Aquino on the offensive
With just five weeks to go before the nation votes, President Benigno Aquino III is on the offensive, launching his strongest attack yet on the rivals of his chosen candidates.
In two different towns in Cavite on Friday, the President gave lengthy speeches urging voters not to allow the return of martial law and not to vote for quitters, references to vice presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte.
In Kawit, Mr. Aquino told a huge, excited crowd that he did not want to see the country regretting in 2022 the choice it made in 2016, and realizing it had squandered the gains of the past six years.
“If we allow the noisy (candidates) to talk, they might be able to convince the undecided. We have to speak out as well. That is the essence of democracy. We exchange points of view, right? And if we have the right message, then the people will take our side,” Mr. Aquino said.
He told the crowd that the Vice President is not a “spare tire,” emphasizing to the voters that choosing a Vice President is as important as voting for a President.
Pitching for Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo, Mr. Aquino said the administration chose a “strong candidate for Vice President” precisely because the second in command must be as outstanding as the President.
“The minute something happens to the President, we need a Vice President who is just as excellent, someone treading in the same direction, someone as smart and skilled as the President, because the responsibility to lead the country might suddenly be passed on to (the Vice President),” Mr. Aquino said.
With Senator Marcos now sharing the lead with Sen. Francis Escudero in the polls, it is likely President Aquino is stumping hard to dissuade voters from allowing the son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos to come within a heartbeat of Malacañang.
Robredo has climbed to second place in the latest Pulse Asia poll. While she is behind Escudero and Marcos by 4 percent, she is the candidate who has made the biggest leap in the polls—getting 21-percent voter support compared with the 1 percent she had before President Aquino endorsed her as the vice presidential running mate of Liberal Party (LP) presidential standard-bearer Mar Roxas.
Roxas remains in fourth place, behind Vice President Jejomar Binay, Duterte and Sen. Grace Poe.
In Carmona, where he presided over the inauguration of an elementary school building, President Aquino said that perhaps his generation experienced the dark days of martial law to allow them to “clearly see the difference between right and wrong.”
Repeating a mistake
He stressed that Filipinos should see the difference clearly to this day, with his reform-oriented administration as proof of what the Philippines could attain if its people chose the right leaders.
The President said that for him, the biggest letdown would be if Filipinos allowed themselves to repeat a mistake that would bring back the country’s old problems.
“I don’t have a wife. I don’t have children. But I have nephews and nieces. To me, failure is when each Filipino generation goes through the same problems repeatedly,” the bachelor Mr. Aquino said in Filipino, referring to martial law.
“On May 9 we all cast our votes. What is important is we study (the situation). If we like what is happening now, we will say we have to continue it. If we will be indifferent, those who would bring us back to the old ways might hit the jackpot and be elected,” he said.
“We are responsible for the changes that we want to happen. Let us use our power (to vote) and be responsible to ensure a better future for the Philippines,” he said.
In his speech in Kawit, Mr. Aquino said that as a citizen, he also has the right to examine the statements by those who aspire to succeed him in June.
“I am just asking. Tomorrow, they will say I am attacking them again. But I am a citizen, too, and I have a right to ask. Isn’t it that we have a saying in Filipino that marriage isn’t like hot rice that you can spit out if it burns your mouth?” he said.
Reply to Duterte
Mr. Aquino’s statement was a clear reply to the claim of the followers of Duterte that the administration was in “panic mode,” prompting the President to launch an offensive against the Davao City mayor.
Duterte’s camp claimed that the presidential offensive was forced by Roxas’ poor showing in the polls.
Mr. Aquino earlier criticized Duterte for saying that he would step down if he failed to wipe out criminality in six months.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said on Friday that “Duterte is long on sound bite but short on implementation other than killing every child and adult offender.”
“He [has been] mayor [of Davao] for 20 years [but] crime [remains] rampant [in the city]. How can he expect crimes to be solved in three to six months? Will he [unleash] his death squads [on the whole] country [to] spread [a] reign of terror?” Lacierda said in a statement.
In Kawit, the President expressed confidence that the Philippines has “changed a lot” since 2010.
But he questioned the mindset of people who say that with the country’s accomplishments, there is no way to go but up regardless of who wins the presidential election.
“But what if it is someone who is callous, someone who can tell a barefaced lie? What if it is someone who prevaricates? There is one who has said, ‘I will run (for President), I won’t run, I will run, I won’t run, I was forced to run. When I become your President, I will fix this problem and if I fail after six months, I will resign,’” Mr. Aquino said, referring to Duterte.
Mr. Aquino added that the presidency is like being married to the country without any prenuptial agreement.
No candidate is forced to seek the presidency because filing a certificate of candidacy is an individual decision, he said.
“When I sought your votes, I promised you that I would put this country in a much better state. That means that in six years, there will be ups and downs. It can be frustrating, but we have to be together in good times and in bad times. You don’t just let go. We have a contract,” the President said.
And when a candidate talks of resigning in the middle of his term, Mr. Aquino said, it is only reasonable to ask him to clarify if he “really wants to serve (the country) or not.”
Mr. Aquino is banking on his popularity and high trust rating in campaigning for Roxas, Robredo and the administration’s senatorial ticket, hoping it will work and the reforms he has introduced will continue. TVJ
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