Once-reluctant Aquino ready to lead the Philippines

Once-reluctant Aquino ready to lead the Philippines
Agence France-Presse

CALUMPIT, Bulacan, Philippines—Standing on the back of a truck throwing wristbands to an endless stream of people chanting his name, Senator Benigno Aquino III smiles and says he can almost feel the Philippine presidency.

Less than a year ago the quietly spoken Aquino publicly vacillated on whether he wanted to continue the imposing work of his famous parents, who are regarded as democracy heroes in this impoverished Southeast Asian nation.

But, with elections less than two weeks away, he now appears passionate in wanting to be president and more comfortable with the hopes so many have for him as the country’s savior.

“You feel that things that weren’t considered possible a few months ago are in the realms of possibility,” Aquino, 50, told Agence France-Presse from aboard the flatbed truck as it embarked on a pulsating five-hour campaign procession.

“So the changes that we are seeking to implement to improve the lot of our people seem imminently doable.”

Asked if he felt he was on the brink of victory ahead of the May 10 election, Aquino looked out at the masses of people lining the road ahead of him and replied with an emphatic: “Yes”.

“I thought it would be a difficult battle but with the people demonstrating in numbers like this it doesn’t seem to be that big a struggle,” he said.

While Aquino was referring to the direct support he has seen on regular motorcade forays around the country in recent months, harder evidence emerged on Thursday with a national survey showing he was headed for a comfortable win.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they would vote for him, with wealthy property developer Senator Manuel Villar and ex-president Joseph Estrada tied for second place with 20-percent support each, the Pulse Asia survey said.

However in a democratic system that has long suffered from corruption and violence, Aquino said he was concerned that poll cheating could cost him victory.

“That seems to be the biggest threat at the moment so we are working on it,” he said.

Aquino referred to the 2004 presidential and 2007 congressional elections, in which President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her ruling party are alleged to have employed a range of illegal tactics to win.

“The people who were identified and implicated have not been put before the court of justice. So hence (we are concerned),” he said.

But such fears appeared to wash over Aquino only briefly as his campaign truck meandered slowly through narrow roads of impoverished rural villages.

Drawing energy in the blistering heat from cigarettes, bottles of Coca-Cola and the adulation of his supporters, Aquino threw out thousands of his signature yellow friendship wristbands.

Belying his reputation as an uncharismatic and aloof politician, Aquino handed out the bands one-by-one, looking at many of the recipients in the eye and often offering a quick word of encouragement.

The procession lasted from early afternoon until well after dark, but Aquino did not pause and one of his aides estimated he personally gave away 6,500 wristbands.

For Aquino’s backers, such moments are proof that the balding bachelor always had the potential to capitalize on the mystique surrounding his parents.

His father, also named Benigno, was shot dead at Manila’s airport in 1983 as he tried to return from US exile to fight Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship.

Benigno Aquino Sr.’s death turned him into a political martyr and his wife, Corazon, into the leader of a democracy movement that famously toppled Marcos with the “People Power” revolution of 1986.

Cory Aquino then served as the Philippines’ president, earning a reputation for being honest that so many now cherish following nine years of rule under Arroyo that her many critics charge has lacked moral leadership.

Cory Aquino’s death last year from cancer served as the catalyst for her son’s stunning political rise, after he spent 11 low-key years in Congress.

After grabbing another handful of wristbands, Aquino said he owed his success to his parents’ legacy.

“That opened all of the doors,” he said.

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.