Aquino: Part of me wants to stay on as President

Aquino: Part of me wants to stay on as President
Philippines' President Benigno Aquino.
PHOTO: Reuters

He's leaving so much unfinished business that it sometimes crossed his mind to stay beyond his term should the Constitution allow it, President Benigno Aquino III admitted on Friday, saying some government projects would bear fruit only after he stepped down from office.

"There's a small side that wants to say I want to inaugurate the SLEX-NLEX connectors," Mr. Aquino told journalists in a forum. "I want to ride the MRT with more trains, (with) the 14th (car) coming in (soon). (I want) to make sure that the CCT (Conditional Cash Transfer) programme really produces the results (expected)… It's like, there are so many things that will be left almost done," the President said.

But aside from the legal aspect, President Aquino said the "human cost" also had to be considered.

He could only imagine the look on the faces of his sisters, nephews and nieces at the thought that he'd stay on as President for another six years, Mr. Aquino said.

The "true measure of success is to be able to train your successor," the President said, expressing hope that his chosen one-Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Mar Roxas-would succeed him in Malacañang.

One "shouldn't stay, or shouldn't hope to stay forever and ever," he added.

Less jaded, less cynical

"There will always be somebody who will be, I guess, fresher, more energetic, less jaded, less cynical (who) can infect so many others to get us to a higher level," President Aquino said in Friday's Bulong Pulungan forum and Christmas party at the Sofitel Hotel in Pasay City, the last time Mr. Aquino would be attending as the country's President.

The forum, composed of veteran journalists who covered martial law and President Cory Aquino's presidency, had given Mr. Aquino recognition every year since 2010 for his work as President.

This year, Bulong Pulungan gave the President the "Most Outstanding Exemplar Award," for turning the country's economy around in six years and earning for the country such distinctions as "Asia's Rising Tiger" and "Asia's Bright Spot," among others.

Asked about the recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey that indicated how the majority of voters would likely reject the candidate he endorses in the 2016 presidential elections, the President pointed out how candidates were seeking his endorsement.

Effect of endorsement

"I think that is in itself testimony that there is value to that endorsement, right? If it has no value, why bring attention to it?" Mr. Aquino said.

The privately commissioned SWS survey, conducted from Nov. 26 to 28, showed that President Aquino got a -6 net effect of endorsement (percentage of those who will probably vote for the candidate minus those who will probably vote against him/her).

In Metro Manila, the impact of the President's endorsement was a huge -26 per cent.

The survey also showed that presidential aspirant Mar Roxas made a significant jump (in voters' preference rating) after being endorsed by Mr. Aquino in August, although the LP standard-bearer continued to lag behind front-runners, Sen. Grace Poe, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, and Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Asked if he would be a fiscalizer, critic or would stay out of politics after his term, the President said he was not one to offer unsolicited advice like his mother.

"Again, like any citizen, if called upon to help, why shouldn't we? But as much as possible, I will pray for (my) successor to really build upon the successes that we've had, so we can go from strength to strength," he added.

More optimistic

After six years in office, Mr. Aquino said he was more "optimistic now of what this country and our people can do and that we can do it rather quicker than what was imagined."

To critics who called out his administration for underspending and failing to build the infrastructure needed by a developing country, the President said his administration had to fix so many things in the system as a result of the "lost decade" under his predecessor, that it was only in 2012 when it became ready to map out its development projects.

"Perhaps this is a classic question of half empty over half full," Mr. Aquino added.

As expected, the President was asked about his marriage plans, especially now when, with only some 200 days left in office, "a future fiancee need not bear the burden of (being) a President's wife."

"Do I have plans? I've always had plans. Perhaps when I have more time, now that I'm able to go to St. Jude a lot more often, it might help," the President said, drawing laughter from his audience.

A church dedicated to St. Jude, considered the patron saint of hopeless causes, is just a stone's throw away from Malacañang.

'Bora experience'

After his term, the President said the place he'd like to visit most is Boracay, the white sand beach in Panay that has often been included on the list of best beaches in the world.

He had been to Boracay, the President said, but it was only for about 40 minutes when he inaugurated the Caticlan airport. He did not even see the beach, he said of his "Bora experience."

"One of the best pictures my mother ever had was really being at peace (while) walking at the beach in Bora," President Aquino explained.

The President confessed to having "a lot of mixed feelings" about staying on in office, saying it was hard to ask his staff, who had often expressed their wish to go back to their normal lives "to continue sacrificing."

"If (I were) to do so, I'd like to think it will be in performance of duty," Mr. Aquino said. "But at the same time, there really has to be that focus, (the thought) that entering something should carry with it the plan of leaving and having the next generation ready to take over," the President said, adding that he would readily relinquish the presidency to whoever gets elected as his successor.

"I guess the best leader especially in democratic countries is one who has the ability to keep listening and acting on the wants and needs of his bosses -the electorate who put him in office. I guess in essence that will be it: Don't lose your ability to be able to really listen so that you can best serve your masters: the Filipino people," the President said.

In his speech at the forum founded shortly after the restoration of democracy in 1986, President Aquino thanked the journalist-members of the group for standing by his administration "in encouraging our people to view things in a more positive, more inspiring light."

"This much is true: All of us here witnessed the dark days of Martial Law, and went through the lost decade under my predecessor. You saw for yourselves the sacrifices our countrymen had to undertake, as well as the suffering that in one way or another left a negative imprint on our national consciousness. But you have also seen firsthand the meaningful change that has taken place within our shores these past five years-a change that has truly transformed the mindset of our people from being apathetic, to being participative and sometimes unreasonably demanding," he said.

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