"He turned out to be a good chief executive."
The Filipino people were not aware that there was something wrong with former President Benigno Aquino III’s health, so at the time he passed away, they had not thought long and hard about his legacy. But during the past month they have had time to reflect on the life and times of PNoy Aquino and the contribution he made to the Filipino nation and Philippine society.
Filipinos did not have much basis for an expectation that Noynoy Aquino would be a good President of the Philippines and that his administration would be six years of good governance. After all, he was an uncharismatic, self-effacing, and very private person and his decision to be a presidential candidate was not a personal preference but was the result of pressure from people, politicians and non-politicians alike, who wanted to capitalize on the continuing popularity of his late mother, who then had just passed away.
Truth to tell, even some admirers of Senator Noynoy and President Cory Aquino thought that PNoy would not do a good job of being President of the Philippines and would not leave a creditable legacy. They were wrong. PNoy turned out to be a good Chief Executive, as many Filipinos who have examined his legacy have concluded.
Anyone assessing Noynoy Aquino’s legacy is bound to do so on the basis of his or her expectations of presidential conduct and performance and his or her personal interests and inclinations. For me, three things comprise the sum total of PNoy’s legacy: His character, his decision to go to the arbitral court to challenge China’s South China Sea claims, and his leadership with regard to the Philippine economy. Even if P-Noy did nothing else during his six years in Malacañang—and he did many other noteworthy things—those three things are sufficient to support a good legacy judgment from me.
Much was written about President Noynoy’s utmost integrity during his lifetime, and since his death, discerning Filipinos, much like the Roman soldiers looking up at Jesus Christ dying on the cross, have been saying, “He was a good man.” Yes, Noynoy Aquino was an honest, ramrod-straight, incorruptible man. This point needs no belaboring, and I do not wish to belabor it here. I will say, quite simply, that from 2010 to 2016 the FIlipino people had an honest man in Malacañang.
Nor do I wish to belabor the significance and importance of this country’s victory over China in the suit that President Noy filed with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013. He was not a lawyer steeped in international law on the sea, but PNoy knew in his heart that filing the claim was the patriotic – and the presidential – thing to do. The Philippines’ victory has been hailed in legal and diplomatic circles all over the world, but the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has chosen to not accord it the meaning and value it deserves. But things will change – soon, hopefully – and when they do, this part of PNoy’s legacy will at long last receive full recognition.
I do wish to belabor the third part of PNoy’s legacy—his leadership with regard to the Philippine economy—because credit for this country’s economic achievements during the past decade has gone elsewhere. Which, of course, is erroneous and unfair.
The fact of the matter is that in 2016, PNoy turned over to the incoming Duterte administration an economy that by all the major objective measures was in good shape. The economy was going along at a steadily running pace, with GDP (gross domestic product) growing annually by more than 6 percent. The unemployment and underemployment rates were comparatively low and the most important of the macroeconomic fundamentals (debt-to-GDP ratio, debt-service-to-GDP ratio, tax-revenue-to-GDP ratio) had progressively declined. It was during President Noy’s term that the Philippine economy shed its “sick man of Asia” appellation and began to be regarded as Asia’s new economic wonder.
Contrary to the charge that he was “noynoying,” PNoy kept a close watch on how the economy was doing, and his economic managers were aware of it. PNoy was particularly concerned with the performances of the Department of Finance and the government’s No. 1 revenue source, the Bureau of Internal Revenue. The favorable ratings accorded the Philippines by the international financial community and the credit rating agencies were almost entirely due to the fine work of P-Noy’s DOF.
Filipinos have already begun comparing President Duterte’s legacy, as discussed in his penultimate state of the Nation Address, with the legacy of the man they called Noynoy. The comparison will be odious.