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The new government under President Aquino

– an analysis
Berlin, 22 July 2010

Report on current political events

N° 40/10
Jules Maaten1
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The strengthening of democratic and legal institutions could be the great legacy of the Aquino government. For
this government to be successful would give an important boost to democratic forces across the developing
world, and a concerted effort especially by Europe to support the Aquino administration is therefore called for.

On June 30th, 2010, the new President of The Philippines, plunder and undemocratic rule of Ferdinand Marcos and
Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III was inaugurated following his cronies. However, Ramos was succeeded by the
an election victory that was as decisive as it was, just a incapable populist and former film actor Joseph
couple of months before, unexpected. Noynoy Aquino Estrada, whose rule was plagued by accusations of
was as reluctant a candidate as he was popular, being a corruption and plunder. He was soon replaced in yet
first-term Senator and the son of Liberal Party Senator another people’s uprising by his seemingly skilled vice-
Ninoy Aquino, who was famously assassinated, very likely president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (daughter of a pre-
at the instructions of then dictator Ferdinand Marcos, in vious President), whose administration then descended
1983 upon his return at the airport that is now named into even worse misrule, cronyism and corruption partly
after him, which caused the people’s uprising that at the behest of her husband Mike Arroyo. The Filipino
brought Ninoy’s widow (and Noynoy’s mother) Corazon people seemed to carry this burden with resignation,
“Cory” Aquino to the Presidency in 1986 and by the way with the upcoming Presidential elections focussing on
was of great influence to other democratic revolutions economic issues, in particular the fight against poverty.
across the world in the late 1980s including Latin Amer-
ica and Eastern Europe. The Liberal Party had just about survived a split a few
years earlier, with some members joining the Arroyo
Cory Aquino’s Presidency and that of her Christian- camp, and made their competent leader Senator
Democrat successor Fidel Ramos brought a period of Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas (son of a previous President) their
relative democratic stability, and some economic growth, Presidential candidate.
to a country that had been plagued for decades by the
When the funeral of Cory Aquino, a few months before
the elections, led to a massive reawakening of the
popular revolutionary sentiments of the 1980s the
people’s call for the candidature of Cory’s only son
Designated FNF-Project Director Philippines I1
Noynoy became unstoppable and Mar Roxas stepped combat corruption and create a level playing field for
aside to make way for his reluctant Senatorial colleague. companies.
Mar became the Vice Presidential candidate on the Lib-
eral Party ticket. The inauguration was attended by a number of foreign
guests, among them Timor President Ramos Horta,
Spain was represented on ministerial level, and also
attending were Liberal International President Hans van
Baalen MEP, FNF Regional Director Rainer Adam and a
large group of Asian Liberals representing the Council
of Asian Liberals and Democrats (CALD).

A good speech, however, does not yet make a good

Presidency, and Aquino’s first appointments and policy
decisions were awaited eagerly.

