What Palace would be like if Aquino wins
By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Sen. Benigno Aquino III on Friday gave a preview of what Malacañang would be like if he became president—a Palace where his running mate Sen. Manuel Roxas would be an active partner in running the government and “pork barrel” would be shared with friend and foe alike, including President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who’s running for a seat in Congress.
To jump-start his antigraft drive, he would pursue a “personal ambition’’ to catch a smuggler or a corrupt official responsible for a substandard infrastructure project within the first two weeks of his presidency.
Interviewed on dzBB radio by news anchor Mike Enriquez, the Liberal Party standard-bearer said his personal goal would be to kick his smoking habit. He also said he had not decided on an altar date with his girlfriend, Valenzuela City Councilor Shalani Soledad. (See related story on Page A6.)
To his big business supporters, Aquino’s message: No favors for anyone.
Aquino said Roxas “up to now” had not asked him for a position in government if they won in May.
“We have a partnership, a division of labor, and I will leave it to him to choose not a department but what departments he wants (to) run,” Aquino said. “Six years, that’s not that long and we want to maximize our impact and intervention to reach our ambitions faster.”
Aquino said he was open to getting even those from opposing parties into his Cabinet as long as they shared his views and had the basic qualifications of honesty, integrity, competence and expertise.
“If the best talent will come from them, why not?” he said.
Let market decide
Asked how he would treat his business supporters, like the Ayalas and the Lopezes and his mother’s loyalist friends, the son of the late President Corazon Aquino said the only commitment he could give them was “to give them a level playing field.”
“We will favor no one. The market should decide whether a business should flourish or not,” he said.
“We will not help them if they are confronted with a court case. That is taking advantage of others. If you think you are being abused, (you) can come to me but if they are doing the abuse, pasensyahan tayo (I’m sorry but I can’t do anything),” he said.
Pork is for all
Asked if he would block any attempt by his allies in the House of Representatives to stop Ms Arroyo’s anticipated bid to become Speaker, Aquino said he would not interfere but admitted he did not like to be in a situation where the Speaker is opposed to Malacañang.
He said he would rather have a co-equal Congress and not Malacañang running the show alone, using its veto powers on the budget.
Aquino said he would not follow Ms Arroyo’s policy of restricting the opposition lawmakers’ access to pork barrel funds.
“If she (Arroyo) wins, she will get the funds allotted for her district based on a menu of national programs and priorities,” he said.
He stressed that the pork barrel funds would be given to all lawmakers as long as the budget deficit was kept below P300 billion this year and the government had funds available.
“When I started out as a congressman, I used to think it (pork barrel) was the source of all evil. But I realized that if you live outside Metro Manila, you will not get any national project in your area if the President or her Cabinet do not pay your area a visit,” he said.
Aquino also said he would continue the Arroyo administration’s conditional cash transfer program whereby the state gives perks to poor parents who make sure their children stay in school. He said he might even increase the subsidy.
He defended his decision to use the political legacy of his parents in his campaign.
“If what they did was wrong, I would not follow their lead. But since I believe that what they did was right, is it wrong to continue the right thing they did?”
Aquino wished the losers in the elections would concede immediately and that there would be a deadline on poll disputes so that bitterness would not linger long after May.
If he became president, Aquino said he would probably start weaning himself away from cigarettes, noting that being in the highlight had forced him to abort lighting one several times.
He likes Chinese food, plays billiard (though he does not make bets), and has been passionate about practical shooting since he survived an ambush in 1987 and received death threats.
He was confident corruption could be solved with the existing laws as long the leaders would show they were serious in eradicating it.
“My personal ambition is that within the first week or second week after assuming office, I will be the one who will catch either a substandard infrastructure project or a smuggler … This will demonstrate how serious we are.”
Aquino said he would go after the big fish after sufficient evidence had been established and he would not allow any case to drag on for years.
Politically motivated cases
Aquino pledged to bring back the blindfold to Lady Justice, especially in politically motivated cases, like the ones involving Sen. Panfilo Lacson and detained Sen. Antonio Trillanes III.
Aquino refused to make a judgment on the C-5 road controversy hounding his rival, Sen. Manuel Villar.
“I will make sure that he will get all of his rights but at the end of the day, he has to answer if there is a crime that he has committed,” he said.
Aquino admitted the illegal numbers game “jueteng” was prevalent in Tarlac but pointed out he was not the governor with control over the police. He vowed to go after jueteng and drug lords.
Aquino said he was having second thoughts about opposing plans to amend the Constitution after Ms Arroyo showed how she allegedly abused it to stay in power.
“But I would still want to know whether the benefits would outweigh the short-term disruptions,” he said.
Aquino clarified it might take earlier than five years after his election for the farmers to get their lands in the Hacienda Luisita sugarestate, which his family owns.
He said the land would have been distributed a long time ago had the farmers agreed to a scheme that would address the debt problem weighing on Luisita.