Illiberal democracy needs a strong and experienced leader, Part 3



“Democracy cannot consist solely of elections that are nearly always fictitious and managed by rich landowners and professional politicians.” - Che Guevara


The accidental rise to the presidency of Corazon Cojuango Aquino exposed a truism that inexperienced people make mistakes, but what is equally true is that an inexperienced president making such mistakes could have disastrous effects to the country. Cory Aquino’s spite for Marcos and her lack of vision, bad decisions in the energy sector led to the power crisis during her term that carried over to her successor’s (Fidel Ramos) administration.


The 620+ megawatt Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) that Marcos envisioned would eventually make Luzon energy self-sufficient was mothballed for safety (being near a volcano) and political reasons.  The BNPP closure left the Philippines without a reliable power source to meet the increasing needs of a rapidly exploding population. Aquino, however, never built a single power plant during her 6-year term to replace the mothballed capacity of the BNPP.


Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, however, the BNPP remained intact but the nuclear power prohibition in the 1987 Cory Constitution and the U.S. bases closure in 1992 soured any prospects of reviving it with the help of the Americans. Professor Rolando Simbulan and his Nuclear-Free Philippines Coalition of Liberal Party leaders, the clergy and many others took credit for the constitutional prohibition and the eventual plant closure but it was Aquino’s decision that sealed its fate.  


Gen. Fidel Ramos became the first non-Catholic (Protestant) to become president. Despite the two year old nationwide energy crisis, Ramos engineered an economic recovery that brought economic growth, peace and stability, and a streamlined bureaucracy. Cloaked with emergency powers, Ramos purchased through no-public bidding contracts, gas-turbine generators as stopgap measures but old and aging power plants were just waiting in the wings.


Ramos recognized and tried to address some of the constitutional impediments to economic progress through Charter Change (Cha-Cha) but was stopped dead on the tracks by none other than Cory Aquino and the Catholic Church. Despite Ramos’ active promotion of liberal democracy, his tenure was marked with scandals involving graft and corruption during the Philippine Centennial celebration. The peace agreement with Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was tarnished by allegations that he got over $200,000 campaign contribution from Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.


Clearly, the goodwill between Aquino and Ramos dissipated when the latter tried to tinker with Cory’s Constitution. Bringing the Catholic Church to bear against a Protestant president did not sit well with Ramos and paved the way for an eventual break. Fast forward, he supported Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) who became president by virtue of another EDSA Revolution after President Joseph Estrada was impeached. A third EDSA happened during GMA’s administration with Estrada supporters protesting the arrest of the father and son Jinggoy.


The Oakwood Mutiny soon followed from mutinous soldiers who alleged graft and corruption and to preempt a supposed plan by GMA to declare Martial Law. GMA survived and beat a popular movie star, Fernando Poe Jr. with the help of an election official. “Hello Garci” triggered massive protests and triggered a coup de etat led by mutinous soldiers who were soon arrested when GMA declared a “State of Emergency.” A year later, an impeachment complaint was filed for alleged bribery. With the tyranny of numbers, she survived it.


Arroyo’s claim to fame was a revived economy that grew at its fastest pace that proved an asset during the 2008 global financial crisis. But her economic success and liberal policies placed the onus on poor people struggling with poverty while images of luxurious living remained the domain of the ruling elites. Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) is a euphemism for domestic workers, laborers, and other skilled workers who left for greener pastures abroad. Macapagal-Arroyo championed Western-driven globalization on the altar of free trade.


As a shrewd economist, she foresaw the influx of billions of dollars from foreign remittances. She was right, of course, having the dollar remittances keeping the Philippine economy afloat but with such great cost to families and to the workers themselves who continue to make the great sacrifice to help keep the economy afloat while corrupt politicians drain the Treasury.


GMA’s legacy will always include the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre where 32 journalists were gruesomely murdered by GMA allied Ampatuan political clan who helped her get elected president.


Former president Cory Aquino supported GMA during EDSA II that removed Estrada from the presidency but would later withdrew such support when Arroyo was accused of rigging the 2004 presidential election, her and her husband Mike Arroyo’s involvement in the NBN-ZTE broadband deal, the Ampatuan massacre and when she attempted to do the Cha-Cha in 2009.


Despite Cory Aquino’s badly run administration and misplaced support for GMA, she was highly popular and revered courtesy of the Catholic Church who elevated her to a saintly status. Her death in 2009 transferred such goodwill to her son Sen. Benigno Aquino III (Noynoy) who won the presidency in 2010 despite lacking executive experience.


Noynoy Aquino’s presidency highlighted a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that ended the conflict in Mindanao. The agreement promised autonomy to the southern Mindanao Muslims but could not deliver the Bangsamoro Organic Act that would have implemented such autonomy.  Congress passed it but was found unconstitutional. His successor, Rodrigo Duterte signed it into law.


Aquino III popularized the Yellow cult (Dilawan) that he inherited from his mother. His mantra of “Matuwid na Daan” (Straight Path) was tarnished when the much hated pork barrel exploded during his presidency. His budget secretary invented the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as a substitute to the pork barrel that would later be found unconstitutional.


The former president along with his former budget secretary were both indicted over the use of DAP to allegedly bribe senators and congressmen to impeach and oust then Chief Justice Renato Corona. The bribe allegations were notable for naming now presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as one who did not receive the bribe.


Corona earned the ire of President Aquino for being a prohibited appointment by GMA during a campaign period and for penning the agrarian case against Hacienda Luisita that badly hurt the Cojuangco-Aquino family. Aquino’s vindictiveness also extended to Corona’s benefactor, GMA, who was charged with graft and corruption and placed in hospital arrest for years until cleared by the Supreme Court.


Perhaps the biggest highlight of Noynoy Aquino’s presidency was the robust economic growth the country experienced during his term. Despite the economic prosperity, however, unemployment remained high and the chasm between the rich and the poor became wider.


Aquino’s incompetent handling of the Manila Hostage crisis that resulted in the death of the hostage taker and eight Hong Kong nationals and slow response before and after the super Typhoon Yolanda’s devastation of the Visayan Islands cost Liberal Party candidate Mar Roxas the presidency in the 2016 election.  (To be continued..)