Aquino ‘Man of Steel’ for women journalists
For that, a group of women journalists gave him the “Man of Steel” award for being “tough but compassionate.”
Speaking in Filipino during the Bulong Pulungan forum in Pasay City, the President would rather talk, not of what he had done, but rather of the unsung heroes involved in a massive relief campaign to help the victims of Supertyphoon “Yolanda’’ in Eastern Visayas.
It had been a year of tragedies, starting with the killing of 13 people in an alleged police rubout in Atimonan, Quezon province.
That was followed by a stunning damage to the prized Tubbataha Reef caused by a US Navy ship in January; the revival of the Sulu Sultanate’s claim to Sabah, which damaged relations with Malaysia; a territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) in April and June; the shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman by the Coast Guard in May; the pork barrel scam, which began in July; the storm that hammered Central Luzon in August; the attack on Zamboanga City by Moro rebels in September; the destructive earthquake in Bohol province in October; and Supertyphoon Yolanda, which battered the Eastern Visayas last month.
Responding to a question, the President said his “worst day” this year came the day after Yolanda (international name: “Haiyan”) made landfall on Nov. 8 “when we got the reports exactly on the extent of the damage.”
Around 5,600 persons were reported dead in Yolanda’s wake, more than double than Aquino’s initial estimate of 2,500 fatalities.
How to rise again
“So many people were affected by this tragedy but I can tell you that it seems it’s already clear how we will rise again,” he said.
He said the huge rehabilitation effort “really has a plan and we have the capability and resources … so we could help our people get back to where they were, if not put them in a better situation.”
The government estimates the rehabilitation of devastated communities would cost P40.9 billion.
Aquino said the year had been difficult considering the calamities that came one after the other.
“But one thing we can be proud of is that your government will not be the one to tell you that it’s time to give up,” he said.
“This government put up by … the very people now showing their fighting spirit, should support this fight.”
Easing people’s pain
Aquino profusely thanked those “nameless” Filipinos “who gave everything they could to ease the pain of our people.”
Referring to the Bohol quake, the rebel siege of Zamboanga City and the typhoon that struck Visayas, the President said the three events showed a government “caring for our people, not from a silent air-conditioned room, but at the frontlines.”
He praised the rebuilding efforts of Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, and lamented: “So many of you are good at criticizing.”
“Over breakfast, lunch, dinner and sometimes even during midnight snack, they criticize you,” he said. “But I don’t think anyone could say objectively that these three secretaries—along with (Science Secretary) Mario Montejo and the rest of the Cabinet—fell short [in what they were supposed to do].”
The President did not appear anxious about his popularity ratings.
“At the end of the day, the only criteria I have is: Did I do right? And sometimes the right decision may be unpopular. Sometimes, isn’t it that, conversely, the wrong decision is immensely popular?”
The organizers of Bulong Pulungan, headed by Deedee Siytangco, former press secretary of Aquino’s late mother, Corazon Aquino, recognized the incumbent President’s performance for the year.
Aquino has been attending the news forum’s annual Christmas gathering since he assumed office in 2010.
Bulong Pulungan organizers awarded him the “Man of Steel” prize for being able to revive the country’s economy, among others, amid a very challenging year.
Asked what made him get up on his most difficult days, Aquino said he abided by his mantra, “Para sa bayan (For the country).”
On the public’s approval rating of his performance, Aquino said he believed Filipinos were “fair judges.”
“They have been a constant source of support all throughout when we had nothing,” he said.
The President was confident his numbers would rebound. “In case they do go down—but that is not the important thing—the important thing is: Will our people see me as doing that which is right?”
‘Can do’ attitude
His administration’s aim, he said, “is inclusive growth,” where the people can feel they are stakeholders in the country’s economic achievement.
With only 940 days left in office, Aquino said among the concrete achievements he wanted to see were the refurbishing of airports, the expansion of the light rail systems and the completion of the Tarlac-La Union Expressway (TPLEX) connecting the North Luzon and South Luzon expressways.
“But I think, more importantly, I really want an expression on the faces of our people, the ‘can do’ attitude, that nothing is beyond our grasp and our reach,” Aquino said.
Aquino was put on the spot on the issues of gay marriage and the ordination of women.
One journalist described Aquino as a “progressive-minded male” and a “very liberal-minded Catholic,” considering that under his watch, Congress passed the contentious Reproductive Health Law.
“So my question is: What is your thinking on the ordination of women? Are you in favor of it and are you in favor of gay marriages? I have a more serious question after you have answered this one,” Philippine Star columnist Domini Torrevillas said.
Visibly reluctant, Mr. Aquino said he was “hesitant to answer either question,” especially the one on gay marriage.
“Can I avoid answering the second part?” he asked, recalling a comment he once made, “which I think was appropriate (but) I made a mortal enemy of somebody because of that comment.”
Pressed on the issue of gay marriage, he said: “I stated before that … one side of me says human rights are supposed to be universal.”
“On the other hand, I can’t help … it’s like if we go into gay marriages, then of course, the next step will be adoption and I don’t know if… I still have to look at it from the child’s perspective,” he added.
“Is that something that is desirable in an environment for a child? … That particular comment got me into the crosshairs of an individual who, up to this day, hates me for saying it.”
On whether he was in favor of women being ordained priests, Mr. Aquino begged off, saying he was not “qualified” to give his position on the matter.
“But suffice it to say, I’ve seen a lot of nuns who became leaders of their parishes and who really made the Kingdom of God more apparent by their activities and their presence, than some of those more titled individuals,” he said.
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