Saturday, May 8, 2010

Thoughts of a Filipino: I Trust Noynoy


I am voting for Noynoy on Monday. And I dearly hope that people will not dare insult me by saying that I am voting for Noynoy "for sentimental reasons" because I am not stupid and I will never waste my vote in that manner. I am voting not for myself alone but for the future of my nieces and nephews and my students. I am voting for a leader who, I believe, will sincerely and honestly serve us. I am voting for a leader who, I believe, will sincerely and honestly serve us. I am voting for a leader who I can trust because, in the next 6 years, I do not intend to just sit and wait for a brighter Philippines to unfold before my eyes. Each of us has a role to play; each of us must do something other than rant endlessly. But it will be difficult to perform our civic obligations and responsibilities if we do not trust The Man at the helm of our government (think GMA and how much people distrust her).

For those of you who say, Noynoy has "not done anything, has accomplished nothing," I am disappointed that you have the power of advanced technology - the internet- right at the tip of your fingers and yet, you have not used it (other than to do Facebook?) to find out the truth. Research. Use the internet. But be objective. That shouldn't be very difficult. I am sure you will discover the truth.

"Galing at talino" (ability and intelligence) are not enough for me. Mas magaling at mas matalino si Marcos. Magaling din at matalino si GMA. (Marcos was more clever and intelligent. GMA is also clever and intelligent) There is no need for me to write in detail what these two presidents have done for the Philippines because I am very sure you know your history and current events.

I am bothered by Mr. Teodoro's statement in the first open forum about what he owes GMA for giving him a chance to run for the Presidency. "Utang na loob" (sense of indebtedness) is something I am not comfortable with. I am also not happy that Mr. Teodoro, as defense minister who should have had information about the arms cache of the Ampatuans, was unable to do anything about private armies in Mindanao (and yet he claimed- falsely- that he "is the cleanest defense minister", conveniently forgetting his history: Ramon Magsaysay was Defense Minister before he became President of the Philippines. I suggest that we all refresh our memories about what RM was able to achieve as defense minister vis-a-vis Mr. Teodoro's record).

This notwithstanding, I respect your decision. Whoever it is that you vote for on Monday- Aquino, Villar, Erap, Gibo, Gordon, etc., let us all pray together for clean and honest elections.

I am sharing with you the article that has prodded me to write this note. I hope, before you start bashing me and Noynoy, that you take time to read it.






TRUSTING NOYNOY
A Framework for Decision
April 28, 2010
Jose Gabriel M. La Vina

Twelve days from today, we will be choosing the 15th president of our republic in the country's first-ever automated elections. A cacophony of slogans and reasons for supporting one candidate or the other permeates the air. Some say this election is about the yellow or the green, the orange or the tangerine. Others seem to think it's about the Ateneo, U.P. or La Salle. Still others debate the influence of Kris Aquino, Willie Revillame, or God help us, Manny Pacquiao. I say it has come down to a battle of wits and wills among eight men and a woman. I say it has come down to a choice as to who among them we should trust to lead our country to greatness, to put the people above himself, his family and his friends. It appears now that of the nine, these three- Aquino, Villar and Estrada - have the best chance of winning. Ultimately then, this election is about a choice between them. In all probability, it is one of them who will prevail.

I share here my own reasons for choosing Noynoy in the hope that those of you who are still undecided and those who could still change their mind may come to the same decision. Moreover, accusations hurled against the senator, including one made in the last 24 hours about events that supposedly occurred in 1979, have pushed me to join the debate in a more public way. You see, I knew Noynoy Aquino then. Finally, I write this as a memento for my children who are politically coming of age and voting for the first time in this election. They have inspired me to take time out from my usual concerns to contribute more and work harder for the people's campaign. It is for them and millions of young Filipinos who continue to keep faith with our country that we must make the right choice.

I. WHY NOYNOY

Poverty and corruption, democracy, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo- these are the burning issues of this election. On all three, I trust Noynoy to lead us, to put the interests of the people above himself, his family and his friends.

Poverty and Corruption

It is estimated that 30% or 27.7 million of Filipinos as of 2009 lived below the poverty line. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) pegs Philippine losses to corruption at close to P2 trillion over a 20-year period. This would have been enough to give almost 2 million Filipinos the equivalent of P1 million pesos each, effectively lifting more than 7% of the poor out of poverty, at least temporarily. If the money were instead used for education and entrepreneurship programs, the number could increase exponentially and in a more sustainable way. More importantly, a government that is free of corruption can focus on executing strategies and programs meant to advance our prosperity instead of lining the pockets of those who are in power.

