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MANILA, Philippines - Bam Aquino, the younger cousin of President Benigno Aquino III, plans to run for senator in the 2013 elections.
Bam -- whose second name is also Benigno -- has been shortlisted as one of the senatorial candidates of the ruling Liberal Party.
It all started 6 months ago when the senatorial hopeful says he started toying with the idea, but seriously considered it after he was encouraged by Sen Kiko Pangilinan and Gawad Kalinga head Tony Meloto.
He said he then asked his family, friends and fiancée for their opinions and ultimately decided to run, after which he talked to the President.
"He was very open to it," Bam said of his cousin's reaction. "He did say, 'This life is difficult. But if you're decided about serving then why not?' But he also did say there is a process that has to be undergone," he added in a mix of English and Filipino.
Bam said he has gotten the Aquino family's "full support" and intends to run to give the Senate "young blood" and "new ideas."
If Bam makes it to the final senatorial list of the Liberal Party, he will be the youngest candidate at 35, the minimum age required to run for senator.
He was only 8 years old when the People Power Revolution in 1986 ousted President Ferdinand Marcos and put his aunt, President Corazon Aquino, into power.
The Aquino name
Bam's decision to run has been met with backlash from critics.
According to leftist group Anakbayan, Bam Aquino's planned Senate run reflects "KKK-driven, traditional, dynastic politics prevailing under current government." The group also said Bam's decision to pursue office is an attempt to regain Hacienda Luisita.
Bam denied the accusation saying he does not have any financial stake in the land that belongs to the Cojuangcos -- the family of the President's mother -- and not the Aquinos.
The former head of the National Youth Commission (NYC) added that the Aquinos have had no such history of banding together for a vested interest and have even been known to argue with each other when it comes to politics.
Bam's foray into politics follows a long line of Aquinos who have served in public office.
He is the son of Paul Aquino, youngest brother of the martyred Benigno Aquino "Ninoy" Aquino Jr, who Bam says "prefers to be in the background." Bam also follows in the footsteps of his aunts and uncles, former senators Tessie Aquino-Oreta and Agapito "Butz" Aquino and former Tarlac Rep Hermie Aquino, as well as the President's mother, the late President Corazon Aquino.
Kris, the President's 41-year-old sister, also plans to run for office in 2016, at the end of her brother's term.
His biggest asset however could be his very own 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.
Bam admitted his father will play a role in his campaign for senator, in the event that he runs.
"He's an adviser," Bam told Rappler in a text message. "The team being formed is composed of young leaders and young professionals that have worked with me in NYC and in social enterprise."
Critics have slammed Bam for the timing of his decision, accusing him of using the Aquino name and his cousin's presidency to strengthen his bid.
Bam said being an Aquino will help his chance, but argued that his family name could hurt as much as help his chances.
"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.
Aquino's ratings have dropped slightly two years into his presidency, but he still enjoys widespread popularity. Most agree that his two terms have been good so far but still need improvement.
He has yet to comment on his cousin's senatorial bid.
One of the biggest criticisms facing Bam is his supposed lack of experience.
Over the past 6 years, Bam has spent his time in social enterprise, building Hapinoy, a a full-service micro entrepreneur enhancement program which focuses on helping and training owners of sari-sari stores across the country.
Bam argued however that his work with Hapinoy and the poor have given him adequate experience to become senator, and that he could contribute something different to the Senate especially at his young age.
"We definitely want to see different types of individuals in the Senate," he said, pointing out "that it's open to different types of jobs and different ages" for a reason.
Bam defended his optimism saying it was part of what he could uniquely offer, or, he admitted himself, perhaps is borne of "naiveté."
While he acknowledged that the Philippines has not had a youth vote in the past and that Filipinos typically vote according to their socio-economic status rather than their age, he insisted that it does not mean the youth vote does not or will not exist.
Perhaps what the youth needs and has been waiting for, he said, is a common candidate to support.
Senator Pangilinan, who Bam credits for helping him decide to run, echoed the senatorial hopeful on Twitter.
"Bam's having been a youth and student leader is a big plus... 90% of voters are below 50," he posted Monday, July 2. "We need youthful leaders in the Senate who will represent the next generation of Filipinos who hunger for progress and genuine change." - Rappler.com
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