Aquino: LP building consensus on 2016 candidate
SINGAPORE—President Aquino has completely ruled out running for a second term, and says his Liberal Party (LP) has reached the “consensus-building stage” in selecting a presidential candidate for 2016.
Speaking in a keynote interview with The Economist here on Tuesday night, Aquino removed any doubts about his decision to stick to his six-year term, reiterating earlier statements that he had already pushed aside plans—and supporters’ calls—for the amendment of the Constitution to allow him to run for reelection.
Aquino said he was counting the days to the end of his term on June 30, 2016, but added, “We’re not looking at it every day.”
At the time of the interview, Aquino had exactly 590 days left in office.
“If you are not looking toward reelection, then you can [make] unpopular decisions when [these] are needed. You’re focused [on finding] solutions that [directly] answer the question rather than [on] how [it will affect your numbers],” the President said.
In a television interview in August, Aquino broached the idea of seeking reelection, despite the single six-year term set for the President in the Constitution.
Aquino said in that interview that he hoped to ensure that the reforms his administration introduced in 2010 would continue and see fruition.
But later, he said he would step down at the end of his term in June 2016.
Asked whether a two-term system might also work for the Philippines as in other countries like the United States, Aquino cited the Philippines’ painful experience under martial law, which enabled strongman Ferdinand Marcos to stay in power for more than 20 years.
“Number one, well, we’re trying to move away from politics of personalities to politics of issues. We want to strengthen the party systems, that they represent specific ideologies,” Mr. Aquino said before a paying audience at The Economist’s The World in 2015 event at the Four Seasons Hotel.
He cited how Marcos, already allowed reelection under the old Constitution, remained in power even beyond the mandated term. It was President Aquino’s late mother, Corazon, who became the Philippines’ leader when a popular revolution toppled Marcos from power in 1986.
“Now, we have to go back to the historical realm. In our country, we have this saying … if you don’t look to the past, you will not get to the future. And in our past, we had a gentleman who had two terms—the maximum under that Constitution—who managed to gain another 23 years,” Mr. Aquino said.
“[T]he bottom line is there will always be somebody who will not be able to let go of their tail of the title, who thinks they’re God’s given son to this world, and will always seek ways and means to perpetuate themselves in power to the detriment of our countrymen,” he added.
The President said he was looking forward to “recharging” after he leaves the presidency.
“By our laws, I cannot work for a year, you cannot participate in an industry you regulated. We’re all looking forward to at least one year that I can ignore newspapers, TV, etc., and recharge. So afterwards, I’m not really sure,” Mr. Aquino said, recalling how his mother went into microfinance after her term ended in 1992.
He said he would remain active in the Liberal Party.
“I guess to a large degree I will still be helping the party become [a] party of ideology that has a platform that is constant and will continue,” he said.
Asked if he had anyone in mind as the ruling party’s candidate for the 2016 presidential election, Mr. Aquino said the decision was not his alone, as it should be made by the party through consensus.
He did not name any prospective candidates, and did not give a direct reply when asked if Vice President Jejomar Binay, a longtime friend of his family, was among those being considered.
Binay heads the minimally opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) and leads other prospective presidential candidates in early voter-preference polls.
Must be party member
In Manila, Senate President Franklin Drilon, LP vice chair, said on Wednesday that he preferred a party member for a presidential candidate.
“I am a party man, and I would prefer a party member. We do not lack talents in our party,” Drilon said.
The LP’s presumptive 2016 presidential standard-bearer, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, is unpopular with voters. But Drilon said he would support Roxas if the latter would express interest in running for the presidency.
Another potential administration candidate, Sen. Francis Escudero, said on Wednesday that he would rather answer questions as to whether he would run for President one year before the election.
Right now, he said, his concentration was on getting married.
Escudero will wed his fiancée, actress Heart Evangelista, on Feb. 15 next year.
In Singapore, Mr. Aquino said the LP was already in the “consensus-building state” in finding a presidential candidate.
“For our party, consensus is important. It is not acceptable that someone would speak about something that we have not agreed [upon] yet. So I am not at liberty to talk on behalf of the Liberal Party, and if I talk on an individual basis, the time is not yet right,” Mr. Aquino said in a briefing for reporters on Tuesday night.
He said was ready to “engage everybody who wants to talk to me, even those who like to give unsolicited advice.”
The President said he was looking for a candidate who could carry on reforms that his administration had begun to make sure that the changes would be sustained and that the country would not “go back to a situation where our people who have less would again lose hope.”
“So to make sure of that, it is important to have consensus, the agreement of everyone to carry one who would become the face of our platform of governance,” he said.
Mr. Aquino said his successor should have a “track record” of instituting reforms, similar to what he said his administration had been able to accomplish in the last four years.
“[P]eople who are jockeying for [the position] to replace me have kept on saying they will continue everything I do. So [whoever] manages to convince the electorate will get [the] job, and to convince [them, whoever it is must have] a track record of having done these things and battling [vested] interests,” he said in his interview with The Economist.
Asked by Filipino reporters if he was talking to UNA, Mr. Aquino said he was speaking to at least one member of the party, Vice President Binay, but quickly added that their discussions never touched politics.
“We don’t talk about politics. I’m sure he saw me somewhere, but just a little conversation like, ‘Thanks for dropping me,’” he said.
Asked to comment on the recent improvement of the administration’s public satisfaction ratings, Mr. Aquino said the people’s opinion about the government’s performance swings from time to time.
“Just like a long marriage, you can’t say that every day you will be OK with each other. Sometimes, there are also conflicts, [but these] can be fixed because you love each other,” Mr. Aquino, a bachelor, said.
“Here, you could see that no matter what other sectors might say, the people will see what’s real, right? They will see that what we’re doing is right, you don’t have to say it. They will be the ones to see and experience the changes that are happening,” Mr. Aquino said.
The latest Social Weather Stations survey showed a “good” third quarter satisfaction rating for the administration at +35, up from the “moderate” +29 in the previous quarter.
Increase infra spending
And what else does he wish to accomplish in his remaining time in office?
The President said his administration hoped to reach the target of increasing the government’s infrastructure spending to 5 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
Currently, the figure is between 3.5 percent and 4 percent. With a report from Leila B. Salaverria
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