If Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV were a brand of shampoo, he could sell like hot cakes—with a lot of help from the sales savvy of his wife, a marketing professional.
Mary Fatima “Timi” Gomez-Aquino, the senatorial hopeful’s wife of six months, said she packages Bam as an electoral product the same way she pitches advertisements for a detergent and a shampoo brand.
“The simpler the message, the better,” said the 29-year-old Timi, senior brand manager for Unilever. “As a marketer, what I can do to help Bam is just to remind him and to remind everyone on the team to stay on message.”
In advertising, that is to repeat the same buzzwords.
That message comes in two parts, she told INQUIRER editors and reporters on Wednesday.
“First is to embrace the Aquino legacy,” Timi said, turning animated as she spoke beside her husband Bam, first cousin of President Aquino and nephew of the late Sen. Benigno Aquino III.
“It’s true that Tito Ninoy and Tita Cory are really Bam’s inspiration and I think he has told the story many times of how at only 6 years old, he was able to experience being part of [the Edsa People Power Revolution],” Timi said.
“Imagine, if… [you get] to experience firsthand that you can oust a dictator in a peaceful way, it would seem that you can do the impossible. And I think it’s that belief and that madness that he’s carried through his life decisions, from his work in government to his work in NGOs (nongovernment organizations),” she said.
The second part, she said, involves sharing with the audience some of the successes Bam has had in working with the youth sector and microentrepreneurs, two of his most important advocacies.
“I tell people that here is a person who has been living a life of public service, not a life of politics,” Timi said.
“Once they understand his childhood, once they understand exactly what he’s done year on year since the 1980s, that’s when it clicks. And I really see the light bulbs go off over their heads,” she said. She described this as the “Aha! moment.”
The 35-year-old Bam said his wife appeared to be more comfortable talking about him than he did about himself.
“So I told her, ‘Honey, since you’re my wife, keep speaking for me. Because if you boast about your husband, that’s cute, but if I boast about myself, that’s arrogance,’” Bam said.
No. 1 proxy
Timi, who has taken a three-month leave from her job to concentrate on her husband’s campaign, often serves as his “No. 1 proxy” in provincial sorties and speaking engagements, Bam said.
For instance, last week Timi spoke on her husband’s behalf in Quezon province while he was taping a TV program for ABS-CBN.
The two met seven years ago when Bam was still the chair of the National Youth Commission while Timi was a delegate at a Japan-funded youth program. Both were in relationships at the time. A year later, they met again as singles. Sparks flew and the courtship began.
On New Year’s Day in 2012, Bam proposed inside a church; she accepted and they were married in September.
Asked about their plans to have children, the couple demurred. “That’s debatable,” said Bam.
If they have a son, will they name him Benigno Aquino V? “Baka hindi na siguro (Probably not anymore). But we’ll see, in God’s time,” he said.
Timi, whose family owns the Aristocrat restaurants, said she has her own schedule on the campaign trail, one that usually keeps her apart from her husband in order to maximize his visibility.
She said her speaking style was simply “making sure your message is communicated in a way that your audience understands.”
“We really tried to do it no frills. What you see is what you get. It is just a very honest, earnest, simple campaign and so far it’s been working for us,” said Bam, who jumped from No. 24 in the surveys to No. 6 in the span of a month.
At the helm of the whole operation are his two campaign managers, Senators Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan and Sergio Osmeña III, he said.
The campaign, he added, is not keen on doing “bongacious (outlandish)” gimmicks nor hiring celebrity endorsers, except for TV and movie star Dingdong Dantes, who volunteered to be part of his campaign team.
His other famous cousin, host and actress Kris Aquino, has offered to help but so far has not contributed funds to his campaign (unlike what she did for Aquino’s fellow Team PNoy candidate Risa Hontiveros) nor given him tips.
“Kung magbigay tatanggapin (If she gives, we’ll take it) but let’s not force her,” Bam said.
As for President Aquino, “he told me you can’t give up halfway. That’s our strategy. Just work hard,” he said. Describing his relationship with his cousin, he said: “He’s more like an older brother. He’s not my barkada (close buddy) to be frank. We’re 17 years apart.”
The first thing the younger Aquino does when introducing himself on stage is to clarify possible misconceptions about his identity.
For all that has been said about his resemblance to his uncle Ninoy, especially with his penchant for wearing eyeglasses (“I’ve worn them since Grade 6.”), people still get confused about how he is related to the President, Bam said.
Not Noynoy’s son
“In fact, there were people who said I was President Noynoy’s son out of wedlock. A grandmother in Cebu told me, ‘Bilib ako sa tatay mo (I’m impressed with your father)!’ Of course, the President furrowed his eyebrows when he heard that. So I clarified that we’re cousins, not father and son,” he said, eliciting laughs.
Bam said he also spends a great deal of time talking about his uncle, the martyred senator Ninoy “because he’s a very important part of my life and it was through him that my social consciousness grew in the 1980s.”
“Then we transition to how that consciousness continues with the work I’ve done with the youth sector and social enterprise. And how even though there are lots of gains, a lot still needs to be done,” he said.
Bam usually ends his speech by talking about his cousin, the President, and his “tuwid na daan (righteous path)” thrust of governance.
Communicate game changes
“Why? Because with the President’s good governance push now, it’s really been a game changer in our country. Sometimes it’s not communicated properly. But on my own initiative, I try to communicate this,” he said.
He said he likes to quote Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, who once remarked that the Philippines saves up to P250 billion every year due to the government’s anticorruption drive.
“That’s money that would have gone to corruption or that would have gone to corrupt officials. That is P250 billion that goes to classrooms, roads, infrastructure projects, 4Ps (cash transfer) programs, PhilHealth,” he said.
Bam said the advantage of the administration ticket was that it was running on a platform that was very clearly defined, partly explaining the team’s recent rise in the popularity surveys.
“I think it’s because we’ve successfully defined what we want to do for our country and who we are. And that’s appreciated by people,” he said.
“We want to continue and strengthen the reforms started by the administration. We want to push forward with good governance and getting more government support for the poor, and I think by defining that, and the President’s endorsement helps define it, it becomes clear to people that this is the group that makes sense,” Bam said.