Soon after the inauguration the administration an-

nounced an executive order fleshing out the constitu-
tional guarantee on the people’s right to information.
President Aquino at his inauguration This is a 180-degree change from the secretive, furtive
atmosphere that surrounded Mrs. Arroyo, who used
The May 2010 elections focused on the issue of corrup- "executive privilege" - a gag on officials of the execu-
tion. Campaigns centred on projecting the candidates as tive branch - to mask corrupt practices.
the anti-thesis of GMA. Aquino duly won the elections
with unprecedented support, with the government’s The national deficit, expected to reach record levels this
candidate ending fourth and barely reaching double year, is a major problem. For the first five months alone,
figures. Aquino ended with 42%, followed by former the country's budget shortfall has already reached
President Estrada (26%), Senator Manny Villar of the P162.1 billion ($3.49 billion), exceeding the govern-
Partido Nacionalista (15%) and only then Gilberto ment's target. It is looking at a full-year deficit of P325
Teodoro of Lakas Kampi CMD (11%). Mar Roxas, although billion ($7 billion) or 3.9 percent of the Philippines'
leading for much of the time in opinion polls, lost the gross domestic product. Aquino promised not to raise
Vice-Presidential election on a knife’s edge: Makati City new taxes but instead run after tax evaders. Finance
mayor and Estrada running-mate Jejomar Binay 42%, Secretary Cesar Purisima and Budget Secretary Floren-
Mar Roxas 40%, Manny Villar’s running mate Senator cio ‘Butch’ Abad (a former LP chairman who has also
Loren Legarda 12%. been active in CALD) announced that a crackdown on
tax cheats and the cleansing of revenue-collection
Noynoy Aquino’s inauguration was a massive affair with agencies would help plug the deficit. Purisima sent
over 100,000 people present, a sign of the enormous notice to wealthy professionals (lawyers, doctors, con-
expectations that the people have of his Presidency. His sultants) who make up only 10 percent of all personal
inaugural speech did not disappoint. He stressed “No income taxes collected. That is going to make some of
more influence-peddling, no more patronage politics, no his middle class supporters uncomfortable. But as the
more stealing. No more sirens, no more shortcuts, no President himself stressed, he expected his own people
more bribes. It is time for us to work together once to provide the right example. Charges against suspected
more”. In fact, the leadership by example of Aquino is tax evaders and smugglers have already been filed.
already paying off as traffic enforcers are now noticing
fewer cases of road abuse “wangwang" (sirens and blink- The new president has assembled a generally seasoned
ers). cabinet comprised in large part of old faces from his
mother’s administration, former Arroyo associates who
And: “Although I was born to famous parents, I know and resigned when the electoral scandal came to light in
feel the problems of ordinary citizens. We all know what it 2005 (such as Cesar Purisima and Dinky Soliman), as
is like to have a government that plays deaf and dumb. We well as Liberal Party allies. Alberto Romulo returns as
Foreign Affairs Secretary. Former Human Rights Com-
know what it is like to be denied justice, to be ignored by
missioner Leila de Lima is the new Justice Secretary.
those in whom we placed our trust and tasked to become
Mar Roxas is likely to be appointed to a prominent
our advocates.”
cabinet position, and Senatorial candidate (and CALD
secretary general) Neric Acosta to get the high profile
Mr. Aquino acknowledged the need to make the Philip-
position of Environment Secretary. LP member Proceso
pines "attractive to investors," pledged to cut red tape,
Alcala is the Secretary of Agriculture. The capable Naga
City Mayor Jesse Robredo has been appointed head of I2
the crucial Department of Interior and Local Government A comparison is easily made with the Obama Presi-
(DILG). Dr. Cayetano Paderanga who is with the Philip- dency, who was also elected more as a saviour than
pine Economic Society, a partner of FNF, now leads the because of his policies. The same pitfalls are there for
National Economic Development Authority (NEDA). Tele- Aquino. In fact, it will be humanly impossible to keep
vision host and columnist Manuel “Manolo” Quezon III, his popularity ratings for the entire term of six years,
who recently visited the FNF headquarters in Potsdam, and his party has to be prepared to deal with setbacks.
along with Ricky Carandang, both of whom were formerly Fortunately, the party management appears to be aware
board members of the liberal think tank, National Insti- of this, and is keen to use the next years to strengthen
tute for Policy Studies (NIPS), have joined the highly the institutional party structures. In many ways if
touted communications group of the President. Julia would be good if other parties, almost all of whom are
Abad, daughter of Butch, is chief of the Presidential weak to the point of non-existence, would also get
Management staff. The business sector has expressed its their act together, although one can hardly see this as a
support for the President’s economics team. task for the Filipino Liberals or the international Liberal

Be that as it may, the strengthening of democratic,

legal and also of non-governmental institutions could
be a great legacy of the Aquino government, one of
very few Liberal led governments in the developing
world. For this government to be successful would give
an important boost to Liberal and other democratic
forces across the developing world, and a concerted
effort especially by Europe to support the Aquino ad-
ministration is therefore called for.

From left to right: Dr. Rainer Adam, Hans van Baalen, Jules

Whether the fight against corruption and for transparent,

democratic government is enough to keep the Aquino
Presidency alive for six years is not sure. At the end of
the day it is great poverty and a stagnant economy
largely because of vested economic interests (especially
old family monopolies) that characterise the problems of
the Philippines, even more than the still ongoing military
conflict with Islamic separatists in the south of Min-
danao. The Aquino administration will also need to make
good progress on these issues. Fortunately the first sig-
nals are encouraging. As one commentator wrote: “The
President stuck to his guns. And that’s a good enough
start. But there’s a long way to go.”

Analysts have long noted the weakness of Philippine

political institutions, notably political parties and the
bureaucracy. Strong presidential leadership can indeed
bring important change–as demonstrated by the eco- Impressum
nomic reforms pushed through under the administration Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit
of President Fidel Ramos between 1992 and 1998 (lubri- Bereich Internationale Politik
cated by the pork barrel, the sine qua non of legislative Referat Politikberatung und
achievement in the Philippines). Over the longer term, Internationale Politikanalyse
however, the prospects for Philippine prosperity and the Karl-Marx-Straße 2
viability of Philippine democracy depend on the emer- D-14482 Potsdam
gence of stronger political institutions. I3