Not the Yellow Republic, but the Republic of the Philippines

It’s official. By virtue of proclamation from Congress acting as the official canvassing board of the Presidential elections, Sen. Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” C. Aquino shall become the 14th President of the Republic of the Philippines on June 30, 2010.

This is true even (and especially) for those who did not vote for him. That includes me as I voted Gilbert Teodoro. Besides the fact that I know him personally as a friend, I was impressed by Teodoro’s principled and positive political campaign. But that was May 10, 2010. Today, without doubt, Aquino is the clear winner of the 2010 Presidential elections. In fact, he has the biggest mandate ever received in a multi-candidate presidential election contest.

To borrow language from then senatorial candidate Barack Obama, in his keynote speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Aquino is not going to become the President of the Yellow Republic—or the Orange, Red, Green or Any Color Republic, either. He is the President of the Republic of the Philippines: all of us Filipinos who voted for him or against him. And the important message here is that he needs the help even of those who disagree with him. As Obama later said four years later, in his victory speech in Chicago: “In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people. Let’s resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. .  . As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, we are not enemies but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.”

Obama’s words ring true for the Philippines. Too long has the image of our politics, during elections and in between them, been dominated by bickering; and partisanship poisoned by attacks, disgust, and mudslinging. Disputes and conflicts are unavoidable in politics; any healthy family will have its fights, after all. Yet to take it to extremes, to make politics all about the fight, is unhealthy: it strains the bonds of community among fellow Filipinos, it takes time away from the pressing business of the state. How does one balance the imperatives of communion and integrity, of conflict and compromise?

So what does it mean to say that Noynoy is our President?

The mandate he won is to implement a simple vision: “Kung walang kurapt, walang mahirap” (no corruption in government; ergo, no poverty). The idea admittedly glosses over the complexities of reality: there are many variables that affect poverty, and corruption is only one of them. Nevertheless, this simple message has captured the imagination of all: rich and poor, every degree of education, laborer and employer, urban and rural alike. Certainly, good governance is a necessary and enabling condition for national development and thus for poverty reduction. In sum, the Aquino vision is compelling and we should hold him accountable to it. More importantly, we should all work with the new administration to implement this ambitious goal of ending corruption and poverty.

The trite phrase “critical collaboration” is too worn out, too clap-trap for what I want to describe. One side accuses the other of being too critical, or of being too collaborative. Invented by the late Jaime Cardinal Sin to describe his relationship with former President Ferdinand E. Marcos, “critical collaboration” is a term more fit for working with a distrusted authoritarian ruler than for working with a democratically elected, popular one. The better term would be “principled engagement and partnership”. We engage with the President and the government on the basis of the fundamental values we hold dear and that we share. That engagement will involve both critique and cooperation (far more agreeable words than criticism and collaboration, don’t you think?) with the Powers that Be, but the engagement will be solidly grounded on our identities as Filipino citizens, and not merely on political expediency.

I share many of the President-elect’s principles. Anti-corruption, the right government people for the right government jobs, devolving government power down to local officials and the front line of governance, environmental stewardship, to name a few. I believe that Mr. Aquino will definitely push this agenda forward and will fight for its adoption and successful implementation. Based on these values, we should all offer our cooperation and support to the new administration. This means we should work with government as principled partners from policy development to implementation of programs and projects, start to finish. This means we do not bail out on the first signs of controversy, in the face of inevitable crisis, and certainly not because of media criticism or intransigent political opposition. Where necessary, we should actively defend our allies in the government so that they can fight, from within, for the necessary reforms.

There will be times, though, when I believe that the course of action our President-elect or his officials take may deviate from these shared values. Other times, we may find that certain policies of the coming Administration tread upon other values that we do not share. We have the right of opposition, protecting those values and interests we hold dear (for me human and environmental rights are paramount and should never be compromised), but this is a right that can—and should—be exercised in a healthy manner, and while respecting the office of the President of the Republic. This means whenever we disagree with the incoming administration, we always offer alternatives, solutions, and other options that could be taken. 

May 10, 2010 is now part of history. On June 30, 2010, at noon, Noynoy Aquino is our President. The bitterness of the past should equally be history. Our future, as a country and as a people, at least in the near future, shall rise or fall with him.

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