Daring to dream

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

What is it about the Aquinos that makes Filipinos grieve with them when there is a death in the family?

We all know the momentous events that transpired in our country following the assassination of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.

In 2009, people thought his widow Corazon had been all but forgotten. But her death unleashed a paroxysm of national mourning, triggering a political tsunami that bore her only son to power.

Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III was indifferent to power. How many persons can you describe in that way – and wholeheartedly believe it?

Ninoy, Cory and Noynoy were only human and had their flaws. But they tried to embody the best that Filipinos could be. They inspired hope for a better Philippines. As Noynoy put it in his memorable inaugural address, Filipinos could dream again.

They died with aspirations not yet fully attained. Noynoy’s eldest sister Ballsy Aquino-Cruz said that their parents took him away first because he was the one tasked to continue what they didn’t finish. The task, however, will probably always remain a work in progress, with reform efforts needing to be sustained.

This unfinished business, these goals that the nation can and must work to achieve, cannot be inurned along with Noynoy Aquino. His death must resurrect the ideals that he set out at the start of his presidency.

In the meantime, we give ourselves time to mourn with his bereaved loved ones, grieving over our broken dreams.

*      *      *

Some of those close to Cory and Noynoy as well as political allies abused their trust and power, and betrayed the ideals that mother and son espoused.

Such betrayals turned the touted daang matuwid of the PNoy administration into a farce. By the time the 2016 election season rolled in, cynics were calling it daang baluktot and daang natuwad. Subjecting contracts to minute scrutiny ostensibly to prevent corruption (critics said those who ordered the review simply wanted tong-pats) also slowed down project implementation. The Mamasapano debacle and the response to Super Typhoon Yolanda projected a lack of empathy, an uncaring leader whose endorsed successor was seen as equally elitist.

The public disappointment surely contributed significantly to the landslide victory of Rodrigo Duterte, who can be considered the antithesis of Noynoy Aquino.

The mud, however, largely spared Noynoy personally. His presidency was one during which the country could stand proud before the community of nations. Last Saturday at the funeral mass, Archbishop Socrates Villegas’ call for a return to decency and dignity in government resonated.

Like his mother, Noynoy simply returned to their Times Street home upon retirement, keeping his head down. No new family airline or hotel or other businesses for him to run in a local fiefdom, like one of those in his inner circle who knew how to make hay while the sun shone.

Death usually puts a person under a much better light. In the case of Noynoy Aquino, however, there’s truly much more good to highlight in his life.

*      *      *

The economy was a bright spot throughout the Aquino presidency. He managed the seemingly impossible and got Congress to pass the reproductive health law; Noynoy, not Duterte, was actually the first to take on the Catholic Church and the Supreme Court. And no matter how the Duterte minions spin it, the ruling of the arbitration court over the South China Sea dispute was a clear victory for the Philippines.

Today we remember PNoy’s inaugural address, which expressed the frustrations of a people long chided for never passing up a chance to miss opportunities.

“Kayo ang boss ko,” Noynoy famously told us. Today the mantra is, “Ako ang boss nyo: I am the boss, you better believe it or be killed, killed, killed.”

With his death, PNoy’s inaugural promise is being remembered: “Walang lamangan, walang padrino at walang pagnanakaw. Walang wang-wang, walang counterflow, walang tong.” (No more putting one over others, no more patronage, no more thievery. No more sirens, no more counterflow, no more bribes.)

Critics scoffed at the ban on the unauthorized use of sirens and blinkers, but it was a deceptively simple move that ended a long-entrenched attitude of VIP entitlement. It’s remarkable that the wang-wang ban has generally remained in place, at least in crowded Metro Manila. It has helped that such unauthorized use can now be recorded in cell phones and surveillance cameras, and can circulate quickly on social media.

As narrated by their long-time family driver, Noynoy apparently believed compliance with the law starts with the most basic daily activities such as following traffic rules. Red means stop, green means go. Follow road markings and don’t hog lanes. It was his version of the broken windows theory.

*      *      *

Eradicating political patronage and thievery in government plus other forms of VIP entitlements, unfortunately, is a continuing challenge. Noynoy had his share of allies, including members of his Liberal Party, who dispensed patronage and enriched themselves in office.

Cynics will say this is the reality of Philippine politics, and any president of the republic must eventually accept that compromises are needed to get things done in this country. Some compromises can tarnish even the most well-meaning leader.

Noynoy Aquino, until the end of his term, however, kept his personal integrity intact. Social Weather Stations’ Mahar Mangahas also pointed out that net public optimism was a record high +40 percent in the final survey before PNoy ended his term, and optimism was always high throughout his six years. His final personal net satisfaction rating was a moderate +29, with a six-year average of +45.

PNoy described his inaugural as the start of his Calvary: Ito naman ang umpisa ng kalbaryo ko. Looking back, the pronouncement rings true.

His life’s dream, he said, was simple: once called back by God, and told that finished or not finished, he should pass his papers, he could say with pride that he had left the world a better place than when he arrived. “Simple lang naman po ang pangarap ko sa buhay: kapag tinawag na ako ng Poong Maykapal, at sinabi Niyang finished or not finished, pass your papers, maipagmamalaki kong naiwan ko ang mundong ito nang mas maayos kaysa sa aking dinatnan.”

It was also what he hoped for from every Filipino, he said.

That dream – our dream – need not die with him.

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