The most divisive Philippine leader

There’s seeking unity and there’s playing to your base. You can’t have both, even if you’re the all-powerful President Noynoy Aquino. As the New Year began, Aquino had this to say: “Unity is very much needed. Cooperation and trust are the keys to our success.” Yes, unity, cooperation and reconciliation seem to be new buzz words in Malacañang Palace. Earlier, one of Aquino’s spokesmen—the one they call Lady Gaga—said, apropos of the signing of the President’s pet reproductive health law over the weekend: ‘‘[The RH law] opens the possibility of cooperation and reconciliation among different sectors in society: engagement and dialogue characterized not by animosity, but by our collective desire to better the welfare of the Filipino people.” The Palace spokesman could not have been more unrealistic in her expectations. Because like her boss, she cannot conceive of Filipinos holding beliefs that are different from their government’s. As Aquino approaches the midpoint of his term, one thing seems clear: he is probably well on his way to becoming the most divisive leader that this country ever had. The bitter fight over the RH law was just one of the more glaring examples of how Aquino thrives in dividing his people. From the tobacco farmers in the Ilocos region to the typhoon victims in Mindanao, Aquino has never shirked from antagonizing large portions of the citizenry, secure in his belief that his base of supporters is solidly behind him. If Aquino really believed in unity and reconciliation, he would not make it his top priority to jail or persecute everyone who is against him politically. He would probably stop wearing his divisive yellow ribbon and replace it with a unifying Philippine flag, if he truly believed in bringing together everyone and convincing them to work for this country’s betterment. But like George W. Bush (who pandered exclusively to right-wing Christian groups), Aquino has decided to merely play to his base. And if the latest Social Weather Stations survey is correct, it’s perfectly possible that his base is dwindling, simply because he is always looking to alienate new and bigger groups of Filipinos. It could be the Catholic Church, the supporters of Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia or the victims of typhoon Pablo who have to beg for food on the roadside while Aquino certifies RH as urgent right after a devastating cyclone. It could be the military whose morale has gone to new lows as they watch their Commander-in-Chief hand over areas in Mindanao that they gave their lives to defend, or the Chinese who wonder why the Philippine leader is so belligerent when his predecessors have always emphasized diplomacy. It doesn’t matter what the burning issue is: Aquino can always be counted upon to antagonize people who do not blindly take what he says as gospel. And when he has beaten them to submission with his vast powers, he asks, disingenuously, for unity and reconciliation. As if unity meant forsaking one’s own opposing beliefs and submissive “reconciliation” was the only alternative in the face of a powerful opponent. What Aquino really wants is unthinking faith in his oft-misguided actions, not unity. What he seeks is surrender to his frequently flawed world-view, not reconciliation. If Aquino really wanted to unite this country, he can start by losing the yellow ribbon pin and wearing the flag on his chest, like all of his predecessors have done. If he can’t do such a small, symbolic thing like that, then I’ll know he’s just trying to fill some dead air with his insincere talk about unity and reconciliation.

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As a critic of the Aquino administration, I am sometimes asked why I can’t seem to find anything good that the government does and why I keep finding fault in what its officials do. I guess the start of the new year is a good reason to reiterate my own belief system. First of all, my job is not to praise the government for whatever it does. There are enough media workers who seem to have decided that this is their line of work, and I choose not to join the crush of pundits who think that Aquino is the best thing that ever happened to this country. It is my job to look at what government does critically, especially when government sets such high expectations, over-promising and then under-delivering. It is my job to look at the gap between what government says and what it actually does and to point out the disconnect between the two. Ultimately, it is my job, under a free society, to hold a differing view from government’s regardless of how many or how few hold it with me, else I would just be part of the official propaganda machine. And unlike government, I cannot force anyone to believe what I do; all I can do is call things as I see them, the best way I possibly can. Finally, I believe that my country is not only the government that runs it, for good or for ill. When I criticize the government, I do not feel that I am being a traitor, in the same way that sporting a Yellow ribbon does not automatically make someone a patriot. And it’s still perfectly legal to do what I’m doing, last I checked. Happy New Year!
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