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Aquino defends Kris' chopper ride: Why the criticism?

MANILA, Philippines – What’s with the criticism? 

President Benigno Aquino III defended his younger sister, actress and TV host Kris Aquino, on Thursday, April 21, amid growing criticism over her use of a presidential helicopter supposedly to attend a Liberal Party (LP) campaign sortie.

In a press briefing, he pointed out that Kris is one the biggest taxpayers in the country, and she could be the President's guest on the chopper the way big businessmen or investors are accommodated.

Photos of the presidential sister alighting what was described as “brand new Philippine Air Force Bell 412s from the 250th Presidential Airlift Wing” went viral this week, as the younger Aquino joined the President in events around the country – from inaugurations of solar power plants to LP campaign rallies. 

On Tuesday, April 19, for instance, Kris joined the President and LP candidates in Argao town, Cebu. 

“Hindi ko rin nakita kung ano 'yung pinuna nila. Tanong ko lang: siguro batid naman nang lahat na isa siya sa pinakamalaking individual taxpayer,” Aquino told the media. (I don’t see what they’re criticizing. My question: I guess all of them know that my sister is among the biggest individual taxpayers.)

Palace Spokesman Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr earlier said that “members of the President's immediate family are allowed to ride with him in official government vehicles.” 

Kris wasn’t the first guest on the presidential choppers, the President reasoned.

“Kapag kausap natin ang mga negosyante, ang turo natin, ‘May ginawa kayong ganito, may potensiyal na ganyan.’ Kung kailangang isakay ko sila doon sa helicopter, isakay ko para minsanan ma-dialogue, makita 'yung vision,” he added. 

(If we talk to investors, we say, "We did this, there’s potential there." Sometimes, I need to bring them along with me on the helicopter so we see the area and hold a dialogue at the same time.) 

Kris recently announced she would be “temporarily” leaving her television career. But mid-April, she began joining Aquino in events around the country and endorsed his anointed bets, LP standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II and running mate Leni Robredo.  

Aquino also cited “personal” reasons behind allowing her sister to tag along his trips, as he prepares to leave office in two months’ time. 

“Alam naman niyo ano, 'nung pagdating ng martial law, sino ba ang inasahan namin? Basically 'yung nanay ko, kaming magkakapatid, okay. Itong pagtahak namin na pagkatagal-tagal na Kris was [only] one year old when martial law was proclaimed, so, dumating siya, nagkamalay siya, kung kailan dapang-dapa kami bilang isang pamilya,” said Aquino. 

(When martial law came, who did my siblings and I depend on? Our mother [the late president Corazon Aquino] and each other. And in this long journey, Kris was only one yeaer old when martial law was proclaimed. She grew up during one of our family’s lowest moments.)

He added: "Gusto ko namang ipakita sa kanya: tingnan mo ang resulta na talagang nagiging makabuluhan at may saysay itong demokrasyang ipinaglaban ng mga magulang natin." (And so I wanted to show her: this is the result of the democracy our parents fought hard for.) 

The late president Aquino, the mother of the current President and Kris, was thrust into power following the EDSA Revolution. Their father, the late Senator Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr, was among the staunchest critics of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.   

“Whether as an individual taxpayer or somebody who was very close to me, who shared all of the burdens, I think it’s just but proper na i-share naman (that I share) the successes, share kami sa hirap (the hardships),” said the President.

Aquino has been actively campaigning for Roxas and Robredo, typically attending an official function before gracing an LP rally in the same province or region. 

Kris’ endorsement of the two is hoped to boost the tandem's numbers, with less than 3 weeks left in the campaign period. Neither Roxas nor Robredo have ever led in any of the major opinion polls. 

Still, Aquino said he was confident of the tandem’s chances. “Iyong pag-ikot-ikot nating ito, ang laki talaga ng nagawa sa pagtahak sa Daang Matuwid.” (In my trips around the country, It’s clear to see that a lot has happened by following the Straight Path.)

“Daang Matuwid” is the catchphrase for the Aquino administration’s good governance, transparency, and anti-corruption programs. It’s also the anchor of the LP’s 2016 campaign. 

The President also apparently took criticism against his sister personally, telling reporters: “So, 'sinama si Kris? Alam 'nyo palagay ko hindi ko nakita kung sino 'yung mga pumupuna, palagay ko same set of characters eh. Ibig sabihin no'n 'yung wala nang nakitang maganda sa ginawa ko, tuloy-tuloy pa rin sila, eh 'di thank you.”

(So, Kris was with me. I haven’t learned who’s been criticizing, but I think it’s the same set of characters. That means these are the people who have never seen anything good in what I do. They’re still at it, so thank you.”

He added: “Sila rin 'yung nagsabing ‘lame duck’ na ako, wala na akong saysay by this time. O, binabanatan pa rin nila ako, eh di may saysay ako siguro? Kaya, thank you ulit.”

(They’re the same ones who say I’m a lame duck now, that I’m of no use by now. But they’re still hitting me. I guess I’m worth something still. So, thank you again.) – Bea Cupin/Rappler.com