So why Noynoy? The simplicity of his lifestyle speaks for itself. He still lives in the same room at his mother's house on Times Street, a house which itself has not transformed much from the time before his mother became president. In the way he speaks, dresses, and generally carries himself, Noynoy is the portrait of a man seemingly detached from material possessions. The way he has lived gives credibility to the argument: Kung Walang Corrupt, Walang Mahirap. (If nobody is corrupt, nobody will be poor.)

In contrast, former President Estrada is a convicted plunderer. As for Senator Villar, he has confirmed meetings with officials of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Philippine Stock Exchange about his request to exempt his real estate firm from rules meant to protect investors at a time when he was already president of the Senate. "It is normal to go to the PSE. I don't see anything wrong with it. I only asked to be updated with the news, " he contends. Some of the officials he met have indeed concurred that there was nothing illegal about his actions. Maybe so. But legal or not, this, plus the C-5, Norzagaray and other controversies all point to a businessman unwilling to separate himself from his businesses even as he occupied a post third in line for succession to the presidency of the land.

The Villar camp has countered by accusing Senator Aquino of advancing his own interests in the SCTEX matter. Professor Winnie Monsod summarizes the difference between the C-5 Extension and the SCTEX projects. First, no charges have ever been filed against Senator Aquino unlike Senator Villar. Secon, there is not even a direct investigation of the former while the latter has been found guilty of unethical conduct by the Senate Committee of the Whole. Third, the final SCTEX construction is 2 kilometers shorter than the original while the C-5 Extension is 3.4 kilometers longer. Fourth, the government paid less for Luisita than for non-Luisita Tarlac properties and over three times more for Villar properties than for those that were non-Villar. Finally, Aquino's ownership is indirect, representing only 2.2% of the total at most, while Villar's direct ownership stands at 100%.

In the fight against poverty and corruption, I trust Noynoy to lead us, to put the interests of the people above himself, his family and friends.

Democracy

In her unbridled bid to stay in power, President Arroyo has used the might of the presidency to systematically attack democratic institutions. Electoral fraud, extra-judicial and political killings, harassment and violence against the media, an illegal declaration of a state of emergency, and cover ups in the face of endless corruption scandals are all hallmarks of her administration. Noynoy Aquino has consistently and vehemently opposed these attacks on our democracy.

In an attempt to muddle the issue, Noynoy's detractors bring up the plight of farmers in the Hacienda Luisita. But the truth is he owns less than one percent of the hacienda, had nothing to do with the massacre in 2004, and has already announced that he wishes it to be redistributed without debt to the farmer-beneficiaries in 2015. In contrast, Senator Villar refused to be interpellated about accusations he profited from the C-5 Extension project, breaking a time-honored tradition in the Senate of answering questions from his colleagues. In addition, in a privilege speech he delivered as a congressman in 1998, Senator Joker Arroyo accused Senator Villar of violating the constitution to advance his real estate empire.

In the fight to strengthen our democracy, I trust Noynoy to lead us, to put the interests of the people above himself, his family and his friends.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

And then there is the matter of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the most unpopular and least trusted president since Marcos. In a sense, this election is about her and the wounds she has inflicted on the Filipino people, wounds that for many feel like they had metastasized from the abuses of the martial law past to where we are today. People are asking who among the candidates will be most unlike her, who will be the most vigilant in bringing her to justice.

Manny Villar's decline is largely attributed to suspicions he is GMA's secret candidate. Here too is where former Defense Secretary Gibo Teodoro falls exceedingly short of what Filipinos are looking for in their next leader. For how can he lead us when he does not even feel our pain, when he cannot even see the world as we do? How can he bring us to a better place if he does not even agree with us about where our country stands today? In Gibo Teodoro's eyes, the GMA administration is one to be proud of with a record he wishes to be judged on come Election Day. So be it.

Noynoy Aquino, on the other hand, is the antithesis of Gloria. This is why he continues to rise despite claims by his opponents that defections from the administration party to his camp and the connection of some of his relatives to the GMA government are proof that he is not.

Because he is directly opposed to Gloria, I trust Noynoy to lead us, to put the interests of the people above himself, his family and his friends.

