Bam Aquino: I can serve Philippines better as senatorBy Erika Sauler
Philippine Daily Inquirer
He helped turn some of the ubiquitous sari-sari stores into solar power stations, and domestic remittance and photo printing centers by providing support and access to microfinance. He used to run a training center for out-of-school youths and served as chair of the National Youth Commission.
This experience in social enterprise and the youth sector is what Paulo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, first cousin of President Benigno Aquino, is citing as he seeks a Senate seat in the 2013 elections.
“You might think it naïve, but by being in the Senate, I can help push for these issues further and make these part of the national discussion,” Bam said in a recent meeting with Philippine Daily Inquirer editors and reporters when asked in jest whether he would be better off where he was now in his crusade than in the company of “lolongs,” or crocodiles, in the upper house.
In his advocacy, the 35-year-old, who has never run for a barangay (village) seat or any public office, said the name of the game was “coordination.”
Bam said the primary issue today was finding jobs for young people. He proposed to address this by looking at education and employment as a process, a continuum, which should be closely coordinated by schools, industries and concerned agencies.
He cofounded MicroVentures Inc. in 2006, a social enterprise company that provides microfinancing to small businesses. MicroVentures manages the Hapinoy Store, a program that aims to empower variety store owners, which received the 2011 UN Project Inspire award.
Bam, son of Paul Aquino and nephew of the late opposition leader Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., has announced he wants to run under the ruling Liberal Party (LP), which has yet to announce its Senate slate in the 2013 elections.
No, the President did not encourage him to enter politics, he said. He was talked into it by Senator Francis Pangilinan and Tony Meloto of Gawad Kalinga.
Political dynasty issue
Critics were quick to slam his candidacy, accusing the Aquinos and Cojuangcos of building a dynasty to protect their interest in the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac province.
“I expect that in the first few months, that’s what people would be asking. But I think it’s hard to pinpoint dynasties to the Aquinos. It’s not like one position is being passed on to a wife or son in a locality. Because when we talk about dynasties, it’s usually because they also own the business there and they are protecting their interests,” Bam said.
“The Aquinos have no holdings there and I am for distributing Luisita,” he said.
Ninoy Aquino was a potential President before he was assassinated in 1983. His wife, Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, was catapulted into power after the 1986 Edsa Revolution. Their son is the current President. Agapito “Butz” Aquino and Tessie Aquino-Oreta were former senators.
Bam said he had something to offer—different from what the other Aquinos in the Senate espoused—as a youth leader and social entrepreneur. “What we are really aligned to is wanting what’s best for the country. No BS,” he said.
“Aquinos only become President when there’s a crisis,” he said when asked if he was eyeing the presidency. “And I don’t want another crisis to happen in our country.”
Bam articulated his positions on various issues and answered questions directly.
No to Charter change
On the proposed lifting of economic restrictions in the Constitution: “I don’t think we should have Charter change. We are just experiencing some level of stability now. We don’t want to jeopardize that by having a potentially disruptive process.”
On the reproductive health (RH) bill: “I am for RH bill not because I see it as the answer to our development problems but because I believe couples should be able to decide on family planning on their own.”
Will the LP bankroll his campaign? “Honestly, we haven’t talked about that.”
Is Kris Aquino going to enter politics, too? “Kris is not planning to run for any position.”
Will you sing and dance during the campaign? “I will lose votes if I do.”
Bam graduated summa cum laude with a degree in management engineering from Ateneo de Manila University. He has received various awards, such as Young Global Leader and Asian Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the World Economic Forum and as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines.
He was chairman of the National Youth Commission under the Arroyo administration, during which he met Timi Gomez whom he will marry on September 15 in Tagaytay City.
“In a sense, it’s politically motivated because we decided to get married before the campaign,” Bam said in jest. “We want to do it together, not for political gains but for marital gains.”
According to Bam, all national issues are youth issues—employment, health, environment and even agriculture.
His work with Hapinoy was his proof that poverty alleviation through social enterprise could be done, he said, adding that he would continue to be involved in the program whatever the outcome of his Senate bid might be.
Bam said his biggest obstacle in his election bid was, “I am a new face,” which he quickly corrected to “I am a newcomer,” when his uncanny resemblance to his uncle Ninoy Aquino was pointed out. He even portrayed Ninoy in the documentary “The Last Journey of Ninoy.”
Told that he was too young and there might be more talented and innovative possible candidates who should be fielded, he replied, “Then by all means, let talented and innovative people engage in politics.”
The problem is these people do not have an Aquino name to piggyback on, or the resources or influence of a party in power. There’s an antidynasty provision in the Constitution to address this problem. But efforts to pass an enabling law have never gone beyond first base, as it were.