REMINDER: Ave Atque Vale, President PNoy
(Homily delivered by Archbishop Emeritus Antonio Ledesma on the 9e day of the commemorative mass of former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III at the Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Augustine in the city of Cagayan de Oro on July 3, 2021)
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / July 04) – When Typhoon Sendong hit Cagayan de Oro in December 2011, President Aquino’s sister Viel, accompanied by a companion from the Foundation for the Development of Assisi, was among the first to come and help. Afterwards, Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman also visited the city to help oversee the relief operations. These visits represented an extension of President Aquino’s concern for the victims of the calamities.
But then, a series of other calamities struck the Philippines: Typhoon Pablo in (December) 2012 which swept through southern Mindanao; the man-made crisis in the siege of Zamboanga in September 2013; the Bohol earthquake which demolished six heritage churches in October 2013; Super Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013 which devastated Tacloban and much of the Visayas; and another man-made disaster with the death in Mamasapano of 44 special policemen in January 2015 (just one week after the papal visit).
All these natural and man-made calamities occurred during the presidential term of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino in 2010-2016. With hindsight, one might think that these “acts of God” and of men were enough to shake and destabilize the ship of state under Aquino’s helm. But in the last few days since his passing, many voices have been raised by attentive observers praising the steady course of daang matuwid traced by Pinoy throughout his presidency.
What were some of these accomplishments? During the funeral mass at Gesu Church of Ateneo University in Manila, his alma mater, Bro. Armin Luistro nicknamed Noynoy the “president of education”. As Secretary of Education, Bro. Luistro himself knew the facts. During Noynoy’s six years, 185,000 classrooms were built, an average of 84 classrooms per day; this eliminated the backlog of 66,800 classrooms. In addition, 174,000 new teachers were hired; of the 805,000 public school teachers today, one in five was hired during the Aquino era. The public education budget increased from 175 billion pesos in 2010 to 364 billion pesos in 2014.
What was more difficult was the implementation of the Kindergarten to Grade 12 curriculum, adding two more years of high school for each student to make the Philippines competitive against the rest of the world. Where many previous administrations feared to walk, President PNoy has shown the political will to do so. The same courage and determination he showed in passing the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Bill, despite vocal opposition from many religious groups.
Another social measure adopted by President Aquino was the expansion of the conditional cash transfer (CBT) initiated by his predecessor (and former economics professor at Ateneo, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo). Under the leadership of DSWD secretary Dinky Soliman, the CCT or the 4 Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program) were able to reach 7.7 million poorest families. The World Bank has cited the 4 Ps as one of the best managed programs in the world. . The passage of the Sin Tax Reform Law also provided universal health coverage for the elderly.
Politically, President Noynoy’s stance in favor of good governance has been tested by the Napoles scandal involving millions of pork barrel funds skimmed off from phantom projects. In the process, three sitting senators were imprisoned: Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla.
Perhaps one of Aquino’s most enduring legacies has been the continuation of the peace process with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), ratified when the Bangsamoro Comprehensive Agreement was signed in March 2014 in Malacanang. Unfortunately, with the Mamasapano incident, the adoption of the Bangsamoro Organic Law had to wait another five years, and with that the creation of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) at the time of President Duterte in February 2019. The Aquino administration also failed to follow through on peace negotiations with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
Internationally, the Aquino administration can be credited with the landmark decision of the International Court of Arbitration in The Hague recognizing Philippine sovereignty over its offshore islands, contradicting Chinese claims. It is the Philippines’ crucial bargaining chip in its diplomatic battle with a giant neighbor.
Perhaps President Aquino’s most solid achievements have been in the steady growth of the macroeconomics that has made the Philippines the “sick man of Asia.” Economists like Gerardo Sicat point out that the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by an average of 6.5% from 2010 to 2015, rivaling and sometimes even exceeding China’s growth rate. The main drivers of growth have been OFW’s remittances and revenues from the expanding BPO industries.
Boo Chanco points out: in the 2010 Economic Freedom Index, the Philippines dropped from 115th to 70th place; in the global competitiveness index, we went from 85th to 47th; and in the World Economic Forum’s Global Enabling Trade Index, we went from 92nd to 64th. Aquino’s chief economic officers were able to promote fiscal sustainability.
Economist Cielito Habito, in his column, highlights the legacy of “inclusive growth” in “Aquinomics” through groundbreaking legislative reforms such as the Philippine Competition Law and the Modernization and Tariff Law. He launched the Manufacturing Resurgence Program in 2013 to revive the manufacturing sector. It has tripled the budget for education, health and social protection.
Carlos Dominguez, Finance Secretary to President Duterte, attributes to Aquino the reforms put in place such as the “Law on the Management and Transparency of Tax Incentives” (TINTA) and the “Business Takeover and Tax Incentives for Businesses” (CREATE). Much of the infrastructure that the current administration takes credit for was actually started by Aquino, such as Mactan-Cebu International Airport. The public-private partnership (PPP) has initiated many of these projects.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer summed up Aquino’s accomplishments in its editorial: “At the end of his presidency in 2016, Aquino left the country with a stable and prosperous economy, the fastest among 11 Asian economies in the first three months of the year. In his three decades of economic briefings, Habito observed that “no other Philippine president in recent memory has matched the positive economic advances made under P-Noy’s leadership for six years.”
A legacy of the public service
As we bid farewell to President Aquino, how do we assess the legacy he left? “Mission accomplished” was the message of his four sisters; despite their grief, they could be proud that their brother carried on the legacy of his parents, Ninoy and Cory Aquino. But for us, does this mean, as Bishop Soc Villegas pointed out, that the half-mast also means the half-mast of a dying democracy in our country?
I would venture to summarize the character of P-Noy in three words: honesty (“daang matuwid”); Humility (“walang wang-wang”); and hard work (“kayo ang boss ko”). Its finance secretary, Cesar Purisima, emphasizes that “his principled leadership systematically puts people before politics, prudence before populism”. Similarly, columnist Randy David mentions the hope that the nation’s introspection into the sudden death of another Aquino may fuel the movement for the “return of decency, dignity and dignity. diligence in government ”. In his homily alluding to the bare urn containing the mortal remains of President Noynoy, Fr. Albert Alejo, SJ, simply expresses the hope that it is “the wake of a new political era”.
Ave Atque Vale, President P-Noy!