A year after stepping down from office, former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III proves that life after the presidency remains interesting, fun and most important, meaningful.
It’s apparent that Aquino doesn’t miss the trappings of Malacañang or Bahay Pangarap.
The media interviews he’s had the past two weeks—marking the end of a one-year, self-imposed silence, in deference to his successor—were held in the new house built on the Aquino family’s old and storied Times Street address in Quezon City.
Snacks and home-cooked dinner were served us. Aquino showed off Apollo, his German Shepherd, to other journalists. He gave Inquirer a sampling of his much talked-about eclectic—and awesome—contemporary music collection after the roundtable talk.
He’s settled well in this house that is a far cry from the imposing feel of the Palace. He lives alone with his trusted kasambahay staff.
Clever use of the doors that separate the social area from the private space, and practical lighting, turn the otherwise formal house, fit for a former head of state, into a warm and cheery place, homey enough for a 57-year-old bachelor who enjoys regular visits by his family, and a few times, by friends and former staff.
The portraits of his parents, democracy icons Ninoy and Cory Aquino, remind guests of two things: the Aquinos’ love for family and this family’s fidelity to the country. Former President Cory Aquino’s paintings are the only artworks that adorn the living and dining rooms, apart from the couple’s portraits.
Citizen Noy once again lives at a time when dramatic changes are taking place right before his eyes.
He expressed concern over the long-term effects on the families orphaned by victims of extrajudicial killing (EJK). He remains hopeful that the Philippines’ victory in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) will be useful and important to all claimants in the South China Sea.
After a year of self-imposed silence, Aquino says he’s still committed to the singular promise he made to the people when he took his oath as President: “Kayo ang boss ko.”
Now that one year has passed, you wouldn’t hold back from speaking out?
I really want to be able to say that any time I say something, I’d like to be constructive. If it’s criticism, I really have to make sure it is constructive criticism.
At the end of the day, we really want to make sure that we help in getting our country to achieve the dreams we have—progressive, stable, prosperous.
And if it is not necessary, I am so averse to conflict. It seems difficult to imagine situations where concentration on conflict will ever be productive.
When you were still President, you said you were going to fight if pushed to the wall. Do you find any reason now to speak out?
I was invited to Singapore (in July last year) and before I accepted, I made it clear to them that I speak for myself, and Cesar Purisima (Aquino’s Finance Secretary) was with me and I told him that when he is asked, make it clear that we don’t speak for anybody. We don’t have a mandate to do so.
Now, I’ve always been trained, especially by my mother, to be a consensus-builder. And obviously, I am very allergic to being dictatorial in any manner, shape and form whatsoever.
In this past year, among the things that I have been asking myself is, is there a part of me to play in the current regime?
And I think I’ll have to, somehow, at that reflective period, the times when I did so, I kept going back to the line I said before, “Kayo ang mga boss ko.” And what are my bosses telling me? Are they telling me anything for that matter? And how do I actually help my bosses?
I learned about (this) in Psychology class (in college). There was a tenement building that had a lot of residents and its courtyard there was somebody being raped. She was screaming, asking for help, which brought out the residents of that whole tenement complex.
All of them saw the rape, according to our Psychology professor, but nobody helped. And we were all wondering, why didn’t anybody help?
The teacher said, the findings in psychology was that if you were the only one witnessing the rape, you would have felt compelled to intervene.
Your sense of responsibility would have been overwhelming. If you’re two, somehow the responsibility gets divided into two. If you are a thousand, it has to be a thousand until it becomes not as strong a motivating force.
So, what am I trying to say here?
In our six years, we are trying to demonstrate if you run the country this way, we empower everybody, invest in our future. We don’t mouth slogans. We actually have a program of work of how to get from point A to point B.
But you have that and you have the current dispensation where there is a very, very strong central ruler. In a democratic state, you determine where do we go. It’s the majority deciding for everybody. And as an ordinary citizen of this country, I will do my part and if it is clear there is need to do more, then perhaps I would feel compelled to do so.
But at this point, I don’t know if people have made their decision which is the better system for us. If I may quote the late Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew, and I have to paraphrase—that the Asian mind is more geared to a parochial, patriarchal system. And one of my mentors, my mother, said, “I don’t agree.”
You had our governance and you had all of the freedoms. I guess Rey (Marfil, Aquino’s former Communications Undersecretary) will say, “There is intense freedom of speech”—not only as a principle but practiced sometimes abusively. And now, it is unusually a bit more quiet.
