It is important to understand what the just-concluded voting means to the Aquino administration, now at the midpoint of its six-year term. And why President Noynoy Aquino has bet everything on winning a clear majority in both Houses of Congress, as well as control by his political allies of key, vote-rich localities where he campaigned as if its was his name that was on the ballot.
From a political perspective, Aquino needs control over Congress to ensure smooth sailing for legislative measures that he wants to push in the remainder of his term. These include, according to key administration strategist and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, new tax measures that will allow government to fund more of its ambitious projects, including a wider safety net for the poor.
Another key piece of ‚Äúlegacy‚ÄĚ legislation that Aquino wants is a new peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Despite the poor record of previous administrations in putting down the long-running Muslim rebellion, Aquino feels that yet another peace deal will solve the problem for good.
In particular, Aquino needs control of the Senate, having already secured the support of the pork-happy House long ago. This is why Aquino campaigned so hard for his dream of a 12-0 win by his administration slate: he cannot have a balky Senate sabotage what remains of his six years in office by dragging its feet on his priority measures.
On another level, Aquino wants to make a statement by dominating the polls through his proxies. Aquino has made deals with former bitter enemies in his bid for electoral validation of his supposed program of reform, as long as they are ‚Äúwinnable‚ÄĚ like Alan Peter Cayetano and Cynthia Villar.
If Aquino's bets are defeated, Aquino becomes a political lame duck, quacking and limping to the end of his term. Midterm defeat will also accelerate the process of jockeying for position among those seeking to succeed him in 2016, with the major political players no longer caring what the wounded incumbent says or does for the rest of his three years.
At this point, the approval of his pet legislative measures is all that Aquino can hope to accomplish. There is simply no more time to implement big-ticket infrastructure projects like the expansion of the MRT-LRT lines and the construction/rehabilitation of a new, better Manila airport terminal (to name just two) in the short time that Aquino has left.
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Even assuming that ¬†Aquino carries a majority of the 12 Senate seats up for grabs, there is simply no assurance that his legislative agenda will have an easy time of it in Congress. That's because the politicians who inhabit both Houses, after this week, will have their eyes focused almost entirely on the next elections in 2016 ‚Äď yes, including the members of his jerry-rigged coalition, most of whom never belonged or were never loyal to his Liberal Party to begin with.
In all likelihood, the remaining three years of Aquino II will be spent in the horse-trading that has always characterized the run-up to a presidential election, leaving the incumbent a non-factor. And regardless of how Aquino pictures himself as the creator of a legacy that will outlast his term, it is difficult to see how even his handpicked successor will continue what he left behind, including the supposed reforms that he wants put in place.
Certainly, a sitting President is still a factor in the campaign to install his successor, if only because the latter will want to leverage whatever popularity the incumbent has left to boost his own bid. But given that Aquino's so-called legacy is made up almost entirely of legislation that can easily be overturned by the succeeding administration, it cannot possibly last.
What will remain, though, are the seemingly intractable problems that Aquino simply could not solve, including poverty, joblessness, corruption, the lack of foreign investments and a general feeling of the inutility of government, when it comes to the issues that really matter. In addition, Aquino's successor will have to deal with problems that were entirely of this government's own making, like our prickly relations with foreign countries such as China and, just recently, even Taiwan.
Furthermore, the next President, whoever he will be, will have to think long and hard about continuing Aquino's policy of political vendetta and polarization, of unabashedly coddling allies and of all-out propaganda as a tool for drowning out criticism and delude citizens that they are, in fact, living in the best of all possible times. Having a new President who is willing to work hard, not just when he's on the campaign trail, wouldn't hurt, either.
The time is coming when Aquino will have to account for what he did in the years that he held the presidency ‚Äď and when he can no longer point to anyone else but himself for whatever he leaves behind. And halfway through his term and with a midterm election already in the history books, Aquino seems as far away from delivering more than just pictures of reform and progress that no one can see or as yet examine closely as when he started three years ago.*