Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - He's 52 and he wants five.
With the reproductive health (RH) bill, which he certified as urgent, already passed by Congress, how many children does President Benigno Aquino want to have?
"The last time I answered that question, I said that for the woman that I will be proposing marriage to, if there is such a lady, if I were to say honestly what's on my mind ... I really want a family the same size as the family that I grew up with," Aquino said when asked the question at yesterday's Bulong Pulungan forum at Hotel Sofitel in Pasay City.
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"There seems to be a balance with five," he said. "But five will be too much now for any woman that I'll be courting at this point. So can I just answer that that number is negotiable, especially for the person who will be bearing the children."
The president's love life has been a favourite subject of the media since he took office in June 2010.
Time to move on
Aquino said he had long decided that he wanted to settle down and get married. In fact, his mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, had already bought the fabric for the gown the bride would use at the wedding.
It used to be white, her only son said, but has turned yellow with time.
"It's not for lack of trying," the president said, eliciting laughter.
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On a more serious note, Aquino expressed hope that, with the "divisive" RH debates over, everybody would find closure.
"When it becomes a law, let us move on ... to ensure that all the positive attributes of the bill really are what happens. Let us not [consider] people who have divergent opinions as the enemy," he said.
No victors, no losers
Aquino said Filipinos, regardless of how contentious the RH issue had been, should not be adversarial toward each other. Instead, they should think of themselves as being "united by so many ways, amongst them [belonging] to the same race."
"Of those who agree with me, I've been asking, 'Look, this is not a battle [where] there are victors and losers. This is a battle where the country can be, especially the women and the children, victors.' We have to work to ensure that everybody's committed to doing that."
In certifying the RH bill as urgent, the president said he only "assisted" in seeing the passage of the measure.
"Let's give credit where credit is due," he said. "It was Congress who decided, the members of Congress who went really through tremendous pressure ... All I can say is I assisted because I really believe in the objectives of the measure. But to claim any credit for it is, I think, presumptuous and improper on my part."
In the meantime, Aquino is looking forward to a three-day break during the holidays, when he can probably catch up on his reading, listen to his CDs, and bond with his family.
"I might have three days off this Christmas break," he said. "It was supposed to be four days but they took one day already."
Time to pause
But a three-day break is fine by him. After all, he's the president of all Filipinos, including close to 10 million working and living overseas-which means that anything can happen.
"If there's a Somali pirate attack we're involved. Arab Spring, regardless of the country, we're involved. A Korean peninsula flare-up, we're involved. The world economy is bad, we're involved," he said.
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Aquino admitted being so fixated about effecting "transformational changes that will stick" that he hardly has time to relax.
But every day, he makes it a point to listen for an hour to his stereo equipment, and reads magazines on military history, stereo equipment, cars and guns to entertain himself. On weekends, he goes target-shooting with members of the Presidential Security Group, which is also part of their training.
These are things that "give me a pause" from other concerns, he said.
Not a machine
Owing to his busy schedule, the president often gets reminders from his Cabinet, especially from Health Secretary Enrique Ona, to take some time off.
"Some members of my Cabinet, like Secretary Ona, keep reminding me, `We are all with you but you are not a machine and even machines tend to have preventive maintenance,'" Aquino said.
Otherwise, he said, a day off on weekends is sufficient for him.
"So long as I get about a day off in a week, it's enough to recharge," he said.
Aquino was presented by the Bulong Pulungan core group with the "People's Choice Award" for maintaining his trust rating among the Filipinos halfway into his six-year term.
The group is composed mostly of veteran female journalists who worked with his mother, and is led by the late president's spokesperson, DeeDee Siytangco.
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