Benigno Aquino III

Days before death, Aquino offered to help Liberal Party’s 2022 campaign

Mara Cepeda
Days before death, Aquino offered to help Liberal Party’s 2022 campaign

The late president Benigno Aquino lll during the Partido Liberal National Executive Council Meeting in Quezon City on September 25, 2018.

Rappler

‘Just advise me if you need assistance,’ the late Noynoy Aquino tells a Liberal Party official two days before his death

After the end of his term in 2016, it was rare for the late former president Benigno Noynoy Aquino III to go out in public, let alone criticize the governance of the man who succeeded him.

Yet Aquino intended to have another ride with the Liberals, the party now struggling months before the 2022 elections. Aquino on Tuesday, June 22, two days before he died, offered to help the Liberal Party (LP) in the high-stakes polls that would elect President Rodrigo Duterte’s successor.

This was shared to Rappler by former Ifugao representative Teddy Baguilat Jr., who is in charge of the LP’s recruitment activities as the party’s vice president for internal affairs.

Aquino’s active campaigning would have helped reinvigorate LP members, many of whom have been demoralized in the wake of the embarrassing loss of the LP-led Otso Diretso senatorial slate in the 2019 midterm polls. As one of the old guards in the party, Aquino is a respected figure in the LP.

Baguilat said the late former president would have influenced members on the ground to continue fighting despite Duterte’s attacks against the opposition.

“Kasi ‘yung last text niya was Tuesday morning, kasi regularly I update him with what’s happening in the party, pag-organize namin ng chapters. So ‘yung last text niya, sabi niya, ‘Just advise me if you need assistance,’” Baguilat said in a chance interview at the Ateneo de Manila University on Friday, June 25.

(His last text was Tuesday morning, June 22, because I regularly update him with what’s happening in the party, with organizing our chapters. So in his last text, he told me, Just advise me if you need assistance.)

Senator Kiko Pangilinan, LP president, earlier said the party – which is 75 years old this year – only has around 5,000 members now, from a high of around 7,300 in 2016. They are aiming to recruit 75,000 new members ahead of the 2022 elections.

The LP is dwarfed by Duterte’s PDP-Laban, which, according to PDP-Laban executive director Ron Munsayac, has about 100,000 members nationwide.

Days before death, Aquino offered to help Liberal Party’s 2022 campaign

Baguilat spoke to Rappler outside of the Church of the Gesù at the Ateneo campus, Aquino’s alma mater and where the public was given a chance to pay him their last respects.

Aquino, 61, died peacefully in his sleep on Thursday, June 24, after battling various illnesses for two years. His official cause of death was renal disease secondary to diabetes. 

He was laid to rest at the Manila Memorial Park on Saturday, June 26, beside his parents, democracy icons former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and former president Corazon “Cory” Aquino.

Days before death, Aquino offered to help Liberal Party’s 2022 campaign

Aquino had stepped back from party activities when Pangilinan took over as LP’s president. The former chief executive, however, helped campaign for the Otso Diretso slate in Cebu, the country’s most vote-rich province, in 2019.

After that, said Baguilat, the late president stopped being active in LP’s affairs again. 

Aquino’s absence from the party disappointed several LP members, especially those who stayed with the party despite the persistent attacks from the administration of Aquino’s successor.

“Kasi napansin ko over the past few years, after the Otso Diretso campaign, hindi na siya active. May mga hugot sa party. So that was my job, to you know, to try to bring him in again, especially nga kung ano man ‘yung balak nina Ma’am Leni, mga candidates namin,” said Baguilat, referring to Vice President Leni Robredo.

(I noticed that in the past few years, after the Otso Diretso campaign, he was no longer active. There was disappointment within the party. So that was my job, to you know, to try to bring him in again, especially to help with whatever the plans are of Ma’am Leni and our candidates.)

Aquino was the first president from the LP in almost 50 years, since the presidency of Diosdado Macapagal from 1961 to 1965. In the party’s 75-year history, Aquino was the fourth Philippine president produced by the LP.

After six years of glory during Aquino’s presidency, the party is once again battling for relevance in a political landscape dominated by Duterte’s allies.

Robredo, the country’s opposition leader and LP’s chair, is still mulling over a possible presidential bid. But Baguilat and the rest of the LP have been going on overdrive to recruit more members to help build a campaign machinery for her. 

Pangilinan already said LP is now reaching out to senators Panfilo Lacson, Joel Villanueva, and Nancy Binay as well as Manila Mayor Isko Moreno to build a united coalition for the 2022 polls

‘Aquino magic’ for 2022?

Baguilat is hoping Aquino’s death would “galvanize” LP and encourage other Filipinos to join them for the 2022 elections. 

Several members of the opposition are now hoping the the death of another Aquino would put the fire back into the opposition. It was the death in 2009 of Noynoy’s mother Cory which propelled him to the presidency in the 2010 elections. 

Days before death, Aquino offered to help Liberal Party’s 2022 campaign

Baguilat said the biggest challenge for LP now is counter the black propaganda against Aquino that has been festering since Duterte rose to power. 

“His death definitely evokes some emotions or passion doon sa base natin. And now, ang pinaka-importante lang is just to emphasis ‘yung positives of the PNoy administration,” Baguilat said. (His death definitely evokes some emotions or passion in our base. And now, the most important thing to do is to emphasis the positives of the PNoy administration.)

“Because whether we like it or not, ‘yun nga, na-demonize kasi ang dilawan, na-demonize ang Liberal. Ang narrative is wala siyang na-achieve. So hopefully now, with all the attention on PNoy’s legacy, makatulong kami to really set the record straight as to what he was able to achieve in the previous administration,” he added. 

(Because whether we like it or not, the yellows, the Liberals were demonized. The prevailing narrative is that his administration did not achieve anything. So hopefully now, with all the attention on PNoy’s legacy, this would help really set the record straight as to what he was able to achieve in the previous administration.)

LP once was the biggest party in the Philippines during the Aquino presidency. But, as is the case after every election, party members jumped ship to PDP-Laban after Duterte’s victory in the 2016 elections. 

Since then, “dilawan” – referring to the yellow color of LP – has become a derogatory term used by Duterte’s supporters to describe critics of the President and his policies. 

In the 2019 midterm elections , only 18 LP lawmakers were elected in the House while all the senatorial bets of the LP-led Otso Diretso coalition lost.

It remains to be seen if the so-called “Aquino magic” would still be potent come the 2022 elections. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.