The reluctant president

The 15th Philippine president died from ‘renal disease secondary to diabetes.’ Photo: Malacanang Photo Bureau

The FilAm Editorial

Of all the people who became head of state in the Philippines, Benigno Simeon Aquino III – Noynoy to all of us — is one who would rather be somewhere else.

He did not aspire to the presidency; it was thrust upon him when his beloved mother, former president Cory Aquino, died. The weight of expectations fell on his shoulders because he is the only son and inheritor in a family that has always been relied upon to rescue the country when the leadership has lost all respect and legitimacy. The Philippines is singularly marked by its unprincipled political culture which has produced men and women who, for the most part, are venal and petty in the exercise of their power.

Noynoy Aquino passed away on the 24th of June, Araw ng Manila, at a tender 61.

Even from the beginning, he was a different kind of politician. Noynoy was easygoing chummy but sometimes exuded an air of aloofness which could easily be mistaken as rich-boy snobbery. A former diplomat once shared an encounter with him: “I approached him to congratulate him for something, and he just walked past me looking like he did not see me.” That kind of standoffishness is what some critics have pointed out as one of his “imperfections.”

As a former speech writer so thoughtfully put it in a personal tribute to her former boss, Noynoy had developed an air of brutal caution from the trauma of losing his father to an assassin’s bullets and then his mom to the ravages of cancer. Some Filipinos, especially his critics, jumped all over him for attending the inauguration of a car manufacturing plant instead of presiding over arrival honors for the 44 officers and men who perished in the 2015 Mamasapano clash. He pleaded for “understanding” and did not apologize.

The measure of a man is what he stands for and who he is, fundamentally. Aquino, second in his family to become president of the country, is a decent man.

Unlike some presidents, he did not enrich himself. Unlike other and present occupants of the office, he did not order the jailing of his opponents nor cheer on the wholesale murder of innocent people. He did not engage in profanity, which some justify as a measure of being “totoong tao.”

One could wish he was more aggressive in repairing the country’s ills of inequality and poverty.

When he challenged another regional power, the rationale involved a simple tenet: “It was the right thing to do.” One can contrast that with the position of the current dispensation to justify appeasement and border-line treasonous behavior.

While we would wish the perfection of our leaders, one quickly realizes that it should be enough our leaders are good and honorable people. In a speech given by Robert Kennedy in apartheid-ruled South Africa: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Noynoy laid down a brick to make the Philippines a better place.

It is in that vein that we honor and remember him. Our future should never be defined by the dictators and murderers of our homeland. Duty and doing what is right should.  

© The FilAm 2021

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