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Saturday, Sep 13, 2014

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Aquino on successor: I hope it’s not me

Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN | Saturday, Sep 13, 2014

President Aquino.

See, he is not sure that he will not run.

President Benigno Aquino III again dropped hints on Friday that he may not be retiring after his term by saying he hoped he would not be the Liberal Party's presidential candidate in 2016. He dropped the fresh hint in a speech at the "Agenda Setting Dialogue" he had with top leaders of the ruling party, political allies and supporters from the private sector and civil society groups in Malacañang.

In his speech, the President clearly drew the line between those who were for reform and his "tuwid na daan" (straight path) policy and those who opposed his administration's initiatives, which he insisted had helped many Filipinos.

Absent from the event dominated by the President's LP allies was Vice President Jejomar Binay, who has declared he will run for the presidency in 2016. Binay, a close friend of the President's family, has always declared his devotion to Mr. Aquino's late mother, former President Corazon Aquino.

'Purposely not invited'

The Inquirer learned that Binay was "purposely not invited" to the dialogue. Curiously, Binay's daughter, Makati City Rep. Abigail Binay, was there.

A source, who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak to reporters, said those who were invited to the Palace were the ones whom President Aquino "considered his allies for reforms."

The source, however, could not explain how and why Representative Binay was invited but her father shut out of the first pre-2016 political event led by the President himself. Mr. Aquino reiterated in his speech that sounded like a State of the Nation Address to Congress, that the reforms implemented by his administration should go beyond 2016, when he hands over the government to a new leader.

"I know that the 2016 elections are already on the minds of some. Indeed, the time will soon come when the straight path will choose a new candidate. I hope it isn't me," the President said, drawing laughter from his audience at the Rizal Hall.

"Of course, with that time, those who oppose us will push for their own candidate. And to those who are not with us today because their principles are inherently opposed to ours: Is it not also natural for them to oppose everything that we have already done?" he said in Filipino.

Citizen Aquino

In an interview on Bombo Radyo two weeks ago, Mr. Aquino appeared to have ended talk about whether he would seek a term extension when he mentioned what he planned to do on July 1, 2016.

He said he would have a good meal with his executive assistant, Asssistant Secretary Jun Delantar, and good friend, Communications Undersecretary Rey Marfil. Written on their backs, the President said, would be "kalayaan" (freedom).

On Friday, as he rallied his allies to spread news "of the positive results of the straight path" so as these would not be drowned in the noise of current political controversies, Mr. Aquino also said that he still gets told, even through text messages, that "it is my duty to look for who will replace me, and to train him for the responsibility. That it is my duty to help further everything we've begun."

Not 'who' but 'all of us'

The President stressed that in living a life where he is "called to rise to challenges, none of my decisions stem from personal interest."

"My first priority has always been what will be good for all, and not just for now, but also for the benefit of future generations of Filipinos. And it thus also becomes clearer that if this is what motivates us, then our continued triumphs cannot rely on just one person or group," he said.

"And so, to those who have asked me about who will be tasked to carry on: Maybe we are asking the wrong question. Maybe it is not a matter of finding 'who'-because there is no better answer to that question than 'all of us,'" the President said.

"Our mission is to further our reforms, so our Bosses can see that the sole path to realizing our dreams is the righteousness. Let us work even harder; let us not be content with what we have already achieved; let us make sure that our gains are secured, and that we can even improve on them, and make them richer," he said.

"There are even those who say that the surest way to secure the straight and righteous path is if I myself continue leading the country. I cannot disregard the suggestions of open-minded people, of people who have sincerest intentions to help their fellow man," the President said.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, LP president on leave and Binay's political nemesis, introduced Mr. Aquino before the President delivered his speech.

Presumptive candidate

Roxas is the presumptive standard-bearer of the LP in 2016 but the President did not make any direct reference to him when he spoke about the need to continue his administration's gains and reforms.

The only time Mr. Aquino mentioned Roxas was when he credited the home affairs chief for his contribution to the crime solving system of the Philippine National Police (PNP). Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., LP vice chair, thanked the congressmen who came to the event.

Safeguard reforms

"This is an opportunity for all of us to see what is the [state] of our country within the next, the remaining years and for us to understand, to work together, and solve and succeed in our endeavours," Belmonte said.

Senate President Franklin Drilon, also a party vice chair, said that everybody's "mission now for the next two years is to safeguard the reforms, which the President has painstakingly put in place, so that neither force nor certain personalities can reverse these even beyond 2016."

"We will make sure that the next leadership will continue these reforms so that their fruits will be enjoyed by this generation and the generation yet unborn," Drilon said. The Inquirer learned that the district representatives and senators were invited to the event via text messages and calls from Malacañang.

One source, who received a text invitation, said the attendees were unaware of what they could do, specifically that they could ask the President questions about his or the government's agenda.

"But I think it was an intimate way of addressing what still needs to be done in the remaining days of his administration. He wants to see to it that the reforms are continued," the source said. Because the event came as a surprise to those who were invited, none of them were able to ask the President a question when Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya, LP acting president, opened the floor for the dialogue.

After a few awkward seconds, Abaya closed the event.

Achievements

In his speech, Mr. Aquino said that what his administration has done, which his critics oppose, include the 4 million households assisted by the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps); the growing expansion of PhilHealth; the 6.2 million graduates of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda); the 2.5 million Filipinos who have crossed the poverty line; the more than 12,000 kilometers of roads that have been built or rehabilitated; the modern equipment and attention the government has given to the uniformed forces; and lasting peace in the Bangsamoro.

"They oppose each and every one of the things we have strived and worked for in order to uplift the lives of Filipinos," Mr. Aquino said.

"And should they say that they are in agreement with our efforts, and that they too have the goal of serving our bosses [the people], then I will ask them: Why are you not with us? If you are in agreement with our work, why do you choose to oppose the things we are fighting for, as opposed to working with us, and contributing to the positive transformation of society?" he said.

Four major problems

Mr. Aquino also ticked off four major problems that his administration was dealing with:

The power crisis, by asking Congress to give the executive authority to contract additional generation capacity.

The Manila port congestion, by closely coordinating with the local governments and imposing a tighter implementation of the steps that would decongest the ports. Traffic congestion, by building more roads and solving the MRT problems that have greatly affected commuters.

Peace and order, by arresting high-profile suspects and immediately responding to crimes.

The President described those who came to the event as those who have "indeed dedicated our entire careers to reform."

And they are, he said, "colleagues in the executive branch, allies in the Congress, including members of the responsible opposition, party mates, coalition-mates and partners in civil society." Mr. Aquino said all of them "are bound together not by personalities, not by the colour of the vests we wear in the campaign, not by slogans but by principles."

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