The demise of former President Benigno Simeon Aquino III has opened the floodgates of platitudes even from those who didn’t think much of him during his incumbency. This has prompted me to comment that among us Pinoys, perhaps because of our Christian upbringing, even the devil incarnate would be showered with lavish praise at his funeral.
But, with due respect, was Noynoy Aquino really “the best ever” president, as some social media posts claim?
He certainly was better than Presidents Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Rodrigo Duterte in certain aspects of governance, but how did he compare with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew (although even Singaporeans had complaints about Lee – as one ad executive put it, “Who wants to live in a filing cabinet managed by a tyrant?”)
I myself had misgivings about Aquino, specifically for refusing to take any accountability for two national tragedies during his watch: the Rizal Park hostage crisis that resulted in the killing of 8 Hong Kong tourists, and the massacre by Muslim insurgents of 44 members of the elite police Special Action Force in Mamasapano in Mindanao.
But I did give Aquino credit, during his incumbency, when I felt it was due. In fact, in a Business World column that I wrote in March 2012, I generously quoted the very upbeat commentary by Gary Olivar on the annual Philippine Economic Briefing given by Aquino’s economic managers.
Two things need to be mentioned about Olivar, who also recently passed away. He was considered one of the country’s foremost economists and was, by no means an Aquino apologist having served as Deputy Spokesman of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo whom Aquino had placed under house-cum-hospital arrest on allegations of official abuses during her tenure. Here are excerpts from my column:
While giving credit to his former boss for setting the economic trajectory of the country aright (whatever her detractors say, Arroyo did well in this respect), Olivar wrote:
“The basic message from government: The last 21 months were devoted to cleaning house―through reforms in internal administration and procurement ―with GDP growth deliberately allowed to slide to only half its previous pace. Now that the reforms are claimed to be substantially in place, it’s full speed ahead with renewed government spending. In Chairman Mao’s words, government took one step backward in order to be able to take two steps forward.
”The overall tone of optimism was set in BSP Governor Amando Tetangco’s opening remarks, when he spoke about the continuing strong fundamentals of our economy, e.g. system liquidity, low inflation, low interest rates, a strong banking system. Not having a partisan axe to grind, the BSP’s charts thankfully reminded the audience about the provenance of those strengths under the previous administration.”
Oivar then went on to cite the reports of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima (increased government revenues without raising taxes); Budget Secretary Florencio Abad (with internal reforms in place, 80 percent of planned projects already put out for bidding); Trade and Industry Secretary Greg Domingo (impressive influx of foreign investors and optimism on GDP growth of 7 percent); Energy Secretary Rene Almendras (electrification of twice the number of sitios with the same P800 million budget, but stymied by rising oil prices); Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson (25 percent savings due to internal and procurement reforms); Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala (reduction of rice importation and more efficient distribution and logistical systems); and Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez (positive signs yielded by the “More fun in the Philippines” campaign).
To cap his upbeat review, Olivar quoted John Forbes of the AmCham: “I’ve been attending these annual briefings the last ten years, and this is the best one ever.”
I wrote this piece at the time that the term “Noynoying” had been coined by Aquino’s detractors to mean “doing nothing.”
I then concluded: “Having read Olivar’s piece, it occurred to me that, in Management, there’s another aspect of “doing nothing” or “not doing something yourself.” It’s called “delegation.”
Harking back to my years as an ad agency manager, I recalled how my boss chided me for “trying to do everything myself.” He then explained the importance of delegation.
“You delegate the tasks that your staff can do well,” he said. “But you still take full responsibility for the results.” And he added: “On the other hand, you personally handle those tasks that you shouldn’t delegate because you can do them best.”
Viewed in that context, Noynoying makes sense: allowing the senior economic managers to handle their respective tasks and apply their expertise, while Aquino focuses on the job that he vowed to do.
We shouldn’t forget that Aquino was not elected for his mastery of economics or for his managerial skills. The Filipino people could have voted for Manny Villar or Gibo Teodoro or even Dick Gordon, if that was what they wanted.
But Aquino was drafted and elected to clean up the trash accumulated over 9 years of Arroying (a term I coined to mean doing good things with one hand and bad things with the other).
At any rate, in that context, Noynoying is certainly preferable to Arroying. I also prefer Noynoying to Duterte’s bluff and bluster.
Duterte vowed to resign if he could not stop the drug menace and clean up the government in six months (well, okay…puede ba one year?). He also threatened to ride up to the Spratleys on a jetski and take on China by himself a-la Rambo.
And what about Aquino’s kamag-anaks, kaklase and kabarilan? Was that as bad as wanting one’s daughter to succeed him as president, while he retains the real power as vice-president?
Would you call that Duterting?