Paolo Benigno ‘Bam’ Aquino IV.
Photos by Geremy Pintolo
More than an Aquino
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - January 10, 2019 - 12:00am

In politics, power and popularity are fickle.

One minute, everybody wants to be associated with you, your party and your third cousin. The next minute, the members of your political party are jumping ship, and even your third cousin’s third cousin has distanced himself from you.

These realities do not bother Sen. Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, who believes the public also appreciates consistency in politicians and public servants.

And neither does he think the Aquino name is a liability. In fact, there is a huge picture of the EDSA people power revolution, associated with catapulting his aunt Cory Aquino into the presidency, in the receiving room of his Senate office. In his inner sanctum is a photo of his uncle, the martyred former senator Ninoy Aquino defending himself before a military court.

Seeing how proud he is of his roots, I ask him if the Aquino name was his North Star since he was a boy — he graduated valedictorian in grade school, high school and college at the Ateneo de Manila University. He also finished Management Engineering with summa cum laude honors.

 “Yes, even until now,” Bam answers without a moment’s hesitation, pointing to the wall across his desk. “Hence, Tito Ninoy’s picture there.”

Bam by the photo of his uncle Ninoy Aquino.

*  *  *

In the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey conducted five months before the national and local elections and topped by Senators Cynthia Villar and Grace Poe, Bam was at 14th place. In the 2013 elections — the peak of his cousin Noynoy’s presidency and popularity — he placed seventh.

“These days, the easier thing to do is to keep quiet and to go with the flow. But, you know, people voted for you, people expect you to speak out for them and one of the people I look up to is, of course, my uncle. During his time of hardships and his time of being in the opposition, hindi naman siya natakot magsalita ng katotohan. In my case, whether it’s talking about taxes or talking about abuses or talking about our dealings with other countries, that North Star is always there.”

Were the people who were there for him in 2013 still with him now?

 “Yes, 95 percent are still there. In fact, the majority of the people who supported me in 2013 are back and they want to support me even more so now. Kasi kulang talaga e, kulang ‘yung independent voices right now, so the support is there, the energy is there. ‘Yung hugot ng mga tao nandiyan e. They actually want to volunteer and be part of the campaign not only for me but for other people who are independent and who want to speak for people.”

His being in No. 14 in the recent survey does not dishearten him.

“Miracles have happened many times in our country. We’re a land of miracles. We’ll see how it goes. Pero, for me, hindi ka pwedeng senador lang kapag good times e, mas kailangan ka sa mga panahon na mahirap, sa mga panahon na palagay ko at palagay ng maraming tao hindi naa-address ‘yung mga concerns ng kababayan natin. Those are the times when you are more needed. Even though it is definitely harder.”

*  *  *

But Bam is his own person even as he extols the Aquino name.

A former social entrepreneur, he continues to support Filipino entrepreneurs and the development of micro, small and medium enterprises or MSMEs.

Thanks to his first law — the Go Negosyo Act — there are over 580 Negosyo Centers across the Philippines providing training and mentorship, market linkage, and access to financing for Filipinos who wish to build a successful business.

He has also passed laws that bridge the gap between local MSMEs and access to financing and is working on the passage of the Innovative Startup Law to incentivize tech startups and social enterprises in the Philippines.

He has been hailed by some as one of the most productive and hardworking senators — now with 19 laws passed in just four years.

Just recently, a revolutionary reform principally sponsored by Bam in the Senate — the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act — was signed into law, making college education free in state universities and colleges (SUCs), local universities and colleges (LUCs), and TESDA-run tech-voc institutions (TVIs).

What he promises voters now is basically what he promised them in 2013.

“When I ran in 2013, the promise was trabaho, negosyo, edukasyon. That was the platform. I think we were able to work on all those issues.”

If there are just two laws he wants his first term in the Senate to be remembered for, it would be the Free College Act and the Go Negosyo Act. “They encapsulate trabaho, negosyo and edukasyon. That’s the promise of 2013. Kumbaga, naka-quota na po ako. Moving forward, the education space needs more reform. I always say that the Free College Act is just the first of the many reforms that we need. It’s not the be all and end all of the reforms. Now, there’s access, but what we always push is access to quality education.”

Bam and Timi Aquino tie the knot on Sept. 15, 2012 at the Chapel on the Hill near Tagaytay City. Photo by Pat Dy

*  *  *

Bam is married to the former Timi Gomez and is the father of two girls. Despite his busy schedule, Bam, the youngest of three boys, is a devoted family man.

According to his wife, who resigned as VP of marketing of Chowking effective Dec. 31 to campaign full-time for Bam, “He is always cheerful and happy to do anything for us, big and small. I especially love how attentive he is to his parents (Paul Aquino and the former Melanie Aguirre). Big things might include participating in the functions of their socio-civic organizations. Small things might include troubleshooting their  Netflix subscription himself or driving them to church. They are the people who’ve shown him what charity and courage look like.”

Bam says that growing up, his parents were the wind beneath his wings.

“My parents are also achievers in their own way. But they never really pressured me. It’s just that in our house, striving hard was valued. Doing good in school was valued.”

*  *  *

This May, voters will decide whether they still want an Aquino in the Senate — not just because he is Ninoy’s nephew, but because he is himself, Bam.

And with 19 laws under his belt, this Management Engineering summa cum laude isn’t basking in anyone’s glory or shirking from it — he’s living up to the dignity of his name, and creating one for himself, too.

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

BAM AQUINO
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