But I am looking to my bosses. I will not impose what I want or what I believe is right. But at the same time, after we have a consensus, I will help them. I will join them.
What are you hearing from your “bosses” right now?
It is kind of mixed. Parang, siyempre, it starts out with people I don’t know. Puwede po ba mag-picture?
Picture tayo. Then the almost universal, “We miss you.” To sometimes, a lot of times, “You are still our President.” And then, this has happened quite recently, somebody said, “Go back to Malacañang.” And to be honest,
tumawa lang ako.
But last year you warned against a benevolent dictatorship?
Mahirap eh. Sasabihin ng other side, wala namang perfect system. ’Yung, ’di ba, Lee Kwan Yew was supposed to be the model for benevolence. But they had to go the opposite of their policies. ’Yung population explosion, ngayon incentives to have bigger families. ’Yung ruling out even eating chewing gum, to now encouraging bungee jumping. To draw an entrepreneurial class. Sana we learn from all of those lessons.
Basta ang difficulty ko lang kasi, even when I was in office, hindi ’yung, I think I can count on one hand the times that I said, “Gentlemen, I am the President I have decided.” I think our Neda (National Economic and Development Authority) board meetings, our Cabinet meetings, were legendary for the length of time it took to conclude it, dahil hinahabol mo ang consensus.
Pero, ’yun na nga, at the end of the day, may consensus kayo, I accept all your inputs, I have decided. Bihira ’yung, again, baka two or three times that I raised my hand and said, “Teka paikot-ikot na ang argument na ito, hindi na tayo magkaroon ng consensus. Thank you for all your inputs, I have made up my mind. I’ve decided.” ’Pag may humirit, “Teka, can I remind you, I am President? I have decided.”
You think some Filipinos, in the end, prefer a strongman? Meaning, a dictator?
Parang may nagsasabi rin na ’wag ka nagsasalita ng patapos.
Marcos lorded over us from 1972 to 1986. They set up all the mechanisms to perpetually keep themselves in power. ’Yung everybody who thought about it probably felt they (Marcoses) would not give up themselves willingly. We’ll have a bloody revolution. And we had Edsa.
Siguro the major thing is, all of us have a responsibility as to where this country goes. If you adopt an attitude that this is somebody else’s problem and somebody will solve these things for us, and somebody will take care of all of us, then we don’t grow and we’ll never really get to where we want to go.
I guess this is one more instance where you have decided and you address the results of this decision. Now, the next time you hope to be more mature politically and you decide better.
What did you think of that picture, of that night, when everybody was seated at one table? It was the birthday of Erap.
’Pag-aawayin niyo naman kami ng husto. (Chuckles). But they do have a right to associate with whom they want so long as the person is not wanted. (Chuckles). The bill of rights actually enshrined it. Since you don’t have all the facts, you also couldn’t say that the declaration of martial law in Mindanao was warranted or not?
Again, I have been looking exactly what does that mean. And I asked for guidelines as from the orders that would say what can be done and what is being done. And the thing is, I get this one-page thing. It is a repetition of the constitutional provisions.
The main difference is with that [Department of National Defense memo] and the adherence to that is they are more professional. Tapos, in keeping with this [memo], make sure that what was recovered in Edsa, ’yung bond between our security sector and our citizens is maintained.
Are you sure the Mamasapano case won’t be filed against you?
Ang masasabi ko lang, nag-file sila, harapin ko. Meron din akong mga karapatan at kung niyurakan nila ang karapatan ko, may time din naman na sila ang sasagot. Palagay ko alam nila na hindi ako nag-apply maging punching bag
How often does it cross your mind? Going to prison?
Hindi naman every minute of every day. Pero that’s the reality. That reminded me of my dad’s situation. The short description is, the impossible dream.
Lahat ng judges diyan appointed by the person who accused you. ’Yung prosecutor appointed again by the same person. ’Yung defense (lawyer) mo became somebody who was appointed (by Marcos). All of them can be removed not just from this trial but from the service and be retired if they displease your principal accuser, who, after everything is said and done, is also the final reviewing authority. Tapos, kung gan’un, yes under this system, we will get justice? Kalokohan ’yun. Eh ang problema, ’pag nangyari na, parang nangyari na it proves that it is not hypothetical.
