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The Mission for Manila

A Conversation With Benigno Aquino III

Benigno Aquino III

  • Country: Philippines
  • Title: President
  • Education: Ateneo de Manila University
  • Awards: Gold Standard Award for Political Communications

In the last four years, Benigno Aquino III -- generally known by his nickname Noynoy -- has turned the Philippines from one of Asia’s underperformers into one of its economic stars. Aquino is a scion of the Philippines’ most beloved political dynasty; his father, the opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr., was assassinated by President Ferdinand Marcos in 1983, and his mother, Corazon Aquino, won the country’s first democratic election after the dictator’s fall. Thanks to an aggressive anticorruption campaign and sound, conservative macroeconomic policies, Aquino has racked up a long list of accomplishments since his 2010 election. In 2012 and 2013, the economy grew by 6.8 percent and 7.2 percent, respectively; inflation dropped; the stock market soared; and for the first time in its history, the country scored an investment-grade rating from the three main credit-rating agencies. This year, however, Aquino started to stumble, with corruption scandals and legal and political battles eroding his once-stratospheric approval rating. In late September, Aquino met with Foreign Affairs managing editor Jonathan Tepperman in New York to discuss the challenges he and his country face.

Over the course of your presidency, the Philippines has become one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. How have you done it?
I’ll borrow a phrase: “Good governance is good economics.” What does that mean? Under my predecessor, all decisions were based on political considerations: Does this keep my powers? Does this strengthen my position? [Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo] was my economics professor in college. But had I proposed then some of the things that she did when she was president, she probably would have flunked me. She was doing things that didn’t make sense. When she [took office], she inherited a debt of about 12 billion pesos; by the time she left office, it was 277 billion pesos. And there also must have been moneymaking ventures among certain closely affiliated personnel; we’re still in the process of proving that.

What did we change? Now when you come into the

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