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MANILA, Philippines – Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV, at 36, is the second youngest senatorial hopeful in 2013. He has more than his youth, however, as – in his own words – “both a blessing and a curse” in his first ever electoral bid.
There is also the fact that he is the President’s cousin, with minimal experience in government, and – we should add – accommodated in the Liberal slate just shortly after he was sworn in as party member, dislodging stalwarts and early aspirants in the process.
Or, as his critics imply, he is inexperienced, and will just toe the President’s line all the time.
Aquino isn't worried about his young age. In fact, he thinks this is exactly what will set him apart in the polls.
He is running to give the Senate “young blood” and “new ideas.”
“We definitely want to see different types of individuals in the Senate,” he told Rappler in a previous interview. The Senate, he pointed out, is “open to different types of jobs and different ages” for a reason.
Lack of experience?
He’s not exactly a newbie in government and in working at the grassroots, if these two are requisites for public office.
In 2001, President Gloria Arroyo, fresh from Edsa 2 that ousted Joseph Estrada, appointed him as commissioner of the National Youth Commission. It was the year his father, political strategist Paul Aquino, managed the campaign of Arroyo’s senatorial slate.
Bam later became chairman of the NYC and left the commission in 2006.
In 2007, he co-founded Microventures, Inc., a social enterprise that supports micro-financing institutions to provide business development opportunities for the poor.
One of its programs, Hapinoy, is an award-winning, full-service micro-entrepreneur enhancement program that aims to help and train sari-sari store owners in the Philippines. The program has since earned Aquino worldwide acclaim.
In 2010, Aquino received the Ten Outstanding Young Men award, followed by the World Economic Forum’s Asian Social Entrepreneur of 2011 award the year after. In September, he was among those named as Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World (TOYP), an annual search by the Junior Chamber International (JCI) -- his most prestigious recognition yet.
Aquino was also a television host in the past.
He has argued that his work with Hapinoy and the poor have given him adequate experience needed to become senator, and that he could contribute something different to the Senate especially at his young age.
He knows he’s being optimistic, and it’s part of what he could uniquely offer. Or, he admitted, this is perhaps borne of "naiveté."
Another criticisim often hurled at Bam is his Aquino name, and his alleged use of his cousin's presidency to strengthen his bid.
According to the leftist group Anakbayan, Bam's Senate run reflects "KKK-driven, traditional, dynastic politics prevailing under current government."
But Bam said his last name is both a blessing and a curse.
"Definitely it's good timing that the President is my cousin. Anyone will say that's a plus, but at the same time he has his critics so the people who are his critics will be my critics as well," he said.
Bam insisted, however, that when it comes to convictions and beliefs, he would be willing to stand up to his own, and even criticize the President on specific issues.
"It's a hypothetical question. I don't know what I will criticize him on. But definitely, I think, our stance will be our own stance," he said.
"Obviously there will be times when we might not agree on things, but at this point, the reforms that he's done are things that we want to push through."
A family of senators
The most famous politician related to him – by affinity – would be the late former President Corazon Corazon Aquino, wife of his paternal uncle and mother of the current President. Bam was only 8 years old when Cory, whose snap election campaign was managed by his father, became president via Edsa People Power Revolution.
But his Aquino lineage has produced 5 senators before him. His paternal grandfathher, Benigno Sr, was elected senator in 1928. Benigno Sr’s children themselves got elected to the Senate at different times: Benigno Jr (Cory’s husband) in 1968; Agapito in 1986; and Teresita in 1998. Benigno Jr’s son, Benigno III, was elected senator in 2007 but cut short his term when he was elected president in 2010.
During his cousin’s presidential campaign, Bam headed Yo! NOY, the Youth for Noy Organization.
For Bam’s own campaign, he has the support of his family, his cousin the President, and more importantly in a highly factionalized administration, the President’s sisters who reportedly hold the strongest sway.
His father, who served as the campaign strategist for President Cory Aquino, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and the late Speaker Ramon Mitra Jr who lost a presidential bid in 1992, will serve as an adviser in Bam's campaign.
Bam ranked 17th in the Social Weather Stations survey on voter preference in December, with a rating of 28%. That represents an improvement from a rating of 24% in August.
Aquino said he hopes to eventually be voted for his own platforms and what he is fighting for, rather than his relation to the President. Among his priorities are jobs and youth, he said, specifically the improvement of the government's conditional cash transfer or Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program.
He has 5 months to prove to voters that he is his own man. – Rappler.com
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