Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Inauguration of Noynoy Aquino--inauguration of a New Philippines

At exactly 11:52 today, June 30, 2010, the sixteenth president of the Republic of the Philippines is sworn in. Benigno Simeon Aquino III, son of former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino and former president Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, was sworn in by Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, assisted by a Jesuit priest, Fr. Catalino Arevalo, a close family friend of the Aquinos. Arevalo held the bible as Aquino swears himself in before a throng of half a million Filipinos.

The inauguration started early. Despite the occasional drizzle and the threats of rain, the mood was festive and the event started with nary a hitch. A full three hours before the ceremonies at noon, people from all walks of life started arriving in droves. These people from as far as Tarlac left their homes purposely to witness a very historic event.

Aquino left his Times street residence in Quezon City and arrived at the Malacanang palace thirty or so minutes early than the 10:30am schedule. He was met by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Vice president Noli de Castro, Executive secretary Leandro Mendoza, Finance secretary Margarito Teves and Justice secretary Alberto Agra. After a few pleasantries and photo shots together, the two then proceeded to the presidential car, an executive limo with plate number 1. The head of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) opened the car door for Arroyo, while Aquino went through the right side of the door.

As they exit the palace grounds, a whole line of people greeted the presidential car as it whizzes by. It took only 5 minutes from the palace to the Quirino grandstand grounds, not enough time perhaps for the two leaders to speak with each other. Days before the inauguration, there were malicious talk that Mrs. Arroyo would plead her case before Aquino, who, a day earlier, already established a truth commission to try members of Mrs. Arroyo’s cabinet for their alleged crimes against the People.

When the car arrived, President-elect Noynoy Aquino exited at the left side of the car while his predecessor, Mrs. Arroyo, exited at the right. They then proceeded to a mini-stage, with Mrs. Arroyo at the center, flanked to her left by Aquino and the head of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) at her right. The ceremonial troops then began the ceremonies which kicked off the formal inauguration ceremonies.

As Arroyo reviews the troops, the large crowd started booing her. The crowd, mostly members of the volunteer groups who helped Aquino during the May 10 elections, began heckling the outgoing president. When Arroyo ended her review, she saluted the PSG commander and then went and rode her black SUV, with her PSG commander riding in front of the vehicle. They then left the parade grounds amidst boos and some cheers from the crowd.

Aquino then went up the stairs and seated himself in front of the stage. Vice president Jejomar Binay then arrived. Binay rode an electric jeepney from Manila hotel. He joined Aquino on the stage.

Flanking Aquino to his right is former president Fidel Ramos, while to his left, Vice President Jejomar Binay. Two former heads of state graced the event, Ramos and President Joseph Estrada. Vice president Noli de Castro joined them, possibly the representative of the outgoing administration. At his left is Chief Justice Renato Corona, whose midnight appointment was opposed by Aquino. At de Castro’s right side, meanwhile, is Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, sister of Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who was Aquino’s choice for the Chief Justice post.

Throughout the ceremonies, former presidents Ramos and Estrada did not see eye to eye, neither did they speak to each other. Estrada talked with Associate Justice Morales, never to Ramos.

Meanwhile, Vice president Binay talked animatedly with Aquino, whom he met several days prior to the inauguration. It was evident that there was no tension between the two. It was unclear what they talked about. Elenita Binay, the vice president’s legal wife, is seated beside her husband.

At their back, the Aquino sisters were seated. Several close family relatives, diplomats and senators were also seated, including Senate president Juan Ponce-Enrile, Senators Teofisto Guingona III, Tito Sotto III and Gregorio Honasan. In that row, former vice president Teofisto Guingona Jr. was also seated. While his erstwhile “girlfriend” Valenzuela councilor Shalani Soledad, is seated at the third row, flanked by a presidential nephew. Soledad was wearing a Mango-colored barong gown. She looks like candy, but no one wanted to try and eat her. Even the Aquino sisters did not talk with her. (Fact is, even when the Aquino family arrived at Malacanang, there was no sign of Shalani. Good decision. She's not a legal wife.) 

