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Benigno Aquino faces true test with typhoon

  • A survivor walks beside a ship that was washed ashore hitting makeshift houses near an oil depot in Tacloban in the central Philippines Monday. (AARON FAVILA / Associated Press)

The agenda for the second-half of Benigno Aquino's presidency is devastatingly clear.

In the first three years of his term, the Filipino leader attracted remarkable investment-grade ratings for the onetime Sick Man of Asia. He raised taxes to increase revenues and stabilize the national balance sheet. He won global accolades for jailing his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo, and going after the corruption that has made the Philippines a third-rail country for overseas investors. He even took on the powerful Catholic Church by providing free contraceptives to slow population growth.

Those successes seem like a distant memory today as the Philippines counts its dead. Super Typhoon Haiyan may have killed as many as 10,000 people in the Philippines after floods and winds knocked down buildings and destroyed an airport. The recovery effort will be long, painful and expensive. Haiyan's total economic impact may reach $14 billion, with only about $2 billion of that insured. That's serious money in a $250 billion economy where a quarter of the population lives on less than $1.25 a day.

Typhoon Haiyan

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A botched effort would undermine many of Aquino's accomplishments to date. Hundreds of millions in aid dollars flowing into remote provinces could fuel the corruption he has tried to eradicate. Government infighting and incompetence would destroy the reputation for probity and efficiency that Aquino has fought to establish among investors. The Philippines' new standing is all-too-fragile. If this turns into Haiti, the world might be quick to shrug and say, “Well, what do you expect? It's the Philippines.”

This is a test for Aquino — but also an opportunity. If he can oversee a rapid and effective response to Haiyan, he will demonstrate to the world, and his own people, that the Philippines has grown up — that his nation is no longer the kind to sit back and let aid agencies take over when disaster strikes. That should reinforce confidence in his leadership and strengthen his hand against those who would try to roll back the reforms he's implemented thus far.

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