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Philippines: Aquino's presidency and the Yellow Priest

President Aquino faces challenges at his 100-day mark. Good thing he has the "Yellow Priest."

Most Supreme Court justices were appointed by his predecessor and political rival, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a deeply unpopular and allegedly corrupt figure who nonetheless has her own formidable power base in Congress. And PNoy's governing coalition is "more a coalition of convenience than an honest coalition," said Tajonera, with many Congressmen wanting their share of pork in exchange for continued support.

Casiple added that Noynoy faces a "steep learning curve" because of his relative inexperience, and is learning under "very stressful conditions," including a hostile opposition and "political landmines" left by the previous administration."He has a lot of problems before him," said Casiple.

Meanwhile, PNoy stumbled in his response to the Sept. 7 hostage crisis, in which eight Hong Kong tourists were killed by a disgruntled ex-cop.

And human rights groups fault Aquino for failing to stop so-called "extra-judicial killings" of leftists (16 so far on his watch, according to rights group Karapatan).

Perhaps most difficult to surmount is the skepticism of Filipinos themselves, who have long suffered under bumbling, corrupt leadership.

"Filipino people, especially the poor, have been disappointed so many times, sold out so many times, used so many times, it's not so easy to say things will change — it's easier said than done," said Tajonera.

That's one reason he's continued his active involvement in the "yellow ribbon" movement, a call for grassroots commitment to change. The group, organized by the late president Corazon Aquino's former appointments secretary Margarita "Margie" Juico, advertises a list of 10 pledges for good citizenship, including paying taxes, respecting the police and soldiers and taking care of the environment.

"The government cannot be reformed if the citizenry is not willing to change," said Tajonera, one of a core group of 50 to 60 people in the movement. "If you want change to happen in our society, then you must become part of the change."

The significance of the "yellow ribbon" goes back to the dark days of martial law (1972-1981) under Ferdinand Marcos. Supporters of pro-democracy activist Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino — father of the current president — wore yellow ribbons and sang the old U.S. ditty "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree" as a show of solidarity for Ninoy during his seven years imprisonment.

(Ninoy was later exiled to the U.S. and assassinated on his return to the Philippines, launching his widow Cory Aquino into the presidency on the back of the "People Power" movement.)

For Tajonera, the significance is also deeply personal. He remembers declining an invitation to join Ninoy for Thanksgiving when he met him in New York City in 1982, something he now deeply regrets (Ninoy was gunned down the following year). Again in 1986, he declined a call from Cory Aquino's people to return to the Philippines and help build a new government. Now, he's finally ready to help.

"It's my redemption," said Tajonera. "Twenty-eight years ago I said 'no' to Ninoy, and 28 years later I said 'yes' to myself. This is the time."

He says he was among the first to urge Noynoy to run for the presidency, while attending his mother's funeral last year. Then, Noynoy's response was non-committal. "He just smiled — of course, it's a priest telling you what to do," he said. "It's typical Pinoy [slang for a Filipino] — you just smile, and don't say no. But I'm happy I did it."

Now, the unassuming bachelor who smiled politely that day holds the reins of power. Time will tell if he's able to put the Philippines on a better course.

"Corruption is one problem. Our attitude is another — we have an attitude of being complacent," said Tajonera. "Nothing will change with that kind of attitude, it won't work if you want to move the country forward."

"My hope and dream is the same as PNoy — that our country can learn the lessons of Marcos and Gloria. If we do that, then change is not impossible."