Shooting the breeze with P-Noy

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes ( Updated July 28, 2010 12:00 AM

I met President Noy a few times when he was still a candidate and I must admit I was not an instant convert. The first few times I saw him live and on TV, I was not impressed by the way he talked. Maybe his lack of flare somehow got in the way of his message.

But as the campaign progressed, I saw the fire light up in him and I became more and more convinced that he was the one. It was almost as if a new facet of his personality was awakening and intensifying. While other candidates were burning out, he was in conflagration. He became bolder in his assertions and clearer in his vision. He was transforming into the leader that I, with millions of other Filipinos, felt the country needed.

On July 14, in the aftermath of the storm Basyang, I sat with him at the Cory room beside his office in the Guest House in Malacañang. It was the third week of his presidency. Minutes before our meeting, he met with Secretaries Deles and Almendras to discuss the electric power situation in the aftermath of the storm.

When he came into the room, I gave him a box of cupcakes that my daughter Erica had baked and insisted that I give to the President. He smiled. When we finally began the interview, I saw a most confident chief executive who, while taking care of matters of state just a few minutes before, could be gamely engaged with sometimes light, sometimes probing questions.

I had promised that we would not talk about politics or policy but rather focus on what P-Noy, the person, is like.

At certain points, even as we were discussing supposedly trivial stuff like movies or people he would invite to a dream dinner, I got a glimpse of the idealism and sense of duty and honor he inherited from both his parents, as well as their fatalistic view of mortality. I realized, during those moments, that perhaps character cannot help but manifest itself. It is inescapable.

THE PHILIPPINE STAR: You’re a CD collector. What are your favorite CDs?

NOYNOY AQUINO: A lot. I have to get new stuff at least every month, but lately, I can’t buy, (laughs) puro picture taking. I have from classics to techno, though I prefer light classics. Ballets for instance, like Swan Lake. Pop and rock. I don’t like hip-hop. ‘Yung jazz, jazz fusion. I find it hard to listen to mainstream.

Do you listen to heavy rock?

Led Zep… Maingay nga talaga. My dad used to complain (laughs). And Juan dela Cruz.

What about OPM? You bought a Noel Cabangon CD.

Yes, “Biyahe.” Christmas gift ‘yun. Your stuff, “Best Of (APO),” especially the first one, the one with the “Huwag masanay sa pagmamahal…” I guess I could really relate to Ewan in specific portions of my life (laughs). Yung, “ewan ay katumbas na rin ng oo’ng inaasam…” Pumapatak ang Ulan, I could really relate to a lot of your stuff.

Did you ever try to learn a musical instrument?

In grade school, I took up guitar, but it didn’t really prosper. I played one or two songs. I can’t even remember any of the chords anymore. I also played another instrument. melodica ata ‘yun eh. I got a C in music under Mr. Areza (Ateneo Grade School music teacher).

What are your favorite movies?

When I was a very young kid, 300 Spartans, the old one.

Not the remake?

The remake was also good. But the old one, it starts off with a modern-day monument…“Traveler, behold…” something like that. In the opening scene, the Persian army had captured a Greek and was sparing this Greek to show him how many days, parang one week ata had passed. They were in one position, and the army of Persia did not yet pass completely. And Leonidas had to bring his personal bodyguards, numbering 300, to defend the whole country. He had a duty and what it means, really, is to live up to your duty. I was in grade school then, I guess a lot in my generation were affected by that.

There was also Michael Rennie’s version of Les Miserables, also the book, I liked. There’s an inspector there…


To him, everything is black or white. And suddenly he has a change in attitude before he commits suicide…The idea of things affecting your temporary life has an impact on your soul. Therefore you have to attend to it… ano ba yung freedom ng man to decide against it?

I guess the main lesson was, if you give any man an impossibility, how can you expect him to perform to the best characteristics of any human being? Those are some of the deficiencies of our man-made system, I guess. Javert was someone I could identify with… ito ang tama, at the same time, ang daming gray areas na hindi absolute in all instances.