It can happen if we fail to safeguard our rights.
How do you strengthen your faith?
Pinalaki ako na gawin mo ang lahat ng magagawa mo, tapos isa-Diyos ang natitira. Dasal mo na lang.
I have a father confessor who said the Christian faith is very simple. There are two things at its core: One is, there is a God that loves us. Second, since He loves us, He has the perfect plan for all of us. Does it always become perfect? Depende. Nakinig ka ba, hindi ka nakinig, close ka ba, open ka ba? Pinanindigan mo ba ang faith dimension mo at its most trying?
Siyempre, hindi naman ako nag-aambisyon na gayahin si Job.
Do you consider Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo or the Marcoses your biggest political enemy?
Para sa akin, hindi personal eh. Medyo malalim na discussion. Parang there is a school of thought [that says] there are people who are attracted to beliefs opposite ours. I think it is the simplest way to say it.
That is just fostered by people who have an advantage, or are taking advantage, by saying all of these issues are a fight between two families.
Do you think yellow is still relevant?
Yes. Especially with the text messages I received Friday (when the Ombudsman case was filed) who reiterated it. I’d like to think that those in the yellow adhere to the belief na, sige turuan niyo kami mangisda, huwag niyo lang kami bigyan ng isda. May kabutihan sa lahat ng tao, bigyan mo lang ng pagkakataon… Na may patutunguhan ang matino, mabait, may takot sa Diyos.
They say it is the yellow that divided the nation, that today’s opposition does not have to be yellow. That’s why nauso ang black.
Divided us? In a democracy you have many different colors. My dad said something, I am sure it wasn’t his, but I first heard it from him: “There is a thesis, there is its antithesis, and in the dialogue between the two you will get the synthesis, which normally is better than either of the two.”
Those who adhere to democratic principles will say you have the right to oppose what I am saying. You might even improve on the things that I want to do. And, sana, you are also open, you can also profit from listening to me. Pero I don’t know, simplistic ang view that we fostered [divide].
One of the items I saw in my very first Sona (State of the Nation Address), one of the broadcast companies got someone to critique my Sona. And one of the things that the lady said, besides the technical, was, “Sino ba ang mga nagkamali dito?” Alam na raw ng mga tao, hindi ko na raw kailangang ulitin. I even had some classmates that adhered to that propaganda line.
Sabi ko lang, simpleng-simple lang naman ito. Nasaan ba tayo para makarating sa pupuntahan natin? Bakit tayo nandito? San ba tayo nanggaling? Siguraduhin natin na ang dinatnan natin, wala ng paraan para maulit pa.
Ngayon, ang unang magsasabing kalimutan na natin ang lumipas, ’yung mga gusto na makinabang na hindi na maaala ang kasalanan ko rito at rehabilitated na.
So, lahat ng nagsabi, ngayon puwede ko na sabihin, pero dati tanggap lang ako ng tanggap, ngayon sabihin ko na sa inyo na nagsabing huwag tingnan ang lumipas: Sinisigurado ko sa inyo, uulitin na naman ang mga pagkakamaling ’yun. Kaya huwag kayo lilingon sa akin at sabihing nagkulang ako sa paalala.
Do you feel what’s happening now is an affront to your parents’ legacy?
In the last job I had, you couldn’t take things personally. You have to remain in control, objective, and you have to be able to face anybody, but most importantly, siguro, yourself when you go to the mirror and then you do right by everybody.
Even to those that say we persecuted them, none of them can say we did not give them their rights and due process.
What are your top three favorite things to do as Citizen Noy?
I am able to mix with a lot of people. The major change is, before, everybody that I talked to a lot of times, parang may time limit. Parang kakarating mo lang, iniisip mo na pagkatapos nito, ’yung gagawin bukas.
Ngayon, quality time with a lot of people that I really didn’t have time to chew the fat with.
’Yung books. The job entailed so much reading. The funny thing was, I found myself at night, ’yung one of the last things I do before going to bed was to read for entertainment naman.
Sometimes mahirap matapos ang books. So, magazines. Marami on military history. It will give you an idea of the cultural situation there, the economic, the political, height of technology in, parang Time or Newsweek format. Ten to 15 pages, malaki na.
So, ngayon, I can go back to my books, and lahat ng things that I have always been curious about. May time na ngayon na hindi ka nagi-guilty na anong oras ba bukas? Bitin ka ba sa tulog nito?
