BAGUIO CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – Despite having worked under the Arroyo administration, senatorial bet Bam Aquino denied having any knowledge about the widespread cheating during her time in power.
"The truth is I didn't know about the cheating that happened," he told Rappler on the sidelines of a Team PNoy rally here, on Sunday, March 17.
"What she did was a betrayal to all of us," he added.
Aquino was appointed by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to head the National Youth Commission (NYC) in 2001.
He served his full term and stayed in his position until 2006.
Earlier on Sunday, Toby Tiangco, Secretary General of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), released a statement questioning Aquino's participation and knowledge on the anomalies during the Arroyo administration, and his supposed continued loyalty to her by keeping his position, even after scandals on corruption and electoral fraud relating to the unpopular leader broke out.
Tiangco said the senatorial candidate was appointed by the former President to the NYC "obviously as a reward for being a youth leader in EDSA Dos," which saw the impeachment of former president Joseph Estrada and effectively put then vice president Arroyo in power.
Aquino however remained loyal to GMA even after the "Hello, Garci" scandal that exposed the massive cheating during the 2004 presidential elections, UNA's spokesman stressed.
"And now, he tries to cover up his shady political past by donning the mantle of the 'righteous path,'" Tiangco added.
He also criticized Aquino's "hypocrisy and political opportunism" and pointed out that wearing yellow, the ruling Liberal Party's color, "does not insulate anyone from any civil culpability."
"Bam Aquino did not fight against those who have undermined our democratic processes and even tolerated the culture of corruption that has kept our people poor," Tiangco said, demanding for an explanation.
The senatorial bet of the administration however, said he has nothing to hide.
"I think what Mr. Tiangco forgot to say is in February 2006, I left already when I had finished my term. Because his words and the way he speaks, it's as if I stayed with GMA for a very, very long time. We served our term there," he said.
Aquino said he left soon after the Hyatt Ten resigned, the name coined for the 8 cabinet members and two bureau heads who resigned after the "Hello Garci" scandal, which implicated Arroyo for rigging the 2004 elections in her favor. Aquino referred to the Hyatt Ten as his "mentors," and explained why he did not follow suit and leave immediately.
"I spoke to the secretaries who entered the government with me (when "Hello Garci" happened) and they said it's best I finish my term because I only had 5 months left, so I could give my successor the adequate turn over needed," he said.
"They left because they were used for corruption and they said no. NYC, in fairness, it was never used for corruption. It was a good agency, it served the youth very well, we made a lot of policies."
Aquino also said he is not ashamed of his time at NYC, even if it was under Arroyo's administration because of what he accomplished when he was there.
"I'm proud of my time there. I served the youth very well. I did a lot of projects like the youth development plan, I implemented the youth development plan in different provinces, made TAYO awards and at that time, there was not a hint of corruption in the agency," said Aquino.
He did not deny his participation in EDSA Dos, but instead emphasized he was one of many who felt cheated during Arroyo's time in power.
"It was a huge betrayal to the kids who were there in EDSA Dos. Most of the people there were young, a lot of young people came out because they wanted a clean government. At that time, Estrada was impeached and the one in exchange, it was an even worst, more corrupt government. So by 2005, there were a lot of people who entered the government but had left. By 2006 i feel like most people who entered had left," he said.
Father's ties with GMA
UNA's statement also pointed out that Aquino's father, Paul Aquino, was Arroyo’s long-time election strategist since the 2004 presidential elections and hinted he was appointed as President and CEO of the Energy Development Corporation (EDC) that same year "as a reward for his services."
The 2004 and 2007 polls, the UNA spokesman said, "were both marred by wholesale election fraud." He said it was impossible neither father nor son knew about it, considering the older Aquino's role in Arroyo's campaign.
"Was he a participant? Did he condone it, or did he look the other way?," Tiangco asked about Bam Aquino.
The younger Aquino admitted his father was a consultant to Arroyo but denied his father was favored by the former administration.
"He helped in those two elections and he was made head of EDC. At that time, EDC was privatized... again there was no hint of corruption there. There was a very clean bidding and after that, it was privatized and now one of the companies our country is most proud of," Aquino said.
The candidate insisted neither he, nor his father, knew about the cheating in the 2004 polls.
"I don't remember his particular reaction (when he found out), but myself, I felt betrayed. I'm sure he did also," he said.
"If you look at his track record, if you look at my track record, if you look at the reports at that time, you'll see there was no hint of corruption," he said. "Our track records are clean."
Because of surveys
Aquino also hit Tiangco for his "baseless accusations," and attributed the attacks to his rise in surveys.
The 35-year-old candidate scored the biggest gain in the latest Pulse Asia election survey released on March 11, jumping from 11.8% to 43.2% rating, just weeks after also being the biggest gainer in the Social Weather Stations survey.
"Of course with Toby, the more we rise in surveys, the more he remembers me. That's fine. I think he's noticing me more, but its really like that - old politics. When you're successful, the more they take you down. And when they hit you, it's baseless, they say whatever they can," said an evidently peeved Aquino.
"For Toby to say that, I don't think he's doing his research. I don't think he read about my time in government," he added.
Aquino, who has been recognized both nationally and internationally for his work with the youth, urged Tiangco to focus more on platforms and "real issues," rather than bash him.
"Let's talk about platform for the youth, jobs, help for entrepreneurs, the platforms of Team PNoy that hopes to continue reforms the government has started. This is what we should talk about. This is new politics. If he wants to keep mentioning my name, then that's fine because I'm being talked about. But I think the people want to hear about real issues," he said. - with reports from Carlos Santamaria/Rappler.com
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