Can you recall a movie that made you laugh a lot?

Lately, The Replacements with Keanu Reeves, Gene Hackman. Nag strike yung NFL, so they got all these people who were given a second chance…Syempre comedy talaga, they get to win the NFL. And so many other movies…Love Bug. When I was younger, natawa ako. Nutty Professor with Fred McMurray with the jalopy.. Dinala kami ng mga magulang namin sa Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang…I don’t like dark comedies. As Good As It Gets, that’s another one, and Something’s Got to Give.

Can you recall any books that affected you in a way?

After I saw Les Miserables the film, I read the book. Mas developed yung characters. Some of the classics, The Man in the Iron Mask, The Three Musketeers.

A lot of times, between the book and the movie, the book seems to be much more complete, but sometimes the movie does a better job. In science fiction, there was Jules Verne’s work, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Nagustuhan ko yung idea na, why did you choose to live under the sea? And there was the Vincent Price movie Master of the World. He intervenes every time there’s a fight, he puts a stop to every conflict.

Who are your personal idols/heroes?

JFK, Nelson Mandela, Patton, as portrayed in the movie.

Among our national heroes, who can you identify with?

General del Pilar. Again, the idea of duty, sacrifice. A small force against all odds: a superior force, better armed. He would be one of my heroes. When I look at the greatness that they possess, sometimes also the pettiness they had… yung mga nag hahamunan ng duelo for some slight reason. Nawawala yung focus on the bigger things.

Lapu Lapu siguro. He stood for what he believed in. He wasn’t intimidated by a technologically superior and unknown foreign entity. And he prevailed. Alam mo naman ang mga ibang heroes natin, good attempts. This one prevailed! General Makabulos of Tarlac is another one. The camp was named after him. He prevailed against the Spaniards. They had to surrender to him. They had to surrender to Filipinos, the indios.

If you could go back in Philippine history and change the outcome of any historical event, what would it be?

Siguro I would go back to the years before martial law and somehow make a better effort in preventing martial law from happening. The deprivations of that period continue to resonate today. The casualties of that period…the Muslim secessionists really increased during that period, so did the CPP-NPA. And before martial law ended, there were 50,000 casualties, if I’m not mistaken, in the southern conflict.

And the generations that are trying to achieve peace are groups that were opposed to each other, with the attendant atrocities on both sides. What if we had come up with laws then recognizing ancestral domain? What if we had sent lawyers first instead of the PC to handle the conflict between the Barracudas and the Ilagas? Would we have been spared so much? Would Mindanao be developed today? Would we not have problems associated with terrorist groups like the Abu Sayyaf, or even the aspiring minorities like the MILF and the NPA?

If you could invite five people, dead or alive, in the history of man, for dinner, who would you have?

JFK, Mandela, Edison from the sciences — science applied in the service of man. Who else? Siguro either Alexander the Great or Napoleon…Primarily yung ambitious. Perhaps the bishop in El Salvador who got assassinated (Archbishop Oscar Romero). He showed the conviction of his beliefs. He was threatened by the right wing death squads and he still persisted.

If you didn’t become a politician, what would you have become?

Perhaps, an agri-businessman. Syempre everybody’s goal is having a job that is something you really like. There’s something about working the land, seeing it grow… the challenge is how to increase profitability — how do you meet all this and be ecologically-friendly?

I read an article on Facebook posted by someone who said she sat down with you from 9 p.m. till 2 a.m. and you were very engaged talking about so many things. What are you passionate about?

Very many topics, but I will not claim the same level of expertise as my dad. My dad could talk to anybody. When I was younger, he would even talk to people about cooking, and I don’t think he was that great a cook (laughs).

