The death of former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, who is widely seen to have left a legacy of honest governance, is bound to reshape the 2022 elections and could be a positive driver for the scattered forces opposing the Duterte administration, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said on Sunday.
But whether such influence bodes well or ill for the nation will depend on the electorate, he said.
“Certainly, if it would have an effect, it will be positive for the opposition because people would realize and begin to look inward,” Drilon told the Philippines Report in a phone interview.
Aquino, 61, the country’s 15th president, died on Thursday due to renal disease secondary to diabetes. An urn containing his cremated remains was interred two days later beside the tombs of his parents, the late President Corazon Aquino and the late Sen. Benigno “Ninoy’’ Aquino Jr., at Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque City.
His sudden demise sent shock waves across a highly polarized nation that, over recent years, seemed to split itself into two unyielding ideological camps — the Dilawans (“Yellows,” or Aquino followers) versus the DDS (Diehard Duterte Supporters) — that spar over who has done the most for the Philippines.
Drilon, a vice president of the Liberal Party (LP) that Aquino once chaired, said he shared Philippines Report columnist Randy David’s hope that the former president’s death “will fuel a powerful drive for the return of decency, dignity and diligence in government.”
“The best we can do is profit from [Aquino’s] good example,” Sen. Risa Hontiveros told reporters on Thursday.
“Talking now about his legacy … because he did so much good while he was our president, the influence of a person like him, the influence of a public service track record like his, will remain heavy and strong,” she said in a Zoom interview.
“We can use his legacy to do our best, and to enable the widest expanse of our population … to do more good together,” Hontiveros said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, LP president, declined to discuss the opposition’s plans for next year’s polls so soon after Aquino’s death. “We will definitely be talking [about the] May 2022 elections at some point but not today,” he told the Philippines Report.
Drilon said Aquino’s death could also compel previously unsuspecting voters to question the “garbage” political narratives spread by trolls online.
Vice President Leni Robredo on Sunday admitted that she regretted how the opposition failed to correct certain false narratives about his presidency, resulting in it being tainted by smear campaigns and disinformation.
“I wish we exerted more effort to show — not announce, even — but just to show his accomplishments and dispel the fake news that have come out [since he stepped down],” Robredo said in her weekly radio show. “Now that he is gone, that is our foremost regret.”
“The years after the presidency were really unfair,” she recalled.
Since Aquino stepped down from the presidency in 2016, the legacy of his administration became the subject of hot dispute. Some say his calm-headed, stoic governance led the country into unprecedented economic growth, while others see his biggest failures — Supertyphoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), the Special Action Force 44 massacre and his perceived lack of empathy for the lower classes—as paving the way for the populist President Duterte.
Many times, President Rodrigo Duterte himself has even shifted the blame for some policies, including the Philippines’ hardships in asserting its sovereignty over the disputed West Philippine Sea, on Aquino.
‘He hated attention’
These narratives, Robredo said, were overrun by disinformation and fake news, and compounded by the fact that Aquino himself had refused to address or rectify these issues.
“As you know, he hated attention even when he was president,” she said. “He hated for his accomplishments to be announced publicly, and that has made it easier for some people to take credit for some of his projects [when] he stepped down.”
Many LP colleagues tried to persuade him to come out and defend himself, Robredo revealed. “But [Aquino] wanted to give those in power now a chance even when he was being publicly vilified. His prevailing thought was that only history [and] God can judge his work.”
Still, she said, she felt like she and her colleagues should have stepped up on his behalf. “Now that he is gone, it’s our obligation to show the people what is true.”
Theme of opposition
Drilon said Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas’ powerful call for the return of good governance during his homily at the funeral Mass for Aquino on Saturday could be “adopted as the theme” of the opposition, which had been struggling to unite against Duterte.
Villegas had said that he hoped that the death of the son of the country’s democracy icons, President Corazon Aquino and former Sen. Ninoy Aquino, would “spark another fire within us to resurrect his example of decency and integrity.”
“Eulogies have been written and spoken and shared, but the best eulogy tribute we can pay to our dear President Noy is to bring back, recover, preserve, safeguard and never again to compromise our dignity as a people and the decency of our leaders as servants, not bosses,” Villegas said.
Robredo promised to uphold his legacy “every chance they get.”
The vice president, who now leads the LP, is herself a close friend of the late president. During his term, she was the Camarines Sur representative. Their friendship solidified after the 2013 demise of her husband Jesse, who was Aquino’s interior secretary.
A precious memory of the former president, she said, was that his aide always brought with him a bag that carried a copy of the 1987 Constitution, the Local Government Code, maps of the Philippines and of the world, and extra shirts.
“He took his work seriously, but he was so simple,” Robredo said. “He had no flair for the extravagant.”
However, it appears that she herself was not in the loop about Aquino’s worsening condition, a reality carried only by his close friends from his former Cabinet.
“If I had only known — and this is something I will carry forever — I would have visited him more, texted him more,” Robredo said. “I have so many regrets, and I wish I had made it known to him how much I appreciated what he has done.”