(Published on June 5, 2016, from an exclusive interview with former President Benigno S. Aquino III by the Manila Bulletin senior editors and Malacanang reporters in Malacanang Palace.)
JUNE 5, 2016 – An exclusive interview with the President of the Philippines can only be extraordinary, especially when it’s a few weeks from the end of his six-year term marked by an economic boom that cannot be overshadowed by controversy and natural disasters.
It started with a question that took President Aquino back to 2010, when he began his administration with a speech declaring crowd-friendly slogans, one of them –“Kung walang corrupt walang mahirap.” How do you rate yourself on that mission to stop corruption, we asked?
Like a true statesman, he replied; “I feel uncomfortable answering that. Let the people decide how well, or how badly, I did.”
And so, the exclusive interview with the Manila Bulletin editors and Malacañang reporters took off on a good start. President Aquino did not waste time, he recited the figures of corruption cases filed during the period of July 2010 to December 2015 – 784 cases filed under the RIPS (Revenue Integrity Protection Service); RATS (Run After The Smugglers); and RATE (Run After the Tax Evaders).
As part of the intensified anti-corruption drive, Aquino said cases have been filed against former President Gloria Arroyo for plunder and election fraud as well as three senators in connection with the pork barrel scam.
Aquino said the anti-corruption drive and fiscal prudence have enabled the administration to spend more resources on social services, education, and infrastructure.
Under his watch, the local economy has become the fastest growing economy in the region, finally shedding its tag as the Sick Man of Asia.
Reducing poverty, unemployment
As a result of his reform efforts, the President said the country’s poverty and unemployment levels have gradually decreased.
More than 7.7 Filipinos have been lifted out of poverty with the help of the conditional cash transfer program. Around 4 million Filipinos have also obtained jobs under his watch.
From factual, the President turned pensive: “At the end of the day, this is the perpetual question being asked of me. In six years, can we eliminate poverty? When I am asked this question, it’s like today we have poverty, tomorrow we should not have it.”
The stories of snippets of six years as President flowed, told in precise figures and simple sentences. Some exasperation slipped between the stories – a deadly virus carried into the country, a magnitude 7.2 quake in Bohol, the super typhoon Yolanda – coming one after the other.
It was impressive how Aquino handled the questions in commander-in-chief fashion: with some video that said much about what had been done. A few times, he was visibly irked by questions on issues, but like a gentleman replied, taking facts from a good memory, the Constitution, Republic Acts, and notes.
What was the most difficult decision you had to make? For about a second he pauses: “By definition, anything that’s handed to me is difficult.”
He relates the many difficult decisions but settles his longer story on the Zamboanga siege because there were so many lives at stake.
Private citizen Noynoy
The morning after the weight of steering a nation with 100 million people is taken off his shoulders by incoming President Rodrigo R. Duterte on June 30, President Aquino has a plan: “I will not read the papers, or listen to the news,” he said, a far-away look flitting from his eyes.
“I am looking forward to driving a lot. I have to study the traffic, where there are no left turns or U-turns, where there are clean comfort rooms,” he said.
Private Citizen Aquino also looks forward to spending more time to go home to Tarlac and spending more than an hour with friends, to talk about personal concerns.
“Tapos uwi rin ako ng Tarlac siguro during the weekend. Touch-base din ako hindi yung one hour lang. Baka pwede yung dating gawi na two to three hours pati mga personal concerns nila [I’m also planning to go to my province of Tarlac during the weekends so I can touch base with the people there. Maybe this time I can spend about two to three hours with them rather than just an hour so I can hear about their personal concerns],” he said.
Even going home to Times Street will take some getting used to, starting with locating the switches because the house had been renovated.
But we got the President to show us the boy-next-door mood when we asked about his playlist. “I have many, each to cater to a mood.” He tries to recall titles of songs he prefers to listen to. “There seems to always be a significant song in a certain period of my life.”
He took delight in reciting the lines of the songs that have taken his attention. One was from a song that told of someone moving on from a relationship. “I’m alright now,” the song repeated many times, “except that every night, I cry myself to sleep. But other than that, I’m alright now.” The President wonders aloud what the song writer had gone through.
PNoy or Cory?
The time was ripe to ask him to rate his performance as president with his mother, former President Corazon C. Aquino (1986-1992).
“Wala yatang magandang sagot don. Syempre as a dutiful son, my mother. Perhaps we perform in different circumstances, perhaps the measurement yardsticks are different (It seems there’s no good answer to that but of course, as a dutiful son, it would be my mother. Perhaps we perform in different circumstances, perhaps the measurement yardsticks are different).”
“At the end of the day, I’m standing on her achievements. She stood on my dad’s achievements. Then her achievements helped President FVR’s term. I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me,” the President added.
Cory Aquino was catapulted to power after the 1986 EDSA People Power revolution that ousted the 20-year Marcos rule. As the country’s first female president, she led the country’s transition from dictatorship to democracy and survived several coup attempts.
Her son, then Senator Aquino, won a massive victory in the presidential polls less than a year after her death.
Under his watch, the local economy has become the fastest growing economy in the region, finally shedding its tag as the Sick Man of Asia. (With a report from MADEL SABATER NAMIT)