Philippine presidents

Aquino’s letdowns, Duterte’s promise

Chay F. Hofileña

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Aquino’s letdowns, Duterte’s promise

Mark Z. Saludes

The vote for Duterte was, in many ways, a protest vote. It is, as one pollster explains, an indicator of 'discontent with the state of things.'

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MANILA, Philippines – When Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III was swept to the presidency in 2010, it was an emotional nation that wanted to tell his predecessor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in no uncertain terms it had had enough of corruption.

“Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (No corruption, no poverty) was the slogan that fired the imagination of Filipino voters who were eager to see how things would change for the better under an Aquino presidency. Hopes were high and expectations were aching to be met. Noynoy Aquino at the time was the perfect antidote to the unpleasant memories of his predecessor.

Filipino voters were eager to welcome with open arms the country’s 3rd youngest president who ascended to power at age 50. Aquino’s campaigners echoed what they heard on the ground during the campaign. “Libre na ulit mangarap (We’re free to dream again),” one of Aquino’s supporters said, mirroring hope and anticipation.

In his 6 years as president, among Aquino’s biggest contributions to the country as president are perhaps the following: economic growth; anti-corruption efforts as seen in the removal of a tainted chief justice, quick decision by the courts on legislators and other personalities involved in the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel scam; passage of sin tax and reproductive health laws; the 4Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program); a consultative budget process; the draft Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro which was unfortunately aborted; and even his own clean name and reputation.

His presidency carried a lot of promise, but like the other presidents who came before him, satisfaction by Filipinos dropped by the last semester of his administration.

Roots of disappointment

Notwithstanding the best of intentions, no president is perfect, to be sure. But through the years, disappointment with Aquino was fueled by 4 things:

  • Perceived inaction and inattention to urban woes in the National Capital Region which, in the end, gave him his highest dissatisfaction rating at 44%
  • Slow action in Leyte post-Yolanda
  • Lack of empathy as a leader
  • Difficulty distancing from classmates and personal friends

Foremost among the sources of frustration were mass transport, traffic, and flooding – failures in mass transport most evident and consistently seen in the regular breakdowns of MRT trains that crisscrossed EDSA.

The long lines of commuters taking the MRT and passengers walking gingerly on railroad tracks mirrored the utter helplessness of a government that was either powerless or did not care enough to quickly act on the problems of daily commuters.

Trains have been operating at an over-capacity of 142% since 2004, a problem he inherited but which he was unable to turn around. Once a sign of progress, MRT trains have deteriorated and become a daily symbol of government inaction and incompetence.


On top of this was the insufferable traffic that all Metro Manilans have had to endure. Countless studies have been made and estimates as of January 2016 said traffic in the metro is already costing the country about P3 billion daily ($64 million), equivalent to about 0.8% of gross domestic product, according to government figures.

Perennial, almost always lethal flooding that has resulted in traffic gridlock has only aggravated the situation in the metropolis. In recent years, the experience in the metro has been replicated even in Mindanao.

In 2011, for instance, according to statistics from the Emergency Events Database of the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, floods and storms cost the country $730 million and affected 11.6 million people and claimed over 1,900 lives. And this was two years even before Super Typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines in 2013.

Nothing prepared Aquino and his commanders on the ground for the fury and destruction that Yolanda (internationally known as Haiyan) left behind. In 2015, the total damage to infrastructure caused by Yolanda was estimated at P17 billion, while 5.9 million workers lost their livelihood. World response was also astounding at P17 billion in total foreign aid received as of November 2015. But much more still needs to be done.

No empathy

Perhaps because it just isn’t his personality, or perhaps because it’s just how he copes with stress, Aquino was not known to be a leader with empathy. Empathy, according to the Harvard Business Review, enables those who possess it “to see the world through others’ eyes and understand their unique perspectives.”

