MANILA, Philippines – He's known as the Philippines' first bachelor president, the most eligible man in the country since he assumed power in 2010.
While President Benigno Aquino III received attention at home and abroad for the country's unprecedented economic growth and his management of several crises, his status as a single man also turned his love life into a hot topic and the subject of much speculation.
Before he became president, the now 56-year-old Aquino once admitted to the Philippine Star that his relationships reached "multiples of 4." When he assumed office in 2010 – even with the eyes of the nation constantly on him – several women were linked to him.
Rappler lists down women that Aquino, as President, dated or was in a serious relationship with – addressed by either himself, the women, or sources close to him.
When Aquino was a senator, he was in a relationship with then Valenzuela City Councilor Shalani Soledad.
GMA News reported that Soledad first met Aquino in 2005, when she was still a UNTV reporter and the latter was Tarlac representative. They met again 3 years later when he was a senator, and officially became a couple on September 5, 2008.
According to the same report, their previously low-profile relationship was thrust into the spotlight after Aquino's mother, former president Corazon Aquino, died in August 2009. A month later, Aquino announced his own presidential bid. Soledad actively campaigned for her boyfriend and his team.
Many thought Soledad would become the country's next first lady but the relationship did not last after Aquino assumed the presidency. In November 2010, quoted Ballsy Aquino-Cruz confirmed that her brother had broken up with Soledad, according to Bandila.
Soledad married Pasig City Representative Roman Romulo in January 2012. Romulo recently ran for the Senate but lost.
Liz Uy was tapped to be Aquino's stylist after he ascended the presidency in 2010. The President's younger sister, actress and TV host Kris Aquino, is among her clients and friends.
In an interview with Philippine media at the sidelines of the 2010 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Yokohama, Japan, Aquino confirmed they were spending time together whenever their busy schedules would permit. He said of the celebrity stylist: "We had a conversation and I discovered how beautiful a person she was. I am impressed how she could engage in a conversation."
Uy set the record straight herself about her and Aquino in a 2014 interview on ABS-CBN's Tapatan ni Tunying.She denied that she was ever in a romantic relationship with Aquino."They say my job is my boyfriend. I don’t have enough time to be in a relationship because of my hectic schedule," Uy said.
Stock broker Len Lopez came under the spotlight in December 2010, when the President brought her to his Cabinet's first Christmas dinner.
Lopez accompanied Aquino to various events in January and February of that year. Ballsy Aquino-Cruz was even quoted as saying that her brother introduced Lopez to the family. "She's very nice," Cruz told reporters at the birthday celebration of Senator Jinggoy Estrada in early 2011, according to an ABS-CBN report.
Not long after, in May 2011, Aquino was seen on a date at a concert. Photos of the President and Bunny Calica, a teacher, were splashed on the front pages of newspapers, prompting the bachelor to lament, “If ever I get the chance to go out on a date, it seems I invited the entire Filipino people to join me on that date, and I wonder who gave them the right."
Calica too, was a passing fancy.
A month after he was seen dating Calica, Aquino met Grace Lee, a Korean-born TV and radio personality, at the inauguration of the Korea Electric Power Corporation power plant in Cebu. Lee, donned in a hanbok, the Korean traditional dress, hosted the event.
During his speech, it became clear that Lee had caught Aquino's attention. He said he found Lee and the women of Cebu "guwapa (pretty)." He also joked that he might end up getting married there. Aquino was apparently unaware, at first, that Lee was a minor celebrity based in Manila.
The two reconnected months later in November 2011 at the state visit of then South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak where she was an interpreter, Ellen Tordesillas said in a VERA Files report.
Later in February 2012, Aquino admitted that they were "seeing each other." It was reported that they had started going out the month before.
They were seen together on various occasions until it was confirmed that they stopped dating sometime in April 2012, according to Newsbreak.
It was only in an interview with Vice Ganda on Gandang Gabi Vice in January 2015 that Aquino confirmed in public that he had a relationship with Lee.
