“My presence here today is proof that you are my true strength. I never expected that I will be here taking my oath of office before you, as your president. I never imagined that I would be tasked with continuing the mission of my parents. I never entertained the ambition to be the symbol of hope, and to inherit the problems of our nation. I had a simple goal in life: to be true to my parents and our country as an honorable son, a caring brother, and a good citizen.”
Thus did Benigno S. Aquino III, 15th President of the Philippines, begin his inaugural address on June 30, 2010.
As the nation marks tomorrow his first death anniversary, it is well to retrace his road to the presidency and reflections on the job he had done.
His public service career began in 1998 with his election as a Tarlac Representative six years after his mother completed her presidency. He served three terms, then ran and won for Senator in 2007, placing eighth among 12 winners.
On Sept. 9, 2009, the 40th day following his mother’s death, he announced his plan to run for President in the Kalayaan Hall of Club Filipino in San Juan, the same venue where she took her oath as President following the EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986. He said:“I accept the plea of the nation. I also accept the instructions of my parents, I accept the responsibility to continue the fight for the country.”
On the day after his inaugural, the banner headlines focused on two catchphrases: “Kayo ang boss ko” (You are my boss) and “Walang wang wang” (No blaring sirens). These embodied his commitment to good governance in which the sovereign people’s will and welfare took precedence. From “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” (If no one is corrupt, no one will be poor), his call to action became “Sumunod sa matuwid na daan” (Follow the straight path).
His last public address as President was a commencement address to the graduates of his alma mater, Ateneo de Manila University. He delivered it as a conversational narrative, recalling his interaction with his friend, then Ateneo President Fr. Jett Villarin whom he quoted as having told him while he was preparing his speech:
“Nauunawaan kita. Talagang mahirap iyang napasukan mo. Siguro diretso ka na sa langit.” [Laughter] Sabi ko, baka naman may nalalaman si Fr. Jett na hindi ko alam, bakit naman kaya diretso na sa langit? Tanong ko po, bakit kaya niya nasabi ‘yun? Ang tugon niya: Kasi daw, parang nasa purgatoryo na ako dahil sa pinagdaraanan ko bilang pangulo ng Pilipinas. Ipagdarasal niya raw ako palagi.” (“I understand the difficulties that you have experienced. Perhaps, you will go straight to heaven.” I thought he may know something I don’t that made him say I would go straight to heaven. He told me that what I had gone through as President was like purgatory, and he would pray for me always.)
Levity aside, Fr. Jett told PNoy: “Just speak from your heart; tell of the things that inspired you, sustained you. And perhaps that will in turn inspire and challenge these aspiring young ones to become men and women for others, generous enough to offer their lives for our people.”
He recalled many vignettes spiced with light humor on campus life, in and out of the classroom. He recalled the difficulties he and his family experienced as his father had been incarcerated. He could not attend his own graduation to join his family in Boston as his father was on medical furlough to undergo a heart bypass operation. Through this difficult ordeal, it was faith that sustained him and his family:
“Ang pinanghawakan namin noon: Tiwala sa Panginoon. Nanalig kami na hindi niya kami bibigyan ng pagsubok na hindi namin kakayanin. Na may dahilan ang lahat.” (We held on to our faith in God. We believed that God would not test us beyond our capacity, that there was a reason for everything.)