Most of last weekend was spent in nostalgia as my wife and I dealt with the sudden loss of former president Noynoy Aquino that reminded us of an era that felt like a lifetime ago, when this country’s leader could coherently present the facts to prove that we were doing better and the future looked brighter.
Unlike most politicians, PNoy stepped away from the presidency without fanfare and slipped into private life as soon as his term ended. When his party lost to the guys who had the nerve to make promises they never meant to keep, he accepted the loss and turned the keys of the country over to the new driver that the Filipinos chose.
He didn’t meddle in politics; he didn’t make any noise even as all the work he and his team had achieved over his term was either being ignored or undone by his populist successor. The people who replaced him were experts, taking credit for all his leftover achievements and laying blame on any fault they could find, but PNoy never issued a rebuttal. It was like he disappeared and so, after a few years, we took him for granted.
When he suddenly passed away, we were suddenly forced to remember his contributions to our country and it was heartbreaking to see just how diminished we were without him.
I was not a fan of Noynoy Aquino but now that he’s gone, it is difficult not to miss his brand of leadership and decency. My wife was watching his final State of the Nation Address the other night and it felt strange to see a president coherently rattle away facts, figures, and data instead of rambling like a drunk Lolo. Whether he and his team leveraged the work of his predecessors or not, there was no doubt that our country was a Rising Tiger in 2015. What they had achieved over their six years in power made it obscenely easy for any successor to do better than him but based on where we are right now, it looks like everything we achieved as a country has been lost.
PNoy was not a charismatic person. His decisions didn’t appeal to emotions. He took too much time to decide, often being accused of analysis paralysis. He didn’t swear. He wasn’t scary. But the proof is in the pudding and whether you like him or not, there was no doubt that he left the country at a better state than he found it. We didn’t appreciate him then but after five years of being under a leader, who was his polar opposite, it is hard not to wish he or someone like him had continued the work that they started.
The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence but in hindsight, PNoy was a tough act to follow. He took his job seriously. He didn’t shoot by the hip but only decided after a lot of thought and going through all the available information. He had the courage to do what was unpopular, even the dangerous. He stood up to China, he arrested a former president and three senators. He had a plan to lift his people out of poverty, using the 4Ps as a carrot to keep kids in school as he oversaw the unprecedented overhaul of the country’s outdated and uncompetitive education system. His Daang Matuwid, while it did build lots of roads in a literal sense, had a figurative component to it and was definitely more than just the lazy build, build, build.
Death exposes us all, especially when the passing is untimely and the person is of significance. For such people, leaving this world puts their life under a magnifying glass and they can only hope that what is seen is more of the good they thought they did than the bad.
When PNoy was alive, we didn’t appreciate what he did for us but now that he is gone, we finally tried to understand what made him tick and see we failed to see when he was with us.
I was guilty of taking Noynoy Aquino for granted. I thought he didn’t deserve the presidency because he only got it because of his mother’s death and not because of his accomplishments. I thought he was just lucky because GMA did a decent job with the economy. I neither saw where his Daang Matuwid wanted to lead us nor realize that he had a roadmap and a plan. His quiet leadership style that lacked the charisma and passion we expected from our politicians didn’t inspire me to be a better Filipino.
But at the end of his term, and now, the end of his life, I finally see what we had and failed to appreciate. Yes, the incompetence and incoherence of the current dispensation might be making PNoy look disproportionately good but that is not his fault. What is sad is that our country is now so depressing and disappointing that a leader that we thought was mediocre is turning out to be unexpectedly excellent.
PNoy’s legacy reminds us of what we lost when we chose the gaudy snake oil salesmen over the quiet performers. If we were able to get our country on track during his time, we should be able to recover from our mistakes and put the right kind of people in charge when opportunity to change the direction we have been going comes.*