Aquino bats for Roxas in Rome
ROME—In a speech to Filipino expatriates here with no mention of what his administration was doing for them, President Benigno Aquino III campaigned for Mar Roxas on Thursday, taking swings at the more popular rivals of his chosen presidential candidate in next year’s national elections.
Filipinos from Rome, Milan, Florence, Naples, Palermo and Cagliari waved small Philippine flags to welcome the President as he entered the hall at the Ergife Palace Hotel at 5:40 p.m. (12:40 a.m. Friday in Manila).
It was the second day of his three-day visit to Italy, which was capped by a private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Friday morning (Friday afternoon in Manila).
For the first time in his meetings with overseas Filipinos, the President did not speak about their sacrifices and contributions to the growth of the Philippine economy and what programs he had introduced for their benefit.
Perhaps for the first time as well, Mr. Aquino spoke openly of the likelihood of his critics getting back at him by filing complaints against him even before he stepped down from office.
“The fight [against corruption] is not yet over: When I step down from office, it is likely that those whom we made accountable for their actions would get back at me to scare all others who, like me, have the same good intentions [for the country],” Mr. Aquino said. “I am ready to face all these because it is clear to me that if I agreed to maintaining the status quo, nothing will happen to our country.”
In describing the rivals of Roxas, the presidential standard-bearer of the ruling Liberal Party, Mr. Aquino played a guessing game by not naming them.
From the candidate who is accused of corruption but promises a better life for the Filipinos to another who claimed to exceed what the current administration has done but only hopes to wake up to a new dawn, Mr. Aquino spared no one as he criticized them one by one.
He deliberately used each candidate’s slogans to allude to them, urging the Filipino community in Italy to scrutinize the list of presidential candidates.
“One of them is accused of plundering the public coffers throughout his time in office. If the allegations are true and this candidate is really a plunderer, what would be left to finance the improvement of the nation’s life that he is promising?” Mr. Aquino said.
The President was clearly referring to Vice President Jejomar Binay, and the opposition camp took it as a signal to the administration’s allies to resume the “demolition work” on Binay, who is under investigation by the Senate and by the Office of the Ombudsman for corruption.
“[T]he President’s latest jab can be interpreted as a signal to resume the demolition work on the Vice President,” said Rico Quicho, a spokesperson for Binay.
“We are bracing ourselves but we will not be deterred from talking to the people about the Vice President’s programs to address poverty, hunger and unemployment,” Quicho said in a statement.
He said it was unfortunate that President Aquino had forgotten his statement last year that Binay should be presumed innocent—“a right accorded to all individuals under the Constitution”—until found guilty by the courts.
No plan of government
“Another candidate promises to do better than we have done. If that happens, I will be the first one to applaud her,” Mr. Aquino told his audience.
“But let’s listen carefully. Not even once has she said how she will accomplish her promise. No context, no plans, only criticism and mere promises. Maybe she thinks that if she is elected, she will wake up the next day and the solutions to all the problems she has been talking about will be there,” the President said.
He was clearly referring to Sen. Grace Poe, the leader in the voter preference polls for the presidential election, but her camp said she did not feel alluded to, as she had already laid out her plan of government.
“Senator Poe is definitely not the candidate being referred to,” said Valenzuela City Mayor Rex Gatchalian, a spokesperson for Poe.
“[S]he laid out a detailed plan on where to take the country as early as [the day] she announced her candidacy,” Gatchalian said.
He said Poe had also cited the successes of the Aquino administration in the fight against official corruption and in economic development, which she intended to pursue if elected to succeed Mr. Aquino.
In Rome, Mr. Aquino drew laughter from his audience when he mentioned another rival of Roxas: “There’s another candidate who promises to kill many.”
The reference was to Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the foul-mouthed presidential candidate of PDP-Laban who was running fourth in the voter preference polls.
There was no immediate reaction from Duterte’s camp on Friday.
“Still another candidate plans to campaign on social media,” Mr. Aquino said, referring to Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who disclosed on Sunday that she topped a survey done by the Facebook site Pinoy History.
“Maybe she is not aware that you cannot build roads or feed the hungry using Facebook,” Mr. Aquino said.
Santiago declined to comment on the President’s statements.
Mr. Aquino spoke about another candidate who promises to do what is right but refuses to acknowledge his family’s past wrongdoings, a reference to Santiago’s running mate, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
“Isn’t it true that if he doesn’t say it is wrong, most likely he believes it is right? And if he believes those deeds are right, he is most likely to repeat them,” Mr. Aquino said.
Marcos, son of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos who placed the Philippines under military rule for almost 20 years, had no immediate comment.
Mr. Aquino said he trusted the people’s judgment, as they knew that running a country was not merely a race among candidates with the best campaign advertisements.
Explaining his tirade, Mr. Aquino said it would not be right to gamble the country’s gains, which he called collective achievements of the government and the Filipino people.
“We dreamed and our dreams came true. Are we going back to the past? Why should we choose those who make mere promises or those who promise to continue what we have achieved or those who look like they will deliver on their promises when we have a candidate who has been with us in working to bring our country where it is today. I believe you know who I am referring to,” Mr. Aquino said, clearly referring to Roxas.
The President said one study showed that if the Philippines sustained its economic growth for another generation, it would reach “high income status” or “First World status.”
“The question for the people in the elections: Are we going to grow or are we going back to where we started?” he said.
Mr. Aquino likened the campaign to a courtship and finding a perfect match.
He cited his parents’ love story as an example, but lamented his failure to find love, drawing laughter from his audience.
“When this happens and when the leader’s heart is in the right place, he will fight for you and he will go against anyone who makes your lives difficult because you give him the strength, because he also knows that you are behind him,” he added. With reports from Christine O. Avendaño, Marlon Ramos and Dona Z. Pazzibugan
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