IN a few days we will have a new President … someone who looks like an opposite in many ways of the outgoing leader we have had in the last six years.
I am writing this piece to share with you the little I know of the man who took up the challenge of seeking the presidency in 2009 by public clamor but was much pilloried and called so many obnoxious names after he was voted into office, winning the May 10, 2010 elections with a little over 15 million votes and defeating former President Joseph Estrada and seven other candidates.
I happen to know Noynoy Aquino before he became President. What he has become after winning the presidency is something I cannot pretend to know more than what I read in the news and from the accounts of people who have stayed close to him.
I covered the presidency of his mother, Cory Aquino, for five years. I was barely starting out a career in journalism at that time as a junior reporter of a government-controlled newspaper publication company. But I could remember only once being face to face with Noynoy, a private citizen and presidential son, in those five tumultuous years marked by seven unsuccessful power grab by rightwing soldiers. Two of those coup attempts—Aug. 28, 1987 and Dec. 1, 1989—were bloody.
I knew very little about the son that Cory Aquino loved to describe as her favorite. He is the only one, that’s why there could be no other who could be jealous. I didn’t know him even after writing about his near-death experience when rebellious soldiers ambushed his convoy on J.P. Laurel Street on his way home to nearby Arlegui Street, where the presidential family stayed.
It was long after his mother left Malacañang when I came to know Noynoy Aquino. That was several months after he was elected congressman of Tarlac in 1998. I was then assigned to cover the House of Representatives. When he learned that I covered his mother’s presidency, we had more things to talk about than the stories and events happening at the House.
He became friends with other reporters covering the House but was closer to my group, some members of which also covered the Cory Aquino presidency at one time or another.
He was friendly but some other reporters considered him selective. He was not one who would greet or banter with just anybody he did not know. But there were instances when he had become at ease with familiar faces, whose names he did not know or could not remember.
Noynoy Aquino loved to tell stories, engage in banter, and tease other people. But he is sometimes supersensitive (pikon) at jokes, and quick-tempered at criticisms, particularly when the criticisms have little or no basis at all.
I also considered him a farmer because he holds a grudge against friends who he thinks have betrayed him or spoke behind his back. I remember him avoiding someone who once described him as self-centered, something he took too personal. On rare times, when he would join us at lunch or coffee tete-a-tetes, he would check first that this person was not around before he would show up, or he would come late when the person had left, or would make sure there were enough people to talk with to avoid direct conversation with the person he wanted to avoid.
As a friend, I could say that he would go the extra mile to be there to help. When I fell victim to a robbery known as “ipit-taxi” in 2003, he was one of those that my best friend Weng Orejana texted to warn against texts or calls from the robbers who took away my mobile phones and other personal belongings for other crimes like extortion.
Once Noynoy received the text, he called me at home and suggested that I report to the nearest police precinct. I said I was too scared to get out of the house because the robbers could still be around to do more harm.
In less than an hour, two police cars were outside our gate and an officer was knocking at our door. A police major said the chief of the Quezon City police district sent them to check on a robbery case. I was hesitant to let the police officers in until Noynoy Aquino came with his two escorts.
As soon as they got in, he handed me one of his mobile phones that I could use. He convinced me to report the crime to the police officers.
He was like a “kuya” (elder brother) who somehow calmed me. I would not forget that because he was in Pampanga that time when he received the text from Weng, and he must be too tired after a daylong practice and competition in target-shooting. I think he topped the competition that was why he was in good spirits when he came.
When he was a senator, he took time and traveled far to our humble home in Bulacan just to attend the wake for my mother in 2008 and condoled with the family.
His presence there, however, became a problem after he was elected President because relatives and neighbors thought they could get access to jobs and financial assistance from government through our friendship. I had to explain that opportunism is never part of the friendship that I keep with anyone else. I know I have disappointed some, but many understood me on this principle that I value.
While a distance in our friendship has obviously grown over the last six years, I believe that he is still the same Noynoy Aquino that I knew before 2010: simple, compassionate, dedicated to his job, and committed to help others. But then, he is still “pikon” but never a retard or “abnoy” that those who only know him from the criticisms in media call him.
How can someone who has been hailed by the international community, praised by global news media organizations, and respected by foreign leaders and diplomats be a “retard” or “abnoy,” as those who had lost the perks and privileges they used to enjoy before he came, called him?
With two of every three adult Filipinos (66 percent) satisfied with the performance of Noynoy Aquino as President of the Philippines, and only one of five were dissatisfied, based on surveys conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS), I guess he did well, contrary to what his critics say.
According to SWS head Mahar Mangahas, Aquino’s 66 average gross satisfaction rating over his six-year presidency had surpassed those who led before him: Cory Aquino, 56 percent; Fidel Ramos, 59 percent; Joseph Estrada, 58 percent; and Gloria Arroyo, 37 percent.
With such a feat, I could only kneel in prayer that those who would lead the country after Noynoy Aquino would be a “retard” or “abnoy” of his kind.
The Noynoy Aquino I knew was far from the person portrayed in media, particularly by those who were identified with Presidents before him. He is far from perfect as a person and as a President, and I don’t agree with many of his policies and actions as President, but what the heck, he did wonders to the economy and the country before the international community.