Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Ben Aquino says he writes songs to inspire fellow Filipinos to be better citizens, to carry their share of the burden for nation-building. It’s just coincidence, he adds, that the country’s President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III is a close relative.

He produced an album late last year entitled “Tuwid na Landas” (Straight Path) that is coincidentally enough, the battle cry of 2nd degree cousin President Aquino. He is working to dismantle the web of high-level corruption that his administration blames for the poverty and culture of impunity.

“I wanted to help not for the government but because Filipinos relate to music,” Aquino, a Gaithersburg, MD resident, told the Manila Mail. At the same time, he also wanted to give talented Filipino artists a break in the entertainment world.

He conducted an audition last August to select 6 relative unknowns – an arranger and 5 singers – to record his songs. “Tuwid na Landas” features singers Ybeth Garcia, Almira Cercado, Rafael Gutierez, Carl Trazo, Jakob Rodriguez; and arranger Raphael Balagot.

“The first 3 are patriotic, nationalistic songs for overseas Filipinos,” he explained. With titles like “Bagong Pilipino” and “Manggagawang Pilipino”, Aquino hopes that hearing them, the 6-million-strong overseas Filipino community would realize the virtues of citizenship and why they have to be “good Filipinos”.

“That would really make me happy,” he averred.

The rest of the album appears to be personal musings of love, hope and the nostalgia of youthful days.

Aquino said he ended up in America to escape the fate of being an Aquino from Concepcion, Tarlac. He entered the United States on a tourist visa in 1979. His uncle, former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., was the chief nemesis of President Ferdinand Marcos who declared Martial Law 7 years earlier. He decided against taking his family back and applied for asylum.

When Ninoy lived in exile in Boston, Massachusetts, he would serve as his chauffeur whenever he went to Washington DC. He would sometimes visit them in Boston and remembered how Ninoy’s wife, the future President Corazon “Cory” Cojuangco-Aquino, was content the let her husband dominate conversations.

His father, Claudio, was a 1st cousin of Ninoy.

He wasn’t especially close to his cousin Noynoy, he confessed, and preferred to hang out with Ninoy who was closer his age. His uncle was assassinated when he returned to Manila in 1983.

Ben went back to the Philippines when the widowed Corazon Aquino became president but returned to Maryland after her term. “I missed the place and more importantly, my children were here,” he said.

He describes himself as a businessman with a computer and marketing background. “Computers are stressful,” he explained amusedly, “but I got into the framing business when a friend taught me how to do it; over the phone, long-distance from the Philippines.”

“You can work at your own pace. When I feel tired, I rest,” he confessed. “I’m getting old and I don’t want to be stressed anymore.”

The flexible schedule has allowed him to toy around with entertainment promotions and production, forming the McLean-based BennyRey Inc. as a platform.

He still dreams of retiring one day in the Philippines. He, like most overseas Filipinos sharing that dream, is banking on his cousin delivering his promises. “He is trying his best. He wants to leave a legacy that his father and mother have planted and they can be proud of. But he’s just one man,” Ben says of his cousin in Malacanang.

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