When we were in Boston, I’ll share what I remember, my mom and my sisters were out of town so I had to fetch my dad at the airport and he had a guest. The guest was missing at the airport, so we went home… Naghahanap si guest so he called the house and I was sent back to fetch him… Sabi ko kay dad, hindi pa ako nagluluto, wala tayong kakainin….Ako na’ng bahala, sabi niya. Magsaing ka na lang. So I turned the rice cooker on.

When I got back, he was serving bistek, perfectly done. I was so impressed. I had bought a bottle of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce the day that I fetched my dad from the airport. The following day, it had around one teaspoon left. Kaya naman pala ganun… napaandaran na naman ako nito (laughs).

So, what am I passionate about? Yung when you see a problem, a long-time problem, that really has such a simplistic solution and it’s not being done. Kunyari, corruption. I know somebody’s corrupt… Sabi ko, tumatagal ba sayo ang nakurakot mo? Ano ba yung cost ng kinurakot mo? Sino ba ang namundok dahil diyan? Paano ba naging kapaki-pakinabang sa yo na pasukan yan? Kung hindi sa yo ang epekto, pano kaya ang anak mo? ‘’Yung anak mo, sabihin natin napag-aral mo nang maayos, naghanap ng empleyado with technical skills, language skills, wala siyang makuhang empleyado dahil na-deprive ng education. I tend to try and convince them, at the end of the day, no matter which avenue you go through, wala ring nakinabang diyan.

To businessmen, I had a proposal to tie income to profitability. If there’s an increase in profitability, there has to be a direct sharing with the workers without the need to go into bargaining. We pegged it yata at 10 percent. Then the workers asked, bakit ho 10? Dapat 50-50. Ah kasi pag 50-50, pati sa loss, sama na ho kayo…Ay wag naman ho ( sabi nila). Sa 10, purely sa profit.

Now, the knee jerk reaction of business was, tataas po ang gastos namin. Sabi ko, if you look at the proposal, there is a precondition: increase in profitability. So dumagdag na ang kita niyo bago kayo magdadagdag ng gagastuhin. So dapat mas malaki ang resulta ng nasa inyo kesa nung nasa institusyon.

Why did I propose that? When you have labor and management, the relationship is confrontational. Kayo at kami. So, I raised the example na dalawa ang empleyado mo, tatlo, pag dumagdag ng order. Kausapin ko lang, pwede ba tayo mag-overtime mamaya? O di pwede, tapos pagkatapos nun may bonus.

Pero ‘pag ginawa mong formal, 500 to 1,000 workers, you have union leaders and you have to continue providing a lot of benefits and increases. Ok kung growing industry, e kung hindi? Paano kung stagnated industry or a sunset industry? So if the union leaders become reasonable, (the workers) will say you sold us out. Then you get somebody else who will hasten the demise (of the business) that everybody derives their income from.

So how do we get everybody to focus…Paano tayo magjo-joint action (so that) everybody gets an increase in profit and get an equitable share of the proceeds? Unfortunately, hindi inaksyunan ng both congresses.

When you’re standing on stage and there are 50,000 people out there shouting, “Noynoy, Noynoy,” what’s going on in your mind?

Maybe not even on the stage. When you’re on the street, sa motorcade…nobody, for instance, goes on a motorcade at 12 noon, but we did it…It is so hot, they’ve been there for hours, and there’s so much enthusiasm. So what goes through my mind? There was a point in time, they really turned out and I saw it in the faces of people beside me, I really believed we had won. Then after we’ve won, you think about the responsibilities. They shower you with hope. At the same time, how do you temper the hope, so you don’t have unfulfilled expectations?

In Edsa I, a lot of people thought, today it’s black, tomorrow it’s white. So, guaranteed unfulfilled expectations. You get more people who are cynical, etc. So, from the get-go, from the inaugural speech, we asked, what are the doables? In the SONA speech, we’ll cite more of the problems that we found, and then the doables as far as that is concerned. The goal is for our communications group to establish interaction. We’ll tell them, this is what we intend to do and this is the time frame and the goal posts that we hope to achieve, and please measure us on these aspects, hindi ‘yung instant gratification for everything.

