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, July 10, 2020. (Source: REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez)
FILE PHOTO: A journalist lights a candle outside the ABS-CBN headquarters, following Philippine congress' vote against the broadcast network's franchise renewal, in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, July 10, 2020. (Source: REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez)

Yes, Aquino was far from perfect. But back then, those who dared to question his policies were not locked in jail cells or worse, brutally murdered.

I would be lying if I say that I am now suddenly a fan of Aquino, a person’s death should not exonerate him and erase his mistakes. But frankly, I doubt I will ever be a fan of any president. And to be honest, I don’t think anyone should. Worshipping a political figure, much in the same way that the Duterte Die-Hard Supporters (DDS) is with Duterte, will blind them from faults.

FILE PHOTO: Philippine police assault a tourist bus that was taken over by a former police officer in Manila August 23, 2010. (Source: REUTERS/Erik de Castro)
FILE PHOTO: Philippine police assault a tourist bus that was taken over by a former police officer in Manila August 23, 2010. (Source: REUTERS/Erik de Castro)

I offer my condolences to the Aquino family but I still hold him accountable for the Manila hostage crisis, the Mamasapano ordeal and the PDAF scandal. Those two things should never be mutually exclusive.

Ana Catalina Paje is a development journalist passionate about grassroots communication geared towards genuine social change. She also writes about showbiz, lifestyle, and all things Pinoy pride. The views expressed are her own.

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