II. THE NOYNOY I KNEW

In desperation, Noynoy's rivals have resorted to outright lies to try and sow doubt about his fitness for office. The most vicious of these are contained in two fraudulent "psychiatric reports" released by the camp of Manny Villar. They paint the picture of a young man at the Ateneo: angry, aberrant, hostile, punitive, psychologically unstable. They say this was Noynoy, but I know that it was not. You see, I was there with him. I knew Noynoy Aquino then.

I first met Noynoy when we were both inducted into the Central Board of the College Student Council in 1979. He was the junior year representative while I stood for the council of student organizations. His father was languishing in prison, soon to be diagnosed with a life-threatening heart condition. Noynoy was 19 and I got to know him well.

The Noynoy Aquino I knew was highly respected by his peers. Junior representative is an elective position and anyone who has experienced politics at the Ateneo can tell you it is a rough-and-tumble affair. Ateneans elect leaders who are the best among them and the juniors chose Noynoy. The discussions in the council were passionate and often contentious. We were facing the vital questions of the Martial Law time. Through all this, the Noynoy Aquino I came to know was quiet, rational, and very much in control of himself. I remember being sometimes frustrated by his coolness, the almost dispassionate way in which he would approach the issues, always with a reasoned and critical mind. He often took no more than a few words to express his stand and a casual observer might have failed to see that this was someone resolute in both mind and heart. It is easy to underestimate Noynoy. He has the ice-cool demeanor of Cory, not the rapid-fire rhetoric of Ninoy. His rivals in these elections did and will pay a heavy price at the polls.

The Noynoy Aquino I knew was humble. Several years after our first encounter at the Ateneo, after his mother had already been swept into power, I sought him out again. Perhaps I just wanted to confirm in my own mind that Marcos was really finally gone, that the nightmare was truly over. Noynoy and I had lost touch so I called the trunk line in Malacanang without really expecting to get through. This was the time of the coups and he must have had his hands full worrying about the security of his family. But in just a couple of minutes, he was on the line and we talked for awhile. It was the exact same Noynoy I had known at the Ateneo. No air. No pretensions. No change.

Was unintelligent and lazy? Of course, not. Even its most rabid critics will grant that the Ateneo is one of the best schools in this country and those who know the Ateneo can tell you that the Economics major is one of its toughest. The fact that Noynoy graduated on time, even while a death sentence hung over his father, is testament to his courage and inner strength. Noynoy is a survivor with a bullet lodged in the neck to prove it.

Was he angry? If he was, he certainly didn't show it. Was he sad? Wouldn't you be if your father were unjustly imprisoned for seven years, forcibly dragged into a military court while suffering from chills and other ravages of a hunger strike, and sentenced to death by musketry? Even with the remoteness that comes when events have finally been committed to history, it is still almost too hard for the heart to bear. Noynoy's political opponents have tried to use this against him, arguing as if it were a crime for a son to mourn the suffering of his father. What they cannot see is that it is this shared suffering that binds Filipinos inseparably with Noynoy, allowing them to hope and dream with him as only victims of a common injustice can. History is full of men whose sadness and anger impelled them to greatness. If sadness or anger can drive Noynoy to heights greater than himself, then let it be. The nation will be better for it. Even now, I see a change. He has become more passionate, more forceful, more resolute. I see a man not only fit to be president; I see a man with the potential to be one of our best.

The Noynoy Aquino I knew was faithful to his father. As editor-in-chief of the Guidon, I had requested Noynoy to ask his father for a message so we could publish it in the school paper. Noynoy risked what little access he had left to Ninoy to try and smuggle a letter out of that prison. He almost made it, but got caught by one of the guards at the last moment. It was one of the things we talked about when I visited him in Boston more than a year later.

III. BREAKFAST WITH NINOY

It must have been sometime in 1981 when I visited the Aquinos in Boston. The family had already settled into a semblance of what we now know were three happy years there. I had gone to see then Mayor and now Senator Aquilino Pimental at the home of former Senator Raul Manglapus in Virginia, a center of activity for the U.S.-based opposition to Marcos. Mrs. Pimental suggested I visit the Aquinos so I exchanged a few phone calls with Noynoy who relayed a breakfast invitation from his father for me, my mother and an aunt. I was excited of course as Ninoy had been my childhood hero. But this was not the first time I was going to have breakfast with him. I had already done so much earlier, when I was barely in my teens.

