John Javellana / Courtesy Reuters Aquino in the Philippines, October 2011.

NoyNoy Stumbles

How Aquino Lost His Way

Just three years into his tenure as president, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III has managed to transform the Philippines from the sick man of Asia into one of its most promising players. The country’s economy is one of the region’s fastest growing, corruption is decreasing, and, thanks to a new peace deal, a Muslim rebellion in the country’s south has died down. Aquino’s success follows more than a decade of hardball politics and sputtering growth under his controversial predecessors, Joseph Estrada, who held power from 1998 to 2001, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who occupied the presidency from 2001 to 2010. Defying expectations, Noynoy began his term by parting with that legacy and instilling new public trust in state institutions. 

In recent months, however, the president’s political fortunes have taken a dramatic turn. Lack of inclusive growth and excessive delays in big-ticket infrastructure projects have chipped away at his political capital, and his approval ratings have declined precipitously. Noynoy has also taken on the judiciary, threatening to upend the country’s existing system of checks and balances. Further, his flirtation with a second term in office, which would require a revision of the 1987 constitution, set off alarm bells among political elites and everyday voters alike. So, too, has his aggressive anticorruption campaign -- a centerpiece of his administration -- which many fear is simply a tool to serve his own political ends. Aquino, it seems, can no longer can take his popularity for granted. 


Aquino’s supporters believed that his 2010 election represented a potential watershed in Philippine history. As the only son of the country’s leading democratic icons -- prominent anti-Marcos activist Benigno Aquino II and former president Corazon Aquino -- Noynoy, too, fervently believed that the country’s fate rested on his shoulders. Long considered rather unambitious, he decided to run for the presidency after his mother’s death -- an event that spurred calls for the outgoing Arroyo administration, which Corazon had publicly opposed, to face justice

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