Aquino: Titans can help but can’t order me around
By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III is open to getting contributions for his presidential campaign from big businessmen like the Lopezes, Lucio Tan and his uncle Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, but only if they agree to play by his rules.
“We don’t refuse [their donations] but we have leveling off; the only thing we can promise you is a level playing field,” the Liberal Party standard-bearer said in an interview with the Inquirer editorial staff on Tuesday night.
“If the system abuses you, we will fix it but if you intend to take advantage through the system, let’s just say sorry to each other,” Aquino said, speaking in English and Filipino.
The senator said that his party had a basic requirement in accepting donations—that they are not connected in any way with illegal gambling and drugs.
“We refuse outright especially if we are not sure about the source. When in doubt, refuse,” he said.
Aquino said that being choosy on accepting campaign contributions had its risks because the donors could just go to other parties or they might not have enough funds to partially offset the advantage of his free-spending rival.
“I don’t want to be trapped into deciding in favor of this person’s business interest or that person’s particular advocacy.”
Aquino said that he was very straightforward with his donors’ expectations such as tweaking the import policy in an industry or relaxing restrictions in the transportation business.
“We don’t want to be deceitful or create an enemy down the line which is unnecessary. If they can’t live with that, then we will not accept. We have to be true to our supporters as well,” he said.
Can’t be ordered around
Aquino said the Lopezes, whose ABS-CBN network launched his run at the presidency with its broad coverage of his mother’s funeral last year, knew him well enough not to ask him to do something for them in return for their support.
“Even my mother never presumed to order me around and therefore people will know that is my first trait,” he said.
With Aquino leading the presidential surveys, the Liberal Party has been getting numerous offers from big businessmen to contribute to his campaign for the May 10 balloting.
A source from his camp said that the Liberal Party had more than enough to last it through the end of the elections and that they would just await the go-signal from Aquino before tapping the donors on stand-by.
‘We are not enemies’
Aquino said that he had talked with Cojuangco, the San Miguel Corp. chair and founder of the Nationalist People’s Coalition, on several occasions since he launched his presidency.
“We are not enemies in so many different areas. I am talking to him, but he has health matters to tackle, so I don’t want to bother him every other day,” Aquino said.
He did not say whether his uncle would chip in to his campaign though he stressed that he would have to live by the rules he imposed on other donors.
He said that in 2007, he asked him about the coco levy issue. He said Cojuangco told him he had left the issue to the courts. “I will hold him to that,” he said.
In a previous interview with the Inquirer, Cojuangco’s son, former lawmaker Charlie Cojuangco, said that his family trusted Aquino but not the people around him.
Aquino admitted that he had a big group of 34 individuals with “varied persuasions” but he was taking all the responsibility in the decisions of his campaign and his administration if elected.
He said that he found most touching the contributors to his “Piso-Piso para kay Noy” campaign, citing several schoolchildren who had approached him in one of his provincial sorties with a coin bank containing their contributions.
Being independent is important, he said, pointing out that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had direct control over P600 billion of the P1.5-trillion budget. He estimated that at least half of this was being wasted due to corruption.
Aquino said that he would like to personally take charge of the Department of Public Works and Highways and be able to serve as the one to final set one of the government’s most corrupt agencies straight.
He also would like to take charge of the Department of National Defense and the Department of Education.