In the early 70's, Cagayan de Oro had barely begun the rapid development that has made it the bustling city that it is today. Through most of my childhood, nothing much happened in my world before six or seven in the morning when I would wake up to prepare for classes at the Ateneo just a kilometer or so away. Only once were we awakened before dawn so our father could point out a comet proudly parading its tail across the sky, never to be seen again in our lifetimes and beyond. This impressed upon me the importance of the event. And so many years later, when we were awakened once more before dawn to have breakfast with a man my parents said would be the next president of the Philippines, I felt excitement in the air. I must have been twelve or thirteen when I met Ninoy Aquino for the first time. I sat with my siblings and cousins at the children's table just a few meters from where Ninoy held court with the adults. He was on fire. Up to that time, I had never seen nor head a man talk so clearly and passionately, let alone so fast, about what needed to be done to bring our country to greatness. It didn't matter that I was too young to vote. I decided to become his supporter.

The drive from Baltimore to Boston about a decade later felt like an eternity. Again, our breakfast had been scheduled for very early morning and we were running at least an hour late. I was worried I would miss out on my chance to see Ninoy again as he was supposed to have another meeting at Harvard later in the day. When we finally got there, Noynoy met us at the door. My mother and aunt waited for Ninoy at the dining table while Noynoy and I stayed in the den where he played me the latest album of Seawind, a then popular jazz fusion group from Hawaii. When he finally came down, Ninoy explained that the Aquino girls couldn't join us because they had stayed up quite late the night before to eat ice cream.

Soon, it was time for breakfast and I joined Ninoy and the rest at the table. Again, he was on fire. My spirits soared when I realized how seven years and seven months in a Marcos prison had failed to break this man. I felt proud to be Filipino. I remember too that this was the first time I caught a glimpse of the woman the world would later come to know as Cory. Hers was a different kind of charm, almost the opposite of Ninoy in her coolness. It was as if you were watching a movie where the director cuts back and forth between one scene and another, the first double packed with action, the other in slow-motion grace. At one point in the conversation, I could sense perhaps just a tinge of sadness in Ninoy. He narrated how the children of rich Filipinos at Harvard would turn the opposite way when they saw him coming in their direction. He advised me against pursuing a career whose usefulness was limited to the borders of one country. Think about all those Russian emigres who had to start over from nothing, he cautioned. I couldn't help thinking that perhaps he was in some way also talking about himself. I left hoping that we had somehow buoyed his spirit.

Two years later, an assassin's bullet took Ninoy out of this world and into the embrace of history. I can still feel the heartbreak, the hopelessness as I watched the television news from my room in Los Angeles that fateful day. For a long time after that, I often wondered how many returns of my childhood comet it would take before we would have another one like him, another Ninoy. And so I must admit that when I journey home to Cagayan de Oro to vote this 10th day of May, I will be carrying both Ninoy and Cory in my heart. Sentimentalism, supporters of the other candidates protest. I think, therefore I am not for your candidate, they say. I have been called many nasty things in the past, but never someone who didn't think. If anything, I have been told that I think too much. And so I wondered: could it be that it is them who have not thought enough? How can they not see what seems crystal clear to the greatest number of voters in the country today, from the tricycle driver you might meet on the street to the perfumed set you might chat with at parties?

The answer came during a visit I made to my doctor. After she had noticed the yellow campaign ballers on my wrist, she remarked that now she knew who I was voting for. Trying to be polite, I replied that I hope it didn't offend her. "Oh, no," she answered, "I'm also voting for that family." His opponents attack Noynoy as if it were a crime to be born of Ninoy and Cory. But their protestations fly in the face of what most Filipinos know: that values are learned in the family and it is values that are most crucial in choosing a president. Courage, integrity, love of country- these are far more important than any self-proclaimed competencies and capabilities a candidate claims to have.

I hope that by sharing the logical framework I presented earlier, I have helped you in finalizing your decision to support Noynoy. If you are already a supporter, perhaps you can use the arguments to convince a few more of your friends. But I have also shared with you the reasons of my heart. Leadership is as much a matter of the heart as it is of the mind. Two of our most brilliant presidents, Ferdinand Edralin Marcos and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, are our most reviled. As a successful young ambassador, a little prince from a distant planet once said: "It is only with the heart that one can see what is really wort fighting for, who is truly worth dying for.

For all the reasons of heart and mind stated above, I trust Benigno Simeon Aquino III to lead us to greatness, to put people above himself, his family and his friends. I choose Noynoy.


"I Trust Noynoy" was written by Bugsy, my best friend in law school back in the Philippines.

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