On this day in 1983, Benigno Simeon “Ninoy” Aquino Jr was gunned down at Manila International Airport after returning to The Philippines after having relocated to the United States ostensibly for health reasons. Like many wealthy men who become seduced by politics, Ninoy Aquino was charismatic, driven and bold. But the political system ushered in by his wife Maria Corazon “Cory” Aquino three years after his death has merely entrenched a neo-feudal economy bolstered by a Liberal political elite where the economic reforms of states as diverse as Singapore, Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and even Cambodia have passed The Philippines by.
While the Aquino political dynasty like to invoke the words “revolutionary”, “people power” and “democratic” to describe their legacy, even forgetting a wider psychoanalysis of the personages involved, the legacy of Aquino style Liberalism is one of economic stagnation, cumbersome bureaucracy, a broken and perpetually obstructionist political system and a position where entrenched business oligarchs hold the whip hand over small and medium sized businessmen and their natural allies in the international free trading community. All the while, the country that was once the most stable and safe nations in south east Asia has been scarred by a drug fuelled narco-terrorism epidemic. The Philippines received neither economic liberty, political efficiency nor domestic security as a result of the so-called “people power revolution”.
None of this is to say that Ninoy should have been shot. This was a criminal act, just as overthrowing the legitimate Presidency of Ferdinand Marcos was a criminal and unconstitutional act. But rather than focus on the crimes of the past which haunt many political families and their supporters, it is best to look at the legacy of the Yellow movement of the Aquino dynasty. When it comes to understanding what Yellowism means, one only need to look at the hastily written and permanently obsolete 1987 Constitution ushered in by Cory Aquino.
It is this constitution that has restricted levels of foreign direct investment (FDI) which has lead The Philippines to be left out of the economic booms throughout ASEAN. While all of the closest neighbours to The Philippines expand their trading ties across the world, The Philippines has languished under a small class of neo-feudal oligarchs who have made many Filipinos allergic to entrepreneurialism on their own soil. While other ASEAN nations export products and while Singapore in particular is a global hub of finance, the Aquino legacy has forced The Philippines to be a land which exports people, some of whom go on to great economic success in countries like Singapore, the United States and Australia and some who end up being beaten and tortured by slave driving employers in the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf. While Singapore became a nation that the entire world wanted to come to, The Philippines under the 1987 Constitution took its place as a nation beloved by its citizens but from which many business and innovation minded people wanted to run from in order to provide a better future for themselves and their families.
With the exception of monarchical Brunei, every ASEAN nation has a strong parliamentary system or in the case of modern Indonesia a hybrid parliamentary system. While President Ferdinand Marcos helped to lay the foundations for an early stage hybrid parliamentary system that could have expanded its democratic mandate and pragmatic functions as the country’s political system progressed, the 1987 Constitution replaced this system with a needlessly confrontational congressional system in which insult has been added to injury by allowing a Vice President to be elected separately from the office of President. This is not democracy – this is a farce.
Even President Duterte, a man who has led a peaceful and genuinely democratic political revolution against the Aquino mentality, has paid an obligatory tribute to Ninoy Aquino. But while Ninoy exhibited the kind of ambition that makes an interesting historic case study about cut-throat leadership, worshipping an oligarch as a hero simply because his life came to an end in a harrowing fashion is no longer appropriate in the 21st century.
Indeed, the saint like status of Ninoy in the eyes of his Liberal party has all the trappings of a pseudo-religious political clut. This has been made all the more magnified by the open relationship between the Liberals and the Roman Catholic Church in The Philippines that disregards the legal separation of church and state in order to paint a picture whereby God himself is helping the Liberals to stuff the ballot boxes and silence genuine opponents.
It is time for The Philippines to enter an age of reason rather than one of hero worship. In contrast to the gilded yellow clan of Liberalism, President Duterte exudes peace through personal austerity while his humble background has kept him grounded as a man who leads from a position of national service rather than one where the nation exists as a means of self service for the leader. But beyond Duterte helping to open up the eyes of the Philippine nation, the country still remains strangulated by the 1987 Constitution or as it ought to be called ‘The Book of Aquino’.
The Philippines needs constitutional reform not out of personal spite towards any member of the Aquino dynasty but because The Philippines cannot modernise its economy, society and infrastructure to its furthest logical conclusion until a pro-oligarch constitution is replaced with a pro-modernity constitution. The Philippines needs a more open economy, The Philippines needs tremendous amounts of foreign direct investment, the Philippines needs a federal-parliamentary system and above all The Philippines needs to cut down on the regulations which favour those who are above the law rather than those languishing under the yellow boot of bad laws.
Just because one is killed, it does not make him a martyr. While the Liberal Party continue to fool many – they ought to learn that in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “you cannot fool all of the people all of the time”. The Philippines must awaken from the past and become a land of tomorrow rather than one imprisoned by too many failed yesterdays. Constitutional reform is a must and the sooner President Duterte can deliver this, the sooner the ghosts of the past can receive a proper burial in the minds and hearts of the nation.