Great Expectations

Photo by Anton Sheker of

It was a good start, as these things go. The air was festive at the site of the presidential inaugural ceremonies, in the sense that it felt like a campaign rally for Noynoy Aquino. The predominance of yellow was expected although still a bit grating to those of us who were not enamoured of the President to begin with.

The entertainment segment preceding the formal oath-taking was entertaining, although some elements were a bit off. Juana Change as mistress of ceremonies, removed from the context of anti-government rallies, looked lost, fat and freakish. The songs were rehashes of campaign ditties with a few revisions to make them more “inclusive”. There was an earnest attempt to give life to a theme of reconciliation but it was still sounded and felt like a victory party for President Noynoy. Fair enough. He won and is now the Head of State.

P-Noy looked embarrassed at times at the outpouring of love and acclamation. Jojo Binay looked alternately bored and annoyed, slumped next to his boss, but came to life when it was his turn to take the oath of office. The foreign dignitaries looked bemused and bewildered at all the hoopla. Erap Estrada looked pensive, maybe looking back at the many lost opportunities. Kris Aquino appeared troubled but the rest of the Aquino sisters were glowingly beautiful. Chief Justice Renato Corona was putting a good face to an awkward situation.

Or so it seemed to me watching things unfold on T.V. The personalities and speculating on what they might have been feeling was far more interesting than the actual event itself. It is a historical watershed, for all that, and was all it was touted to be: part celebration, part pep rally, part traditional commemoration of yet another shift in the Philippine political galaxy, the first peaceful transition from one administration to another in 12 years.

But as for lasting change ? We shall see.

There was nothing at all earthshaking about his inaugural speech. The same issues which served him well during the campaign were trotted out: the fight against corruption, the need for employment generation, creating a healthy investment climate, adequate health services and the like. He reserved his fighting words for his predecessor and promised that those who thrived under her crooked reign would face the bar of justice. He shrewdly relied on his folksy, populist approach, more reminiscent of Erap than Cory, promising not to tolerate abuses of power but forgetting to mention that “walang kama-kamaganak”.

It certainly creates great expectations from the citizenry, even among us who did not vote for President Aquino. Expectations which, if not managed well, could spell trouble for him down the road. But he knows this, and has brought the Filipino people into the equation, as shown by the repetitive rituals of oath-taking during the ceremony involving the crowd. Just to bring home the point that good governance is everyone’s responsibility.

He sometimes tripped on his words and seemed short of breath, with his smoker’s cough threatening to make an appearance at one point. But all went well in the end.

A few points I can think of why I’m optimistic about a Noynoy presidency.

First, there’s no doubt that he was popularly elected. He can draw on the goodwill and euphoria generated by his having been swept into office in such a fairy-tale fashion. People will cut him some slack, beyond the so-called 100 days honeymoon period. He has the opportunity and luxury of making hard, even unpopular, decisions during his first months in office, maybe until the end of the year. He can make full use of it.

And he has shown some political astuteness in choosing some good people for his cabinet and not limiting his candidates to those who openly supported him and he feels comfortable with. Like Linda Baldoz as Labor Secretary.

Also, he can slap down people if need be, quietly but firmly. He handled Jojo Binay and Gen. Delfin Bangit quite well when they tried to bully him. He put them in their proper place, which is outside what they presumptuously believe is their vested sphere of influence.

As Colin Powell said, being in charge means pissing some people off. Noynoy can show them who’s in charge, if he wants to.

It was raining hard this morning but now the sun’s out. A good sign.

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