The spirit of reform and change

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

Tomorrow, Aug. 21, marks the 38th death anniversary of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. His 1983 assassination ignited massive nationwide protests that culminated three years later in a mass uprising that toppled the Marcos dictatorship, in what is now the historic February 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution.

That revolt became a global model for peaceful uprisings against oppressive regimes. Ninoy’s widow, Corazon “Cory” Aquino, rose to power as president of a revolutionary government that dismantled the dictator’s corrupt political and crony capitalist system.

Likewise, Cory’s death in 2009 sparked a national movement that resulted in the landslide election of her son, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, to the presidency. When Noynoy, popularly known as P-Noy, assumed leadership in June 2010, he institutionalized economic and social reforms and good governance measures that invigorated the economy and earned plaudits from international observers.

The theme of change and reform was the springboard for Stratbase ADRi’s July 2021 Occasional Paper, “Signs of the Times: Building Back Better.”

P-Noy’s administration was marked by several significant accomplishments. Institutional and governance reforms were exemplified by the creation of innovative structures and processes such as the People’s Budget, Empowerment Fund for Participatory Governance, Bottom-Up Budgeting, Budget Partnership Agreements, Full Disclosure Policy, the Seal of Good Housekeeping, and Citizen Participatory Audits.

In terms of political and anti-corruption reforms, he empowered the Office of the Ombudsman and set in place “an honest-to-goodness anti-corruption office, not one that condones the corruption and abuses in government.”

Further, he enlivened the public-private partnership (PPP) scheme by offering numerous fiscal incentives to attract investors. In the latter part of Aquino’s term, the influx of investments was booming, and investors were willing to pay big premiums for prime projects.

On economics, Aquino’s principled leadership, anchored on the concept of “Daang Matuwid” (straight path) and characterized by a strong stance against corruption, promoting instead transparent governance and a principled foreign policy, resulted in a rising economy. There was steady GDP growth, very manageable inflation, the highest credit rating upgrade of BBB+, and the country’s notable improvement (from 85th place in 2010 to 47th in 2015) in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index.

The Makati Business Club said in a statement that P-Noy bettered the lives of Filipinos with pro-people social policies that modernized education and expanded cash transfers, among others: “He formed a relatively clean government that meant taxes went to public services and infra, while foreign and local businesses were excited to make job-creating investments.”

Finally, and most relevant to us now, P-Noy’s honorable diplomatic stance was directed at protecting the country’s maritime rights and territorial integrity in the South China Sea. Refusing to capitulate to China, he insisted on adhering to international law, paving the way for the 2016 Arbitral Ruling won by the Philippines that is now an integral part of international law.

By contrasting the practices, policies, and results of the Duterte administration with those of the Aquino administration, we can extract valuable lessons that can help current and future leaders rebuild and transform the country through the preservation and promotion of democratic norms, such as integrity and decency in government, public participation, transparency and accountability, and dynamism for social and institutional reforms.

Principled leadership, good governance and a dignified foreign policy are good economics. Good leaders decide by principle, and confidently act through reforms. This we should remember in the 2022 national elections.

This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Image Source: Freepik.

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