Last week, Filipinos woke up to rumors on social media that former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III had died. Later in the morning, reporters and bystanders trooped to the Capitol Medical Center in Quezon City, where Aquino was rushed from his West Triangle home, as family members, former Aquino Cabinet officials and Liberal Party stalwarts began arriving. As the crowd gathered in front of the hospital began to grow, the Aquino family members and those close to them finally broke the news that the former President had, indeed, passed away.
As expected, tributes to Noynoy from family members, friends, former colleagues in the government, the media and even political foes began pouring in, as his remains was transferred from the Capitol Medical Center to the Heritage Park mortuary in Taguig, where a brief wake was held. His remains were later cremated, with his ashes brought to the Ateneo de Manila University, his alma mater, where another brief wake and funeral mass was held. From the Ateneo de Manila University, the former President’s cremated remains were brought by family members to their mausoleum at the Manila Memorial Park in Paranaque, to be laid to rest alongside his parents, former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. and former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino.
While there is nothing wrong with paying tribute to the former President, it seems that his political allies, supporters and the media could not resist the temptation of exploiting the opportunity of using his passing to achieve a particular self-serving partisan agenda. Noynoy’s “achievements” were particularly trumped up as if he is god-like, saying that all of the country’s “economic gains” and “stability” should be credited to him. Even the current “Build! Build! Build!” infrastructure building drive of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte was not spared as his political allies, supporters, and the media keep on saying that most, if not all, of the current projects were credited to Noynoy. This, despite the fact that independent economic experts repeatedly said in the past that the Aquino administration severely under-spent on infrastructure that could have provided Metro Manila with some relief from congestion, more efficient means of transport of passengers and cargo between cities and regions, and economic development and prosperity to places outside of the Greater Manila Area and Metro Cebu, and that most of the “Public-Private Partnership (PPP)” projects during his time were not fulfilled until his successor, Rodrigo Duterte, took over.
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The most obvious propaganda being used by the “Dilawans” — at a time when they are supposed to be mourning the passing of Noynoy — was that the former President brought “honor”, “decency”, “intelligence” and “honesty” during his time in office. When I heard of that, I just shook my head in disbelief considering how he and the people around him handled situations such as the Luneta bus hostage crisis, the visit of Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, the slaughter of 44 Philippine National Police Special Action Force officers at Mamasapano, and the mass inoculation of the untested Dengvaxia anti-dengue vaccine on children and teens from the D and E classes. Add to that how they pounced on former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo by placing her on hospital arrest for four years on trumped-up charges that were dismissed by the courts, and how they used funds from the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which was later declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, to be distributed to senators and congressmen in the impeachment and character assassination of then Chief Justice Renato Corona, who later died in trying to clear his name from the accusations hurled against him. Both Macapagal-Arroyo and Corona were persecuted by Noynoy and his administration for their role in the Supreme Court final and executory decision on Hacienda Luisita, which was declared to be subject to land reform and be distributed to its 6,000 farmer-beneficiaries, and the government will only pay the Cojuangcos P200 million based on 1989 land valuation instead of the 2006 valuation of P5 billion.
With the 2022 elections fast approaching, it is obvious that Noynoy’s family members, political allies, supporters and the media are again resorting to necropolitics in hopes of reviving the political fortunes of the “Dilawan” and also the “Pulahan” at a time when President Rodrigo Duterte, the long-time mayor of Davao City and political outsider who was swept into power in 2016 on a pragmatism-based platform of getting rid of narcotics, crime and corruption, is still enjoying high levels of popularity, trust and approval among the majority of Filipinos, and his daughter, current Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, has a comfortable lead over possible opponents for the presidency. Necropolitics worked well twice for the Cojuangco-Aquino clan and its political allies, first between 1983 and 1986 after Ninoy was killed upon his arrival in Manila from the United States and when there was growing dissatisfaction among members of the military towards the then already sick President Ferdinand Marcos, and again in 2009 to 2010 when Cory died of cancer. Cory benefited from necropolitics in 1986 after her running-mate, Salvador “Doy” Laurel, gave way to her and several elements of the military and the United states backed her. Noynoy benefited from necropolitics in 2009 after Mar Roxas, who was too unpopular compared to then Senator Manny Villar and former President Joseph Estrada, gave way to him in hopes of thwarting a Villar or Estrada presidency.
Times and situations are different in 2021 compared to 1983 to 1986 and 2009 to 2010. Cojuangco-Aquino necropolitics worked in the past because it was buoyed by oligarch-owned local and United States media, and there was no way to counter propaganda favoring the clan and its allies. The same cannot be said in 2021, as social media has now become at par with mainstream media, especially in reporting the news and countering propaganda coming from both local and foreign media, oligarch-owned ABS-CBN and the Philippine Daily Inquirer being a shell of their former selves, especially ABS-CBN, which, no thanks to Noynoy himself, now has no legislative franchise to operate, and Rappler being the least trusted media outfit in the country.
However, one thing has not changed from the past, and that is necropolitics has the tendency to thrive because Filipinos are too emotional and not that mature as a people when it comes to democratic politics. Filipinos love underdogs, and this is especially true when propaganda to make the other side look “inaapi” or “nakakaawa” is used to win their favor. This is a formula being banked upon by those who think that necropolitics still has a room in political discourse in this day and age, both on a national scale, such as in the case of the Cojuangco-Aquino clan, and a local scale, such as in the case of a non-politician daughter of a slain mayor in the CALABARZON region being elected as mayor of their locality just because her father was killed in front of city hall in broad daylight and that the residents believed that she would continue the “good work” of her father.
I would like to believe that Filipinos are now more mature, smarter and less easily-swayed by any type of propaganda, especially one that has to do with necropolitics. That is perhaps the reason why, so far, there seems to be no large-scale outpouring of grief from the public after the passing on Noynoy, and the majority of the Filipinos does not seem to buy the opinion of political analysts, and “Dilawan” and “Pulahan” politicians and academics, who claim that the former President’s death will be a “game changer” in 2022 elections in such a way that it will help boost the chances of “Dilawan” and “Pulahan” politicians and parties against candidates and parties who are allied with President Rodrigo Duterte. If that is a sign that Filipinos have long ditched necropolitics, and are now smarter and more mature compared to how members of the Manila political, economic and intellectual elite, where the Cojuangco-Aquino clan belongs, see them, then I should say that it is a welcome development that I hope will continue and will never changed anymore.
Agricultural Economist. Communicator. Commentator. Contented dog parent.