The new government under President Aquino – an analysis
Report on current political events N° 40/10
Jules Maaten1
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Berlin, 22 July 2010

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, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III was inaugurated following an election victory that was as decisive as it was, just a couple of months before, unexpected. Noynoy Aquino was as reluctant a candidate as he was popular, being a first-term Senator and the son of Liberal Party Senator Ninoy Aquino, who was famously assassinated, very likely at the instructions of then dictator Ferdinand Marcos, in 1983 upon his return at the airport that is now named after him, which caused the people’s uprising that brought Ninoy’s widow (and Noynoy’s mother) Corazon “Cory” Aquino to the Presidency in 1986 and by the way was of great influence to other democratic revolutions across the world in the late 1980s including Latin America and Eastern Europe. Cory Aquino’s Presidency and that of her ChristianDemocrat successor Fidel Ramos brought a period of relative democratic stability, and some economic growth, to a country that had been plagued for decades by the

plunder and undemocratic rule of Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies. However, Ramos was succeeded by the incapable populist and former film actor Joseph Estrada, whose rule was plagued by accusations of corruption and plunder. He was soon replaced in yet another people’s uprising by his seemingly skilled vicepresident Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (daughter of a previous President), whose administration then descended into even worse misrule, cronyism and corruption partly at the behest of her husband Mike Arroyo. The Filipino people seemed to carry this burden with resignation, with the upcoming Presidential elections focussing on economic issues, in particular the fight against poverty. The Liberal Party had just about survived a split a few years earlier, with some members joining the Arroyo camp, and made their competent leader Senator Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas (son of a previous President) their Presidential candidate. 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


Noynoy became unstoppable and Mar Roxas stepped aside to make way for his reluctant Senatorial colleague. Mar became the Vice Presidential candidate on the Liberal Party ticket.

combat corruption and create a level playing field for companies. 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 announced an executive order fleshing out the constitutional guarantee on the people’s right to information. This is a 180-degree change from the secretive, furtive atmosphere that surrounded Mrs. Arroyo, who used "executive privilege" - a gag on officials of the executive branch - to mask corrupt practices. The national deficit, expected to reach record levels this year, is a major problem. For the first five months alone, the country's budget shortfall has already reached P162.1 billion ($3.49 billion), exceeding the government's target. It is looking at a full-year deficit of P325 billion ($7 billion) or 3.9 percent of the Philippines' gross domestic product. Aquino promised not to raise new taxes but instead run after tax evaders. Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and Budget Secretary Florencio ‘Butch’ Abad (a former LP chairman who has also been active in CALD) announced that a crackdown on tax cheats and the cleansing of revenue-collection agencies would help plug the deficit. Purisima sent notice to wealthy professionals (lawyers, doctors, consultants) who make up only 10 percent of all personal income taxes collected. That is going to make some of his middle class supporters uncomfortable. But as the President himself stressed, he expected his own people to provide the right example. Charges against suspected tax evaders and smugglers have already been filed. The new president has assembled a generally seasoned cabinet comprised in large part of old faces from his mother’s administration, former Arroyo associates who resigned when the electoral scandal came to light in 2005 (such as Cesar Purisima and Dinky Soliman), as well as Liberal Party allies. Alberto Romulo returns as Foreign Affairs Secretary. Former Human Rights Commissioner Leila de Lima is the new Justice Secretary. Mar Roxas is likely to be appointed to a prominent cabinet position, and Senatorial candidate (and CALD secretary general) Neric Acosta to get the high profile position of Environment Secretary. LP member Proceso Alcala is the Secretary of Agriculture. The capable Naga City Mayor Jesse Robredo has been appointed head of

President Aquino at his inauguration

The May 2010 elections focused on the issue of corruption. Campaigns centred on projecting the candidates as the anti-thesis of GMA. Aquino duly won the elections with unprecedented support, with the government’s candidate ending fourth and barely reaching double figures. Aquino ended with 42%, followed by former President Estrada (26%), Senator Manny Villar of the Partido Nacionalista (15%) and only then Gilberto Teodoro of Lakas Kampi CMD (11%). Mar Roxas, although leading for much of the time in opinion polls, lost the Vice-Presidential election on a knife’s edge: Makati City mayor and Estrada running-mate Jejomar Binay 42%, Mar Roxas 40%, Manny Villar’s running mate Senator Loren Legarda 12%. Noynoy Aquino’s inauguration was a massive affair with over 100,000 people present, a sign of the enormous expectations that the people have of his Presidency. His inaugural speech did not disappoint. He stressed “No more influence-peddling, no more patronage politics, no more stealing. No more sirens, no more shortcuts, no more bribes. It is time for us to work together once more”. In fact, the leadership by example of Aquino is already paying off as traffic enforcers are now noticing fewer cases of road abuse “wangwang" (sirens and blinkers). And: “Although I was born to famous parents, I know and feel the problems of ordinary citizens. We all know what it is like to have a government that plays deaf and dumb. We know what it is like to be denied justice, to be ignored by those in whom we placed our trust and tasked to become our advocates.” Mr. Aquino acknowledged the need to make the Philippines "attractive to investors," pledged to cut red tape,


the crucial Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). Dr. Cayetano Paderanga who is with the Philippine Economic Society, a partner of FNF, now leads the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA). Television host and columnist Manuel “Manolo” Quezon III, who recently visited the FNF headquarters in Potsdam, along with Ricky Carandang, both of whom were formerly board members of the liberal think tank, National Institute for Policy Studies (NIPS), have joined the highly touted communications group of the President. Julia Abad, daughter of Butch, is chief of the Presidential Management staff. The business sector has expressed its support for the President’s economics team.

A comparison is easily made with the Obama Presidency, who was also elected more as a saviour than because of his policies. The same pitfalls are there for Aquino. In fact, it will be humanly impossible to keep his popularity ratings for the entire term of six years, and his party has to be prepared to deal with setbacks. Fortunately, the party management appears to be aware of this, and is keen to use the next years to strengthen the institutional party structures. In many ways if would be good if other parties, almost all of whom are weak to the point of non-existence, would also get their act together, although one can hardly see this as a task for the Filipino Liberals or the international Liberal movement. 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 administration is therefore called for.

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

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 Mindanao. The Aquino administration will also need to make good progress on these issues. Fortunately the first signals 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 economic reforms pushed through under the administration of President Fidel Ramos between 1992 and 1998 (lubricated by the pork barrel, the sine qua non of legislative achievement in the Philippines). Over the longer term, however, the prospects for Philippine prosperity and the viability of Philippine democracy depend on the emergence of stronger political institutions.

Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit Bereich Internationale Politik Referat Politikberatung und Internationale Politikanalyse Karl-Marx-Straße 2 D-14482 Potsdam