Aquino failed to show this post-Mamasapano January 2015, when he chose to be absent during welcome honors for the slain police commandos. In a speech, he said, “I am saddened by the fact that, despite my effort to give the families space to grieve, as they were to meet their fallen loved ones for the first time, some people found fault in this by calling me cruel or without regard for such loss. My intention was to help them heal.”

SOMBER ARRIVAL. Members of elite Police Special Action Force carry the remains of 42 of their 44 comrades from three C-130 planes  at Villamor Airbase, Pasay City on January 29, 2015. File photo by Dennis Sabangan/EPA


He failed to see how his absence projected him instead as a cold and detached leader unable to feel the pain of family members left behind by victims of the bloody massacre. With a little over a year left in his presidency, the incident only alienated him further from his constituents.

Valuable ties

In a recent interview with Rappler, Aquino said, “Friendship stops when the country’s interest is at stake.” A bold declaration, it called to mind Transportation Secretary Jose Emilio “Jun” Abaya, former Philippine National Police chief Alan Purisima, Manila International Airport Authority General Manager Jose Angel Honrado, former Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno, and former Land Transportation Office chief Virginia Torres who died from a heart attack.

Criticized for their failures as managers, Aquino had difficulty distancing himself from, and letting go of them. But the longer they stayed on, the more they diminished whatever political capital the administration had left.

By April 2016, Filipinos gave him a net satisfaction rating of 27% – lower compared to his previous rating of 32% in December 2015. But considering that his term as president is about to end, Aquino’s Social Weather Stations satisfaction rating is still relatively high, pollsters say.

During comparable time periods in their presidencies, former presidents Joseph Estrada, Fidel Ramos, and Corazon Aquino recorded net satisfaction ratings of +19%, +30%, and +13%, respectively. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo hit a dismal -53% with 3 months left in her presidency.

NEXT PRESIDENT. President-elect Rodrigo Duterte holds another early morning meeting in Hotel Elena in Davao City on May 29, 2016. File photo by Manman Dejeto/Rappler


Duterte’s promise

In the same Rappler interview, Aquino complimented the campaign of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte. The Davao mayor was clear on messaging and projected himself as both the opposite of Aquino and as the disruption of the continuity that administration candidate Mar Roxas symbolized.

Duterte promised action. He promised decisiveness. He promised an end in sight to the most debilitating problems that the country has seen in the last 6 years. He promised to be tough. Yet he showed empathy for OFWs affected by the bullet-planting operations at the airport. He promised higher wages for cops but threatened police generals who dabbled in drug-dealing.

He vowed an end to corruption, drugs, and crime. He cursed and hit the Church and its hypocrisy. He taunted the media and its corruption. Silently, even the politicians who were victims of these institutions applauded him.

He has pledged peace, moving to bring together to one table ageing communist negotiators and representatives of government. He has declared a “day of reckoning” for the terrorist and barbaric Abu Sayyaf Group.

The vote for Duterte was, in many ways, a protest vote. It was, as one pollster explained, an indicator of “discontent with the state of things.” The zealousness of those who supported him spread like wildfire on social media. It was sheer bandwagon and word of mouth, and “social media added fuel to the fire.”

People are weary of things remaining the same, but not necessarily angry with government, one pollster explained. 

The Philippine middle class is shrinking because many have opted to go abroad to either work or migrate, in search of a better future. Duterte gave himself a deadline – 3 to 6 months – to fix, or at the very least mitigate, the problems that have become a burden to most Filipinos.

He is the populist president-in-waiting who has promised to bring some deliverance to an undoubtedly tired and impatient people now on the lookout for quick fixes and short-term solutions. The runway Duterte laid out for himself is short and he knows he cannot afford to disappoint. 

Change is coming. Duterte is change. He is the promise all are eagerly waiting, desperately praying to be fulfilled.

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Chay F. Hofileña

Chay Hofileña is editor of Rappler's investigative and in-depth section, Newsbreak. Among Rappler’s senior founders and editors, she is also in charge of training. She obtained her graduate degree from Columbia University’s School of Journalism in New York.