Aquino's last Christmas with the media: I will miss the ambush interviews
MANILA, Philippines – It was not the usual event where the President of the Republic of the Philippines was stiff and formal or ready to field questions with the Malacañang Press Corps (MPC).
In this get-together, Benigno Aquino III showed his soft side, as if with friends. It was his last Christmas party with the so-called "brat pack," the term used to call the MPC during the time of Aquino's mother, that had been following him everywhere every day for the last 5 and a half years.
Aside from giving in to the media's yearly request for a song, the President was full of jokes, even deviating from reading his prepared speech, last December 11.
“May 'hinandang speech si JC (speechwriter), pero parang kulang sa personal touch so babaguhin ko na lang ho,” Aquino said. (JC prepared a speech, but I think it lacks personal touch so I will just change it.)
What’s a gathering with the President without making fun of his lovelife or lack of it? The President was just cool about it, laughing at jokes about his bachelorhood. Many of those present couldn’t help but laugh at the presentations that highlighted Aquino’s personal life and at Aquino’s candid responses.
Referring to a Palace reporter, Aquino jokingly said, "Kahit na ikakasal next year, hindi ko pinipersonal 'yon, na bagamat nakakatanda ako sa kanya, dapat hinintay niya ako. Ganoon talaga ang buhay, may lucky, mayroong hindi. Baka magkaroon rin ako [ng anak]. So pakiusap lang mamaya pagkain 'nyo, dahan-dahanin 'nyo 'yung cholesterol, dahil kung ako’y papalarin imbitahin ko kayo. Hindi ko lang ma'pangako sa inyo kung kailan 'yon."
(Even if he is getting married next year, I don't take it personally, even if I'm older than he is and he should have waited for me first. That's just how life is, there are lucky ones, there are those who are not. I might get to have a child too. So I wish you go slow on the cholesterol tonight. Because if I get fortunate enough [to get married], I will invite you. I'm just not sure when.)
With only 6 months left before Aquino steps down, he took the opportunity to thank the media for the love-hate relationship he has with them. In retrospect, I think all government officials have that kind of relationship with the press.
While he said the media takes on an adversarial role, he was quick to point out that the press has served as his "extended family."
“At sa totoo lang, 'di ba, parang ganoon talaga, parang may pagka-adversarial role. (Truth is, that's how it is, [media] takes on an adversarial role.) But you have made me feel, you have your jobs to do, you have your desks that pressure you, but at the end of the day, I think I can really say with utmost confidence and I can put my hand on any Bible and say, to a large degree, those of you who were here tried to give us really a fair shake. Whether or not you were allowed to give us a fair shake is another matter,” he said.
“I could sense that you were really one of us and in that sense parang extended family ko na kayo (you're like my extended family). Dinamayan na rin 'nyo ako rito (You empathized with me) to the extent and to the limits that you had. Perhaps some of you fell afoul of your various organizations because you were not hypercritical enough. But I can really say that it’s really a pleasure to deal for the most part with a thoroughly professional group such as yourself,” he added.
Many things can be said about the President, but one thing is certain: he doesn’t mince his words when it comes to his feelings about the media.
I am relatively new in covering him. But it does not take a long time to know this, or something like it.
In just a few weeks of being assigned to the Palace, there was a time I was not allowed to ask him any question. Until now, I do not know why or how. But that was straightened out and all is well that ends well.
Also, how can we forget that awkward moment when he scolded former Vice President and now TV Patrol news anchor Noli de Castro during his speech at the program’s 25th anniversary? Never mind that De Castro was there, the President had to make his comments known.
Despite this, Aquino maintained he never got "irritated that much" with the media.
In fact, he even hoped for a continued relationship with the press after his term.
“Everything that has a beginning also has an ending. I have to say I hope I’ll be open to all of you [that] after I step down, baka we can… Baka iniisip ko nga baka marami sa inyo magsasabi, 'Sir, ang ginagawa ngayon ganito, ganyan,' parang tuloy pa rin 'yung reklamo. Tapos ako naman hindi naman ako ganoon katanda pero siyempre ang papel ko nakikinig, tatango-tango, 'Ganoon ba? Baka dapat ganito’t ganyan.' So baka there will be more opportunities for us to have social standard than the situations that might be mutually irritating. Although hindi naman ako na-irritate sa inyo masyado,” Aquino said.
If there’s one thing Aquino would miss once he steps down from office, he said it’s the media. How could he not miss the group of people privy to almost everything he’s doing, the same people who follow him everywhere he goes, and the same group that more often than not make his job more stressful? Others in the group, in fact, have followed Aquino since the 2010 campaign trail.
It was a welcome treat, at least for me, to listen to the President recall his own little struggles with the media. After all, I thought it was only us who would feel the same way. There were times when we would follow him to a far flung area, only to be disappointed that he wouldn't grant interviews. But we got to take it in stride, learning it's all part of covering the highest leader of the land.
“What will I miss when I step down? And to be honest with you siguro nasa Top 5, hindi ko naman sasabihin number one, 'yung mga ating press conference na ni-label na ambush interview na may pagka-structured, na pinag-usapan kung sino'ng magtatanong at ilan ang tanong," Aquino said.
(What will I miss when I step down? And to be honest with you maybe it's in the Top 5, I won't say it's the number one – our press conferences which we label as structured ambush interviews, wherein you guys talked about who's asking and how many questions will be asked.)
He recounted the little nuisances of the media – something true, as reporters don't just stop at the pre-arranged number of questions for him. It's not every day that the President can be interviewed, anyway.
"Normally, kapag bini-brief ako ni Usec Rey Marfil, sabi niya, “Sir, may tatlo tayong tanong.” Tapos 'yung tatlong tanong plus ’yung maraming follow-up. Honestly, mami-miss ko nang konti 'yon. Bakit? Kasi hindi ka puwedeng tutulog-tulog sa pansitan pagkaharap kayo eh. At saka siyempre, medyo kadalasan naggi-guess ka, ano kayang topic natin ngayon dahil hindi naman talaga pag-uusapan 'yung topic nung speech that we had to undergo. So, 'di ba, a tool that is not used might lose its sharpness,” Aquino said, receiving shrieks and laughs from the reporters and their guests.
(Normally when Usec Rey Marfil briefs me, he would say: "Sir we have 3 questions." But these 3 questions would have a lot of follow-up questions. Honestly, I'll miss that a bit. Why? Because I cannot be not well-informed and not alert when I face you. There are also times when I guess what would be the topic of the interview, because usually the topic is not about the speech I had to undergo. A tool that is not used might lose its sharpness, right?)
The relationship between the government and the media has always been imperfect. One walks on eggshells when with the other. While the other is locked and loaded, ready to shoot anytime. But Aquino said he remains thankful.
“But, anyway, I really just want to say thank you. If our relationship with each other has matured over the years, then 'di ba, siguro nga I can’t really say that I witnessed anybody in this group who was not a true patriot who wanted the best for our country and that I think in itself was reward enough. So good luck in the future. Hopefully, you will have less stressful times in the years ahead. And, again, on behalf of my administration, we’d really like to thank you,” he said.
It has not been an easy ride for him and the media. Six more months and it will all be over. The worst, however, is yet to come – the road to the elections. – Rappler.com