CLARK FREEPORT – “So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit— It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.”
That rallying call floated back from the trying days of Marcosian martial rule when Senator Bam Aquino spoke Friday with Capampangan media in their “Bale Balita” (House of News) in this bustling freeport and development dynamo in Pampanga.
Refreshing the same message that he, at the tender age of six, delivered in political rallies after the 1983 murder of opposition leader Ninoy Aquino upon his return from his US exile, Bam said in a forum of the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) at Clark:
“My life in public service, especially my time in the Senate now as an independent voice for our people, teems with my experience as a youth during the years of struggle after my uncle’s assassination.”
From Clark, Bam joined fellow “Otso Deretso sa Senado” opposition senatorial candidates in a rally in the capital city of San Fernando.
As a boy roused by the brutality, greed and injustice of the Marcos regime, Bam became a much-awaited speaker at opposition rallies. He was accompanied by his doting lola Aurora (Ninoy’s mother).
Bam had a speech prepared by his mother Melanie (née Aguirre) that grew longer with every recitation. He often concluded with the inspirational poem of John Greenleaf Whittier that says “When things go wrong as they sometimes will, when the road you’re trudging seems all uphill… Don’t quit!”
He delivered his first political speech in 1983 in Binan, Laguna, in a gathering of children of opposition leaders. He was standing in for his cousin Kris (then around 12) who could not attend. The meeting became a full-fledged rally.
Soon, he was getting invitations to speak in huge rallies that kept getting bigger. It was a political awakening for him. His aunt, Lupita the noted director, estimates that Bam delivered easily 200 such speeches until the dictator fled to Hawaii in 1986.
When Cory, Ninoy’s widow, challenged Marcos in the 1985 election, Bam became the opening act of her campaign appearances, always ending his speeches with “Don’t Quit”! He became a diminutive rock star! In one town, someone hang a banner across a street proclaiming “Bam Bam for President!”
Bam is ready for bigger things. He has the character and mental capacity (summa cum laude, valedictorian, student council president) to succeed in any field. But throughout his maturing process, he never lost that desire to serve and help those in need.
As high school valedictorian, he was given an auto-college scholarship at the Ateneo. Since his father Paul was sending him to school anyway, Bam asked that his scholarship be given instead to a friend who needed it more. Also, when he was offered a full scholarship to a well-known US university, he declined it, saying that he was a Filipino and wanted to be educated in his own country.
Lupita recounted: “Bam was asked by the US university to apply for scholarship — free everything plus return tickets every school year for four years plus winter clothes, etc. He did not want to apply but I tried forcing him – ‘to get experience how things worked, anyway it was not a sure thing’. But he became the first choice and when the time came for the private announcement, he told them that ‘formation is not complete and he intends to be a Filipino.’ I almost fainted….”
• Bam’s focus is on livelihood, education
AT AGE 24, Bam was chairman of the National Youth Commission. He founded Hapinoy, a very successful social enterprise, in 2009. The following year, he was a (TOYM) Ten Outstanding Young Men awardee, and was named in 2012 one of the Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World by JC International.
Working quietly, speaking without bombast, Bam has 35 laws to his name, including the landmark free college law, Go Negosyo Act, Microfinance NGO Act, Philippine Competition Act and Free Internet in Public Spaces Act.
The free college law was languishing in the legislative mill for several Congresses before Bam finally made it a reality during his term as chairman of the Committee on Education.
The same goes for the Philippine Competition Act, which took almost three decades before it became a law when he was chairman of the Committee on Trade, Commerce and Entrepreneurship. The law levels the playing field in business, leading to lower prices and better quality of goods and services.
The Go Negosyo Act is a fulfilment of Bam’s promise to help entrepreneurs. There are now more than 1,000 Negosyo Centers all over the country, willing and ready to assist entrepreneurs start their own business or expand existing ones.
In new focus groups, what seems to be his crowning glory in his legislative work is free college education. Although Senator Ralph Recto was the principal author, Bam was the principal sponsor who did the more grueling job of conducting hearings and coordinating with the House.
With the current Senate dominated by Duterte allies, an independent voice in the chamber is needed to advance and safeguard people’s welfare. Bam’s continued active presence will help maintain the checks and balances in government.
Running as a neophyte under the Liberal Party in 2013, Bam was one of nine candidates of the PNoy coalition who made it to the Senate. A newcomer, he landed No. 9.
Despite his being in the opposition, Bam pledged willingness to support administration policies that are good for the people, such as the law on free college education.