Presidential legacies

By: Edilberto C. de Jesus - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | July 03,2021 - 08:00 AM

Presidential deaths, even of those no longer in office, inevitably invite inquiries into legacy. But performance assessment, particularly with presidents limited to a single term, comes even earlier than the end of the administration, as it sets the context of the election for the next president. Although President Duterte is alive and in power, with his term nearing its end, research on his legacy has already begun.

The immediate verdict on Benigno Simeon Aquino III or P-Noy was positive. The suggestion by a Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) television report that P-Noy left behind a “deeply divided nation” was incorrect. SWS chair Mahar Mangahas noted in January 2016 the “exceptionally high public morale” reflected in people’s optimism about the trajectory of the economy and personal quality of life. The peaceful transfer of power to the Duterte administration sustained this optimism.

After the 2016 elections, P-Noy mostly stepped away from the political limelight. The sharpening focus on the 2022 elections would not have allowed him to stay in the shadows. His unexpected death accelerated by only a few months the inevitable comparison between the Aquino and the Duterte presidential records. President Duterte campaigned on a 15-point “legacy agenda” and surely expected having to face the obvious question on how many of his promises he delivered.

That Mr. Duterte and P-Noy shared similar concerns also prompted pointed comparisons. “Ending criminality” was the top priority in Mr. Duterte’s legacy list. It subsumed the second and the third objectives, which were different kinds of crimes—ending illegal drugs and trafficking, and ending corruption. All three he promised to deliver within six months, an extraordinarily optimistic promise. Mr. Duterte later acknowledged that he could not win either the war against drugs or against corruption within his term. This disappointment even led him in November 2019 to consider resignation.

P-Noy campaigned on the platform of “Daang Matuwid” and on the battle cry “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” He never set a date when he could proclaim that there were no more poor people because there were no more corrupt people. Nonetheless, since corruption did not disappear, the slogan became a millstone around his neck. Still, his administration saw a record number of “big fish” prosecuted on corruption charges. The targets were not street-level petty criminals but plunderers.

The catch included the chief justice Renato Corona, who was impeached and removed from office. Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez was also impeached but resigned days before the start of her impeachment trial. The dragnet caught several senators—Jinggoy Estrada, Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr., and Juan Ponce Enrile—who had presided over the Corona impeachment trial. Joining the senators in the list were Gen. Alan Purisima, chief of the Philippine National Police; Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay Jr., mayor of Makati, the country’s financial capital; Junjun’s father as well, then Vice President Jojo Binay, for transactions during his own term as Makati mayor; and former president Gloria Arroyo. Some of these officials were known to be P-Noy’s friends.

The case load generated during the Aquino administration sadly underlined the issue of entrenched, endemic corruption and impunity that had long plagued the country. Most of the big-ticket crimes were committed before Aquino’s election. P-Noy probably established a world record: The government managed to bring to the prosecution stage within a single term charges against a former president, Senate president, an incumbent chief justice, and an incumbent vice president. The responsibility for these cases was part of the legacy P-Noy bequeathed to the Duterte administration, which will need to frame its own narrative on its handling of corruption and on the other promises in the 15-point legacy agenda.

What the Duterte administration could not have anticipated was the flood of postmortem reflections of people on their personal and professional interaction with P-Noy. These paint a more sympathetic portrait of P-Noy from that drawn by the media in their coverage of the crises that he confronted. They are contributing to a more scrupulous, sober analysis of the unspecified “sins” of the Aquino administration to which the PCOO report alluded, and a belated appreciation of what P-Noy accomplished and the challenges awaiting the next president.

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Edilberto C. de Jesus is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.

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Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).

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TAGS: Benigno Simeon Aquino III, Daang Matuwid, Duterte, Legacy, P-Noy, Presidential deaths
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