AQUINO: BOLD REFORMER OR VINDICTIVE HACIENDERO?
 

SAN FRANCISCO, DECEMBER 28, 2011 (YAHOO ASIA) OPINION By Benjamin Pimentel in San Francisco/Philippine Daily Inquirer | ANN - Suddenly, Noynoy Aquino's presidency has taken an intriguing turn.

After being portrayed as a retarded wimp, he's now being painted as a reckless bully, a ruthless leader using his popularity to go after his and his family's enemies. He's even being compared to Ferdinand Marcos - and Adolf Hitler.

Viewed from overseas, it all looks very, very strange - but also very thought-provoking.

For this is one crazy Filipino political telenovela with two potential endings, two would-be portraits of Noynoy Aquino.

If his supporters are correct, P-Noy will be remembered as an enlightened president, a bold reformer willing to take big risks to change the way politics works in the country.

If his critics turn out to be right, he'll be exposed as a vindictive scion of one of the most controversial hacendero clans in Philippine history.

The charge that P-Noy is turning into a dictator is somewhat befuddling, even amusing.

For it doesn't jibe with what could well be the biggest twist in Noynoy's term: He could be the first Philippine president whose family will end up becoming substantially poorer and politically weaker after he leaves office than before he took power.

The Supreme Court decision on Hacienda Luisita is, undoubtedly, a major blow to Noynoy's clan. Which is why it's significant that his initial reaction was to accept the ruling.

In fact, I think he and his communications team should have done more with the Hacienda Luisita decision.

Noynoy could have pounced on the opportunity to sell a compelling narrative: 'Here's a genuinely courageous and committed Filipino president who is willing to take on his own family's interests and those of his class for the sake of the nation.'

And he could claim to have done it three times in a row.

He took on the Marcoses, rejecting the sick claims his family that the corrupt dictator deserves to be honored as a hero.

He took on the Macapagals and the Arroyos by filing charges against a former president accused of some of the most jaw-dropping allegations of corruption and abuse of power in the post-Marcos era. And even took on the chief justice accused of being a tool of that president.

And now, Noynoy could proudly claim, he is also taking on his own family.

What a compelling story! If only it were true.

For there is the other possible storyline.

Instead of celebrating what many see as a victory of long-suffering Filipinos, Noynoy's statement on the Hacienda Luisita ruling was subdued. What he essentially said was, 'Oh, all right, so the court has ruled that my family has to give up the hacienda. I sure hope they get properly compensated.'

As most Filipinos know by now, P-Noy is extremely loyal to his family. In fact, he has shown a troubling readiness to protect not only his family, but also his allies. This is the president who moved quickly to shield his allies from a scathing report on the way they handled the bungled Luneta rescue.

Remember how he was quoted as saying, "If all these people who are close to us are removed and replaced by those who are not as close, the next group could already be our enemies."

The fact that P-Noy didn't pounce on the chance to present himself as an enlightened son of the elite class is not surprising. Noynoy probably didn't feel that enlightened.

It's a safe bet that he really wanted his family to hang on to the hacienda. That's why he's probably in a bind.

Imagine the heat he's going to feel at the Christmas parties of the Aquino-Cojuangco clan: 'For crying out loud, hijo!' a tito or tia would tell him. "You're the president, but you're also part of this family - you're supposed to protect us!'

That's also why the fact that the offensive against Corona followed the Hacienda Luisita ruling understandably has sparked speculation that this battle is really about Noynoy trying to find a way to protect his family.

It's a very cynical view. But then again, in the wild and crazy world of Philippine politics, anything can happen.

And certainly it would be unwise to dismiss the grave scenario being painted by P-Noy's critics - an anticlimactic finale to this telenovela that would go something like this: The chief justice is ousted. He gets replaced by a new justice who eventually argues, 'Oh, we really need to revisit that Hacienda Luisita ruling. I think we made a mistake.'

That would be a painful twist in this story. In fact, it would be a disaster.

I'm still hoping for the other ending.

One in which Noynoy Aquino succeeds in fighting for meaningful changes in the Supreme Court, pushes on with his stated goal of fighting corruption in government, while bravely, decisively affirming and defending the hard-earned victory of the Hacienda Luisita farmers.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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