[PHOTO - President Benigno Aquino III. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO]

MANILA, MARCH 27, 2012 (INQUIRER) - To hecklers who claim he is just “Noynoying” in his job, President Benigno Aquino III has one answer: the economy is on the right track and “many things” have happened in the country since he took over the presidency 21 months ago.

During an interview with Agence France-Presse in Malacañang, Mr. Aquino pointed to a host of economic indicators to justify his enthusiasm, while displaying a relish for bare-knuckled political fights against his opponents.

Noynoying is a word coined by activists to refer to the President’s supposedly carefree style of coping with urgent problems confronting the country, including the escalating prices of fuel products.

“There are so many things that have transpired that none of us could even have imagined when we were campaigning,” Mr. Aquino said during last week’s interview, reflecting on his nearly two years in office that followed a landslide election win.

He referred mostly to the state of the nation’s economy, which after decades of underperforming has showed signs of steady, if incremental, improvement under his leadership and mantra of clean governance.

Kingpins of graft

Mr. Aquino cited a series of international credit ratings upgrades and the rise of the Philippine stock market to record highs in recent weeks as evidence.

Among his proudest achievements are luring foreign manufacturers and other investors to the Philippines, extending health cover, cutting government waste and expanding an incentive scheme to keep millions of poor children at school.

The President also insisted there would be no letup in the antigraft campaign.

“We are trying to get the kingpins of corruption,” he said.

Strong fundamentals

Critics have accused the President of lacking urgency on the economic front, pointing out that GDP (gross domestic product) growth was just 3.7 percent last year partly because he cut government spending when they say pump priming was needed.

But Mr. Aquino’s policies, which have an overarching theme of tackling the corruption infecting all sectors of the nation’s economy, have won endorsement from a wide range of sources.

The World Bank country director, Motoo Konishi, said last week the economy was in good shape with inflation stable at around 2.7 percent, manageable government finances and a well-focused social protection system.

“Besides having strong macroeconomic fundamentals, the country is benefiting from political stability and a popular government seen by many as strongly committed to improving governance and reducing poverty,” Konishi said.

Brand association

A survey released last week by the polling group, Pulse Asia, also found Mr. Aquino was holding onto the support that carried him to his election victory. The survey showed his popularity ratings at 70 percent, with just 9 percent disapproving.

A big factor in Mr. Aquino winning by a large margin in the 2010 presidential election was brand association.

He is the son of Corazon Aquino, one of the country’s most loved political figures who led the democracy movement against dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 1980s and then succeeded him for six years as president.

Her death in 2009 led to an outpouring of support for the Aquino family, transforming the bachelor-son with a reputation for achieving little in politics into the country’s most popular politician.

Business support

Meanwhile, business leaders are showing their support by opening up their wallets.

One of the country’s biggest conglomerates, Ayala Corp., announced last week that its real estate arm would invest $1.4 billion over the next five years in projects within the country’s financial district of Makati.

“The economy is on a positive track … that’s why we’re aggressive in our investment,” said Ayala Land president Antonino Aquino, who is not related to the President.

Mr. Aquino said in the interview that holding the reins of the country felt much more comfortable than the initial period after taking over from Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who ruled the Philippines for nearly 10 years before him. With a report from AFP

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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