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Philippines: The times they are a-changin’

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What should Noynoy do?

Hopes for change under the new Noynoy administration are running high. But as Yeoh Seng Guan observes, there have been “midnight appointments” by Arroyo to buttress the old order and to forestall the new. 


Nearly two months earlier, when I was last in the Philippines, the outcome of the National Elections was in the distant future. The mood for political change, while strongly palpable, was still tinged with uncertainty. Part of that un-ease was fuelled by the authorities’ decision to turn to expensive automated voting machines ostensibly to speed up the count and to eradicate corruption in this expansive country.
Today (6 June), despite the incomplete confirmation of all the votes, Benigno “Noynoy” Aqunio III has garnered an unassailable lead with over 40 per cent of the total electorate deciding for him. In the next few days, Congress is expected to proclaim him as President-elect of the Republic of the Philippines.

Hopes are high for the cleansing of the controversy-ridden order embodied by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidency of the past nine years. Besides discussions on the range of new policies – which include a Freedom of Information Bill – that might be introduced early in his term, Noynoy’s personal bachelor life has also been the staple fodder for the local media in the past week that I have been here.  

Even a feature length film, “Noy”, intertwining the protagonist’s personal crisis with a documentation of Noynoy’s colourful campaign trail, has just been released in the cinemas. Befitting the vibrant celebrity culture of the Philippines, Noynoy’s personality and his illustrious legacy as a member of the Aquino clan palpably carries through despite the film’s rather melodramatic story-line.

In the non-cinematic world, what has been more incredulous has been Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s appointment of over 200 individuals into various key government positions of authority. This is despite a ban on presidential appointments, which took effect on 10 March. Detractors believe that the appointment papers were antedated to make it appear that they were signed on 9 March.

For many, these “midnight appointments” are clearly to buttress the old and to forestall the new.  Despite the overt legality of these moves, there have been widespread calls for these appointees to practice decorum and propriety by rejecting these offers. Nine years would have seemed long enough to effect any meaningful change. To try now to stem the moral force of the emergent yellow reformation through a legal loophole is to reveal a clear sense of desperation out of step with the changing times.

Dr Yeoh Seng Guan is an Aliran exco member. 

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