P-Noy: Presidency changed me

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – After six years, President Aquino believes he is a changed man.

He said the six years of being leader of the country and the enormity of the job had changed him.

“I think I’ve grown as a person,” Aquino told Rappler in a live interview yesterday.

“My mother used to say that the one thing I lacked was my willingness to travel, (to be) exposed to a lot of different cultures... that was such a necessary skill to live with this new age where the world is getting smaller and smaller, but somehow I felt more content in the Philippines,” Aquino said.

“So here I am, I have to suddenly deal with a lot of leaders. I have to understand where they are coming from in an effort to find common ground so we can move forward,” he added.

Aquino told Rappler’s Maria Ressa that other world leaders did not pay much attention to him in the beginning and would only talk to him because they had to.

One of them, according to Aquino, even gave him a soft key sermon when they first met. But after the transformation of the country four or five years later, Aquino said this world leader, whom he refused to name, invited him to his country for a visit.

“Where I used to hear people say it’s such an honor to serve the people, now that I had to face so many challenges and all along... I can always count on the people to fully support what I had to do really make me feel in a very palpable manner what it means when you say it’s really an honor to serve,” he said.

Aquino also noted he was happy to have led a Philippines that had gained credibility, specifically in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“Now we have ASEAN listening to us and trusting us that we will stand by our words on the issues that affect us,” he said.

In the same interview, Aquino said he still believes most Filipinos did not reject his Daang Matuwid slogan even as his anointed successor lost in the elections.

“I disagree,” Aquino told Ressa, who asked him how he handled the “anger of the people,” particularly in social media, which she described as “very organized.”

Aquino, who is 22 days away from relinquishing his post in his fixed six-year term, reminded her that not all accounts of netizens are real – meaning they may have been bogus or spurious to begin with, considering there is no way of authenticating their real identity.

At the same time, Aquino also pointed out those who have been direct beneficiaries of government programs like the conditional cash transfer for the poorest of the poor, who show their gratitude to his administration “instantly.”

Aquino cited the 42 percent popularity votes he garnered in the May 2010 polls, compared to the 52 percent net satisfaction ratings he got at this late stage in his presidency, where he beat all his predecessors in terms of popularity.

Aquino though refused to acknowledge that president-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s overwhelming victory over administration bet Manuel Roxas II could be interpreted to mean the people had enough of him and his preferred successor.

He tried to disassociate himself from “Imperial Manila.”

“I’d like to think I’m not actually a Manila-based politician. I did start out from our province (Tarlac). To a certain degree, I have a bias towards the provinces rather than Metro Manila,” Aquino told the editors of the New York-based Wall Street Journal.

Aquino though credited Duterte’s campaign as being one that is so simple yet far-reaching.

“Again, we have to credit their campaign. The brand differentiation was very pronounced. Perhaps it captured the imagination of the majority of our people,” he said.

Nevertheless, Aquino said he is still in the process of “trying to discern” the lessons he learned in his administration, which the former CNN reporter asked.

He insisted the victory of Liberal Party candidate and now vice president-elect Leni Robredo should not be ignored.

Aquino did the same for Roxas, who unfortunately lost in the polls but who, he pointed out, hurdled the presidential race quite significantly, having placed fourth in pre-election surveys to second in the final and official count.

He then trumpeted the gains his administration achieved in terms of the local economy, most especially in the fight against poverty.

“I think we are breaking that vicious cycle (poverty).”  

There is also no place in the country where he is afraid to visit, for the simple reason that he did not neglect them.

Aquino said he would bequeath the presidency to his successor proud of what he has achieved – that he exceeded people’s expectations and that it was more than enough.

“It’s more of how does this translate to individuals? I’d like to think that this is a stepping stone towards the next level, that there was a hindrance to everything we did. We eliminated the problems and it’s up to you to nurture it now,” he said.

In his many other exit interviews, Aquino said he would let legacy take care of itself when it came to his presidency.

Aquino promised to keep his mouth shut for at least a year to give Duterte ample time to improve the robust economy he will be leaving behind.

He revealed his plan of voluntary silence during an interview last March 20 with the Wall Street Journal.

“I think I’m violating my self-imposed rule that I will keep my mouth quiet at least for a year because I’d like to afford him that which wasn’t afforded to me – where I was nitpicked and criticized even before I stepped into office,” he said.

Aquino issued the remarks when asked what “friendly advice” he has for the first 100 days of Duterte.

Aquino said he expects Duterte to tread the straight path he had initiated.           

“Hopefully, he will do all of the right things that makes it easy for people to support him. And so as long as we are marching in the sense in that direction of really uplifting the lot of our people, why should there be any basis for conflict or disagreement?” he asked.  – With Delon Porcalla




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