This is the major question of leaders of civil society as they threw their support to Aquino’s presidential bid in May 2010.
Viewed as a reluctant candidate, which is supposedly one quality that makes him suitable for the presidential post, Aquino now faces the challenge of proving he is worthy of, or better than, his parent’s legacy.
As the candidate currently in the spotlight, activist priest Fr. Robert Reyes said Aquino is on the cusp of reforming the country’s “present elitist democracy to one that is participatory.”
Reyes, who was present in Aquino’s formal announcement at Club Filipino on Wednesday, said he is supporting the Aquino scion’s candidacy, like most civil society groups.
He is among the convenors of the new movement, “Noynoy Para sa Pilipinas” or “Noypi,” which is supporting Aquino's bid.
Reyes said Aquino is different from the other aspirants since he was able to inspire civil society groups to once again be hopeful that change is possible.
Noynoy's democracy challenge
The prelate noted that the late President Corazon Aquino, while she restored democracy, was hampered in demolishing “elitist democracy” during her administration.
President Arroyo, on the other hand, only paid lip service to her vow to bring wider participation of civil society groups in governance. Arroyo came into power in January 2001 following a series of corruption scandals involving then President Joseph Estrada.
While Arroyo may have tapped civil society leaders like former Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman and former presidential adviser on the peace process Teresita Deles in her official Cabinet, they were eventually “co-opted by Arroyo.”
Reyes said “it was a good thing that they bolted out of her Cabinet before it was too late.”
Aquino, he said, has the chance of undoing what Arroyo did by really giving “all sectors in society a voice in governance.”
Deles, who was also present in Aquino’s formal declaration, said she expects him “to bring back governance and to strengthen democracy” in case he wins as President.
Black and White movement spokesperson Leah Navarro said she is hopeful that Aquino, if he becomes president, will uphold “good governance and institutional reform” by “opening accountability and engaging in consultations with stakeholders."
Reforming Hacienda Luisita
The party-list Akbayan, which is supporting Aquino, said that it would engage Aquino on the agrarian reform case surrounding Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac owned by the Aquino and Cojuangco clans.
The fate of 6,400 hectare property has been one of the major criticisms thrown at then-President Aquino's "democratic" restoration. While land reform was one of the pillars of her administration, her own family's agricultural estate was spared of actual agrarian reform. And in 2004, 14 workers died in a violent dispersal of striking sugar plantation workers in the hacienda.
Deles acknowledged Hacienda Luisita's land reform would be one of major issues that Aquino would have to confront. “But we trust him that he will do what needs to be done” when the right time comes, she said.
Reyes said Aquino should also be prepared to handle issues concerning his uncle, businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., especially the coco-levy fund controversies. Cojuangco is accused of misusing the levy imposed by on coconut farmers to enrich himself.
Recently, a case against a move by Cojuangco-led conglomerate San Miguel Corporation has reached the Supreme Court. San Miguel wanted to convert company shares that coconut farmers have been claiming as illegally acquired by Cojuangco into non-voting shares.
This move had been criticized by farmer groups and civil society organizations as a way for Aquino’s uncle to set aside the farmer claimants in how the company is ran.
Reyes said Aquino should address these issues not only when he becomes President, but also even during the election campaign.
In his formal announcement on Wednesday, Aquino provided a glimpse into his administration in case he gets to Malacañang.
He said he would provide access of justice “not only for the well-connected but for everybody.”He cited, for instance, the ill-gotten wealth cases of the Marcoses. More than 20 years after the fall of the Marcos regime, he said there is no closure yet.