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Nancy Binay: Clean slate, dirty politics

In this exclusive no-holds-barred interview, Senator-Elect Nancy Binay talks to ‘Supreme’ about the highs and lows of her campaign, corruption allegations against her family, and her views on the future.

MANILA, Philippines - Nancy Binay is the product of a political system in which “Anak ni…” is a prevalent and effective campaign slogan. She joined the senatorial race without a day of experience in elected office, and she survived the campaign without engaging her opponents in televised debates. What she did have, aside from the nerve to seek one of the highest government positions in the land, was a famous last name and a melodramatic tagline to reinforce it. Her posters read, “Ina, Anak, Kapatid,” — an emotional pitch to voters as well as a reminder that she is the daughter of Vice President Jejomar Binay, sister of Cong. Abby Binay, and Makati Mayor Jun-jun Binay, and mother to a whole new generation of destined Binays.

Nancy Binay admits as much. “I won because of my last name,” she tells me on the sidelines of this Supreme shoot. She pauses before she says the words “last name,” and she continues a bit softly, as if she were tentative about admitting it. Perhaps there is an amount of ignominy that comes with being part of a political family. “I’m going to write a book about how it is to be a daughter or a son of a politician,” she tells me. “There’s an image of how kids of politicians are, but no, not everyone’s the same.”

This world is all Nancy Binay knows — politics, with all its dirt and machinations. Nancy was in her teens when her father took the reins in Makati. After college, her first job was serving as an assistant to her mother Elenita Binay, who, in a round of political musical chairs, succeeded and preceded Jejomar Sr. as the city’s mayor from 1998-2001. “No matter how hard you try to run away from it,” she tells me blankly, “at the end of the day, if you’re meant to be in that world, you’ll end up in it.”

'Call me nancy'

The campaign is over, however, and by virtue of over 16 million votes, Nancy Binay is now a senator-elect. In the next few weeks, winning candidates are expected to transition from being politicians to being public servants, Nancy Binay included. “I’m still pinching myself,” she says to me. “When I think of senators, I think of Sen. Jose Diokno, I think of Sen. Lorenzo Tañada … That’s why I’m uncomfortable being called Senator.” So, she insists I call her Nancy. She only answers my questions when I call her Nancy.

There’s a disarming quality about Nancy. Her demeanor is more of a servant’s than a leader’s — she bows her head when greeted, she jokes about herself, and she has a habit of nodding when she finishes a thought — a sign that she’d rather follow a conversation than steer it. These traits have earned the chagrin of her critics — vocal citizens who, in the last few months, have questioned her intelligence, competence, and moral ascendency. But “Leaders should be listeners,” she counters. “(And) my last name is synonymous with ‘service.’”

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All Nancy has to say to her detractors is “Just watch me,” and she is ready to show them what she’s made of. In this Supreme spread, we go no-holds-barred with the Senator-Elect. We ask her about the highs and lows of her campaign, confront the allegations against her family, and take a peek at her views of the future.

Nancy has a six-year term ahead of her; six years in the Upper House, deciding matters of national importance. During the campaign, she described her stint as an assistant as being the “eyes and ears” of her parents on the ground. Time will tell whose voice she’ll be in the Senate, but like many Filipinos, we sure hope she’s ours.

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If your last name weren’t Binay, what would you be doing right now?

The same: serving my parents, being a mother.

Did you ever want to be in politics? You took up tourism in college.

Yeah, but I never really worked (in tourism). After college, my mom won as mayor of Makati and so I worked for her for three years. And then towards the end of her term, I met my husband, so I got married, had kids. And then my dad became Vice President.

I never thought of entering politics. Why not? One, I like my anonymity. It was never in my career path so until now, I’m still pinching myself.

It’s not a fun job either. It’s a thankless job because at the end of the day, even if you work hard, you’ll always have enemies, and it gets personal. I grew up in local politics, and so I know it can get nasty.

Describe nasty.

People can hit you, whether personal … you know, even if it isn’t job-related, they can make issues against you.

Let’s talk about these issues. There have been allegations of corruption.

For me, the funny thing is these allegations always come up during election time, and then after elections, they disappear again. I guess (the allegations) don’t stick because they’re not true.

There are stories about condos —

Yeah. You know, I’m still staying with my parents, with my husband and my kids, and my siblings, we stay in one house. We have one room. After I got married, we stayed in a condo unit, but it’s my husband’s family’s unit. So, the allegation that we have a unit in every condominium in Makati, since it’s not true, it doesn’t stick.

I guess that’s the advantage of growing up in politics. You get used to it, that … wala lang. You learn how to be NR — no reaction — to things that you know aren’t the truth.

Having said all that, is this the kind of world you want your kids to enter?

As a mother, I wouldn’t encourage my kids. But on the other hand, if they could help more people, why would I stop them?

The Binay last name then, is it a blessing or a curse?

Actually, it’s both. It’s a blessing and a challenge. Not a curse, because a curse — that’s too negative. A blessing because, you know, I won because of my last name. A challenge because I have to live up to a name that’s synonymous with service.

How did you end up as an assistant to your parents?

Even before that, when my dad became mayor, I was already active in youth organization in Makati. For a time, I took charge in youth organization.

So did your parents ask you to work for them or did you volunteer?

I volunteered. Never got paid. (Laughs.)

Never? Not by the city government? Not by the office of the Vice President?

No, never. I just did it because I enjoyed doing it. That’s my mantra in life; to do things because I like to, and not because I have to.

Where, then, did you find fulfillment in being an assistant to your parents?

