I hope I can give you good answers,” he says, by way of an opening gambit. “I haven’t had breakfast or lunch.”
The last six years have been like this for President Benigno S. Aquino III. It’s 1 p.m. on a Wednesday and while his stomach is empty, his office sure isn’t. Filled to the brim with people — his press secretary, his communications team, a video crew for RTVM (the Presidential Broadcast Staff Radio-Television Malacanang), and a small crew from the Philippine STAR — the “intimate interview” we were angling to have with the man, went the way we assume a lot of “intimate” moments in his last six years have gone — surrounded by advisors, recorded by cameras, with the next appointment looming at the end of the hour.
It’s a tightrope he’s learned to walk nimbly but a tightrope just the same. Early on in his term, a lot of media attention was devoted to his love life — something that, he told us, was source for frustration. Of course, when your father is a national hero and your mother a Time magazine “Woman of the Year,” has there ever really been a clear line between the private and the public?
We catch PNoy at a time when he’s just about to transition back to life as a private citizen — or as private a citizen as a former president can be. His term has been marked by both impressive achievements (a high profile anti-corruption campaign, a bullish economy) and unfortunate events (Typhoon Yolanda, the Mamasapano clash). Still, it’s six years that most presidents would be proud of, the former sick man of Asia now suddenly a tiger economy.
“I’m predisposed to saying we never did enough,” he says. “Whatever the accomplishment is, kasi my upbringing from my parents is, if I wound up in the top 10 or I wound up in the top 3 in school, my father would say, ‘Good. When will you become top 1?’ So when we talk about service for our people, and it’s human condition that problems will always exist, at the end of each day, I have to be able to say, we’ve done everything we could today, but tomorrow let’s find out how we can do some more.”
In this exclusive interview, President Aquino talks about the last six years, why he’s “insensitive,” the trials of being a dating president, and why Game of Thrones can feel a lot like real life.