Many have conceded that Monday’s State of the Nation Address of President Benigno Aquino III was by far his best since he was elected president of the Philippines.
The Filipino leader didn’t play much of the blame game this time around. Instead, the he appealed to the emotion of the ordinary masses by invoking the sacrifices of his parents and his own near fatal encounter in one of several military coups that besieged his mother, the late President Corazon Aquino.
Aquino rode on the goodwill of both his martyred father and namesake Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Jr and mother to become one of the more popular presidents of the country. In Monday’s address, he milked this for all it was worth.
His popularity ratings in surveys were consistently very high until his administration was mired last year in the congressional ‘pork barrel’ scandal and his own presidential fund mess – the disbursement acceleration program or DAP – which the Supreme Court recently declared as unconstitutional.
For the first time, the president and his cabinet were placed in a defensive position.
But instead of hurling accusations against critics on Monday, he fended off his attackers by emphasizing his innate good faith as a leader and the promise not to tarnish the image of his parents.
Those are traits that endear and make him look even better among the masses.
Those could also be his undoing, however. Is the president incapable of taking bolder steps to become as great – or even greater – as his parents? Time is running short as he barely has two years left.
He obviously will survive and go on to finish his term. Not as inglorious as his past two predecessors – former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – but neither will his presidency be defined as spectacular and groundbreaking.
True, the country is relatively enjoying good standing in the international community after two very tumultuous administrations, but that is because he is predictable.
He did take a risk by going after a former Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona. He also took a gamble against senators and congressmen named in the pork barrel scam. But these were calculated moves to consolidate his power. He was not going against his class. He was going against a segment of his class that was a potential threat. Aquino did not really disturb the status quo. In fact, he reinforced it.
But he also knows that beyond his presidency, he will be facing an uncertain future as he sees things unfold between now and 2016.
No, the president is not merely looking to finish his term. He is bracing for life beyond the presidency.
He has the legal travails of his two predecessors as precedent. He could face the same fates if he cannot reverse the slide of his popularity.