One, what a big learning experience it was for me. And at the same time, I helped a lot of people along the way. Helping (my parents) in a way makes me help the people they help. Especially with my father; I’d go with him all over the Philippines. For example, when he’d be on stage, I’d be backstage. I get to talk to people. When we were in Antique, there was a patient with a growth, so that was my job — I’d be the one to talk to him, fix things in order to get him operated on. So it was the little things. Even if it’s just one person, the mere fact that you help another person is already a big fulfillment.

How is the Vice President as a father?

When I was growing up, my dad would always bring us all over the place. If there was a rally in Plaza Miranda, that was our weekend gimmick. I’d sing Bayan Ko. So, that was the orientation of us siblings. Every Christmas, we would visit political prisoners, like Satur Ocampo. And I remember when my dad would have a court hearing, he’d bring us and leave us with the secretary of the judge while he’d do his thing.

He was busy, so basically, it was my mom who was there most of the time. That was my apprehension with running for the Senate. It’s different when a mom is the one present (for her children). My fear is how it would affect my kids, if I’m not there for them all the time.

Did your father ever say that he wanted you to enter public service?

We were always doing public service. If you mean getting a title, there was never (that talk). Actually, he didn’t want me to run.

There’s common notion that it was your dad who asked you to run.

No, it was Cong. Toby Tiangco. Remember, Joey de Venecia backed out, so Cong. Tiangco was given the job to find a replacement. In fact, I was the third choice. The two others they approached declined.

For you, what were the highs and lows of the campaign?

There were a lot of highs, especially when I’d go to the province. The way they’d embrace me. There were times when I wanted to cry because I didn’t expect their response; they’d look at me as if I was their child; they’d hug me like they were excited to see me — despite the fact that I’m new to this.

The lows are the times I was away from my children. My daughter, who’s 10, in the first few weeks, she posted on our headboard — she wrote, “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…” and then, “Mom, Dad: Not here, not here, not here…” I felt so guilty! Because I’m a hands-on mom. With my first child, we didn’t have a maid or a yaya. That’s how hands-on I am.

Were your kids affected by the personal attacks?

No, not really. Actually, they’d defend me. Like on my Instagram, somebody posted something negative. My daughter was the one who said, “Mom, I’m gonna delete this because this is mean.” I went, “Ha? You can delete comments?” (Laughs.)

Are your kids active on social media?

No, just Instagram. My eldest is 12 and I don’t allow them.

At what age can they start?

I don’t know yet.

Let’s talk about dynasties. Are you against an anti-dynasty law?

Am I against an anti-dynasty law? Um, yeah, in a way, because why limit the choice of the voters just because of the last name? Besides, at the end of the day, everyone goes through a process, right?

But the argument against dynasties is that they’ve held power for so long, and yet the country has so much problems. Are dynasties to blame for the state of the Philippines?

I don’t think so. I guess there are bad choices in some of our leaders, but it’s not because of dynasties, because voters have the power to pick who they want, right? (What matters is we have) a clean and honest election.

How have you prepared for your time at the Senate?

On Monday, I’m starting a one-week short course at the University of the Philippines. I expect to learn about the different committees, the allocation of funds, the rules.

What is your legislative agenda?

First, kids are my priority. Bills that pertain to kids. I’m pushing for more daycare and feeding centers especially in the rural areas and in work places. Second, environmental standards for kids. Like, in the States, school bags should have a specific chemical content for the bag. We don’t have those standards for kids. That’s what I’ll push for.

What makes a good senator?

If you always think of what’s good for other people; how things affect other people and not on yourself. Like, my running for the Senate isn’t about me, it’s to be of service to our people. Some people say that I did this for the title or to prepare for my dad’s 2016 run, it’s not the case.

Speaking of your father, how independent are you from him? Are there any issues on which you disagree?

So far, none yet.

Are you prepared to disagree with him?

I guess. Yes. Actually, in fairness to my dad, like with my brother, he doesn’t insist. He just gives his opinion and suggestion, but at the end of the day, it’s my brother’s decision.

How do you see the Philippines in the near future?

I hope the economic growth has a trickle-down effect. Right now, our growth isn’t felt in the grass roots. So I hope in a few years, people will already feel whatever economic growth that we’ve achieved.

I also hope we have less OFWs. It’s sad because it’s breaking up families. There are social consequences of OFWs. So we need to create more jobs here. Right now, we lack investments in manufacturing and agriculture. We’re all service here, we need more (firms) to put up factories.

What was the last book you read?

As a full-time mom, I read what’s for kids. (Laughs.) Parenting books.

What was the last movie that moved you?

I watch more teleseryes. Now, it’s Ina, Kapatid, Anak. There’s Apoy Sa Dagat. That’s what I reach when I get home. With movies? It was No Other Woman, I think.

What music do you listen to?

Adele. 80s music. My age is showing!

Your looks, and the color for your skin, have been the center of online ridicule. What makes a beautiful woman?

For me, beauty comes from within. I’m not particular about physical appearances. That’s one thing I have to change — now, I have to fix myself up. I used to be behind-the-scenes, so I’d always be in jeans, t-shirt, and comfortable shoes. But now, since I’m a senator, there’s a look I have to maintain. But what makes a beautiful woman is attitude, more than physical appearance.

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Tweet the author @PepeDiokno.

 

 

Photos by STEVE TIRONA

Produced by DAVID MILAN

Makeup by JANINA DIZON

Hair by DONALD LAPEZ

Shot in BULB STUDIOS

Assisted by DAMIEN ALDEGUER
and LEI ANGELIQUE CRUZ

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