Kris Aquino-Yap, the controversial sister of the President, was also seated along with her other sisters. Her husband, basketball star James Yap, was not there. She was with her three year old son, James and his teenager kid, Josh, her son with former action stars Philip Salvador.

Over at far end top of the stage were other members of the Aquino family, friends and political allies. Jose “Peping” Cojuangco, Aquino’s uncle and supporter during the last elections, was seated far from the front row seats, together with his wife, Margarita “Tingting’ Cojuangco. ABS-CBN executives led by Charo Santos-Concio were also seated at the far end corner of the grandstand. Local government officials led by Liberal party supporter and Caloocan mayor Echiverri were also there. Meanwhile, Cojuangco right hand man, and former coup plotter and self-proclaimed COPA head, Pastor Boy Saycon was seen seated at the grandstand grounds, along with several other Aquino and Liberal party supporters.

The ceremonies started with Filipina international singer Charice Pempengco singing the national anthem. The rendition was beautiful. Pempengco stuck to the official National Historical Institute (NHI) recommended tune, which was actually martial, true to the original beat and composition of Felipe.

After the singing of the national anthem, three religious leaders were called to lead the national prayer, one Catholic priest, another an Imam from Manila and a Protestant priest. When they finished the prayer, a succession of nationalistic songs was rendered.

Famous compositor Ryan Cayabyab led the Madrigal singers in conducting “Bayan Ko”, a popular Filipino protest song, followed by his own composition. Then, the Apo Hiking Society sang their tribute song. Afterwards, Ogie Alcasid went to the stage with his girlfriend, Regine Velasquez and they both sang Ogie’s campaign song for Aquino. Christian Bautista, a talent of ABS-CBN channel two, sang his popular song “You raised me up” acapella. After this, an entire cast of popular singers led by Gary Valenciano, Alcasid, Noel Cabangon, Bautista, Velazquez, etc. sang the inaugural song, “ Bagong Pilipinas” before an amused Aquino.

Yet, it was still a full 45 minutes before the noon swearing in. Noel Cabangon, a former activist turned folk singer, sang at least three of his songs, one of which made the crowds alive. After the Philippine Philharmonic orchestra finished their rendition of popular Filipino folk songs, the swearing in then proceeded.

Senate president Juan Ponce-enrile read the joint resolution of the 14th Congress declaring Noynoy and Binay as the duly elected president and vice president of the Republic of the Philippines, respectively. Speaker Prospero Nograles Jr. was not present.

Vice president Binay was first called. He went before the crowd with his wife, Elenita. Elenita was the one who held the bible. Binay was sworn in by Carpio-Morales, witnessed by his entire family including his sons-in-law.

The Speech

After his swearing in, new Philippine president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, then went to the podium and gave his inaugural speech.

The speech was at least 21 minutes long and 11 pages. It was a combination of a State of the Nation address and a campaign speech.

Noynoy began his speech with a recollection of the events which catapulted him to the presidency. He started with acknowledging the sacrifices to the nation of his forebears. He talked about how his parents sacrificed their lives for the people, and of how his parents raised him to be a responsible citizen.

He then told the people of how, like them, he suffered under the tyranny of those who were given the people’s trust yet acted like rulers of the people. Noynoy even told them of how he suffered during traffic jams, of meeting people who acted like they were petty kings and queens and used their positions to gain leverage over other people.

What is most beautiful about the speech is the acknowledgment of the present condition of the people—that most Filipinos suffered from inept, even unjust governance. It is time, therefore, for the government to regain the trust and confidence of the people. How will he do it? Noynoy says he will represent the People, and will do his best to cleanse the bureaucracy of graft and corruption. He will be the foremost example of a true and honest Filipino citizen.

Noynoy talked about his desire to realize his campaign slogan of there is no poor people if there is no corruption. For the new president, this is not an empty campaign slogan but a realizable and doable platform for governance.

