At the inaugural event last June 30, celebrities crossed station borders to render performances while hundreds of thousands cheered at the Quirino Grandstand for the supposed celebration of democracy. Performances sought to evoke patriotism, hope and feeling of change, creating the hype and build-up for President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino’s inaugural address.
In his 22-minute speech in Filipino, President Aquino mentioned keywords which he used during the campaign period like corruption, “Daang Matuwid” and “democracy.” He also made reference to his parents, pointing out how they fought for democracy. Near the end of his address, he said “Kayo ang boss ko (The people is my boss).”
Was his first speech as President of the Republic worth the hype and hope? For some, it was music to the ears, a signal of the changing of the guard. But for those with a critical take, Aquino left out several pressing issues like Hacienda Luisita, extra-judicial killings and wage increases.
What about Luisita?
Political science Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer pointed out that Aquino left Hacienda Luisita unsaid despite persistent calls for him to address the demand for the distribution of the Cojuangco-owned sugar estate in Tarlac.
“There was the promise of support services for farmers but nothing on land reform. We know that the disposition of Hacienda Luisita was the fly in the ointment in the first Aquino presidency,” Ferrer said.“Will he or will he not bring agrarian reform to fruition, even at the expense of his own family’s estate?”
The Cojuangco-Aquino family has retained the ownership of the vast sugar estate for decades despite agrarian reform programs by previous administrations. In 2006, Aquino’s sought a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court to stop the distribution of Luisita.
Ferrer also noted that Aquino did not mention anything about the extra-judicial killings of activists and journalists which also marked the Arroyo administration aside from graft and corruption.
“It wasn’t clear if these killings will be part of the mandate of the Truth Commission,” she said.
Workers group Kilusang Mayo Uno said Aquino failed to mention in his inaugural address the workers’ demand for a significant wage increase, a persistent call which has been denied for more than a decade now.
“He may have mentioned grand promises for change, but he left out workers’ simple and straightforward demand for a substantial wage increase. His speech fell short of the Filipino workers’ expectation,” KMU chairperson Elmer “Bong” Labog said in an abs-cbnnews.com report.
“It would be hard for workers to imagine Aquino’s promise of change if wages nationwide would not substantially change,” he added.
The group noted that workers even trooped to Aquino’s residence on Times St. days before his inauguration to register their call for a P125 legislated nationwide wage increase under his administration.
On the other side, business groups were impressed with Aquino’s speech, which they said “reflected that the new leadership is pro-busines,” Manila Times reported.
While some lawmakers praised Aquino for being straightforward, direct to the point and inspriring in his speech, others criticized the President for delivering empty rhetorics and for leaving out key issues.
“His economic policies appear nebulous and appear to be the same old neoliberal agenda. Disappointing that he was totally silent on land reform and many social justice issues,” Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said.
Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay, meanwhile, said the inaugural address was “replete with motherhood statements and short of requisite particulars. It was akin to an exercise of waiting for the blanks to be filled,” a Business Mirror report said.
Aquino also failed to lay down his plans for political prisoners unlike his late mother former President Corazon Aquino, according to Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan. She said his mother immediately ordered the release of political prisoners on her first day in office.
Weakness of Aquino’s line
As several observers noted the gaps in Aquino’s inaugural address, BusinessWorld columnist and political activist Carol Pagaduan-Araullo digged deeper to note in her column the fallacies in Aquino’s slogan against corruption.
The central weakness of Aquino’s line, according to Araullo, “is still his trite, superficial, and misleading framework that falsely reduces the roots of entrenched and widespread poverty to corruption, followed by the promise to eradicate the latter by means of uprightness in government service.”
“What is cleverly hidden in all the sound and fury about corruption, then and now, is that it is only the symptom of a more pernicious disease called bureaucrat capitalism; i.e., government officials using their positions to protect and amass more wealth and privilege at the expense of the people,” Araullo said.
She said that “one can have different factions of the same ruling classes taking turns running the government, with different and even distinctive styles of preserving the status quo.”
For its part, progressive alliance Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said in its statement that the problems of the economy go beyond the anti-corruption rhetoric (Kung Walang Corrupt, Walang Mahirap).
“The issues go beyond ‘wang-wang’ and ‘tong’. What is the economic program of the new administration? Is it a continuation of the neo-liberal economic policies of the past regime? What is its commitment to crucial issues like land reform and economic self-reliance?” asked Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.