Aquino, Benigno III
By Chit Estella
March 8, 2010
HE was born in Manila on Feb. 8, 1960, the third child and the only boy among five siblings. Raised in a family where politics was the major business and privilege the natural consequence of wealth, he went to school at the Ateneo where he finished a degree in Economics.
Politics was not his first job, however. In 1983, he worked with the nongovernment group, the Philippine Business for Social Progress. It was the year that his father was assassinated and thus the next two years were spent with his bereaved family.
When he went back to work, it was with the private corporation Nike and then Mondragon Philippines owned by family friend, Antonio Gonzalez. His mother’s election to public office led him to find employment in one of the family’s businesses, Strata Assurance Corp. and later, Best Security Agency Corp. In 1993, he moved to the more well-known family corporation, the Central Azucarera de Tarlac, where he worked as manager and executive assistant.
Politics would finally have its turn in 1998 when he won a congressional seat for the second district of Tarlac. Eight years at the House of Representatives would be followed by two more at the Senate where he was elected in 2007.
Even though he was raised in a political family, the events that would follow his mother’s death from cancer in 2009 still caught him—and most Filipino politicians—by surprise. Overnight, he became the divided opposition’s hope for victory in the looming presidential elections. The nation’s affection for his mother—the housewife who reluctantly became president—seemed to have found another vessel in the son who, until that time, could not be seen to be harboring much ambition in politics.
To be sure, he found a natural affinity for politics: After all, he became a congressman and was already a senator. But to try to equal, much less surpass, what either of his parents had achieved was perhaps beyond his own imagination.
He was not a bombastic speaker. He had a gait that has been mercifully described as funny. He did not have the gift for the memorable sound bite. But he seemed to be an earnest and diligent lawmaker. Reporters familiar with his work habits refer to the long hours he’d spend attending to his legislative duties. His attendance in plenary sessions showed a conscientious consistency.
In the choice of committees, he gravitated toward those on civil, political and human rights, good government, entrepreneurship and development. As an indication of the clout that he carried, however, he was also in the powerful committees: appropriations, public order and security, and banks and financial intermediaries. He likewise served as deputy speaker but was removed from this position after his political organization, the Liberal Party, called for the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
In crafting legislation, his proposed bills ran the gamut of sectoral concerns such as: Senate Bill 2036 raising the penalties for non-compliance with the prescribed increases and adjustments in wage rates, Senate Bill 3121 strengthening legislative oversight on spending by the executive branch, House Bill 4251 granting annual productivity incentives to all private sector workers, and House Bill 4397 strengthening the powers of the Department of Trade and Industry to enforce consumer laws.
But he was among only four senators who voted against the controversial Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement or JPEPA. The agreement contained provisions that were criticized for allegedly compromising the country’s sovereignty and offering questionable gains for Filipino health workers wishing to work in Japan.
Although a belated player in the game of politics, he was an early witness to its vagaries. In one interview that recalled his family’s life during martial law, he recounted noticing how his youngest sister left unanswered the question of what their father did for a living. Why didn’t you put an answer, he asked her. She replied, “I don’t want to say that Daddy is a prisoner.”
For Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III, the time of political persecution is long gone. Still present and possibly ahead, however, is the task of not seeing it happen again.