He then talked about how to prioritize poverty reduction by leveling the playing field in the investment sector, effecting efficient tax collection and ridding corruption in the customs department. Noynoy vowed to speed up modernization in the countrysides by eliminating middle men in the agricultural sector. He asked incoming Agriculture secretary Alcala to form trading centers in the provinces so that farmers will now be able to directly transact with consumers. This, he hopes, would lower the prices of goods. He also vowed to create agri infrastructures to enable farmers to increase their yields and market access.

He will continue infrastructure development, yet, vowed to prosecute contractors who build defective and low quality roads and infrastructure.

Aquino also vowed to improve the education system, by emphasizing on skills-based courses for Filipinos who cannot afford to study a college course. He will revive the jobs generation program of his mother so that Filipinos will be able to get jobs here, instead of getting those jobs abroad. He also intimated his desire to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police and restore their dignity as institutions.

For those who want to reconcile their political differences with him, Aquino vowed to forgive them. Fact is, he says, he already forgotten their sins. Yet, he cannot assure that these people, especially those who tyrannized the citizenry for so long would enjoy the same “privilege”.

Noynoy says that for reconciliation to really happen, justice should first be rendered. He informed the public that he already formed a truth commission headed by former Chief Justice Hilario Davide. Davide’s task is to try erring government officials who served under the Arroyo administration accused of committing numerous crimes against the people. He also directed incoming Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to start the filing of charges against corrupt government officials.

He vowed that his administration will be transparent and will hold itself up accountable before the people. He will also be extremely fair with the enemies of the state by entering into dialogues and peace negotiations with them. Aquino specifically talked about the Bangsamoro problem which he vows to solve by consultation with different stakeholders. As for the Communist insurgency, Aquino vows to render social justice to eliminate the root causes of revolt.

What are note-worthy about his speech are his thoughts on transforming government, from an inept and tyrannical one to a participative government, one that hears and opens itself up for criticisms and observations. Aquino vows to affect a feedback mechanism, a communication system , whereby government will be able to adjust its policies based on the people’s perceptions and views. This is the first time that government will try to effect a participative or a responsive system, a system which relies on a mass-based feedback mechanism.

However, Aquino failed to say anything about land reform, the reproductive health policy nor his gender program. This, says Prof. Claudio of the UP Women’s Center, is most worrisome because it reflects how the incoming administration treats these issues as “non-issues”.

The core message of the speech though is simple---for change to occur, the people must take part in the process for nation-building. For at least five times, Noynoy Aquino reiterated his desire for the people to take part in this extremely difficult process of change. This shows you the character of the incoming administration—it is not just a responsive but a participative one.

As a show of support, members of civil society led by St. Scholastica head Sister Mary Grace Mananzan led other sectoral leaders in their public avowals of support for Aquino. It was very symbolic.

After this, Aquino was then asked to descend the stage and meet the ceremonial troops for a review. Amidst large shouts of Noynoy, the new President reviewed the troops. He then saluted the troop commander, signaling the end of the ceremonies. Noynoy then went to the presidential car, but not before looking at his watch. His new PSG commander went with him and seated at the front row of the car. The car, along with at least six (6) PSG vehicles proceeded to the palace.

Along the way, huge throngs of poor folk went on and greeted him. When the entourage reached the palace gates, they were greeted by hundreds of poor people.

The New president then disembarked from the presidential limo and met his PSG team. He then proceeded to the palace rest house. Shortly after about 15 minutes, Aquino then re-emerged. He posed for a ceremonial photo shoot with his family, then went out of the rest house to meet the PSG troops. A ceremonial review was held. Afterwards, Aquino then proceeded to the main Palace where he is expected to conduct his first cabinet meeting.

From the time he left his house to the time he entered the room to meet his cabinet at Malacanang—it’s all over for three hours, at least. The entire inauguration was professionally handled. It was swift, but sweet.

At last, a new age has begun.