FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - July 22, 2015 - 10:00am

His record at courtship was never sterling to begin with. This week, that record turned plainly pathetic.

To be fair, President Aquino’s recent attempts at courtship was strictly political. They also involved strong-willed, intelligent and powerful women: women of substance not easily swayed by flimsy chatter or pointless propositions.

After a number of dinners with survey front-runner Grace Poe, it appears the President is left empty-handed. He did not have what it takes to turn the lady.

The last (and the final) dinner meeting with Poe happened almost surreptitiously Monday night. That meeting was almost certainly a dud — or else, the Liberal Party (LP) would be painting the town red by this time.

It was a meeting, according to leaked information, that began on a sour note.

Aquino, it seems, took Poe to task for a public statement that said she did not need the President’s endorsement. The statement piqued Aquino to no end and, being what he is, spilled his sentiment on the dinner guest.

That is bad form and certainly bad diplomacy. But that is also Noynoy Aquino.

According to the grapevine, Aquino tried to entrap Poe by asking her to swear in as LP member. Poe refused the enticement. There was nothing for her to gain from doing so — and much to lose.

In a public statement last week, she said she might listen to the President’s advice but never to the LP. That should be that. 

Now it appears that after last Monday’s reportedly unpleasant dinner meeting, Poe will no longer listen to the President as well. His agenda — trying to get her to be Mar’s running mate — is dead in the water. The President will endorse Mar and Grace will run anyway.

The other attempt at courtship (all by innuendo, apparently) had Batangas Governor Vilma Santos-Recto as target. Some noises were made — and probably some gestures even. Finally, the President and the Governor actually met early this week during the inauguration of the government’s security printing plant in Malvar.

There is no report of any private discussion between Aquino and Santos-Recto, however. But the body language said it all.

With no success at getting Poe to slide down to be Mar’s running mate, it appears the President began eyeing the Batangas Governor. There must have been hints and winks. But at the end of the day, both Vilma and husband Ralph were loudly declaring the former had absolutely no plans to seek higher elective office.

If there was indeed any explicit effort to woo Vilma, it must have been badly thought out. At the very least it was disingenuous. Jejomar Binay was first to sound out Vilma for the possibility of her becoming his running mate —  to no avail.

But why is it that Aquino is spending so much presidential time trying to find a partner for Mar? Shouldn’t it be Mar’s job to do this? Is this not a process the LP, on its own, should be doing?

Aquino might be obsessing with a task that is not really his. The public, I presume, would be better impressed if Mar were acting like he is his own man and the LP behaving like a self-respecting political party.

If I were Mar, I would be offended by all the overreaching Aquino is doing and insulted that all he has been doing amounted to nothing.

Leave all the courting to people with a better record at it.


In one informal survey, the large majority of respondents say they expect to hear nothing new from the President’s SONA scheduled for delivery next Monday.

There is no ripple of expectation from the crowd, no suspense over the possible announcement of new policies or new initiatives. That is understandable.

When he campaigned for the presidency, Aquino offered a long list of promises. Nearly all of them, not the least the passage of a Freedom of Information Act, remain undelivered.

The first five Aquino SONAs were disappointing speeches. About a third of their content was wasted making unsustainable attacks on Aquino’s pet peeves. A second third were factual errors. The last third were vain efforts to praise underlings, hoping the praises will reflect back on the boss.

Those five speeches did not accumulate into a coherent vision for the nation’s future. They did not establish the urgency of one policy over the other. They did not map out a believable strategy for national salvation.

Worse, they were silent about truly imminent challenges, such as preparing for the onset of an ASEAN common market. They contained impossible targets the President’s own men tricked him into saying: most notably the idea that were going to achieve rice self-sufficiency.

Next Monday’s SONA, judging from Aquino’s own utterances the past few days, will be markedly more partisan. He will boast about the unspecified “reforms” his administration has done and ask us to support the man he chose to be his successor.

In the first five speeches, Aquino proved unable to push his speech to the summit of statesmanship from the cellar of mere PR. Perhaps the crucial distinction was never clear in his own mind.

The probability is that next Monday he will still fail to distinguish between a strategic discussion of the national condition (which is what it should be) and a campaign speech extolling a loyal albeit colorless friend (which it should never be).

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