So what I’m trying to say is, the enormity of the responsibility, the tempering with the reality, all these thoughts go through my mind. Pagdating dun sa inaugural ko, after the famous road trip, when I got to the stage… You’re minutes away from inheriting everything. So, kaya ba natin ‘to? Of course by that time, medyo nahirapan na kaming maghanap ng mga taong — halika, sige sumama kayo sa ‘min, anim na taon tayong magsasakripisyo, at habang wala ka nang pahinga, habang pagod ka, nabawasan income mo, mumurahin ka pa kaliwa’t kanan, andaming unfair criticsim, pero para sa bayan to, halika na!

So, when you hear them shouting your name, it’s flattering, but at the same time you’re psyching yourself up to the fact that you have to deliver as much as possible.

You wouldn’t want to be the cause for them to become even more cynical. There’s a social contract, these are the doables, they’ve achieved… The dream is to have enough of a momentum, so the people can get used to a government that is really there for them and works, so that the person who comes after you cannot but follow in your footsteps and continue the process.

There was a group from American Network Foundation, and they’ve been working here for quite a long time. Their strategic vision is increasing venture capital in the IT field, something that can bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in investment. But the problem is, we don’t have the people with necessary skills for the higher value-added jobs in the IT sector. And it’s true, out of a hundred students, you only have two who eventually graduate from college with a science and engineering degree. Then there’s no environment at this point in time for them to be able to grow their skills.

With the scant resources we have, at least for the first three years, there has to be an emphasis on perhaps simpler things, yung yield of rice, yield of pork, ease of transportation, things like that, instead of growing this new cadre that will take 10 years. So it will be towards the end of the next administration before we really see the fruits. But we want to set the foundation for it.

What’s comfort food to you?

Tropical Hut hamburger, dimsum from Hap Chan and Kowloon, Ma Mon Luk, pizza from D’Mark’s.

And your comfort clothes?

Maong. When I’m at home, shorts, tsaka ‘yung shirts na hapit. When we were in Malacañang in my Mom’s time, I had a Grade 5 T-shirt that was very loose, and that was her pet peeve. ‘Yung mga threadbare na undershirts, for instance. There were points when she didn’t have a busy schedule and she would raid my cabinet and remove all of these things and give them to the help and say, gamitin niyo nang trapo ‘to. So when I got back, I would be looking for them. Habulan kami. Sabi nya, maawa ka naman sa naglalaba. Parang tintingnan pa lang, napupunit na sa kanipis-nipis…

Are you a beer guy, a wine guy, or do you prefer hard drinks?

If I take alcohol, it has to be only a toast. I’m a soft drinks guy, and it’s Coca-Cola normally. Last time I had a sip was for the 68th birthday of the honoree. I took maybe a teaspoon’s worth of red wine, and I got affected right away. May fatigue na rin siguro kasama yun. I get the hangover right away, and once it wears off, I’m fully awake.

If you could drop everything right now, if you could get away from your duties, where would you go and what would you do?

Probably some place in Mindanao, ‘yung municipality ni Guingona — Gingoog. Tanghaling tapat sa mountain top may clouds, lots of springs, a lot of cold places, that would be one of them.

What are the easiest and the hardest things about being Noynoy Aquino?

Easiest, I guess there are a lot of doors that have been opened my way from before. The hardest is, especially now, when you see people seeing you smiling, and the expectation na, ang laki ng igaganda… Eto na! Tagumpay nang buong buo! Syempre you’re burdened by “Can we deliver?”

With this typhoon, we had a meeting last week and were told how many provinces are at risk. Those that are not at high risk are less than 20 percent. And it was growing…a little over 50 percent when they first reported it, tapos umangat over 70 percent, then over 80 percent. So, when I got home, finished my e-mail rituals, it took me a long while. Ano bang gagawin natin dun? You have X number of resources, you would want to pre-position them at the most critical… and when everywhere it’s critical, how do you pre-position?