Na-discover ko ang Netflix and Iflix. Noong umpisa, lahat ng DVDs na naipon ko over the years. At saka Blu-Ray. Hindi ako nanonood ng TV per se. Eh itong dumating ang Netflix and Iflix, okay ito. Ang tendency ko, hindi ko pinapalitan ang menu. Eto, ngayon, nagustuhan ko ’yung “Blue Bloods.” Bago no’n, “Arrow.”
Napanood ko “Designated Survivor.” Tapos parang na-rekindle ang memories. Of course, I didn’t have to make as many hard decisions as he did. Pero pinaalala sa akin na marami rin akong hard decisions na ginawa. Wala talagang perfect answer all the time.
Bago rin ang “Shooter.” ’Yung “Three Muskeeters,” nakakaaliw din ’yun. BBC yata ’yun.
Do you watch “Game of Thrones”?
Nasimulan ko, pero hanggang season two lang yata.
When do you watch, at night?
Ngayon jobless pa, so throughout the day. (Chuckles)
That’s the first thing people ask, how is he? How has he been doing?
I will tell you I entertain myself, kasi in between d’un, babalik ka… (For example) Cynthia Villar lumabas sa garlic cartel. So, napag-isip ka, naalala mo ’yung time na, gan’un nga, medyo, ’yung garlic cartel. How do you actually break it? Can we really grow our own na competitive in the world?
’Pag pinabayaan mo, magsasanga-sanga ng… protect the farmers into it or pabayaan natin sa may mga comparative advantage, mag-concentrate tayo sa kaya natin?
Pumasok na naman ang rice importation. Parang naalala mo na nasaan na ba ang direct farm subsidies, imbes sa presyo na may pagka-indirect?
Sa Guiuan, nagre-raise ng abalone. Nadale ng “Yolanda.” Nakabawi na kaya? Nag-umpisa na ba tayo? Raising it for two years, parang ang ganda raw for export. Parang sa Mexico, gan’un kalalaking abalone.
Observe ka lang ng observe every day, and you ask, parang assessment, ano ba tayo as a people? What sets us apart? ’Yun na nga, patriarchal. ’Yung (my) friends said, “You treated us like adults and we behaved like children.” D’un pa ba talaga tayo?
How many books do you finish a week?
Parang 10. (Asks JC Casimiro, his executive assistant, to count.)
One of the first things I did was to go to National Book Store, which is a big store. My mom used to send all my nephews and nieces after lunch to go to National Book Store. So, pumunta ako. Noon, the second floor was filled with books, whatever topics.
Parang apat or limang genre (in one shelf), tapos hindi pa puno. Tapos parang tatlo lang for the entire floor. Tapos, puro games and comics. I must have talked aloud, “Aba wala na palang mga libro dito.” Sumagot ’yung nagtitinda: “Oo nga, sir, wala na.”
Sa Fully Booked, baka naman bad time na nagpunta ako. ’Yung Fully Booked, inabutan ko na ganyan, tapos meron pang nakapatong. Isiksik kung saan puwedeng ilagay ang mga libro. N’ung nakabalik ako, hiniga na ganyan, may puwang pa.
So, kaibigan ko mga may-ari, ka-batch ko ’yung isa. Sabi sa akin, “Kung may gusto ka puwede naming i-order.” Gan’un na ba talaga ngayon? Kasi part of the (fun) is the browsing. Wala na ’yun.
Tapos ito, may opportunity to sort my music, parang to put into all the playlist.
(Casimiro returns to the dining area and informs Aquino that he counted 72 books on one of the racks where the former President puts all the books he has finished reading. Casimiro tells Aquino there are still more books in his room.)
Do you read the news every day?
Do you read the Inquirer?
Normally, ’yun. At saka ngayon mas studious, end to end. Minsan pati Sports.
You don’t read Lifestyle?
Basta may food (article).
Do you miss the trappings, the crowd? Because you are alone.
Parang ’yung time [when he was President], katakot-takot na negosasyon. That was the (kind of) life, so I don’t miss that. ’Yung I finish all the work in the office. Go to all the meetings. And you cannot choose.
It got to a point, the worst was several weeks. Pati weekend kinuha. And then, on the third and fourth week, medyo blanko ka na what happened when, what are they expecting in the subsequent days. Wala ng gaps. Wala ng bookmarks, and I had to put my foot down and say, parang for the most part, Saturday was mine. Saturday, sacrosanct. Pabayaan mo ako mag-shooting.
