The People Power Revolution of February 1986 broke the political evolutionary logjam that followed the proclamation of martial law by Ferdinand Marcos on September 21, 1972.
That was how the late Corazon C. Aquino viewed her role in the restoration of democracy after the assassination of her husband, Benigno S. Aquino Jr. on August 21, 1983 and it is what brought her to the fore, when her successors attempted to revise the constitution and eradicate all provisions on term limits.
This sense of democratic commitment propelled, in turn, the candidacy of their son, Benigno S. Aquino III, to restore equilibrium to this young and underdeveloped democracy.
In the past decade, the prospects for democracy in the Philippines were put into question again under Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo when she endorsed several plans to amend the constitution that would have extended her term beyond the mandated six years.
Each time, the public rendered a mixed verdict. While Arroyo had enough control over local governments to stay in power, she failed to earn the support of the nationally elected Senate and other institutions, including the Supreme Court, to amend the constitution.
Limits on domestic support for a winner-take-all outcome led foreign governments to look askance at the direction the Philippine government was heading.
The Philippine record vis-à-vis the United States, ASEAN and China was perceived as inconsistent under Arroyo. In 2004, the country, an avowed and long-time ally of the United States, withdrew its soldiers from Iraq following the abduction of a Filipino truck driver just outside Baghdad.
To compensate for this, Arroyo focused on trade ties with China to prop up her flagging popularity. The move undermined ASEAN’s position on the South China Sea, which the Philippines, during the Ramos administration, had helped form.
But allegations of corruption over concessional Chinese loans in turn imperiled any public goodwill Beijing hoped to gain from Manila.
Meanwhile, Arroyo may have missed an opportunity to resolve the long-running Muslim insurgency in Mindanao and instead used the situation to advance proposals to amend the constitution.
In May 2010, more than 40 million Filipinos voted in the country’s swiftest ever elections and granted Benigno S. Aquino III the largest mandate conferred on a presidential candidate under the present constitution.
In broad strokes, President Aquino III is undertaking the most thorough and comprehensive review of government priorities and programs in a generation, employing a zero-based approach: allocating substantial increases for safety net programs, cutting funding for non-performing programs, and freeing up resources for infrastructure.
Aquino has also focused on so-called public–private partnerships as a key to bringing in much-needed investments for major infrastructure projects, which will allow the government to focus on modernization programs for food and national security.
Securing such partnerships, however, depends on the administration’s ability to guarantee that all proposals will be reviewed professionally and in a timely manner.
The president is working with congress to review the Joint Venture Guidelines and the Build Operate Transfer Law to increase transparency and accountability on both the national and provincial levels and ensure that the new framework encourages, instead of hampers, investments. With the economic outlook positive, the local business community is looking forward to increasing their investments and expanding their businesses.
“With the new government, there are a lot of people looking at the Philippines. Maybe it will entice other foreign corporations that are interested in doing these developments to come and partner with us,” said Katrina Ponce Enrile, CEO of JAKA Investments Corp., a conglomerate engaged in property development, among other things.
In May 2010, more than 40 million Filipinos voted in the country’s swiftest ever elections and granted Benigno S. Aquino III the largest mandate conferred on a presidential candidate under the present constitution
Supported by its unquestionable legitimacy, the Aquino administration can turn its back on political adventurism and extremism and dismantle the equivalent of the License Raj and replace it with a regime of laws that embraces the free market.
“We see lots of opportunities here in the Philippines. We’re not here just to write a check and come back in a few years. We are here to partner with business and government in a manner that helps the Philippines to grow,” said Mark Williams, investment director of Kuwait-based equity firm KGL Investments.
“This new administration has been very proactive if you hear them talking about the public– private partnerships they want to implement. Investment in infrastructure and investment in education are the cornerstones for this country to continue to grow and develop,” Williams also said.
At the same time, the Aquino administration is committed to reducing poverty through tried-and-tested programs: increased investments in pubic health and education, and conditional cash transfers as an incentive for the poor to participate in these programs.
The Philippines is, once more, open for business.