So, today, we had our baptism of fire. Na-impress naman ako. Everybody said we have these quick-action teams, we have relocation centers, pre-positioned supplies… Everyone delivered. In fact, the only group that I felt a little shortchanged was PAGASA. Sabi nila nasa Region 2 at CAR, paano tayo napuntang NCR at 4, 8? Medyo malayo-layo naman ata ang distansya. At kung may ganung nangyari at meron pa kayong magagawa. Pwede bang better information? They promised to work on it.

I’m very comfortable with my DOST secretary. He already discovered warning systems for the Pasig-Marikina area that are already in place, and they can rehabilitate within the budget that they already have. Once rehabilitated ang two-hour warning time, then they can do it nationwide by next year, at six-hour warning time.

Your Cabinet is very young generally, and you have a lot of young people working under the Office of the President, how would you feel if one of them shows up with a tattoo, body piercing, or earring? Would it affect you?

You’d want not to be affected, but I think I would be affected. We’d like to think we’re cool, pero gaano ka-cool? Especially society still equates age with wisdom and responsibility. So ‘yung group namin, we have young people, we have medyo young-ish people whom I would consider to be at the peak of their careers in their mid-50s to early 60s. We don’t want to get somebody so jaded and so cynical already. We try to balance the wisdom of the old, the energy of the young, and the peacemaker in all of the persons in between.

How do you deal with criticism that’s really just mean-spirited?

If I pay attention to it, then I would try to turn the tables and show them or at least the other people kung gaano ka-unreasonable nito and apply my strength on the reasonable ones. But I try to purposely control myself. I tell everyone, o mga kasama, hindi tayo pwede magalit, hindi tayo pwede mapikon, hindi tayo pwede mainis, hindi tayo pwede maasar. Maraming hindi pwede rito. Focus lang tayo parati sa, eto ang aabutin natin.

Mahirap talaga maging public figure ano?

In the Batasan, for instance, as a congressman, there was this person na lumapit sa ‘kin, ‘Hindi po ninyo kami constituent, pero pwede ho ba makahingi ng pamasahe?’ So binigyan ko. The following day, same line: pamasahe. We had sessions from Monday to Wednesday, Thursday so the rest of the week, we were supposed to go back to our district. He did it to me from Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. So medyo may sarcastic remark na ako. “Kung gusto niyo, pag-isipan po niyo, baka mas maganda kung ‘wag na kayong lumabas ng bahay… Para hindi niyo pinpoproblema kung paano kayo uuwi.”

What inspires you to keep going despite the problems, some of which you know are probably intractable?

Why will I give up if I think the goal that we have set for ourselves is worthwhile? It really redounds to the common good. Why should we be distracted? So long as we are convinced, sige, tuloy na! Naniniwala naman ako na kung hindi ko kaya, bahala na ang Diyos. Tutulungan na niya ako dun

What’s the best thing about being Filipino?

One is it’s very easy for a Filipino to smile. ‘Pag napunta ka sa urban areas, parang tinuturuan na ‘wag ka parati nakangiti, baka akalain nila, promdi, madali kang utuin, madali ito lokohin, etc. But when you go to the province, it’s so easy for everybody to start breaking into a smile.

It talks also of the resiliency… Ang dami ng dagok na inabot natin dito. Ang sama nga ng government natin for so many years. Ang daming pagsubok ang nagsamantala sa atin. Mga invaders and so on and so forth. But no matter how down we are, we’re still proud to be Filipino. Then, the Filipino in the right environment can really prosper and can surpass so many other races. So, dito tayo nakaka-succeed in modest ways in different conditions. If we could live in good conditions that could nurture all of these aspirations… ano kaya ang maaabot natin?