30 June 2010

'There can be no reconciliation without justice': President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines

President Benigno C. Aquino III before his inauguration

I don't as a rule watch television when I'm eating with someone but I made an exception today while having lunch with Charlie Jamilla, my general factotum, as we both watched the noontime inauguration of President Benigno 'Noynoy' C. Aquino III as President of the Republic of the Philippines.

I think that there is a sense of a genuine new beginning in the Philippines, though there will be no overnight change in this country that is plagued with poverty and corruption. Rightly or wrongly, there is a perception that corruption became worse than ever during the nine-years of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. She, with the support of many, overthrew President Joseph Estrada, whose real name is Jose Marcelo Ejercito, in 2001. She was then vice-president. She later promised that she wouldn't run for president in 2004 but changed her mind. There is some evidence that she won that election through massive cheating, though cheating is endemic here, unfortunately. She was linked with other scandals, as was her husband, Miguel Arroyo, though nothing has been proven.

President Aquino gave his inauguration speech mostly in Filipino, the national language that is, in theory, evolving from the various regional languages but is, in reality, practically the same as Tagalog, the language of Manila and surrounding provinces. One thing he said in English was, 'To those who are talking about reconciliation, if they mean that they would like us to simply forget about the wrongs that they have committed in the past, we have this to say: there can be no reconciliation without justice'.

I was happy to hear this and I believe that the new president will try to implement this. There is far too much meaningless easy 'reconciliation' not only in the Philippines but elsewhere. We're all far too familiar with 'apologies' from public figures along the lines of 'I'm sorry you feel that way' which utterly fail to acknowledge personal responsibility. 

The new president's father, Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino Jr, was murdered at Manila International Airport on 21 August 1982, just after being escorted of a plane by soldiers. The airport is now called 'Ninoy Aquino International Airport', or 'NAIA'. Filipinos love to use acronyms.

23 August 1983. The body of Rolly Galman, the alleged killer lies on the left. He too was murdered and very few believe he killed Ninoy Aquino, whose body is being carried by two soldiers.

I met Noynoy Aquino very briefly in Cebu City a few days after his father's assassination. His mother, Cory, became president in 1986 after defeating the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. She died on 1 August last year and it was the feelings around her death and burial that created the momentum for her only son to be pushed to run for president.

President Corazon 'Cory' C. Aquino

Please pray that President 'Noynoy' Aquino will bring some hope to the Philippines along with a sense of decency and responsibility, qualities so lacking in public life in recent years. He is not and cannot be a messiah but he needs and deserves our prayers. He carries no baggage of association with corruption. That is a plus. May God bless his presidency, his team and, through them, the people of the Philippines.

Incoming President Aquino with outgoing President Gloria Arroyo, before setting off for the inauguration

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