Pia Wurtzbach, the reigning Miss Universe, was also linked to the President even before winning the crown at the global pageant – when she was still Miss Universe Philippines.
In a March 2015 interview on Aquino & Abunda Tonight, the beauty queen did not directly respond to Kris Aquino, who asked if she was dating the President. "I know him. I talk to him, yes. He's very fun to talk to," Wurtzbach simply said.
The presidential sister and TV host spoke her mind on why her brother and Wurtzbach didn't work out. "I don’t think she liked Noy," she said in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
"I think she entertained him but the thing is, you can tell from her character na single-minded. 'Kinailangan na ito [Miss Universe] ang focus ko muna' (She needed to focus on Miss Universe)." (READ: Pia Wurtzbach meets President Aquino for first time since Miss Universe win)
All 4 Aquino sisters approved of Wurtzbach even when the two were just rumored to be going out, Kris said in an interview with the Inquirer.
When Wurtzbach won the prestigious pageant, media and even a senior Cabinet official found another reason to rib the Chief Executive. At the signing of the 2016 national budget on December 22, 2015, Ochoa, who introduced Aquino before the latter gave his keynote address, said, "Isang Miss Universe na umaga sa inyong lahat (A Miss Universe morning to all of you)."
To this, Aquino quipped, "Executive Secretary at kumpare ko pa na nagmula ang relasyon sa ating mga magulang, sinira mo itong araw na ito (Executive Secretary, my friend rooted on the relationship of our parents, you ruined this day)."
'Coke Regular' after Malacañang?
'MYSTERY WOMAN.' In a performance, members of the Malacanang Press Corps give the bachelor president a 'happy ending' – finding love, at last – at his first Christmas party for the MPC in 2010. Photo from Mia Gonzalez/Rappler
As he leaves Malacañang, the question – at least of those who follow the President's love life – remains: will Aquino finally be lucky in love?
Early in his term, the President had joked that his love life mirrored the different types of the Coke drink. Speaking to reporters in 2011, the Aquino declared that his love life had gone from Coke Regular to Coke Light, and then, Coke Zero.
This was followed by an apparent years-long romantic El Niño. Three years later, he couldn't even muster an upgrade to Coke Light.
In 2014, at the inauguration of Coca-Cola’s plant in Canlubang City, Laguna, Aquino volunteered information on the pet issue: “I will preempt the question and say, for the record: yes, my love life is still like Coke Zero. I hope that when I step down from the presidency, it will at least go back to being like Coke Light."
Was he being prescient? He told ABS-CBN News Channel's Tina Monzon-Palma last year that his love life is in fact "not zero," although he said that there is "no single individual" or "regular interaction."
He also said that he's prepared to grow old single. Addressing God, he quipped, "If it’s not [my destiny], can you make me understand why not?"
These statements may come off as jokes but it's obvious that Aquino remains a romantic at heart. He had consistently declined requests to be a wedding ninong (sponsor), because of the superstition that doing so would ruin one's own chance of tying the knot.
In a 2012 media interview, Aquino said that marriage "has been my long-time plan, back when I was still in college. I haven't had much luck."
"Given the burdens of my office, if you have someone you can talk to, if there is someone who will tell you, 'You're still okay,' of course, that is the key to your inspiration," he said then.
Perhaps the bachelor will find that inspiration when his life becomes less public. He often joked with members of the Malacañang Press Corps that he would most likely find love once they stop hounding him.
In an exit interview with Rappler about 3 weeks before the end of his term, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa told Aquino that he will soon have time to go on dates again. "'Yun ang matirirang top secret. Pagkakataon ko na ito (That will remain top secret. This is my chance)," the President replied with a laugh.
This personal matter and how it would eventually turn out for the bachelor may be summed up in his oft-repeated phrase, whenever he's asked about the public's favorite topic: "Hope springs eternal." – Rappler.com