8/06/2015
PNoy, arogante? Charot!

For proof that the Noynoy Aquino administration has gotten politically cocky, look no further than the words its most prominent members have uttered in the past couple of weeks.

First up, the president himself, in his last State of the Nation Address. In a thinly-veiled attack on his vice president (and, yet unofficial, candidate for president next year) Jejomar Binay, who criticized his term for being insensitive and inept, he decided to get down with the kids. "Kapag sila raw ang naging pangulo, sigurado, gaganda ang buhay," Aquino said. "Para naman sa kabataan, iba na raw po ang tugon nila sa ganoong pahayag. Iba na daw po ang uso ngayon eh: 'eh di wow.'"

Binay would, a week later, deliver the opposition's response to the SONA, what he called the True State of the Nation Address. (Aquino wondered why it took them a week to respond, and suggested that it means the opposition is scrambling for something negative to pin upon his, in my words, pristine administration.) His speech, delivered at the Cavite State University to a crowd of supporters and students - whether the later attended voluntarily or otherwise will be a trivial point of political debate - drilled down on Aquino's supposed ineptness, through a disparate set of pronouncements from state school budgets to the quality of jobs available for the unemployed.

Some of those statements are valid, like Binay acknowledging the work of disgraced former president Gloria Arroyo in putting the Philippine economy on track. Some have been questioned, like the supposed defunding of state colleges and universities. But Mar Roxas, who finally made official his bid for the presidency next year, also merely belittled his rival, by echoing the current president's words. "Eh di wow!" he said, clearly attempting to be cute with the gaggle of reporters covering his farewell at the DILG.

Clearly the person who's irritated the most at Binay is presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda. In the days after the vice president's speech, he questioned everything from the venue of the speech to the invocation of the 44 elite policemen killed in Mamasapano (and not mentioned by Aquino). In his midday briefing with the press, Lacierda accused Binay of being involved with "politics of hate at its crudest" by criticizing the current administration, adding that he did not speak up about things he disagreed with in the five years he sat as vice president. Ultimately, Lacierda thinks the "TSONA" is just a joke.

Or, in his words - and in yet another attempt to be cutesy - he called it "charot".

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not defending Jejomar Binay. He still has to effectively answer the corruption charges against him. Ask anyone who lives in Makati. Sure, there were arguably decent public services when he was mayor, but they would always be quantified by whispers of under-the-table transactions and other improprieties, whether the birthday cakes are overpriced, or the government facilities are overpriced, that sort of things. Yes, Binay can argue that the charges against him are politically motivated, but he has yet to definitively answer the allegations against him and his immediate family.

But honestly though - who cares about whatever Binay says now? In the eyes of many, he is the most corrupt person to ever live in this country. Ask someone about corruption in government and they will mention the vice president first. There's never a day when you don't see a "viral" anti-Binay graphic posted on Facebook, ostensibly from empowered citizens who love the country and are against all forms of corruption. You'll see messages like "corruption is the one thing standing in between progress and our beloved country" illustrated by an imposing photo of Binay himself. "Share if you love your country!"

The political narrative against corruption in the recent couple of decades, regardless of who is dictating it, has always relied on the existence of a Big Bad, the ultimate antagonist that must be eliminated before we can truly taste change. Ferdinand Marcos was the Big Bad when Cory Aquino became president. Joseph Estrada was the Big Bad during the early years of Arroyo's presidency. Arroyo herself became the Big Bad when the younger Aquino took to power.

It helps to an extent: it makes it easier to understand just what we're trying to get away from. But it has become a convenient way for whoever's in power to discredit their rivals: paint them as corrupt to the point that the noun cannot exist without the adjective, and vice versa.

In the early years of Noynoy Aquino's term, he painted Arroyo as the Big Bad, the evil that threatens to bring the Philippines back to the dark. He forced Merceditas Gutierrez to resign as ombudsman, removed Renato Corona as chief justice of the Supreme Court, and arrested three major opposition figures for their role in the misuse of public funds. Progress, they say, in the fight against corruption.

Now, with 2016 looming, he's set his sights on Binay, a man whose chances of being president is surprisingly strong, what with many people positioning themselves as men (and women) of integrity, and the flagging poll numbers behind presumed anointed one Mar Roxas. So, in the past year, a bevy of corruption allegations surfaced (or resurfaced) to pummel down the point that this guy, this guy who wants to be president, is a corrupt evil that must be vanquished. Overpriced school buildings, overpriced parking lots, a farm in Batangas to boot. And, for the most part, the Aquino administration succeeded, partly because of Binay refusing to be forthright, and partly because nobody - not even the media, the supposed watchdogs of government - is scrutinizing the claims of the accusers. Why look like you yourselves are against progress?

So, here we are. Binay is villified, even if some of his points are valid. Aquino is deified, even if some of his points are questionable. The only thing getting in the way of ultimate victory for Aquino's cohorts in the Liberal Party is them getting things straight: a unified ticket, a continued appeal for continuity against the risk of plunging the Philippines back to the dark ages, and then, a victory for Mar Roxas, a victory of merit against popularity, because to hell with the poll numbers, right?

And so, in its final year in power, the Aquino administration is getting cocky and arrogant. They are resting on their laurels. The Philippines is great again, say both leaders of the legislature. The tuwid na daan works. Any questions about lack of inclusive growth, or selective statistics, is "politics of hate at its crudest," to quote Lacierda. Criticizing the government for its shortcomings is "politics of hate at its crudest". They're not even listening anymore. They have won, started to chill a bit, and have gone on outright political mode as election season draws near.

Yes, many things don't change overnight, and many things don't change in six years, either. It will take a lot of work before we start to look at our prospective leaders for what they have actually done instead of what they say about it. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, it's a shame that the Aquino administration is participating in the dirtier forms of politics by shifting the focus away from what they have done and towards what others haven't. Yes, Aquino has done good, but he also has some questions he has to definitively answer. Why has government spending slowed down to the point of almost tanking the economy? What about the Disbursement Acceleration Program reaching the pockets of the people who shouldn't get it? How come, despite the bigger number of jobs, we members of the labor force are not confident of getting quality jobs, keeping them, and more importantly, making ends meet for our families?

Sure, these are difficult questions, and politicians don't want to answer them lest they make a fool of themselves on camera. But we need a vision. We need a convincing vision. That vision is not "do you want Jejomar Binay to bring our beloved country back into darkness?"

But why should they? Scandals aside, there's still a lot of goodwill towards Aquino. Sure, he may have been slow, but at least we know he'll get to work at some point in the next ten months, right? If it was Binay in the same position, he'd be busy stuffing his pockets with our hard-earned cash, right? That's enough for many to subscribe to a vision of a corruption-free Philippines, and right now, that vision is defined with just three overused, perhaps empty, words: tuwid na daan. As long as we stick with it, we'll get to see the things we want to see. Eventually. Charot.

And your responses...

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