Progressive groups pressed for President Benigno Aquino’s resignation at a rally in Manila last Friday. Marching from various points in Metro Manila, they converged at the historic Mendiola bridge where they sounded like they were, for the nth time, simply haranguing the chief executive for hours on end. Cynics said the event was nothing new in terms of its usual participants and tirades.
But something felt different about the event. Among other things, the paraphernalia were more varied and colourful; the protesters were more upbeat. It seemed they were up to something not quite the usual.
It must be recalled that progressive groups, at the outset, accorded President Aquino the benefit of the doubt. Following his landslide win in the 2010 presidential elections and his promises that his will be a better government than his immediate predecessor, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and its kind did not burn the president’s effigy during his first State of the Nation Address. The gesture, noted journalist Inday Espina-Varona, hinted on a promise that the progressives would cautiously read the lay of the land for once.
For a time, indeed, President Aquino did look like he was bent on making good on his numerous campaign promises. He lambasted abusive government agencies for overspending on salaries and benefits. His refusal for a preferential road treatment for his convoy was unheard of. Most of the public lapped these up, giving him unprecendented high approval ratings.
But critical situations made the chinks in the president’s armor appear. His character flaw as a leader first became obvious when several Hong Kong tourists perished in a bungled police rescue operation, which he personally monitored. He compounded the problem by refusing to apologize to the victims’ families, flinging the country to its first international crisis under his presidency. This standoffishness, as well as his penchant to blame anyone but himself or his administration, would be a constant refrain in the following years.
Although the progressives essentially sided with President Aquino against China’s incursions into Philippine territory, they have always been on his case. They rallied against the presidential family when the landlord clan refused to award Hacienda Luisita to its real owners. They howled in protest when he signed the so-called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States government. Still, Aquino’s high approval ratings held firm. The activists looked like they misread the situation yet again.
It was a tragicomic “accident” that happened two years ago that first sent President Aquino’s magic carpet ride plunging. Janet Lim Napoles’ shenanigans unravelled not only the Aquino administration’s refusal to abolish the pork barrel system but also a more sinister form of corruption in the so-called Disbursement Acceleration Program.
Suddenly, it was the progressive groups’ turn to be given the benefit of the doubt. They may be right about Aquino all along. Aquino may not, after all, be the nation’s knight in shining armor.
Pundits are one in saying that when Aquino chose to grace a car plant’s inauguration rather than receive the remains of the Special Action Force troopers in Villamor Air Base, his believers started taking a second look at the president and his populism. His subsequent excuses and, again, his refusal to apologize, were incredulous.
Last Friday’s rally underscored the progressives’ struggle for genuine reforms in government. Even as the wind blew against them, they stuck to their guns; they were unwavering. And now, the reason seemed obvious: The people have been taken for a ride all along; under the Aquino regime, government and social ills are worsening.
But the progressives are not simply demanding that Aquino resign, nor are they content with a Constitutional succession (to let Binay take over the helm). They are calling for a People’s Council for National Unity, Reform and Change (PCNURC), which is clearly extra-constitutional but not illegal. It may be another tall order, but there seems to be no stopping the progressives. They have been proven right about the once sainted Aquino, and they may very well succeed with their PCNURC.
Because and indeed, they’re progressives.
Text and photos by RAYMUND B. VILLANUEVA