President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III—genuine change or more of the same?

GABRIELA-USA & NAFCON contigency, holding signs and banners, protesting in front of the SF Philippine Consulate

This past Monday, newly elected President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III of the Philippines delivered his state of the nation address (SONA). Filipino-American activists, however, weren’t about to sit there idly and listen to false promises. Simultaneous protests took place in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York and New Jersey. While a lot of people are overjoyed that the grossly incompetent and corrupt past president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is unseated, they are reluctant to celebrate Noynoy’s victory.

In the one month that he’s been elected, there have already been 5 political killings: Mark Francisco, 27,  a teacher at San Isidro Elementary School; Francisco Baldomero, a local coordinator for the Bayan Muna Political Party; Pascual Guevarra, 78, a peasant advocate from Nueva Ecija; and Josephine Estacio, 46, who was with the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT). The Philippines is by far one of the most dangerous places to be a champion of the dispossessed. It ranked #3 in a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists and in Macapagal-Arroyo’s administration alone, there have been over 1,200 political killings. Last year, Melissa Roxas, a Filipina-American volunteer in a community medical mission was physically and psychologically tortured for six days. This is not even to mention the 2004 Hacienda Luisita massacre of twelve farmers and two children (with hundreds injured), who demanded agrarian reform, in which the Aquino family  (the owners of the property) is implicated.

So does Noynoy stand for change or what?! In his speech, he spent a lot of time indicting the past administration (good) and no time on specific plans to bring about genuine change (bad). He comes from the upper echelons of the Philippine elite (his parents– past president Cory Aquino and senator Ninoy Aquino Jr.), which has proven time and time again since the assassination of revolutionary Katipunan member Andres Bonifacio that it only cares about its own interests and upholding the status quo.

In a Balitang America article, protesters explained their views on Noynoy.

Yves Nibungco of Bayan USA added, “Unang una po wala po rito ang mga tunay na programa para tigilan yung pag-migrate ng mga kababayan natin dahil wala diyan yung job creation, national industrialization, yung genuine agrarian reform, at yung pagpapanagot kay Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.” (There are no programs to stop the migration of our fellow Filipinos.  There are no programs on job creation, national industrialization, genuine agrarian reform and holding Arroyo accountable for her past administration’s errors.) Hanalei Ramos, a Gabriela USA member said that if President Aquino feels weighed down by the mess created by the former President, then he should start investigating and prosecuting Arroyo, “GMA needs to be held accountable for all the atrocious human rights violations that have accumulated over the last 9 years.”

So how do I feel about the new President? Not hopeful. I’m convinced that if generations of elite from the same families continue to get elected (think of the Bush and Clinton legacies), we won’t see the change we want. However, I refuse to give up hope. Noynoy is a change from the unfathomable atrocities of GMA, which is a definite step in the right direction. As long as Filipinos and Filipinos overseas remain vigilant, never giving Noynoy a chance to relax, we might be able to continue the fight for social justice.

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