It was a proud moment for the Filipinos. I could see the glowing pride in the sea of faces. At high noon, the President-Elect of the Philippines, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, stood up. With his left hand firmly on the Bible and his right hand raised, P-Noy (for President Noynoy, and a pun for Pinoy) as he prefers to be called, took the presidential oath.
Barely 15 meters in front of the grandstand where I stood, I felt a sense of pride for my Filipino friends and a sense of hope for democracy, not just in the Philippines but also for the Asian region.
After the swearing-in, religious leaders took turns to offer prayers for the new president. One of clergies uttered, “O, Lord, help him realize that he is elected to serve the people and not to be served by them.” Those words still ring loud and clear in my head because they struck at the very core of what democratic leadership is about.
It is a tall call to be sure. The 15th President of the Philippines, who was sworn in on 30 Jun 10, has just inherited a heap of problems. Corruption and poverty are rampant. Is the new president up to the task – that of cleaning up corruption – he promised he would do?
His supporters believe so. Many of them were spotted wearing yellow wrist bands bearing the words in Tagalog: “There will be no poverty when corruption is gone.” I, too, put on the band. Proudly, I also donned the “Noynoy” cap in solidarity with my Filipino friends because they have such hope in this man, one who understands that he was elected to “transform our government from one that is self-serving to one that works for the welfare of the nation.”
As P-Noy started his inauguration speech foreign minister George Yeo, who was seated behind him among a row of invited dignitaries, was clicking away with his camera. The scene was symbolic – a new and democratically elected president standing in front with a representative of an undemocratic government behind him.
If symbols reflect reality that moment I witnessed surely speaks of the dawn of democracy and the fading of authoritarianism. If I could have articulated my thoughts to George Yeo then, it would have been: “Democracy is winning and it is coming to Singapore.”
Earlier on, before the arrival of P-Noy, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had arrived to bid her farewell. It was meant to be a dignified farewell. The jeers from the crowd signalled disapproval, however. It was impossible, I suppose, for the audience to suppress their enthusiasm to see the back of the president whom they felt had betrayed them.
I am hopeful that we in Singapore will witness a similar scene, one where a newly and democratically elected government sweeps away an old, autocratic one. That time will not be far away. Then we can celebrate with genuine pride like our Filipno friends did when Noynoy became P-Noy.