Aquino looks back to six years in the Palace
“GIVE ME your shirt!”
President Aquino was taken aback by the demand.
“This shirt I am wearing?” the 56-year-old bachelor President asked the woman in Filipino.
The woman, presumably excited and giddy, the way the President narrated the story, was pointing at him and he checked whether he had anything else on his yellow campaign shirt. He had none.
“Bigay mo na sa akin yan! (Give that to me!)” Aquino recalled the woman telling him.
In the middle of that campaign sortie for his chosen candidate and mingling with supporters, Aquino tried to explain to the middle-aged woman he wasn’t wearing an undershirt and he could not possibly walk around, well, naked.
“She didn’t stop. She was saying I must have another shirt (in the car) so I should give the shirt I was wearing to her. But how could I give it to her? How could I walk without a shirt? I don’t know how we resolved it in the end but she was kind of insistent,” he said, laughing at the memory, in an exclusive interview with Inquirer editors two weeks after the elections.
Many considered the May 9 victory of the trash-talking Rodrigo Duterte a repudiation of the outgoing President’s six-year administration. Others even blamed Aquino for the rise of Duterte.
But if the people did reject Aquino, what does one make of his high trust and approval ratings and the people’s unmistakable happiness when they see him in person?
Pulse Asia’s March 2016 survey showed the outgoing President getting 52 percent approval rating and a 49 percent trust rating.
The latest figures are proof of his historically high approval ratings, despite his alleged wrongdoings and apathy, including his supposed smirk standing beside the bullet-ridden, blood-soaked tourist bus in Luneta in 2010; his imprimatur on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP); his refusal to let go of his friends in government despite public demand; his “but you’re not dead” retort to a Yolanda survivor, and the Mamasapano debacle.
Aquino said a comment that Duterte’s win was a rejection of his administration appeared to have been “crafted even before the elections.”
But he also acknowledged what seemed to be a truth about his popularity.
“Some of my supporters would say it was not transferable. Some would say that those who were supportive of me got split probably into two camps, or even three,” Aquino said, referring to his allies and supporters who went for Mar Roxas, Sen. Grace Poe, and Vice President Jejomar Binay.
The President waged a tenacious campaign for Roxas, his anointed one, working even harder than during his own bid for the presidency in 2010. He hit the campaign trail three times a week, covering at least two areas at every outing.
Although Roxas lost, the consolation was he ended up second, albeit a far second, to Duterte, overtaking Poe and Binay, the perennial top survey choices.
But the outgoing President, in the Inquirer interview, did not dwell on the setback in the elections. Instead, he focused on the heartwarming moments he had with the public, which he said made him “happy” in the final days of his six-year term.
“When I go out and people approach me and say ‘Thank you, thank you for the six years, thank you for the sacrifices… parang bawi na lahat (looks like the efforts have paid off)… It’s like, at this late stage, people would have said ‘buti na lang paalis ka na’ (good you are leaving) and all of that. In a sense it hasn’t changed from the time that we campaigned in 2010. When somebody starts to ask for a picture, everybody in the room will ask for a picture and a lot, especially the older set, saying ‘I want a selfie and then (they) say, ‘How do you operate this?’” Aquino chuckled, referring to a mobile phone.
Aquino said the people’s affection toward him, and how they showed it to him, had the Presidential Security Group (PSG) “stressed out.”
It’s not unusual for the President to end up having small cuts and bruises on his hands whenever he shook hands with the crowd. Some get really excited seeing a President before their eyes that they end up pinching him.
One time in Baguio, a woman tried to grab Aquino. In Tarlac, during a campaign sortie, a woman kissed him on the cheek as he bent down from the stage to shake her hand that his hefty security officer had to put his arm between her and the President.
In Bataan last April, the children who attended the Araw ng Kagitingan rites scrambled to shake the President’s hand.
In Pampanga, the crowd insisted on getting inside the campaign venue that they practically shoved the PSG out of their way. No one was arrested or held for questioning. Aquino had given orders to be lenient with the crowd.
While he acknowledged that his team could have done better communications job, the President emphasized his belief that any good deed should speak for itself.
One oft-repeated example from him was what his administration did when the Health Department learned of a suspected MERS-corona virus case last year, and the government took the extra mile to prevent a health crisis.
“Did the extraordinary efforts see the light of day? No, but that’s okay. To me, the thing should speak for itself. If what we are doing is right, then the people should see it,” Aquino said.
In the meantime, the President is taking his last few days in office one day at a time.
He said Yolly Yebes, his tireless longtime personal assistant, has been going to the Aquino family home on Times Street, “moving the things almost every other day.”
“The other day, I opened the cupboard (at the Bahay Pangarap official residence). I was looking for a canned good and I couldn’t find it. She must have moved it (to the Times St. residence). Even my closet… This morning I was surprised that only half of my clothes are left inside. She must have counted how many clothes would I need for the remaining days. There were barongs that I saw for the first time,” the President said, chuckling.
It seemed to Aquino that everybody at the Palace was on a “packing mode,” but on the same breath he said that they were all mandated to work for the country until the final minutes of his presidency.
The President said his niece, Nina Abellada, and his staff had printed out for him the #SalamatPNoy images that have been appearing on Facebook, where netizens have begun to thank him for his service to the Filipino people.
Singer-composer Jim Paredes also told him about the expressions of gratitude that had been going around social media.
“I asked them, how do you look for all of those? Illiterate eh,” the President said with self-deprecating humor at his lack of knowledge about how things worked in the virtual community.
Told that #SalamatPNoy sprouted soon after the result of the elections became clear, Aquino smiled knowingly and asked the Inquirer: “And the question is, why?”
Noynoy Aquino neither delved on the question, nor offered an answer. Not just yet.