2010 gave the country a new administration generally acknowledged as legitimate and hailed for its popularity and large mandate. The rise to the presidency of Benigno Aquino III, as the storyline goes, ushers in a new era of good governance, democracy and poverty alleviation. Over six months into the new administration, how much change has there been or are we moving towards? What change, if any, and for whom?
Filipinos want to be optimistic but the situation so far is not encouraging. Change will not come spontaneously and the government has a key role, as do the people whose interests will be upheld the more they can claim the government as their own. Yet it has been a very disappointing start for the new Aquino administration which has not shown a real reform agenda beyond the repeated anti-corruption pronouncements and recycling of old programs. Its declarations and actions are more consistent with continuity of failed policies, merely superficial or cosmetic changes, and empty slogans rather than the bold reforms the country needs. This raises the challenge for Filipinos to redouble efforts for change in the country.
Six months is long enough to get a sense of the government’s priorities and directions. In particular, it can be asked: what kind of political change has there been if the economic thrusts remain the same? The Aquino administration is hobbled in many important ways. It visibly lacks even the most basic starting point: a meaningful and sweeping vision for change that decisively attacks the roots of the country’s long history of economic and political backwardness. It appears little inclined to use whatever political capital it has with the general public to challenge elite interests. Even more alarmingly, the rhetoric of good governance, democracy and poverty alleviation – which resonate with so many Filipinos who have long-suffered bad governance, marginalization and deep poverty – is being used to maintain policies and programs that have failed to benefit the majority of Filipinos. The past year underscored the country’s deep problems of high unemployment, poor quality of jobs and low incomes amid rapid growth, rising corporate profits and growing private wealth. Traditional politics of patronage and power struggles also remained very much in play before and after the elec ions.
The Aquino administration for now still has relatively high popularity and a strong mandate. But 2011 will be a defining year for it with the fading of post-Arroyo euphoria and of new administration goodwill, as economic difficulties mount and the global crisis drags on, as political controversies increase, and as unreformed Philippine politics returns to its accustomed self-serving in-fighting.
The powers-that-be would like the public to trust in the new administration and be lulled into complacency – and even vilifies those who would continue struggling to uphold the people’s interest and welfare. This is dangerous for the nation and the people. Filipinos have made substantial gains over the last decades in building the foundations for democracy: the people are more politically aware, more organized, and willing to take action. Complacency will reverse these gains. As ever, the people’s efforts are the key to rapidly advancing the cause of real change in the country not just in the remaining five-and-a-half years of the Aquino administration but also beyond.