So, from the hectic schedule to being alone in this house, do you…
Do I miss that? Not really.
You can cope with being alone?
Oo. ’Yung dati kasi, iniisip mo, ano kaya ang accelerated wear na ginagawa ko sa sarili ko?
Do you feel lonely living alone?
Baka noon. Ngayon adjusted na. There were things that would trigger some emotional response. Something in a movie you are watching, a thought you read in a book that triggered that particular memory. Maraming introspection.
Before you had Coke Zero for a love life. So now, you don’t have excuses. Do you have time for your love life?
We have a lot of time. ’Yun lang ang what we have. (Laughs)
Have you dated since you left the palace?
Baka naman get to meet. Hindi naman ’yung kami lang ’yung lumabas. A couple of occasions.
Thelma Sioson San Juan, Lifestyle editor: Yes na ilagay diyan.
How many women?
San Juan: Too many to count.
Actually, parang two lang yata. (Laughs)
And what are the prospects?
I got new friends. (Laughter)
Sa China ginanyan ako, kaya lumabas ang Coke Zero na ’yan eh. Akala ko sa China hindi uso ang ganyang tanong eh. Tapos pinaliwanag sa akin n’ung host, ’yung parang Oprah Winfrey of China: “But of course, they will be interested like I am. That is human interest! We are all interested!”
Do you feel you’re looking forward still to getting married, or finding a partner?
Ako nagiging practical and realistic. Three years to go to 60. You get a child a year after that. Do you graduate college 20 years after that? 81 years old… Magba-basketball kayo n’ung nasa 70 ka. Makikibagay ka. Kaya mo pa ba mag-give and take? Or masyado ka ng set in your ways?
(Aquino mentioned that in their family’s history, the men had experiences of being incarcerated, from his great-grandfather Servillano Aquino, grandfather Benigno Aquino Sr. and father Benigno Aquino Jr.)
My dad, sa Bonifacio. Sana ako, sa The Fort na lang (chuckles). Kung wala ng susunod sa akin na generation… eh ’di broken tradition na na hindi gan’un ka-nice.
Parang curse? Ano ’yun, Kennedy?
Hindi naman ako nakulong, pero parang one, two, three… (referring to his father and grandfathers).
Do these things weigh on your mind when you are about to commit to a girl?
Ah hindi, hindi. I ask my friends, the people you know I trust, how do you know if it’s the right person? O ’di siyempre lahat sila sinabi, “You’ll know.” Hindi, kaya nga, how do you know? You’ll know. Paano nga ’yun? “You’ll know nga eh.”
So, kung nandiyan, thank you. As opposed to, ’pag gising mo, one day closer to finding her. Ang best siguro na description is finding that person you cannot live without. Parang gan’un.
Wala pa ’yun?
Eh n’ung araw nga, babangon ka maski wala. Ito natapos itong araw na ito, one step closer. Eh sa dami ng steps, medyo pati ’yung sa… ’yung 10,000 steps, baka mahirapan na ’yun.
Have your standards changed for a lifetime partner, for a wife?
Baka ngayon mas defined.
Ano na ngayon, sir? What are you looking for?
Madalas ko na sinagot yan, huwag na lang. You’ll know. (Chuckles)
Are your sisters still at it?
Hindi naman. Pero I mentioned to one of them, pinalaki kami na, sa school, bawal ang sumusuko. Minsan sinabi ko na, alam mo, pag hindi ko pa nakuha yan, I think 56, at nag-57 na ako, baka naman puwedeng hindi na priority yan? Kasi parang ang default eh, sumuko ka. Bawal ’yun.
Pero, at the same time, sabi ko, hindi ba tama na ’yun? Parang puwedeng magkaroon ng source of frustration? Babalik ka na naman sa, “He has the perfect plan for you.” So, thank you na lang kung kelan darating ’yun.
How about Kris [Aquino]?
’Pag hindi niya ako tinatawagan, baka happy sa buhay. Minus strain, thank you. (Chuckles)
What was the most memorable gift given to you as president?
Meron akong shooting ring na may nagpalagay ng Seal of the President. The belt, the holster, the pouches. In the buckle, may seal. Maraming memories na tini-trigger ’yan sa Games of the Generals. Maraming pinanalo ito, ah.